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The self-described “bounty hunter” lawyer, whose exploits around L.A. have been previously detailed in this space Nov. 4-5, 2002 and Mar. 12 of this year, has turned his talents to disabled-rights enforcement and swooped down on the city of Fresno, filing more than 130 lawsuits against local businesses over such alleged infractions as a too-high bathroom mirror and a hard-to-reach soda dispenser. Businesses usually pay between $5,000 and $12,000 to settle, says San Diego defense attorney James Reynolds. (Robert Rodriguez, “Fresno Businesses Are Sued Over Act”, Fresno Bee, Jul. 4) (via Southern California Law Blog). For more on ADA filing mills, see Mar. 9 and links from there and my City Journal article, “The ADA Shakedown Racket“.

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In an update on ADA filing mills more than two years ago we noted the case of Alfredo Garcia, one of the busy class of serial plaintiffs who’ve sued hundreds of California businesses demanding money for accommodations violations, often represented by attorney Morse Mehrban, a longtime Overlawyered favorite. Garcia has also been described as an “illegal immigrant and convicted felon,” and KABC Los Angeles says that after filing more than 800 lawsuits, Garcia has actually been deported:

Based on previously disclosed settlements, Eyewitness News can estimate that Garcia has collected approximately $1.2 million from business owners since he began filing lawsuits in 2007.

At the same time, Garcia applies for and receives fee waivers from the courts by claiming he is too poor to pay the court fees associated with the lawsuits. That means taxpayers pick up the tab. …

[By 2010] he’d sued more than 500 businesses, including La Casita Mexicana in Bell. The restaurant owners were able to prove that Garcia had not been at their restaurant on the dates he claimed to have been there.

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Many of them aren’t so nice, especially in California which incentivizes access complaints with $4,000 minimum per-violation damages as well as entitlement to attorney’s fees. “According to [defense attorney James] Link, more than 3,000 ADA lawsuits were filed in L.A. County in the last three years — more than 1,700 of them by attorneys Morse Mehrban of L.A. and Mark Potter of San Diego’s Center for Disability Access.” One of Potter’s prolific clients, Jon Alexander, formerly of Utah, might displace George Louie as the poster guy for controversial ADA litigants. [L.A. Weekly via Doherty]

Although you might say they’re a little late to this story, it’s still a welcome development. I discuss the piece and its background in a new Cato post (& welcome Glenn Reynolds/Instapundit readers). Hans Bader and Jacob Sullum also weigh in.

While we’re at it, here are some more links not yet blogged in this space on this busy extraction industry: Hackensack, N.J. has its own serial ADA filer [Bergen Record; letter from Marcus Rayner, NJLRA]. California small businesses continue their protests [Lodi News-Sentinel, background on George Louie; ABC L.A. (Alfredo Garcia, who's filed hundreds of ADA suits, described as "illegal immigrant and convicted felon"; background on his attorney, Overlawyered favorite Morse Mehrban)] And in case you were wondering about the enabling role of the courts, here’s a recent Ninth Circuit decision ruling it an abuse of discretion for a trial court to have cut a lawyer’s fee award in an ADA barrier case [Bagenstos, Disability Law] Much more at our ADA filing mills tag.

December 16 roundup

by Walter Olson on December 16, 2010

April 18 roundup

by Walter Olson on April 18, 2009

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Last week, the California Supreme Court handed down yet another victory for abusive “antidiscrimination” litigation, ruling in favor of a California attorney who makes a business out of suing legitimate businesses for violations of California’s absurdly broad Unruh antidiscrimination law. Marc Angelucci and three of his fellow travelers sued the Century Supper Club, a nightclub, for charging women less than men on several occasions in 2002; although two lower courts found reasons to rule against them, the California Supreme Court ruled that their claims had merit. (Court decision: PDF)

Unfortunately, as a matter of law the Court is right. The Unruh law is written ridiculously, and it has no exception for bogus plaintiffs. (What’s the big deal? Just this: Unruh provides for a minimum of $4,000 damages, plus attorney’s fees, for successful plaintiffs, thus providing an incentive for Angelucci to turn an anti-Ladies’ Night crusade into a career. Even the California court recognized that its interpretation of the law improperly rewarded “professional plaintiffs and bounty-hunting attorneys,” but it (correctly) held that rewriting laws is for the legislature, not the courts.

Oh, and one of the plaintiffs’ lawyers in this case? Our old friend, Morse Mehrban. (Most recently covered: Apr. 17, and see links therein.) Mehrban and Angelucci have teamed up on these cases many times before.

