Melbourne Mills’s defense that he was too drunk to know what was going on when he and two other attorneys stole tens of millions of dollars appears to have created reasonable doubt in the mind of a Kentucky jury. Mills may have been helped by the revelation that his two co-counsel tried to hide $50 million from him, too, permitting his attorney to more plausibly blame the scheme on others. Or the jury may have believed the argument of Mills’s attorney that the three attorneys were too stupid to understand the settlement agreement and didn’t intend to steal any money (though they transferred a lot of money from their personal account to their clients when they learned the bar was investigating, and lied to the bar about how much money their clients received). (Jim Hannah, “One cleared in diet drug case”, Cincinnati Enquirer, Jul. 2; Beth Musgrave, “Fen-phen lawyer Mills is found not guilty”, Lexington Herald-Leader, Jul. 2; Beth Musgrave, “Jury hears closing arguments in fen-phen trial”, Lexington Herald-Leader, Jun. 24; AP/Kentucky Post, Jun. 23). The jury, today in its seventh day of deliberations, claims a deadlock on the other two attorneys, no doubt confused by why Judge Jay Bamberger and co-counsel and Democratic bigwig Stanley Chesley have not also been indicted. Defendants Cunningham and Gallion have sought to blame the tens of millions they stole on the fact that Bamberger (who was indirectly paid millions) judicially approved the settlement and Chesley (who was directly paid tens of millions) was allegedly the architect of the settlement that ensured lawyers would get far more than their contracts with their clients provided. Since there is no dispute that those two were indeed intimately involved in the scheme, the jury isn’t the only one confused why the Kentucky fen-phen three are being treated differently than the judge, the judge’s former law partner, and Stan Chesley, who all profited mightily.
From the Cincinnati Enquirer columnist, a refreshingly acerbic account of the erstwhile Master of Disaster’s time on the stand in the Kentucky fen-phen trial, during which he compared himself to Tiger Woods in explaining why he should not be asked to stoop to taking an hourly fee:
Jurors have been anesthetized by six weeks of watching witnesses avoid the truth the way cats avoid a bath. …
…when [defense attorney O. Hale] Almand tried to make Chesley admit – yes or no – that he knew his own lawyer told prosecutors he would take the Fifth unless he got immunity, Chesley’s serial evasions made the courtroom squirm.
I counted at least nine tries. After the seventh, the judge twice ordered Chesley to answer yes or no.
He would not. He wheedled, ducked, swerved and danced. He blustered about attorney-client privilege, corrected the grammar of the question, and griped about how he has been mistreated by the press. …
If you’re hoping to hit a slip-and-fall lotto jackpot by suing Amalgamated Banana Peel Inc., Chesley is just the guy to take on herds of high-paid lawyers. But if you’re looking for a straight answer under oath, look somewhere else.
(“Tiger Woods of Torts”, Cincinnati Enquirer, Jun. 19).
Perfectly jaw-dropping testimony at the ongoing Covington, Ky. trial:
Attorney William Gallion testified yesterday that he and his co-defendants would have been “legally justified” in taking as much as $170 million from Kentucky’s $200 million fen-phen settlement — because, he said, their clients’ cases were worth only $30 million.
“We were like an insurance company where the hurricane didn’t strike, so we got to keep the premium,” the suspended Lexington lawyer testified in his diet-drug fraud trial in U.S. District Court.
The lawyers, it seemed, had structured the settlement so as to reserve the gigantic helping of gravy in question for the supposed disposition of certain contingencies which then conveniently failed to materialize. Judge William Bertelsman immediately told the jury that Gallion’s interpretation of the law was wrong. (Andrew Wolfson, “Judge, lawyer clash at fen-phen trial”, Louisville Courier Journal, Jun. 14).
And on Monday, famed Cincinnati attorney Stan Chesley — who has been given immunity — testified, assailing the conduct of the three defendants and conveying his complete shock that they would structure the settlement so unfavorably to clients. (Jason Riley, “Chesley rakes diet-drug trio”, Courier-Journal, Jun. 17; Jim Hannah, “Chesley: Fen-phen role slim”, Cincinnati Enquirer, Jun. 17). For a different viewpoint, see Peter Bronson, “Where’s Chesley?”, Cincinnati Enquirer, Jun. 12. More: Herald-Leader.
