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A year and a half ago, as I noted at the time, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) “agreed to pay $9.3 million to settle racketeering and other charges arising from alleged litigation abuse in lawsuits beginning in 2000 over elephant welfare,” while “other defendants in the countersuit, including the Humane Society of the U.S., have declined to settle [with Feld Entertainment/Ringling Bros.] and remain in the litigation.” Now the Humane Society and other groups have agreed to pay more than $15 million, suggesting the ASCPA settlement was not a freak occurrence. [AP/Houston Chronicle, Charles Schelle/Bradenton Herald]

My piece on the ASPCA settlement is here and Overlawyered coverage of the long-running litigation here.

Although our system is (alas) set up to make it very difficult for defendants to recover legal fees from losing plaintiffs, it is not too surprising that this case would be an exception given a judge’s scathing findings against the plaintiffs’ conduct — not to mention the recent agreement by the ASPCA, one of the animal rights groups, to pay the Ringling owner $9.3 million. [ABA Journal]

According to a press release from Feld Entertainment, which owns the Ringling Bros.-Barnum & Bailey circus, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) has agreed to pay $9.3 million to settle racketeering and other charges arising from alleged litigation abuse in lawsuits beginning in 2000 over elephant welfare. Feld says ASPCA and others paid a plaintiff and fact witness in the case whose testimony a judge described as not credible. It says it intends to continue suing other animal-welfare groups that it has named in connection with the episode, including the Humane Society of the United States, and Fund for Animals, as well as attorneys. [more on circus's side of dispute; earlier here, here, here, here] More: John Steele, Legal Ethics Forum.

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“After more than eight years of litigation, lawyers for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus will appear in federal court this week to square off against a handful of animal welfare organizations that have filed suit against the circus alleging that it routinely violates federal law by abusing its elephants. The case is a major test for the reach of the Endangered Species Act, which for the first time is being used by private citizens to try to influence the care of animals already in captivity.” If the complainants, led by the ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), succeed in the creative effort to reshape the Endangered Species Act into a federal animal welfare statute, lawsuits in other areas are likely to follow [Legal Times]

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Environment roundup

by Walter Olson on March 1, 2013

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ASPCA reactions

by Walter Olson on January 11, 2013

The head of the ASPCA writes to the New York Post about my op-ed piece. To recap the particular assertion to which he’s responding, if you want to support local shelter and rescue work, you’re much better off giving locally than you are writing a check to this national group and hoping a little trickles down through grants, special projects and the like.

Another reaction: Andy Vance, Farm Progress.

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I’m in this morning’s New York Post with an opinion piece about the thoroughgoing debacle the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) got itself into with a decade-long lawsuit charging mistreatment of elephants at the Ringling Bros.-Barnum & Bailey Circuses (earlier). Last month ASPCA agreed to pay Ringling’s owner $9.3 million to settle charges of litigation abuse. Other defendants in the countersuit, including the Humane Society of the U.S., have declined to settle and remain in the litigation.

Later in the piece I draw a parallel to the recently dismissed Hudson Farm litigation in Maryland, in which a judge lambasted Waterkeeper Alliance for shoddy litigation conduct in a Clean Water Act suit. Is it worth rethinking the whole policy, which dates back to 1970, of broad tax deductibility for suing people in “cause litigation”? Related from Ted Frank at Point of Law.

P.S. The comments section on the Post piece is more substantive than most, and includes a statement from HSUS. (& response from ASPCA head)

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July 14 roundup

by Walter Olson on July 14, 2012

  • Does new Obama directive gut 1996 welfare reform law? [Mickey Kaus ("in 2008, Barack Obama didn’t dare suggest that he wanted to do what he has done today"), Bader]
  • Ringling Bros. v. animal rights activists: court throws out champerty claim, allows racketeering claim to proceed [BLT]
  • Iqbal, Twombly, and Lance Armstrong [DeadSpin, Howard Wasserman/Prawfs and more]
  • Abuse claims: “Retain the statute of limitations” [New Jersey Law Journal editorial] Insurance costs squeeze NYC social services working with kids, elderly [NYDN]
  • Court upholds sanctions vs. “staggering chutzpah” copyright lawyer Evan Stone [Paul Alan Levy, Eugene Volokh, earlier here and here]
  • Court says board members of NYC apartment co-ops can be sued personally over alleged bias [Reuters]
  • “FASB retreats from disastrous litigation disclosure requirement proposal” [Alison Frankel, Reuters via PoL, earlier]