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We don’t generally endorse litigation as a solution to problems here at Overlawyered, but here’s one that just might be justified:

A business owner is suing an Anaheim man and his lawyer for filing at least 123 lawsuits that allege disabled-access law violations, saying the practice is “an effort to extort a quick and dirty settlement.”

In a lawsuit filed last week in Orange County Superior Court, Huy Dinh accuses David Gunther and Morse Mehrban of filing “frivolous lawsuits” to extort money from small businesses. Dinh, is suing alleging malicious prosecution, fraud and abuse of process, and seeks punitive damages.

Dinh was sued last year by the pair, who alleged a work station at his business was too high for disabled persons. A jury sided with Dinh, according to the lawsuit.

We’ve covered the exploits of the Gunther/Mehrban racket before: Dec. 1, 2006 and Dec. 7, 2006. And more of Mehrban’s activities: Nov. 2002, Mar. 2004, July 2004.

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ADA: “The New Crips”

by Walter Olson on December 7, 2006

We’ve linked in the past to a lot of excellent investigative journalism on the disabled-rights filing mills that have blanketed whole business districts in California and elsewhere with accessibility complaints that quickly convert to cash demands. (Some examples: Carmel (Calif.) Pine Cone on Jarek Molski and Thomas Frankovich, blogger George Wallace on Jerry Dolan, CNN on George Louie, among others; and I might as well promote my own 2004 effort for City Journal). Among the most riveting of the bunch appeared this fall in Southern California’s Orange County Weekly. (R. Scott Moxley, “The New Crips”, Orange County Weekly, Oct. 13). A few highlights:

* “Lawyers familiar with [wheelchair user David Allen] Gunther’s activities estimate he’s taken more than $400,000 in the last 36 months, mostly from mom-and-pop shops in Garden Grove, Anaheim, Fountain Valley, Orange, Tustin, Buena Park, Stanton, Seal Beach, Santa Ana, Dana Point, Huntington Beach and Los Angeles. If true, that’s quite a haul for a man who has spent most of his adult life unemployed, according to records obtained by the Weekly.”

* One of the first targets of Gunther’s suits, a flower seller in Anaheim, fought back, pointing out to a judge that she was herself wheelchair-bound and that her shop had a ramp. Gunther’s suit was dismissed, with no apology; “on the day Gunther said he drove to Gibson’s flower shop, he claimed in separate legal filings that he also wanted to patronize Gibson’s neighbors: a massage parlor, a dental office and a palm reader.” He got money from the massage parlor but not from the palm reader, who like the flower seller pointed out to Gunther’s lawyer that he did indeed have a ramp.

* “A Weekly investigation traced Gunther’s activities around the western U.S. during the last quarter of a century, uncovering evidence that not only has he exaggerated his reliance on a wheelchair, but he’s also whitewashed his own history of chronic unemployment, multiple drug addictions, narcotics trafficking, assaults, petty thefts, burglaries, a decade of missed child support payments, and more than a dozen arrests and stints in jail.”

* Gunther’s lawyer is none other than longtime Overlawyered favorite Morse Mehrban, (Nov. 4-5, 2002, Mar. 12, 2004, Jul. 9, 2004). Faced “with a discovery demand for the details of Gunther’s ADA settlements, Mehrban resisted for weeks, arguing that the information was ‘confidential and proprietary.’ Said Mehrban, ‘There is nothing to be gained by examination of the documents.’ Eventually, he told a judge that the issue was moot. He routinely destroys all Gunther’s paper records and erases the memories of his office computers, he said.”

* Nor is it possible for members of the outside public or media to attend the monthly meetings of Equal Access Now, a group Gunther has set up to promote access complaints. “‘Sorry, it’s private,’ said Gunther. ‘I teach disabled people about their rights.’” Gunther often files actions in concert with three other wheelchair users, each of whom claims the $4,000 per violation entitlement.

* After ending a client relationship with his own former lawyer, Gunther sued, claiming the lawyer’s bathroom was unaccessible. The lawyer’s staff said that Gunther not only had used the bathroom without incident but that he had in fact comfortably walked into and out of the office on repeated visits.

* At a meeting of some of Gunther’s victims in Santa Ana, “Jin Kim, owner of a barbecue restaurant at 17th Street and Grand Avenue, cried. He recounted the shock of getting the lawsuit without warning, how Mehrban had coldly refused to negotiate despite pleas, and that he had to sell his wife’s ring and a vehicle to pay Gunther $16,000—and his own attorney another $4,000 in fees. His crime? His restroom mirror was allegedly mounted a few inches too high and the door was a few pounds too heavy to push.”

