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Criticism continues to mount (“shameful,” “excessive”) over lawyers’ effort to nab $223 million in fees for representing Indian tribes’ interest in the long-running Cobell litigation over management of trust funds. [BLT (quoting former Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D.), and more (DoJ); PoL; earlier here and here (Kilpatrick Stockton lawyer Keith Harper considered for Tenth Circuit appointment)]

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Update roundup

by Walter Olson on November 13, 2011

Further on stories we’ve noted in the past:

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Ted Frank, who’s challenging the Cobell (Indian trust) class action fees as part of his work with the Center for Class Action Fairness, catches out a lawyer who claims to have worked for more than nine hours a day on the case for 14 years, including a 7-year stretch in which he purportedly worked “an average of eleven hours a day, every day seven days a week without a single day off.” [Above the Law, earlier]

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March 30 roundup

by Walter Olson on March 30, 2011

  • “Woman Sues Adidas After Fall She Blames on Sticky Shoes” [Lowering the Bar]
  • Texas lawmakers file loser pays proposals [SE Tex Record] Actual scope of proposals hard to discern through funhouse lens of NYT reporting [PoL] Marie Gryphon testimony on loser-pays proposals in Arkansas [Manhattan Institute, related]
  • Google awarded patent on changing of logo for special days [Engadget via Coyote]
  • “Civil Gideon in Deadbeat Dad Cases Would Be ‘Massive’ Change, Lawyer Tells Justices” [Weiss, ABA Journal, Legal Ethics Forum]
  • Amateur-hour crash-fakers in Bronx didn’t reckon on store surveillance camera [NY Post]
  • “Plaintiffs’ Lawyers in Cobell Defend $223M Fee Request” [BLT]
  • Show of harm not needed: FDA kicks another 500 or so legacy drugs off market, this time in the cold-and-cough area [WaPo]
  • “Wal-Mart v. Dukes: Rough Justice Without Due Process” [Andrew Trask, WLF]

Plaintiff’s lawyers agreed to seek a maximum of $99.9 million in fees in the settlement of the Cobell class action over federal mismanagement of Indian tribal trust funds. Now, however, a different number has suddenly appeared on the agenda: $223 million. [National Law Journal]

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Keith Harper, now with Kilpatrick Stockton, is a longtime Native American Rights Fund attorney and class counsel in the gigantic Indian trust fund litigation, Cobell. Some critics focus on his prospective appointment for an “Oklahoma seat” on the court, others are not happy with developments in Cobell. [Tulsa World, Kimberly Craven/Billings Gazette]


November 30-December 2 – Be somewhat less afraid. Notwithstanding a scare campaign by antinuclear activists including the egregious Robert F. Kennedy Jr., two physicists argue that U.S. nuclear power plants are not likely to top the list of targets of opportunity for terrorists seeking to inflict mass casualties (Gerald E. Marsh and George S. Stanford, “Terrorism and Nuclear Power: What are the Risks?”, National Center for Policy Analysis Analysis #374, November; “NY Nuclear Plant Shutdown Sought Pending Security Review”, AP/Dow Jones/Business Times, Nov. 9 (RFK Jr. compares Indian Point facility near NYC to nuclear bomb); NCPA “Ten Second Response” series, “Media Overplays Risk of Terrorist Attacks on Nuclear Power Plants”, Nov. 16). California agricultural officials are seeking to calm public fears that Central Valley crop dusters furnish a likely method of attack on major urban targets; among the planes’ limitations are their constricted range and speed (Michael Mello, “Crop-dusters nothing to fear, officials told”, Modesto Bee, Nov. 29). And for a really contrarian view, U.S. Army veteran Red Thomas has written a short essay on why, if you possess fairly minimal civil defense smarts, you’re likely to survive a chemical, biological or even radiological attack. (“The Real Deal — Words of Wisdom About Gas, Germs, and Nukes” — Snopes.com, via Libertarian Samizdata and Rallying Point weblogs).