April 18 roundup

by Walter Olson on April 18, 2012

  • “MPAA: you can infringe copyright just by embedding a video” [Timothy Lee, Ars Technica]
  • NYC: fee for court-appointed fire department race-bias monitor is rather steep [Reuters]
  • Larry Schonbron on VW class action [Washington Times] Watch out, world: “U.S. class action lawyers look abroad” [Reuters] Deborah LaFetra, “Non-injury class actions don’t belong in federal court” [PLF]
  • Will animal rights groups have to pay hefty legal bill after losing Ringling Bros. suit? [BLT]
  • You shouldn’t need a lobbyist to build a house [Mead, Yglesias]
  • “Astorino and Westchester Win Against Obama’s HUD” [Brennan, NRO] My two cents [City Journal] Why not abolish HUD? [Kaus]
  • “Community organized breaking and entering,” Chicago style [Kevin Funnell; earlier, NYC]

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January 8 roundup

by Walter Olson on January 8, 2010

  • Pa. cash-for-kids judge allegedly came up with number of months for length of sentence based on how many birds could be seen out his office window [Legal Ethics Forum, with notes on ornithomancy or bird divination through history]; “The Pa. Judicial Scandal: A Closer Look at the Victims” [WSJ Law Blog on Philadelphia Inquirer report]; feds charge third county judge with fraud [Legal Intelligencer, more]; state high court overturns convictions of 6,500 kids who appeared before Ciavarella and Conahan [Greenfield]; judge orders new trial in Ciavarella’s eyebrow-raising $3.5 million defamation verdict against Citizens’ Voice newspaper in Wilkes-Barre; some web resources on scandal [Sullum, scroll to end]
  • Says drinking was part of her job: “Stripper’s DUI Case Survives Club’s Latest Attack” [OnPoint News, earlier]
  • Hundreds of lawyers rally to protest Sheriff Arpaio, DA Thomas [Coyote, Greenfield, ABA Journal, Mark Bennett interview with Phoenix attorney Jim Belanger, earlier here, here, and here]. In deposition, Arpaio says he hasn’t read book he co-authored in 2008 on immigration [Balko, Coyote] And as I mentioned a while back, Maricopa D.A. Andrew Thomas turns out to be the very same person as the Andrew Peyton Thomas toward whom I was uncharitable in this Reason piece quite a while back.
  • Ted Roberts, of the famous sex-extortion case, begins serving five-year term [AP/Dallas News, KENS]
  • New Hampshire lawsuit over leak of documents to mortgage gadfly site raises First Amendment issues [Volokh, earlier here and here]
  • Did someone say paid witness? Judge tosses decade-old animal rights case vs. Ringling circus [Orlando Sentinel, Zincavage] Bonus: Ron Coleman, Likelihood of Confusion, on PETA and Michelle Obama;
  • How’d foreclosure tax get into Connecticut budget when both parties claimed to oppose it? [Ct. News Junkie]
  • Best-legal-blog picks of Ryan Perlin, who writes “Generation J.D.” for the Maryland Daily Record, include one that’s “humorous though sometimes disheartening”, while La Roxy at Daily Asker salutes a certain website as “Lurid, i.e. satisfying”. Thanks!

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January 22 roundup

by Walter Olson on January 22, 2008

  • “Woman who ‘lost count after drinking 14 vodkas’ awarded £7,000 over New Year fall from bridge” [The Scotsman]
  • Bar committee recommends disbarment for Beverly Hills lawyer who “played the courts like a bully in a child’s game of dodgeball” [Blogonaut (with response by attorney) via ABA Journal]
  • Shot and paralyzed in parking lot of South Florida strip club, cared for back home in Tunisia, Sami Barrak is now $26 million richer by way of his negligent-security suit [Sun-Sentinel] Earlier Florida negligent-security here, here, and here.
  • Canadian government orders airlines to stop charging the severely obese the price of a second seat [Winnipeg Free Press; earlier]
  • Study of head-injury victims in Spain finds “nearly half of the people who go to court feign psycho-cognitive disorders with the objective of profiting from this in some way.” [Science Daily]
  • Federal judge vacates $1.75 million verdict, questions reliability of expert testimony in Nebraska recovered-memory sex abuse case [Lincoln Journal-Star, AP/Sioux City Journal]
  • Confess your thoughts, citizen: Ezra Levant on his interrogation by official panel in Canada for publishing Mohammed cartoons [Globe & Mail; earlier]
  • Class-action lawyers continue to hop on glitches with Xbox Live, Halo 3 and related Microsoft gaming systems [Ars Technica, News.com; earlier here and here]
  • Bay Area proposal to ban much burning of wood in fireplaces and stoves (Nov. 30, etc.) draws strong reactions both ways [SF Chronicle]
  • Harder to get into Ringling Bros.’s Clown College than law school, says man who attended both [six years ago on Overlawyered]
P.S. Whoops, that’s what I get for posting while drowsy: earlier roundups by Ted already had the Scottish-tippler and obese-flyer items.