* And his lawyer’s own offices? As it happens, they’re up a steep flight of steps in Koreatown: “Mehrban says it would not be practical to make his office accessible to the handicapped.”

The whole article, again, is here. Note that the California legislature has shown no discernible interest in amending the Unruh Act so as to curb this kind of entrepreneurial activity. Note also that the “ADA Notification Act”, a proposal in Washington aimed at curtailing cognate abuses based on the federal ADA, was unable to attain any serious traction even in the supposedly pro-business Republican Congress now drawing to its close.

P.S. Gunther’s activities also figured in the notable and recently decided case of Gunther v. Lin, discussed by Ted Dec. 1.

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As CoyoteBlog (Oct. 18) notes, this ballot initiative on drug prices contains a sneaky, little-discussed provision that will empower trial lawyers to file bounty-hunting suits against pharmaceutical companies if the companies charge prices “that lead to any unjust and unreasonable profit”, with a minimum $100,000 plus fees guaranteed to plaintiffs if a jury agrees that they have proved this (very hazily defined) offense. California has already earned the title of “Shakedown State” because of its bounty-hunting provisions on chemicals, disabled rights, consumer, education and labor law. And the San Diego Union-Tribune editorially criticizes Consumers Union for backing the benighted measure.

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Once again it’s happening in central California: “After more than 40 years in business, Roy’s Drive-In in Salinas is closing — in part because the owner can’t afford a lawsuit that accuses him of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.” Jarek Molski of Woodland Hills in southern California, who uses a wheelchair, “is suing Patterson because he claims the restaurant is in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Molski has sued over 200 small businesses for not meeting ADA requirements. …Built in the 1950s, Roy’s Drive-In does not have ramps to access the windows and restrooms, but employees say the business is accessible to all of their customers — including the disabled,” through car-hop service. The restaurant is scheduled to close today. (“Roy’s Drive-In Closing After 40 Years”, TheKSBWChannel.com, Sept. 20; Claudia Melendez, “Roy’s Drive-In to close”, Salinas Californian, Sept. 18). Last year (see Sept. 2, 2003) On Lock Sam, a beloved 105-year-old Chinese restaurant in Stockton, closed after being hit with an access suit.

Complainant Molski has been known to call himself “Sheriff”, and his activities (assisted by lawyer Thomas Frankovich) have caused an uproar lately in central California. His suits repeatedly recycle identical allegations concerning the lack of accessibility of establishments he says he has visited, and demand money over such putative misdeeds such as placing paper towel holders at an incorrect height. Hundreds of residents “filled the Morro Bay council chambers” after Molski hit a dozen local restaurants with suits. (Andrew Masuda, “Residents speak out over ADA lawsuits”, KSBY, Sept. 14). “Customers are calling Molski’s tactics a get-rich-quick scheme,” reported KSBY. Molski is “asking for $4,000 a day until the remodeling is completed,” says Ruth Florence, who owns Ahedo’s Mexican Restaurant in Grover Beach. “That’s ridiculous.” (Carina Corral, “China Bowl owner speaks out”, Sept. 15). More coverage on the same station: Sept. 8, Sept. 9, Sept. 10, Sept. 14.

Nor is Roy’s Drive-In the only casualty: “Owners of The Hungry Fisherman restaurant on Beach Street in Morro Bay say that Molski’s lawsuit caused the establishment to close after 28 years.” (Lindsay Christians, “Disability suits worry Morro Bay”, San Luis Obispo Tribune, Sept. 14). More coverage in the same paper: Sept. 11, Sept. 15, Sept. 15 again, Sept. 16, Sept. 18. San Diego-based lawyer Amy Vandeveld has also represented Molski (Matt Krasnowski, “Flood of ADA lawsuits irks small businesses”, Copley/San Diego Union-Tribune, Sept. 12). For Morse Mehrban’s recent activities in Fresno, see Jul. 9. For much more about disabled-rights filing mills, see Mar. 9 and links from there, and my City Journal article, “The ADA Shakedown Racket“. Update Dec. 12: judge declares Molski vexatious litigant.

