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pigford

Megan McArdle says the judge seems to have dreaded only Type A and not Type B error when it comes to compensating discriminated-against farmers, and quotes more from the great Times piece:

“It was the craziest thing I have ever seen,” one former high-ranking department official said. “We had applications for kids who were 4 or 5 years old. We had cases where every single member of the family applied.” The official added, “You couldn’t have designed it worse if you had tried.” …

Accusations of unfair treatment could be checked against department files if claimants had previously received loans. But four-fifths of successful claimants had never done so. For them, “there was no way to refute what they said,” said Sandy Grammer, a former program analyst from Indiana who reviewed claims for three years. “Basically, it was a rip-off of the American taxpayers.” …

In 16 ZIP codes in Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi and North Carolina, the number of successful claimants exceeded the total number of farms operated by people of any race in 1997, the year the lawsuit was filed. Those applicants received nearly $100 million.

At Prawfsblawg, Paul Horwitz notes that legal scholars active in areas like reparations and discrimination law have up to now said little or nothing about the high quantum of fraud in the much-publicized Pigford settlements and asks (perhaps a bit rhetorically?) whether they will soon be taking note of the “public interest graft” revealed in the Times piece. And Hans Bader wonders whether the Obama administration might have avoided going down the embarrassing settlement route had it taken more seriously the Supreme Court’s 2001 decision in Alexander v. Sandoval. More: Ted Frank, Point of Law; Daniel Foster, NRO. Joel Pollak: “Even the Kinko’s guy knows about Pigford.” Earlier here, etc.

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“If there are only 39,697 African-American farmers grand total in the entire country, then how can over 86,000 of them claim discrimination at the hands of the USDA? Where did the other 46,303 come from?” [Zombie, Pajamas Media; earlier here and here] More: Dave Zincavage has been checking Wikipedia (“virtually automatic” $50,000 payouts); and lawyers for Native American farmers and ranchers want in too.

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Stewart Baker is running a year-end contest to name the most regrettable uses of privacy law over the past year. Among his nominations: the “Agriculture Department, which cited privacy grounds in refusing to name any of the beneficiaries of the notoriously fraud-ridden ‘Pigford‘ settlement”; Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who imposed millions of dollars in fines on private health companies for lacking adequate technical controls on the privacy of health data, “even when there was no evidence that any data had been compromised,” at the same time as her own department was launching healthcare.gov, a data intake site with much more critical privacy and safety flaws; racing mogul Max Mosley, who prevailed on a French court to order Google to de-index scandal coverage of Mosley’s recreational indiscretions; and federal judge Lucy Koh, for finding Gmail’s business model potentially violative of wiretap laws. All the examples above were winners in their categories, save Mosley who trailed behind two others in the category “Worst Use of Privacy Law to Protect Power and Privilege.”

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In April, an extensive New York Times investigation by Sharon Lafreniere confirmed and extended what writers associated with the late Andrew Breitbart had been charging for more than two years: the so-called Pigford settlement, in which the U.S. Department of Agriculture agreed to make payments to persons charging racial bias in agriculture programs, is riddled with fraud. If you thought this might stand in the way of a payday for plaintiff’s lawyers in the case, you’re wrong: U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman has just approved a payout of $90.8 million to the lawyers, over objections. That represents the maximum (7.4 percent) of what was being asked for: “The deal set out a fee range between 4.1 percent and 7.4 percent.” [BLT]

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May 14 roundup

by Walter Olson on May 14, 2013

May 2 roundup

by Walter Olson on May 2, 2013

This seemed like a big story to me at the time, and it’s gratifying that it also seems like a big story to the editors of the New York Times. Sharon LaFreniere’s above-the-fold story today breaks vital new details about how career government lawyers opposed Obama appointees’ insistence on reaching a gigantic settlement for claims of bias against female and Hispanic farmers in the operation of federal agriculture programs.

On the heels of the Supreme Court’s ruling [adverse to claimants and favorable toward USDA], interviews and records show, the Obama administration’s political appointees at the Justice and Agriculture Departments engineered a stunning turnabout: they committed $1.33 billion to compensate not just the 91 plaintiffs but thousands of Hispanic and female farmers who had never claimed bias in court.

The deal, several current and former government officials said, was fashioned in White House meetings despite the vehement objections — until now undisclosed — of career lawyers and agency officials who had argued that there was no credible evidence of widespread discrimination. What is more, some protested, the template for the deal — the $50,000 payouts to black farmers — had proved a magnet for fraud.

According to the Times report, the settlement drive became “a runaway train, driven by racial politics, pressure from influential members of Congress and law firms that stand to gain more than $130 million in fees.” On the earlier, “magnet for fraud” Pigford settlement, see our coverage here, here, here, here, here, here, etc.