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January 19 roundup

by Walter Olson on January 19, 2007

  • New legislation aimed at regulating “grassroots lobbying”: will it hit political bloggers? (Answer: apparently not.) [McCullagh, Hardy, Sullum, Bainbridge, Reynolds]

  • Upper East Side merchant sues vagrants whose cardboard-box loitering ruins his location [NYSun, NYTimes]

  • “People probably aren’t thinking about potential legal liability when they’re having casual sex,” says lawprof about new Calif. trend of spousal VD suits [KEYE-TV via KevinMD]

  • “Devious, dissembling, dodgy. And that’s just the police”. Theodore Dalrymple on UK criminal justice [Times Online]

  • Daniel Boulud of restaurant fame, targeted by lawsuit campaign, says he won’t pay to make worker advocates go away [NYTimes]

  • Erin Brockovich on the warpath against recycling facility in Apple Valley, Calif. [Fumento/TCS]

  • As a lawyer, Pres. John Adams represented Redcoats after Boston Massacre; what would he say about Guantanamo flap? [NYSun editorial]

  • Nearly all radiologists frustrated with practice, liability is top reason [LocumTenens.com]

  • Duke profs who egged on lynch mob in bogus rape case stand on melting ice floe of credibility [Reynolds, Althouse, Podhoretz, Bainbridge here and here, Allen]

  • Ringling Bros. trainee says clown college was harder to get into than law school [Five years ago on Overlawyered]


January 30-31 – Don’t mess with the taste cops. Arizona: Angelica Flores was handcuffed by police officers in front of her daughter and packed off to jail because “she and her husband, Tony, last year violated a code requiring Christmas decorations to be removed 19 days after the holiday.” Thinking that the charges had been dropped, the couple had skipped a court date with officials of the town of Peoria. (Monica Alonzo-Dunsmoor, “Couple jailed for Christmas lights see charge as humbug”, Arizona Republic, Jan. 28).

January 30-31 – “Legal Lesson for Afghanistan: War’s Not a Slip-and-Fall Case”. “For centuries, it has been accepted that damage caused in wartime cannot be claimed as injuries deserving compensation. … combatants are not required to treat every invasion like a massive slip-and-fall case,” notes law prof/pundit Jonathan Turley of George Washington University (L.A. Times, Jan. 29) (via InstaPundit).

January 30-31 – Washington Post blasts HMO class actions. The paper’s editorialists warn of “a new rash of abusive class action lawsuits” that “are being filed by an array of plaintiff’s lawyers, led by Richard Scruggs — of tobacco litigation fame and fortune — and David Boies”. The suits’ premise that managed health care cost control amounts to “racketeering” is a “novel but silly” theory that has already been rejected by one federal appeals court, the Third Circuit. “The notion of a national class of HMO enrollees is absurd. … The suits are a transparent effort to hijack the policy debate about managed care.” (“More actions without class”, Jan. 28).

January 30-31 – All things sentimental and recoverable. Down, attorney, down! cont’d: trial lawyers are salivating at the prospect of getting the law changed so they can file malpractice suits against veterinarians not just for a pet’s economic or replacement value as an animal, as is mostly the rule now, but for its personal and sentimental value, which would clear the way for six- and even seven-figure recoveries. In a closely watched case called Bluestone v. Bergstrom, an Orange County, Calif. judge has ruled in favor of a plaintiff’s right to pursue the larger scope of damages. At present only one veterinarian in sixteen faces a malpractice claim every year, but insurance specialist Mike Ahlert of Mack & Parker predicts skyrocketing rates if courts adopt the new doctrines: “it will drive up the cost of claims and attract plaintiff’s attorneys looking for new sources of income”. (Jennifer Fiala, “Court rulings could up ante on DVM malpractice”, DVM (veterinary newsmagazine), Sept., reprinted at ABD Services site); see also Thomas Scheffey, “Putting a Price on Pets”, Connecticut Law Tribune, Nov. 21).