- Canada free speech: Islamic group files complaint against Halifax newspaper over cartoon of burka-wearing terror fan; two more libel suits aimed at online conservative voices; growing furor over complaint against Steyn/Macleans [National Post]
- More than 5,000 students committed crimes last year in Philadelphia schools, but none were expelled — consent decrees tying system’s hands are one reason [Inquirer]
- U.K.: Man threatened with legal action for flying pirate flag as part of daughter’s birthday party [Guardian]
- Bankruptcy judge doesn’t plan to accept at face value Countrywide’s claim that it generated false escrow documents by mistake in foreclosure [WSJ, WSJ law blog]
- Amid bipartisan calls to step down, Ohio AG Marc Dann [Apr. 19, May 6] hires an opposition researcher [Adler @ Volokh] on top of Washington lobbyist [Legal NewsLine], after being rebuked by judge for political suit [Dispatch]. And where’s that ethics form on the Chesley flight? [Dayton Daily News]
- Missouri med-mal claims fall sharply after legislated damages curb [Springfield News-Leader]
- More on Dartmouth prof Priya Venkatesan, the one who wants to sue her students — as suspected, she’s a devotee of deconstructionist Science Studies [Allen/MtC; earlier]
- Covert plan to sabotage Chinese economy? [Wilson Center event]
- What, never? Well, hardly ever: Docs continue to assail notion that various complications such as patient delirium, clostridium difficile infection, iatrogenic pneumothorax, etc. — not to mention falls — are “never events” [KevinMD various posts; earlier]
- Mich. high court agrees anti-gay-marriage amendment bars municipal health benefits for domestic partners, just what key proponents had claimed it wouldn’t do [Rauch @ IGF, Carpenter @ Volokh, earlier]
- Private service rates the safety of charter air providers — but can it afford the cost of being sued after giving a bad rating? [Three years ago on Overlawyered]
- Ninth Circuit, Kozinski, J., rules 8-3 that Roommates.com can be found to have violated fair housing law by asking users to sort themselves according to their wish to room with males or other protected groups; the court distinguished the Craigslist cases [L.A. Times, Volokh, Drum]
- Class-action claim: Apple says its 20-inch iMac displays millions of colors but the true number is a mere 262,144, the others being simulated [WaPo]
- U.K.: compulsive gambler loses $2 million suit against his bookmakers, who are awarded hefty costs under loser-pays rule [BBC first, second, third, fourth stories]
- Pittsburgh couple sue Google saying its Street Views invades their privacy by including pics of their house [The Smoking Gun via WSJ law blog]
- U.S. labor unions keep going to International Labour Organization trying to get current federal ground rules on union organizing declared in violation of international law [PoL]
- Illinois Supreme Court reverses $2 million jury award to woman who sued her fiance’s parents for not warning her he had AIDS [Chicago Tribune]
- Italian family “preparing to sue the previous owners of their house for not telling them it was haunted”; perhaps most famous such case was in Nyack, N.Y. [Ananova, Cleverly]
- Per their hired expert, Kentucky lawyers charged with fen-phen settlement fraud “relied heavily on the advice of famed trial lawyer Stan Chesley in the handling of” the $200 million deal [Lexington Herald-Leader]
- Actor Hal Holbrook of Mark Twain fame doesn’t think much of those local anti-tobacco ordinances that ban smoking on stage even when needed for dramatic effect [Bruce Ramsey, Seattle Times]
- Six U.S. cities so far have been caught “shortening the amber cycles below what is allowed by law on intersections equipped with cameras meant to catch red-light runners.” [Left Lane via Virtuous Republic and Asymmetrical Information]
As a number of commentators have noted (e.g. Brett Kittredge @ Majority in Mississippi, Alan Lange @ YallPolitics), Booneville attorney Joey Langston, who just entered a guilty plea on charges of judicial corruption, is someone accustomed to throwing the weight of his pocketbook around in Mississippi politics. In particular, he has been among the biggest donors to incumbent Mississippi attorney general Jim Hood, even as Hood employed Langston and partner Tim Balducci on contract to handle the controversial MCI tax bill negotiations, with their resulting $14 million legal fees payable to Langston et al, and the potentially very lucrative Zyprexa litigation.
Equally interesting in some ways, however, are Langston’s activities on the national political scene. To take just one example: this CampaignMoney.com listing tabulates the top “527” contributions to a group called the Democratic Attorneys General Association, whose political and electoral mission is implied by its name. In the listing, two donors are tied for first place, with contributions of $100,000 apiece. One is the large Cincinnati law firm of Waite Schneider Bayless Chesley, associated with one of the country’s best-known plaintiff’s lawyers, Stanley Chesley. The other $100,000 contribution is from Joey Langston.
In presidential politics, Langston has recently been a repeat donor to the quixotic (and, since Iowa, defunct) campaign of Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), a lawmaker whose high degree of seniority on the Senate Judiciary Committee makes him important to ambitious lawyers whether or not he ever attains the White House. When the Scruggs scandal was still in its early stages, the WSJ law blog (Dec. 10) noted that two key figures in the affair, Tim Balducci and Steve Patterson, were strong backers of the Biden campaign: “Their bet on Biden was that he wouldn’t win the presidency but would become Secretary of State under a Hillary Clinton administration, according to two people familiar with their thinking.” The Journal reprinted (PDF) an invitation to an Aug. 10, 2007 fundraising reception for Biden at the Oxford (Miss.) University Club, sent out above the names of six hosts, three of whom (Scruggs, Balducci and Patterson) were soon indicted. Scruggs, of course, is better known for his support of Mrs. Clinton, a fundraiser for whom he had to cancel after the scandal broke.
Campaign-contributions databases such as OpenSecrets.org and NewsMeat indicate that Langston has been a prolific and generous donor to incumbent and aspiring Senators across the country, mostly Democrats (Murray, Cantwell, Daschle, Nelson, etc.) but also including a number of Republicans who might be perceived as swing votes or reachable, such as Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Susan Collins (Me.), and Arlen Specter (Penn.)
Incidentally, some critics have intimated that Langston’s generous support to DAGA, the Democratic Attorneys General Association, should actually be interpreted as a roundabout gift to Hood, who was the beneficiary of interestingly timed largesse from DAGA. It does not appear, however, that any of the parties involved — Langston, Hood or DAGA — have acknowledged any connection between the timing of the donations (& welcome Michelle Malkin, David Rossmiller, YallPolitics readers).
[Second of a two-part post. The first part is here.]
- Curlin, the horse owned by fen-phen fraudsters Gallion and Cunningham, won the Preakness by a head. Curlin’s trainer is apparently ensconced in his own scandal, having served a six-month suspension for illegally drugging horses. (Andrew Beyer, “Making a Run for It”, Washington Post, May 20; Jennie Rees, “Curlin camp a crowded place”, Louisville Courier-Journal, May 20).
- Stan Chesley did not even show up to the court-ordered May 16 mediation session, allegedly forcing a rescheduling until May 23. (Chesley’s attorney says he was in contact with his client at the hearing.) Plaintiffs have asked for sanctions. (Paul Long, “Mediation over lawyer fees fails”, Cincinnati Post, May 18).