November 30-December 2 – “U.S. Judge Dismisses All but One Columbine Lawsuit”. “A federal judge on Tuesday dismissed all but one lawsuit filed against police and all claims lodged against a school district by victims and relatives of people killed and injured in the 1999 Columbine High School shooting, lawyers said.” (Yahoo/Reuters, Nov. 27)

November 30-December 2 – Whiplash days: a memoir. Back in 1992, actor/writer Thomas M. Sipos (books: Vampire Nation, Manhattan Sharks, Halloween Candy) answered a help wanted ad in Los Angeles’s newspaper for lawyers and took a job with a high-volume personal injury law firm. He’s now published on his website a memoir of that experience, entitled “How To Make Money In Soft Tissue Injury” — names changed to protect the not necessarily innocent.

November 30-December 2 – Rejecting an Apple windfall. The news that a disgruntled Apple employee had filed a race discrimination lawsuit seeking $40 million from the computer maker prompted this reaction from one African-American who recalls his own run-in with prejudice at a high-tech employer (AppleLinks, “Moore’s Mailbag”, letter from Marvin Price, Nov. 9; Duncan Campbell, “Apple faces £27m ‘race bias’ lawsuit”, The Guardian, Nov. 9).

November 29 – “Patriot Act would make watchdogs of firms”. “Ordinary businesses, from bicycle shops to bookstores to bowling alleys, are being pressed into service on the home front in the war on terrorism. Under the USA Patriot Act, signed into law by President Bush late last month, they soon will be required to monitor their customers and report ‘suspicious transactions’ to the Treasury Department — though most businesses may not be aware of this.” (Scott Bernard Nelson, Boston Globe, Nov. 18).

Broadcaster Neal Boortz, who unlike many lawmakers actually sat down and read the text of the USA Patriot Act, spells out the details of what this means: “if you go to a business [not just a bank] and spend more than $10,000 in cash that business has to report your name, address, social security number and other pertinent information to the feds. It doesn’t matter whether you spend the money on one item, or a whole shopping cart full … the federal government must be notified.” He adds: “This has absolutely nothing to do with international terrorism” — at least not the variety practiced by the Sept. 11 killers, who used credit cards and “did not deal in large amounts of cash. … They never spent $10,000 in cash with any business. In short, they never engaged in any activity that would have to be reported under Section 365.” (Neal Boortz, “Neal’s Nuze: The ‘Patriot’ Act???”, Nov. 20). In fact, the Treasury Department has been hoping to extend federal “money laundering” law in this manner for years; it just wasn’t pressing an anti-terrorism rationale for doing so (see “Lost in the Wash”, Reason, March 1999). According to Gabriel Schoenfeld in Commentary, one of the conclusions of former CIA counterterrorism deputy director Paul R. Pillar in a major new study of terrorism policy for Brookings is that financial controls are primarily of “symbolic” importance in combating terrorism, which unlike drug trafficking typically involves the transfer of only smallish sums. (“Could September 11 Have Been Averted?”, Commentary, December).

November 29 – Taco Bell a liquor purveyor? Well, no, you can’t buy booze at its outlet in Fort Smith, Ark. However, after several of its employees there attended a party together on their own time, one got into a fatal traffic accident, and before you can say “Yo quiero deep pockets” the lawyers had figured out who they really wanted to blame (Jeff Arnold, “Taco Bell Attorneys Seek Dismissal”, Fort Smith Times-Record, Nov. 9). Update Feb. 20: case settled.

November 29 – Lutefisk as toxic substance, and other reader letters. A Wisconsin attorney writes to say that his state’s employee right-to-know law specifically excludes the Scandinavian discomfort food from being considered a toxic substance; and we hear about precedents for Sept. 11 litigation, the proper response to malicious email pranks, and whether judges should expect any more privacy than the people who appear before them.

November 29 – “North America’s most dangerous mammal”. It’s not the grizzly bear or mountain lion, but adorable Bambi: deer-car collisions kill 130 Americans a year and seriously injure many more. Meanwhile, “nearly all the venison served in America’s finest restaurants is imported from places like New Zealand (where deer are an exotic species).” One idea for getting more on platters and fewer on fenders: reconsidering old laws restricting traffic in hunted game. (Ronald Bailey, Reason, Nov. 21).