January 28-29 – “Probe of Milberg Weiss Has Bar Buzzing”. Rumors fly that a grand jury is investigating class-action behemoth Milberg Weiss. Accounts differ, but the focus of the investigation is said to be the firm’s financial relationships with clients serving as plaintiffs in securities cases. (Jason Hoppin, The Recorder, Jan. 28). (DURABLE LINK)

January 28-29 – State of prosecution in Iowa. In a bizarre application of federal sentencing guidelines, the U.S. attorney’s office in Cedar Rapids, Iowa has gotten Dane Allen Yirkovsky, 38, sentenced to prison for 15 years for possessing a single .22 caliber bullet. “Yirkovsky’s saga began when he happened to come across a loaded .22-caliber round while pulling up carpets in the home of a friend who was putting him up in exchange for some remodeling work. He stuck the bullet in a box in his room. The bullet was discovered by police who were searching Yirkovsky’s room after his ex-girlfriend asserted he had some of her belongings.” (“Editorial: One bullet, 15 years”, Des Moines Register, Jan. 21). “The Iowa Supreme Court ruled Thursday that Polk County authorities were within their rights to confiscate a $9,000 car for a $35.81 crime.” (Frank Santiago, “County seizure of $9,000 car for $35.81 crime is upheld”, Des Moines Register, Jan. 25) And thank the Iowa attorney general’s office for this one: “Critics say a state law aimed at confining sexual predators past their prison terms is being used to punish offenders for crimes that aren’t sex-related.” (Jeff Eckhart, “Predator law used in non-sex crimes, critics say”, Des Moines Register, Dec. 23 — via Free-Market.Net). (DURABLE LINK)

January 28-29 – Strain, sprain injuries get $350K. “A California shopper who sustained a lower-back injury after a slip and fall in a department store settled her case for $349,999. On Dec. 26, 1998, plaintiff Bianca Hernandez, an unemployed female in her early 50s, was shopping in the sportswear section of a J.C. Penney store when she slipped and fell on coat hangers, clothes and other debris that were left on the floor.” Hernandez was taken to an emergency room. “She suffered sprain and strain injuries to her lumbar spine, left knee and left ankle.” Her suit alleged “that the store was inadequately supervised because the department manager and the assistant manager were both on break at the time, and sales associates were fully occupied serving customers.” Hernandez v. J.C. Penney Co. Inc., No. VC 030 725 (L.A. County) (“Fall during post-holiday sale costs J.C. Penney”, National Law Journal, Jan. 21, not online). (DURABLE LINK)

January 28-29 – Third Circuit nixes Philly gun suit. Goodbye to the city’s nuisance of a suit against the gun industry: “gun manufacturers are under no legal duty to protect citizens from the deliberate and unlawful use of their products,” said the federal appeals court, which also ruled the city couldn’t show the gunmakers were the “proximate cause” of harm suffered. (Shannon P. Duffy, “Philadelphia’s Gun Suit Off Target, 3rd Circuit Says”, Legal Intelligencer, Jan. 14). (DURABLE LINK)

January 25-27 – Warning on fireplace log: “Risk of Fire”. Michigan Lawsuit Abuse Watch has released the results of its fifth annual contest for the wackiest warning label, with the warning on the fireplace log coming in second. The winning entry, found on a CD player: “Do not use the Ultradisc2000 as a projectile in a catapult.” Third prize went to the label on a box of birthday candles: “DO NOT use soft wax as ear plugs or for any other function that involves insertion into a body cavity.” (Larry Hatfield, “Dumbest warning labels get their due”, San Francisco Chronicle, Jan. 24; M-Law press release, Jan. 22). (DURABLE LINK)

January 25-27 – Goodbye to zero tolerance? Democratic state senator Richard Marable is leading a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the Georgia legislature who want to give school authorities more discretion for lenience in cases of students found with weapons or weapon-like objects in their possession. The public has been soured on zero-tolerance policies by cases like that of Ashley Smith, the Cobb County sixth-grader suspended for 10 days for bringing to school a Tweety Bird keychain (see Sept. 29, Oct. 4, 2000), and an Eagle Scout punished after “return[ing] to school from a weekend expedition with a broken ax in his car … An Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll this past Friday found that 96 percent of respondents supported examining each case individually. Only 1 percent liked zero tolerance the way it was, and 3 percent wanted school safety laws to be stricter.” (“Georgia Pols Want ‘Common Sense’ to Trump ‘Zero Tolerance'”, FoxNews.com, Jan. 21). (DURABLE LINK)