P.S. Plenty of coverage of this story at other blogs, including tributes to Lee Stranahan and the late Andrew Breitbart, whose investigations helped crack the story open. Useful background from Daniel Foster:

As in the original Pigford settlements, the government has literally given plaintiffs and their lawyers more money than they know what to do with. In the case of a $760 million settlement with Native Americans, which career DOJ lawyers argued was more than the government would have to pay even if they lost in court, only $300 million worth of (ridiculously easy to fake) claims were actually filed, leaving the rest of the money to be distributed to “nonprofit organizations serving Native American farmers.” As the story points out, it is not even clear how many such organizations exist — though you can bet any enterprising NGOers reading this are at this very moment pulling a clean copy of the 501(c)(3) application from their files.

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March 22 roundup

by Walter Olson on March 22, 2013

  • $10 million judgment “won’t hit Albuquerque property owners on their tax bills because it’ll come out of [city's] self-insurance fund” Say what? [Albuquerque Journal via Ed Krayewski, Reason]
  • Latest Bloomberg scheme: ban display of tobacco products [Jacob Sullum, Patrick at Popehat, Patrick Basham/Daily Caller, Ira Stoll, Elie Mystal/Above the Law]
  • Female? Hispanic? Planted a backyard garden between 1981-2000, while wishing you could have gone bigger with the hobby? Feds’ ag-bias settlement may have bucks for you [James Bovard/WSJ, earlier on Pigford black-farmer settlement here, here, here, etc.]
  • Newly published, includes blurb by me: Mark White, The Manipulation of Choice: Ethics and Libertarian Paternalism [Amazon]
  • “NYC adopts nation’s toughest law against refusing to hire unemployed” [AP, earlier here, etc.]
  • Estate of judge is suing prominent Philadelphia class action lawyer over fall at party in home [Legal Intelligencer]
  • For Wisconsin’s left, Roggensack/Fallone judicial contest might be the last hope for derailing Gov. Walker’s labor reform [Rick Esenberg]

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March 2 roundup

by Walter Olson on March 2, 2012

  • Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who crusades against distracted driving, worsens the problem by honking at motorists he sees using phones [WTOP via Mike Riggs, Reason] Expensive new mandate for back-up cameras in cars may be delayed until after election [Ira Stoll and more, Ann Althouse]
  • With reporter Lee Stranahan, the late Andrew Breitbart shone an investigative spotlight on the USDA’s billion-dollar settlement with lawyers representing black farmers, and there was indeed much to investigate [Big Government]
  • Substance on floor may have been own baby oil: “Oiled Stripper Loses Slip and Fall Lawsuit” [Erik Magraken; B.C., Canada; related on-the-job pole-dance injuries here and here]
  • Honeywell’s new thermostat design deserves high marks, its patent litigation maybe not so much [Farhad Manjoo, Slate]
  • Socialism takes too many evenings: @ChadwickMatlin live-tweets Park Slope Food Co-op meeting [The Awl]
  • Auto bailout a success? Really? [Mickey Kaus, Todd Zywicki, Ted Frank, Prof. Bainbridge]
  • Way to go Maryland: proud of my state for enacting law recognizing same-sex marriage, signed by Gov. O’Malley yesterday [WaPo]

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February 28 roundup

by Walter Olson on February 28, 2011

  • Feds indict activist for handing out “jury nullification” tracts outside courthouse [Volokh, Greenfield] Anti-abortion billboard taken down after demand by NYC pol; co. says fear of violence was spur [NY Times]
  • Pigford class action (USDA bias against black farmers) defended and assailed [Friedersdorf and readers, Daniel Foster/NR, Mark Thompson/LOG, earlier here, here, here, etc.]
  • Avik Roy on Pennsylvania defensive-medicine study [Forbes]
  • Backstory: Scott Walker battled AFSCME for years as Milwaukee County exec [Aaron Rodriguez, Hispanic Conservative] “Wisconsin’s teachers required to teach kids labor union and collective bargaining history” [Daily Caller]
  • “The return of the $0 Costco fuel settlement” [CCAF]
  • Historic preservation vs. the obesity crusade: should a vintage Coke sign in San Francisco’s Bernal Heights neighborhood come down? [SFGate]
  • Law blog that covers a single beat closely can turn itself into a valued practice tool [Eric Turkewitz on John Hochfelder's New York Injury Cases]
  • “Soda suits: Banzhaf browbeats school officials” [five years ago on Overlawyered]

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December 28 roundup

by Walter Olson on December 28, 2010

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Big Government has been blowing the whistle on the Pigford settlement, which arose from allegations of racial discrimination in U.S. Department of Agriculture programs and has resulted in the allotment of billions in federal taxpayer money as compensation. The series of posts is here and here.

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“What kind of journalist would cheer a defamation plaintiff?” [James Taranto, WSJ "Best of the Web"] Earlier here, here, and here.

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