November 28 – Bioterror unpreparedness. First the government does its best to render the making of vaccines uneconomic; then it declares that the private sector has failed and vaccine production must be federalized (Sam Kazman & Henry I. Miller, “Uncle Sam’s Vaccines”, National Review Online, Nov. 26; Naomi Aoki, “Nation wants vaccines, but drug makers remain wary of the risks”, Boston Globe, Nov. 14). Meanwhile, the haste with which politicians like Sen. Charles Schumer and anti-intellectual-property activists called (quite unnecessarily) for abrogating Bayer’s patent in its antibiotic Cipro helped send the worst possible signal to drug companies’ research budgeters about the safety of their investments (James Surowiecki, “No Profit, No Cure”, The New Yorker, Nov. 5; John E. Calfee, “Bioterrorism and Pharmaceuticals: The Influence of Secretary Thompson’s Cipro Negotiations”, draft, American Enterprise Institute, Nov. 1).

November 28 – Oklahoma forensics scandal, cont’d. The Washington Post has a substantial front-page piece catching up with it. “Already, a reexamination of [Joyce Gilchrist's] work has freed a convicted rapist and a death row inmate, overturned a death sentence, and called into question the evidence used to execute a man last year.” (Lois Romano, “Police Chemist’s Missteps Cause Okla. Scandal”, Nov. 26)(see May 9).

November 28 – “Does reading grades aloud invade privacy?” The Supreme Court has now heard arguments on that very strange case (see June 27) in which a teacher who allowed students to rate each other’s performance on an exam was accused of violating federal “educational privacy” laws. (Warren Richey, Christian Science Monitor, Nov. 27; Frank J. Murray, “Students’ grading papers passes Supreme Court’s test”, Washington Times, Nov. 28; Marcia Coyle, “High Court Faces First School Records Case”, National Law Journal, Nov. 13). Update: high court rules practice not unlawful (Feb. 22, 2002).

November 28 – Fiat against further fatherhood. The Wisconsin Supreme Court “has upheld a ban preventing a man who owes thousands of dollars in child support from having any more children. The court ruled that David Oakley, a father of nine, would be imprisoned if he had another child, unless he was able to prove that he would pay support for both that child and his current offspring.” (BBC, “Baby ban on US child support shirker”, Nov. 24).

November 27 – U.K. to compensate relatives who saw WTC attack on TV. “British families who watched their relatives die during live television coverage of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center may receive compensation for the trauma they suffered. The Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA), which normally compensates people who witness in person a relative killed or injured in Britain, has taken the unprecedented decision that people who watched coverage of the 11 September attacks should be eligible for payments. … Those eligible will receive payouts of between £1,000 and £500,000, although the average level will be an estimated £20,000.” Under earlier rules, such payouts were made only in cases where family members witnessed crimes that took place in Great Britain. Critics complain that the U.K. is developing a “compensation culture”. (Matthew Beard, “British families of New York victims may be compensated for trauma”, The Independent, Nov. 19; Dominic Kennedy, “Surprise payout for relatives who saw attack on TV”, The Times, Nov. 19; Sarah Womack, “Cash plan for British TV witnesses”, Daily Telegraph, Nov. 19).

November 27 – Target: ethnic-immigrant landlords. Latest shock-horror on the housing front: many ethnic immigrant landlords prefer to rent units to members of their own minority group. Who knew? Such patterns have been detected among “Cambodians in Long Beach, Latinos in El Monte and Taiwanese in Rosemead”; some landlords, it seems, will take tenants from their own state in Mexico but not from other states in Mexico. The L.A. Times lends a sympathetic ear to civil rights activists who send out “testers” to catch such building owners and supers in the act, though the article does not explore the hefty financial rewards sometimes available when activists succeed in these missions (see “Tripp Wire”, Reason, April 1998). The article quotes no critics of the law, but does unveil yet another demand coming down the pike: “In California, advocates say the state should require antidiscrimination training for landlords.” (Sue Fox, “Mi Casa No Es Su Casa”, L.A. Times, Nov. 21).