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Tim Sandefur has collected more examples of unsuccessful, but inevitably expensive, lawsuits invoking California’s abuse-fraught s. 17200 private-attorney-general “unfair competition” law (see Dec. 8 and links from there). All three were rejected by the Court of Appeal. In one case, Consumer Cause, Inc., associated with veteran s. 17200 impresario Morse Mehrban, had demanded damages from an auto show producer that had provided female visitors to its shows with complimentary chocolates and roses, but had made similar gifts available to men only after an affirmative request. In a second case, an attorney had sought to employ s. 17200 as a surrogate obscenity statute by suing AT&T cable services demanding a refund of all fees collected for showings of pay-per-view adult film fare. The attorney’s suit had also sought forfeiture of AT&T’s profits from the films, revocation of its cable franchise (useful as a negotiating point, that one), and of course attorneys’ fees. (Feb. 20). Yet a third s. 17200 suit was filed against abortion clinics arguing, to quote Sandefur, “that providing abortion without disclosing alleged health threats to the mother, was unfair competition under Business and Professions Code 17200″. It was dismissed under the state’s anti-SLAPP (use of litigation for harassment) statute (Feb. 24).

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November 8-10 – By reader acclaim: “Father files suit after son fails to win MVP award”. “A Canadian father is suing the New Brunswick Amateur Hockey Association after his 16-year-old son failed to win the league’s most valuable player award. Michael Croteau is seeking about $200,000 in psychological and punitive damages from the association. He also demands that the MVP trophy be taken from the winner and given to his son, Steven.” (“Father sues team for not naming son MVP”, AP/ESPN, Nov. 7; Shawna Richer, “Father files suit after son fails to win MVP award”, Globe and Mail, Nov. 7). (DURABLE LINK)

November 8-10 – Welcome Weekly Standard readers. The magazine’s “Scrapbook” feature generously refers to us as “One of [its] favorite sites” (“The Scrapbook: DeWayne Wickham, Wellstone, and more”, Nov. 11)(requires print sub + reg) in the course of hailing a Miami federal judge’s recent ruling that the Americans with Disabilities Act does not require website operators to redesign their offerings for the convenience of blind customers (see Oct. 22). (DURABLE LINK)

November 8-10 – Asbestos opinions. The Supreme Court has just heard oral argument on Norfolk & Western Railway Co. v. Ayers, a case raising the question whether railroad workers who have not in fact developed cancer from exposure to asbestos can nonetheless sue under federal law for fear of same (Dahlia Lithwick, “Supreme Torts: How to get paid a million dollars for your phobias.”, Slate, Nov. 6; Marcia Coyle, “Litigating Over the Fear of Cancer”, National Law Journal, Oct. 30). The recent massive combined asbestos suit in West Virginia has served to expose the rift between plaintiffs’ counsel whose clients are seriously sick, and those whose strategy leads them to recruit other kinds of clients (Lisa Stansky, “Unusual Clash in Asbestos Case”, National Law Journal, Oct. 31). In the latest of several scorching columns he has written on the controversy, Stuart Taylor, Jr., charges that “lawyer-plutocrats continue to obscenely enrich themselves by using massive asbestos lawsuits and a disgracefully dysfunctional litigation system to extort billions of dollars from American consumers every year. The lawyers blackmail mostly blameless companies, while cheating the real victims of asbestos. This scandal in turn dramatizes how our lawsuit industry often operates as an engine of injustice — and as a drain on the economy, an inadequate vehicle for compensating people actually harmed by corporate wrongdoing, and a transparent fraud in its pretensions to punish those responsible for such wrongdoing.” (“Greedy Lawyers Cheat Real Asbestos Victims”, National Journal/The Atlantic, Oct. 1). See also James A. Lacey, “Asbestos Suits: Worse Than Enron”, New York Post, Oct. 9. (DURABLE LINK)

November 8-10 – Munched zoo animals, gets six months severance. “A German zookeeper, fired last month for eating animals in a town zoo, has been awarded six-months severance pay after reaching a settlement in a labour court. The town of Recklinghausen, north of Cologne, fired the zookeeper after he was caught barbecuing five Tibetan mountain chickens and two Cameroonian sheep at the zoo, popular with children who were allowed to stroke the animals. … Germany’s laws make it extremely difficult for employers to fire workers.” (“Animal feast zookeeper win pay claim”, Yahoo/UK Reuters, Nov. 7) (DURABLE LINK)

November 8-10 – “Lawyers Fight Over Louima Case Fees”. Continuing the tawdry saga last aired in this space July 24, 2001: “The Abner Louima police brutality case resurfaced in federal court Wednesday, as attorneys disputed the distribution of nearly $3 million in attorney fees amid accusations of slipshod lawyering, client poaching and greed. Johnnie L. Cochran, Peter Neufeld and Barry S. Scheck have filed a motion to prevent Louima’s first two lawyers — Carl W. Thomas and Brian Figeroux — from receiving any portion of the fees associated with the record $8.75 million settlement Louima received from New York City.” (Tom Perrotta, New York Law Journal, Oct. 18; “Louima’s first team of lesser-known attorneys seek share of $3 million”, AP/CNN, Oct. 18). “According to Scheck’s testimony, the relationship between the two groups of lawyers was tense from the very beginning, with members of both teams launching racial slurs.” (“Lawyers Fight Over Fees From Louima Settlement”, (WNBC-TV, Oct. 17). (DURABLE LINK)