January 25-27 – McMouse story looking dubious. Brett B., 32, “said he found a mouse inside his Big Mac sandwich in June of 2001.” His story has been looking a little peaked, however, since he and four others were busted “as part of a methamphetamine ring in Berkeley County. Police say [he] was also part of a scam that went around the state stealing people’s identities and credit cards. But one of his alleged accomplices spoke up about last June’s mouse incident, telling police, ‘Brett had got together with myself … and had planned to come up with a scam to pull on McDonald’s where Brett was going to say he had bit into a mouse that the employees of McDonald’s had put in there.'” (Dan Krosse, “McMouse Case Looks Like a Hoax”, WCIV-TV (Charleston, S.C.), Jan. 15). (DURABLE LINK)

January 25-27 – “Companies may be liable for drugs used in rapes”. “Drug manufacturers whose products are used by offenders to help them commit rape could be held legally responsible for the crimes, according to a Melbourne lawyer. Eugene Arocca was commenting on reports of increasing drug-assisted date-rape in and around Melbourne clubs and entertainment venues. … However, the managing director of Roche Australia, the drug company that produces several drugs that have allegedly been used in date-rapes, described the whole idea as ‘bloody ridiculous’.” (Heather Kennedy, The Age (Melbourne), Jan. 6). (DURABLE LINK)

January 23-24 – Life imitates parody: “Whose Fault Is Fat?” By reader acclaim: “Some say the food industry — particularly fast food, vending machine and processed food companies — should be held accountable for playing a role in the declining health of the nation, just as the tobacco industry ultimately was forced to bear responsibility for public health costs associated with smoking in its landmark $206 billion settlement with the states. Although no one is taking such legal action against the food industry, nutrition and legal experts say it is reasonable to think that someday, it may come to that. ‘There is a movement afoot to do something about the obesity problem, not just as a visual blight but to see it in terms of costs,’ says John Banzhaf, a George Washington University Law School professor.” (Geraldine Sealey, “Whose Fault Is Fat? Experts Weigh Holding Food Companies Responsible for Obesity”, ABCNews.com, Jan. 22). OpinionJournal.com “Best of the Web” (Jan. 22) reports that “This past Sunday, ‘The Simpsons’ aired a new episode in which Marge, shocked to learn that Springfield is the fattest town in America, hires a lawyer to sue ‘big sugar.'” See Michael Y. Park, “Lawyers See Fat Payoffs in Junk Food Lawsuits”, FoxNews.com, Jan. 23 (quotes our editor).

January 23-24 – “Law hurts men, women”. Title IX, the feminist sports law run amok, is taking an ever-increasing toll: “Baseball at Boston University — gone. Kent State hockey — goodbye. Swimming at New Mexico — finished. The list goes on and on, more than 350 programs in virtually every sport on campus, and with it go the scholarships earned by student athletes and their dreams of competition to which most have devoted a lifetime. Incredibly, that has happened to more than 22,000 college athletes in recent years.” (Mike Moyer (executive director of the National Wrestling Coaches Association), Yahoo/USA Today, Jan. 21)(see Nov. 3, 2000, and our 1998 take).

January 23-24 – “Dangerous compensation”. “It seems that envy has replaced acceptance as the final stage of grief. … Washington’s payments to the victims of terrorism exposes the government to a potentially limitless array of future claims. Families of those killed in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, received nothing from Washington; relatives of federal employees killed in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing collected approximately US $100,000 each. But if US $1.6-million per decedent is the going rate, then a proper accounting for past and future terrorist attacks might bleed the coffers dry.” (National Post (editorial), Jan. 21).

January 23-24 – Drug demagogy and needless pain. Doctors still underprescribe opioids for the control of chronic pain, and it doesn’t help when CBS “60 Minutes” lends its assistance to the campaign against one of the most important recent pain advances, the drug OxyContin (Jane E. Brody, “Misunderstood Prescription Drugs and Needless Pain”, New York Times, Jan. 22 (reg); Jacob Sullum, “Killing a Painkiller”, Dec. 18; Geov Parrish, “A junkie’s confession”, Seattle Weekly, Dec. 20-26) (see Aug. 7, 2001). A Google search on the drug’s name immediately calls up ads from the websites AboutOxyContin.com and OxycontinInfoCenter.com, which might sound neutrally informative but turn out to be client intake sites for trial lawyers.