November 27 – Columnist-fest. Very topical stuff today:

* The proposed settlement of (some of) the private Microsoft class actions (donations of outdated product to school districts, which could entrench the company even more as standard-setter) may be absurd, but blame that on the absurdity of the underlying lawsuits themselves, argues Nick Schulz (“‘You’re an Evil Predator; Now Teach My Kids'”, TechCentralStation.com, Nov. 23; Matthew Fordahl, “Few criticize Microsoft deal”, AP/Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Nov. 24).

* Canada’s super-liberal asylum policies are coming under a lot more scrutiny (Christie Blatchford, “Canada and terrorism: programmed to receive”, National Post, Nov. 24; “Canada probes 14,000 refugees”, Nov. 24)(see Sept. 14-16). See Cindy Rodriguez, “Suspects take advantage of liberal asylum program”, Boston Globe, Nov. 23 (tossed grenades at airliner, now collects welfare in Ontario).

* “A desperately needed bill to protect the nation’s insurance industry and the greater economy after Sept. 11 remains in dire peril, thanks to the financial pressure group that exerts the most influence over the Democratic Party: the plaintiff trial lawyers of America.” (Robert Novak, “Politics as usual”, syndicated/TownHall, Nov. 22).

November 26 – Utah: rescue searchers sued. “The family of Paul Wayment and his son Gage have filed claims against searchers who did not find 2-year-old Gage before he froze to death last year. The family of Paul Wayment is seeking more than $3 million. Paul Wayment committed suicide after being sentenced to jail for negligent homicide in his son’s death. The family is accusing searchers of being negligent in their efforts to find Gage and are seeking more than $2 million in damage for the deaths of father and son.” (Pat Reavy, “Wayment kin sue searchers”, Deseret News, Nov. 21; Jim Woolf, “Multimillion-Dollar Claim Filed By Wayments Against Searchers”, Salt Lake Tribune, Nov. 21; Lucianne.com thread).

November 26 – “Smokers Told To Fetter Their Fumes”. In suburban Washington, D.C., the Montgomery County, Md. council has approved a measure setting stiff fines for residents who smoke at home if their neighbors object. “Under the county’s new indoor air quality standards, tobacco smoke would be treated in the same manner as other potentially harmful pollutants, such as asbestos, radon, molds or pesticides. If the smoke wafts into a neighbor’s home — whether through a door, a vent or an open window — that neighbor could complain to the county’s Department of Environmental Protection. Smokers, and in some cases landlords or condominium associations that fail to properly ventilate buildings, would face fines of up to $750 per violation if they failed to take steps to mitigate the problem.” “This does not say that you cannot smoke in your house,” said council member Isiah Leggett (D-At Large). “What it does say is that your smoke cannot cross property lines.” Arthur Spitzer, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s capital area chapter, expressed unease over the proposal, but George Washington U. law prof and anti-smoking activist John Banzhaf, who has been known to give class credit to students for suing people, calls it a “major step forward”. (Jo Becker, Washington Post, Nov. 21; Jacob Sullum, “The Home Front”, Reason Online, Nov. 27) (see also Oct. 5-7). Update: plan is dropped after storm of criticism (Jo Becker, “Global Ridicule Extinguishes Montgomery’s Anti-Smoking Bill”, Washington Post, Nov. 28).

November 26 – After racist gunman’s assault, a negligent-security suit. “A San Fernando judge is set to decide if the North Valley Jewish Community Center can be sued for failing to protect 5-year-old Benjamin Kadish from a racist gunman who opened fire inside the Granada Hills facility in August 1999, injuring the boy and four others. Benjamin’s parents, Eleanor and Charles Kadish, sued the center in April, claiming the center’s officials should have known the facility ‘was a target for anti-Semitic attacks’ and taken appropriate security precautions, such as locking entrances and hiring guards.” Defense lawyers for the center call the Kadishes’ lawsuit “inappropriate, divisive and utterly unsupported by the law”. “There cannot be a duty on the [center] to prevent the likes of Buford Furrow from doing this terrible thing,” attorney Scott Edelman said. “They are suing a victim.” (Jean Guccione, “Judge to Rule on Suit Over Shooting”, Los Angeles Times, Nov. 19).