November 7 – Some election results. The Senate results, as will be surmised, were a spectacular rout for organized trial lawyer interests, which had spent heavily to defend Democratic control of the upper chamber. (Another key litigation lobby ally, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) (Jul. 7, 2000) did not face serious challenge and won easy re-election.) Of the three extremely wealthy trial attorneys who ran for U.S. House seats in West Virginia and Florida (Oct. 11-13), all lost by margins of 60-40 or worse (Humphreys, Jacobs, Hogan). And all of the nationally publicized state supreme court races seem to have been resolved in a manner favorable to litigation reformers. Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Chuck McRae, widely viewed as symbolizing his court’s runaway-litigation faction (Sept. 9-10), lost badly, actually coming in third in a three-way race with 23 percent of the vote. (Antoinette Konz, “Dickinson takes high court position”, Hattiesburg American, Nov. 6). Despite a nasty ad campaign against them (Nov. 1-3), Maureen O’Connor and Evelyn Stratton won convincing victories for seats on the Ohio high court, whose balance of power may shift as a result. Judges Robert Young (Michigan) and Harold See (Alabama), who have drawn trial lawyer fire in the past, were both re-elected, albeit narrowly in See’s case.

In governor’s races, on the other hand, there was little to cheer about, with trial-lawyer-backed candidates pulling out mostly narrow victories in Michigan, Oregon and Tennessee. We never expect much good news to come out of attorney general races, and were unsurprised to see New York’s Eliot Spitzer and Connecticut’s Richard Blumenthal glide to re-election; we’re also expecting the worst from Illinois’s incoming Lisa Madigan (Jan. 7). But we note GOP takeovers of the AG’s office in Michigan and Florida, as well as retention of the crucial Texas post. (full list at NAAG site)

A footnote: one of the engineers of the great 1998 tobacco heist, Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth, was term-limited and deigned to run instead for a state senate seat in Broward/Palm Beach, but lost to the Republican candidate (WSVN-TV, Nov. 6). This continues the series of political pratfalls by which key players in the tobacco affair — the list includes former attorneys general Hubert Humphrey III of Minnesota, Dan Morales of Texas and Scott Harshbarger of Massachusetts, and Minnesota private attorney Michael Ciresi — have come up short when they tried to run for other offices. (DURABLE LINK)

November 7 – Scourge of the Super-Size order. The hullabaloo over suing fast-food chains has been great publicity for Washington-based law prof John Banzhaf, who finds himself the subject of a profile in the Washington Post (Libby Copeland, “Snack Attack”, Nov. 3), not to mention all the publicity furthered by his own website and its obesity links. Less respectful views are offered by syndicated columnist Doug Bandow (“Lawyers run amok”, TownHall, Nov. 5) and Southern restauranteur Robert St. John (“In state’s legal climate, ‘I could sue, … retire to Hawaii'”, Hattiesburg American, Oct. 15). (DURABLE LINK)

November 6 – Notation on Scruggs’ court file: to be “kept away from the press”. “Even as famed Pascagoula trial lawyer Dickie Scruggs testified in Hattiesburg Tuesday in a lawsuit over legal fees from asbestos litigation, records of the lawsuit were being withheld from the media by Jackson County officials. The file for the case … contains the original complaint in the lawsuit between Scruggs’ firm and Merkel & Cocke, a Clarksdale law firm that also handled asbestos cases in the 1990s. Scruggs believes that Merkel & Cocke owes him money for a case that the firm and Scruggs worked on together. … A handwritten note attached to the court file in Jackson County, found by a Sun Herald reporter, said, ‘This file is being kept away from the press/media, etc., but is not under seal per Court Order…’ The word ‘not’ was underlined twice for emphasis.” (Beth Musgrave and Karen Nelson, “Scruggs’ case file being kept away from media”, Biloxi Sun-Herald, Oct. 30). The next day county officials relented and agreed to let the newspaper see the file (“Court opens Scruggs file to newspaper”, Oct. 31). The paper’s editorialists call the withholding of the file “brazen” and “no innocent mistake”. (“Public records are not private property of government officials” (editorial), Oct. 31). (DURABLE LINK)