November 23-25 – Disposable turkey pan litigation. The National Law Journal‘s Gail Diane Cox decided to follow up on some of the suits that get filed after each holiday season against makers of disposable turkey roasting pans, alleging that the pans buckled or collapsed causing personal injuries to result from oven-hot birds or drippings. Attorney Matthew Willens of the Rapoport Law Offices in Chicago said his office’s case on behalf of a 69-year-old Illinois woman hurt in a pan incident on Thanksgiving Day 1995 settled for “a decent amount, if not the millions that some of these cases seek,” but that his office did not pursue opportunities for cases brought in by resultant publicity: “We didn’t want to become known as the turkey pan guys.” (“Voir Dire: Thanksgiving law a turkey”, National Law Journal, Nov. 12, not online). (DURABLE LINK)

November 23-25 – “School sued over poor results”. One we missed last month from the U.K. educational scene: “A student is suing her former school, claiming poor teaching was to blame for her failure to achieve a top grade at A-level. Kate Norfolk, who attended £4,000 per term independent school Hurstpierpoint College, West Sussex, says she was not properly prepared for her Latin A-level. … Her family has issued a writ to the High Court, seeking £150,000 to cover the loss of future earnings, school fees and compensation for the distress caused.” (BBC, Oct. 1).

November 23-25 – Australian roundup. In Australia, Supreme Court Justice Peter McClellan has ruled against Kane Rundle’s claim for more than $1 million in compensation for brain damage suffered when, as he leaned out of a train carriage to spray-paint graffiti on a wall, his head collided with a stanchion. Rundle had argued that the State Rail Authority was negligent “because it had failed to ensure a carriage window could not be opened far enough to put his body through.” (Will Temple, Queensland Courier-Mail, Oct. 6). In the state of Victoria, a woman has won a $20,000 payout from the police for being handcuffed by police in a 1993 incident after she failed a breath test; police sources said the woman had “started banging her head against a wall for several minutes and was handcuffed to a chair [for five minutes] to stop her injuring herself” while the woman contended in a 1998 writ that the cuffed state had lasted a half hour and that she had been severely bruised. A police spokesman said the payout was made after considering the expected cost of fighting the claim and that the department did not concede any liability. “In the past 2 1/2 years, about $5 million has been paid out by police over alleged bashings, illegal arrests and jailings. Police have blamed ‘no win, no fee’ lawyers for fueling a flood of claims.” (Nick Papps, “$20,000 payout for handcuffing”, Sunday Herald-Sun (Melbourne), Sept. 9). However, a Perth bodysurfer dumped by a wave lost his case arguing that the local council breached its duty of care by not posting signs warning of the dangers of bodysurfing, leading one frustrated Aussie private citizen to post a formal declaration: “I hereby publicly totally renounce any duty of care to anybody. … If a person wants to commit suicide, it is not my duty to talk them out of it.” (“Ziggy”, “Blame Others for Your Mistakes“). (DURABLE LINK)

November 21-22 – Liability limits speed WTC recovery. How to help New York City and the commercial aviation business recover from the devastating blows of September? When the chips are down, there’s no substitute for reining in our system of unlimited liability and unpredictable punitive damages, as is being recognized in the WTC case by some unlikely candidates for the role of tort reformer, like New York Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Chuck Schumer, both Democrats who have opposed liability limits in the past. Clinton and Schumer have now successfully pressed for legislation to protect the operator/leaseholder of the destroyed WTC, Larry A. Silverstein; the Port Authority; the city of New York; airport operators such as Boston’s Logan; and certain aircraft makers from the prospect of unlimited, ruinous liability in a decade or more of future litigation. Most of these entities will see their exposure limited to the extent of their insurance or, in the case of the self-insured city of New York, to $350 million, a figure that approximates the city’s annual payout for suits of all other kinds. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) went to bat for provisions protecting Boeing, which has large operations in Washington state; the airlines themselves were protected in an earlier round.