November 6 – Choirgirl vs. cathedral. In Britain, a judge has dismissed the complaint that 13-year-old choirgirl Pollyanna Molloy filed against the Dean and Chapter of Lincoln Cathedral (consecrated 1092) after she was passed over for a “cope”, a senior chorister position. Molloy says she was “utterly destroyed” to learn that a less experienced girl had been chosen for the honor, and her lawsuit claims damages for mental anguish. Molloy’s parents say they plan to appeal the judge’s order. (“Judge throws out choirgirl’s writ”, Lincolnshire Echo, Oct. 30; Jonathan Petre, “Girl sues cathedral for choir honour ‘snub'”, Daily Telegraph, Sept. 10). (DURABLE LINK)

November 6 – “Google sued over search ratings”. “Top billing in Google search results has become so coveted that one Web hosting company is suing for it. Search King, an Oklahoma City-based Web site network and advertising seller,” claims in its federal complaint that the popular search service “purposefully reduced Search King’s value, as well as that of Web sites hosted by Search King,” by downgrading its rankings. “According to the complaint, the Web hosting company in August started the PR Ad Network — an advertising network in which it sold text links on the popular Web sites to get them a better listing in Google’s results.” Google has recently been reported to have cracked down on “link farm” techniques by which sites are artificially induced to link to each other for purposes of boosting the beneficiaries’ search results. (Stefanie Olsen, ZDNet, Oct. 22). (DURABLE LINK)

November 4-5 – Campaign roundup. As we prepare to vote:

* Election Day is just the start: “both major parties have recruited unprecedented armies of lawyers — at least 10,000 on the Democratic side — for possible recount battles but also to keep an eye on voting procedures. …The campaign’s tone also shows the indelible mark of the 2000 election. The [Florida] recount battle signaled that lawyers can be as important as voters in shaping the outcomes of tight races.” Elections expert Larry Sabato says we “may not know for sure who controls the House and Senate until December or January.” (Gail Russell Chaddock, “As vote arrives, lawyers are ready”, Christian Science Monitor, Nov. 4). More: John Fund, “Have You Registered to Sue?”, OpinionJournal, Nov. 6.

* Medical malpractice reform has flared as an issue in races across the country. A very small sampling: the Tennessee governor’s race (Bill Poovey, “Hilleary says malpractice suit awards need a limit”, Knoxville News-Sentinel, Nov. 1); the Texas attorney general’s race (Jim Belew, “Abbott touts solution for healthcare”, Conroe Courier, Oct. 31); the Oregon governor’s race (“Governor hopefuls respond to readers”, Salem Statesman-Journal, Oct. 28 — scroll to near end); the Ohio high court races (“Taft says a GOP high court will fix malpractice problems”, Toledo Blade, Oct. 31; the Maryland governor’s race (“Maryland medical society turns against Townsend”, Baltimore Sun, Oct. 31); Pennsylvania’s 13th District U.S. House race (John Anastasi, “Doctors group backs tort reform supporters”, PhillyBurbs.com, Nov. 3); the Florida governor’s race (Mary Ellen Klas, “Candidates clash on medical liability”, Palm Beach Post, Oct. 16); and Mississippi state legislative races (Matthew Coleman, “Lawyers’ group targets Lincoln County senator”, Brookhaven (Miss.) Daily Leader, Oct. 9).

* In Connecticut, attorney Martha Dean has taken up the thankless task of running against the Northeast’s most successful political demagogue, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, and has been making a spirited job of it (Edmund H. Mahony, “Attorney Takes On A General”, Hartford Courant, Oct. 19; Ray Hackett, “GOP challenger: Blumenthal’s high-profile cases waste tax dollars”, Norwich Bulletin, Oct. 28; “Dean says Blumenthal should stop Microsoft suit”, AP/WSFB-TV, Nov. 3). In news coverage no longer online, Dean has assailed Blumenthal for his continued denials that there was anything wrong with the way he picked his former law partners for the fabulously lucrative job of representing the state in the tobacco litigation (see Feb. 3 and Feb. 16, 2000).

* Of donations to federal candidates this election cycle by California’s 40 biggest law firms, which mostly represent corporations and other large institutions, 62 percent of the money has gone to Democrats, 35 percent to Republicans. (Jason Dearen, “Big-Firm Backing”, The Recorder, Oct. 29; “By the Numbers”). What, you thought it would be any different?

* In West Virginia’s hotly contested House race, asbestos plaintiff’s lawyer James Humphreys, “who made $10 million from his successful law practice last year, has spent $5.2 million of his own money in his quest to unseat Republican Shelley Moore Capito. Two years ago, the Charleston Democrat spent $6.1 million of his own cash in a narrow loss to Capito.” Make him spend it all, Shelley! (Karin Fischer, “Humphreys’ top contributor is himself”, Charleston Daily Mail, Oct. 24; “Bush pre-election drive stops in W.Va.”, Huntington Herald-Dispatch, Nov. 1; “Elections 2002: West Virginia House rematch”, UPI, Oct. 22).

More: A Washington Times editorial reminds us that trial lawyers have staked many, many chips on Michigan AG and gubernatorial candidate Jennifer Granholm; her GOP opponent, Lt. Gov. Dick Posthumus, “as the majority leader of the state senate tenaciously pushed the 1995 tort reforms through the legislature, and has been the personal-injury lawyers’ Public Enemy No. 1 ever since.” (“Lawsuit abuse”, Nov. 4; see Oct. 9). Those following Missouri politics will want to check out retired judge Ralph Voss’s website calling for voters to reject several incumbent judges. And here’s a list of local webloggers who will be following key races across the country (courtesy DailyPundit). (DURABLE LINK)

November 4-5 – “Lawyers who sue to settle”. L.A. Times profiles local attorney Morse Mehrban, a major user of California’s bounty-hunting charter Proposition 65, whose exploits include filing 400 separate claims against candle makers and more than a dozen against fireplace log makers, claiming their products emit toxic fumes when burned. “A group of Los Angeles-area hardware stores paid Mehrban $27,500 last year to settle a lawsuit claiming that discarded metal filings from key-duplicating machines posed a threat of lead contamination.” A Los Angeles judge who dismissed one of Mehrban’s cases — against a hotel for failing to post signs warning that cigarette smoke in public areas of the hotel was toxic — “likened the lawsuit to ‘racketeering.’ … Though [Mehrban] bills his time at as much as $400 an hour and drives a Mercedes roadster, he says he’s not in it for the money.”

“The plaintiff in many of Mehrban’s suits is Consumer Cause Inc., which describes itself as a statewide advocacy group. Its mailing address is the Brentwood home of Mehrban’s mother, Rafat Efraim, who for a time was listed on state incorporation records as the group’s only officer. According to Mehrban, Consumer Cause now has five officers, including his mother and fiancee. He declined to identify the other officers.” In one case Mehrban filed, “the manufacturer’s lawyer called Mehrban’s mother to the witness stand during a pretrial hearing in an effort to show that Consumer Cause was a mere front for Mehrban’s legal practice. Efraim speaks only Farsi and testified through an interpreter. Asked the name of the consumer group, she replied: ‘Help the customers.’ Efraim said she did not know whether it had any other officers.”

However, the Times reports that Mehrban has also represented clients whose independent existence will be familiar to some of our readers, including the National Coalition of Free Men (on whose behalf he filed suit recently against Los Angeles County, saying it was being discriminatory by maintaining a commission on women’s issues but not one for men’s) and the National Council Against Health Fraud (on whose behalf Mehrban went to court over the effectiveness of homeopathic remedies; numerous favorable mentions of Mehrban turn up on QuackWatch and he is listed on QuackWatch’s Legal Advisory Board). According to the Times, Mehrban is currently in court suing dentists on the claim “that the mercury in silver fillings could cause birth defects and diseases”. We wonder how that sits with his friends over at the NCAHF, which recently voiced agreement with the view of the American Dental Association that a different lawyer’s West Coast suit against mercury fillings constitutes “an egregious abuse of the legal system.” (see Jul. 16). (Monte Morin, Los Angeles Times, Oct. 26). For more on Prop 65 litigation, see Daniel Blackburn, “The be-all, catch-all”, San Luis Obispo New Times, Mar. 7. (DURABLE LINK)

November 4-5 – Self-defense, of course. Former policeman Eddie Myers fired 36 shots at Emma Horton from three different guns, hitting her 14 times. Last month a jury acquitted Myers on grounds of — what else? — self-defense. “This is a runaway jury and crazy verdict,” said Holmes County District Attorney James Powell III. Defense attorney Chokwe Lumumba disagreed, saying Myers was reasonably in fear of his life: Horton, who was an assistant police chief and Myers’s sister-in-law, was armed and Myers said she had reached for her gun. When found, “Horton was armed, but her gun was found strapped in its holster on her body.” (Jimmie E. Gates, “Ex-cop offers apology to family”, Jackson Clarion-Ledger, Oct. 23). (DURABLE LINK)