House Judiciary Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.) warns that various less obvious targets that wield less clout on the Hill, including World Trade Center architects, steel manufacturers, jet-fuel providers, and the state of New York, still face open-ended liability. You’d think this would be what educators call a teachable moment for longtime tort-reform opponents Hillary and Chuck, since they’ve now acknowledged that when it’s really necessary to pick up and keep going after disaster, some limits are needed on the power of their friends in the trial bar to keep the blame process in play forever. Unfortunately, both New York senators are signaling that the circumstances in this case were, um, unique, and that no other defendants worried about liability exposure should expect any sympathy from them. (DURABLE LINK)

SOURCES: “Hillary for Tort Reform” (editorial), Wall Street Journal, Nov. 20 (online subscribers only); statement of Rep. James Sensenbrenner, chairman, House Judiciary Committee, Nov. 16; Christopher Marquis, “Measure Sets Liability Caps for New York and Landlord”, New York Times, Nov. 17; “War Profiteers” (editorial), OpinionJournal.com, Oct. 14; “War Profiteers II” (editorial), Wall Street Journal, Nov. 8; and WSJ coverage: Jim VandeHei, “Airline-Security Bill Will Extend Liability Shield to Boeing, Others,” Nov. 16; Jim VandeHei and Milo Geyelin, “Bush Seeks to Limit the Liability Of Firms Sued as Result of Attacks”, Oct. 25; Jim VandeHei and Jess Bravin, “Lawmakers Work to Provide Liability Shields For Boeing, World Trade Center Leaseholder”, Oct. 24.

November 21-22 – “They’re back!” No, this isn’t the first parody of what will happen if apprehended Al-Qaeda terrorists hire big-name American trial lawyers to get them off, but it’s one of the funnier ones (Victor Davis Hanson, National Review Online, Nov. 20). See also Jonathan Kay, “Bullets over barristers”, National Post, Oct. 13; Michelle Malkin, “No more jury trials for terrorists”, TownHall.com, Oct. 24; James S. Robbins, “Bring on the Dream Team!”, National Review Online, Oct. 9. Incidentally: here’s an inspiring photo weblog of Afghan liberation (via Matt Welch).

November 21-22 – Fight over dog’s disposition said to cost taxpayers $200K. An eight-year legal battle over a Lhasa Apso by the name of Word, alleged by the city of Seattle to be vicious, has at last ended with the dog’s reprieve. “Attorneys for Word’s owner say the fight has cost taxpayers well over $200,000.” (Sara Jean Green, “Canine con gets reprieve after eight years”, Seattle Times, Nov. 14).

November 21-22 – Welcome SmarterTimes readers. Ira Stoll’s invaluable New York Times-watching service gave us a nice mention Tuesday in a discussion of an absurdly one-sided piece the Times ran on the Americans with Disabilities Act. (Nov. 20, see bottom). Also linking us recently: India’s Bombay Bar Association (“Law-U.S.”); Duke Update Morning Run (college sports); John Brignell’s NumberWatch from the U.K. (a site “devoted to the monitoring of the misleading numbers that rain down on us via the media”); Citizen’s Coalition for Children’s Justice (zero tolerance abuses); CPA Wizard; National Anxiety Center; Jim’s Cop Stuff; Egotist (“The mildly libertarian stance bothers me but that aside this site seems to actually have something to say, which is sadly not the rule on the internet”); Randleman Land; weblogs More Than Zero (Andrew Hofer), LawSchoolCrazy, Nov. 17 (Jorge Schmidt, Univ. of Miami — “Every once in a while I need a reality check. Nothing is better at reminding me what most people think of lawyers, and the law, than the outstanding Overlawyered.com site”), What the…? (Andrew Shulman — “find out how funny and sad our legal system is”). Best wishes to all of you, and happy Thanksgiving.