November 4-5 – You breached my privacy, says serial killer. Australia: “Serial killer Ivan Milat could receive up to $40,000 in compensation over alleged breaches of [New South Wales] privacy laws, State Parliament heard yesterday. Milat has lodged a complaint with the NSW Privacy Commission over the public release of x-rays taken last year when he swallowed three razor blades, 24 blade staples and a nail-clipper chain. Milat claimed he did this in protest at his solitary confinement but prison authorities believe the killer was hoping for a transfer to a medical facility from which to escape…. Milat, who is serving seven life sentences for the murder of seven backpackers between September 1992 and November 1993, stood to gain up to $40,000 in compensation if his complaint was upheld, he said. … ‘Milat believes as a result of those x-rays becoming public, that his personal rights have been impinged,’ [Corrective Services Minister Richard Amery] told Parliament.” (Linda Silmalis, “Milat’s compo bid could pay $40,000″, Sydney Morning Herald, Oct. 30). (DURABLE LINK)

November 4-5 – “Resounding victory” for Microsoft. Last Friday’s ruling was a rebuke to activist state attorneys general and others who’d wanted to pursue the technology company to the bitter end. “U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly embraced, with minor changes, the settlement struck last winter aimed at addressing Microsoft’s violations of antitrust laws. …And she all but ridiculed the states for the legal theories they put forth to justify tougher restrictions on the Redmond, Wash., company.” (Jonathan Krim, “Judge Accepts Settlement in Microsoft Case”, Washington Post, Nov. 2; Dennis J. Opatrny, “Reaction Mixed on Microsoft Decision”, The Recorder, Nov. 4). (DURABLE LINK)

November 1-3 – WHO demands pretzel de-salting by law. “Far from just encouraging people to leave aside the salt pot to prevent high blood pressure, governments should resort to legislation to cut the amount of salt in processed foods, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said Wednesday.” The transnational agency for years has been pushing governments to restrict tobacco, which seems to have whetted its activist spirit. (“East Less Salt — By Law, Says WHO”, AFP/Discovery Health Channel, Oct. 30). In Australia, “Take-away [take-out] chains may face pressure to end cheap deals on super-sized meals under a radical plan to be proposed to the Federal Government to combat obesity. Commercial television networks could also face new restrictions on screening fast-food and confectionery advertisements, especially to children.” (Fia Cumming, “New laws target fast food”, Sydney Morning Herald, Oct. 13). See also Andrew Ferguson, “Tobacco Lesson for McDonald’s in Fat War”, Bloomberg.com, Sept. 10 (interview with John Banzhaf); Iain Murray, “Slaughtering the Fatted Calf”, TechCentralStation, Aug. 19. (DURABLE LINK)

November 1-3 – Mudslinging in Ohio high court races. Trial lawyers and labor unions have been funding attack ads against two Republican candidates for the Ohio Supreme Court, incumbent Justice Evelyn Stratton and Lt. Gov. Maureen O’Connor, in a campaign so ugly that it has drawn a formal condemnation from the Ohio State Bar Association. “The ad, produced by the Citizens for an Independent Court political action committee, depicts laughing businessmen in suits inside a limousine, as a narrator states Justice Stratton and Ms. O’Connor are on ‘their side.'” (Jim Provance, “State bar assails ad in Ohio court race”, Toledo Blade, Oct. 22; Emily Heller, “Attack ads, big money set tone again this year”, National Law Journal, Oct. 28). Ohio GOP chairman Bob Bennett identifies an element of hypocrisy: “The same trial lawyers who funded this ad were outraged only two years ago when similar tactics were used against Justice [Alice Robie] Resnick,” one of their own favorites. (Liz Sidoti, “Group’s ad links GOP Supreme Court candidates to big business”, AP/Akron Beacon Journal, Oct. 16)(see Oct. 30, 2000). On judicial races in other states, see “Courting the Vote”, National Law Journal, Nov. 1 (fewer big fights between trial lawyers and their opponents than two years ago, Mississippi and Ohio aside). (DURABLE LINK)

November 1-3 – “Mom who drugged kids’ ice cream sues”. “A Phoenix mother who admitted lacing her daughters’ ice cream with prescription tranquilizers is suing a health care provider and others, saying they are responsible for her drug-induced delirium at the time. Jodi Lynn Henry, 38, who was acquitted in July of attempted murder charges, filed a medical malpractice claim in Maricopa County Superior Court against Jewish Family Services, a nurse practitioner and ValueOptions, a mental-health care provider.” (Carol Sowers, Arizona Republic, Oct. 30). (DURABLE LINK)

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