January 21-22 – Med-mal: should doctors strike? Insurance rates for doctors are soaring in New Jersey, and the legislature in Trenton is too deeply entwined with trial lawyers to pass anything likely to curtail the bar’s prosperity. “Calling the supply of surgeons tenuous, Dr. Michael Goldfarb, chief of surgery at Monmouth Medical Center in Long Branch, said that unless action is taken soon, New Jersey and the rest of the nation will have a surgeon shortage.” Neptune, N.J. ob/gyn Dr. George Lauback “gave up the obstetrical side of his practice, realizing that paying the $170,000 annual premium would mean he was working for the insurance company, not his family.” Brick, N.J. obstetrician Dr. Charles Brick suggests the state’s physicians stage a work stoppage of non-emergency care to draw attention to their plight (Naomi Mueller, “Malpractice costs driving doctors out”, Asbury Park Press, Jan. 19). In neighboring Pennsylvania, where payouts per doctor are said to be the highest in the country, the “Pennsylvania Medical Society reports that, according to data compiled by CASCO Consulting, a typical obstetrician in the regions of Pennsylvania with the highest average premiums, pays $83,541 a year in insurance premiums …[a] typical orthopedic surgeon in Pennsylvania’s highest region pays $96,199 a year … the average neurosurgeon in the same Pennsylvania region pays $111,296 a year.” (“Focus on medical malpractice”, Law.com, Oct. 31).

One Delaware County, Pa., orthopedic surgeon calculates that his liability insurance costs him $300 per surgery, which is more than some of the procedures are reimbursed for, so that “he’s losing money before other expenses are even factored into the equation.” (Tanya Albert, “Liability rates squeezing out specialties”, American Medical News (A.M.A.), Dec. 3; Tanya Albert and Damon Adams, “Professional liability insurance rates go up, up; doctors go away”, Jan. 7). On the withdrawal from delivering babies of half or more of the obstetricians practicing in various Mississippi Delta counties since just a year or two ago, see Hugh A. Gamble (president, Mississippi State Medical Association), letter to the editor, Mississippi Medical News, Dec., (PDF format, large download), at p. 4. (DURABLE LINK)

January 21-22 – “In a class of his own”. Profile of famed class-actioneer Melvyn Weiss of Milberg Weiss Bershad Hynes & Lerach. Quotes our editor (The Economist, Jan. 17).

January 21-22 – Student: clown college harder to get into than law school. Soon after graduating with his law degree from the University of California, Berkeley, David Carlyon left it all behind to enroll in the Ringling Bros.-Barnum & Bailey clown training program. “Hey, listen, it’s harder to get into that Clown College than it is into a law school,” he told the Saginaw (Mich.) News. “Some 3,000 apply to it each year, only 60 get in and only 30 get contracts after they graduate.” (“Berkley [sic] grad says getting into clown school harder than getting into law school”, AP/AZcentral.com, Jan. 18). (DURABLE LINK)

January 21-22 – “Judo champion refuses to bend in lawsuit”. Challenging the ritual which begins sanctioned judo matches, a suit by three students “against three U.S. judo groups, as well as the International Judo Federation. …claim[s] that the forced bowing to inanimate objects, such as judo mats and pictures of the Japanese martial art’s founder, is religious in nature and violates federal and Washington state discrimination laws.” (Sam Skolnik, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Dec. 7) (via OpinionJournal.comBest of the Web“).


August 31-September 2 – Study: DPT and MMR vaccines not linked to brain injury. Some children experience fever and febrile (fever-related) seizures after being given the diphtheria- tetanus- pertussis (DTP) vaccine and measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine and it has long been feared, to quote the New York Times‘s summary of a massive new study, “that those rare fever-related seizures may be linked to later autism and developmental problems. The fears are unfounded, the [new] study concluded.” The study, which appears in the New England Journal of Medicine, was of medical data for 639,000 children and was conducted with the assistance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “There are significantly elevated risks of febrile seizures after receipt of DTP vaccine or MMR vaccine, but these risks do not appear to be associated with any long-term, adverse consequences,” concludes the abstract.

All of which comes too late to prevent the legal devastation of much of the childhood vaccine industry at the hands of trial lawyers, an episode that climaxed in 1986 when Congress stepped in and established a no-fault childhood vaccine compensation program (see Nov. 13, 2000). According to the Washington Post, one Milwaukee lawyer alone “has won million-dollar judgments or settlements in nearly a dozen DPT cases.” “The jury hated the drug companies so bad when we got through with them that they would have awarded money no matter what,” boasts the lawyer, Victor Harding. (Arthur Allen, “Exposed: Shots in the Dark”, Washington Post Magazine, Aug. 30, 1998). If the new study is correct, however, the vaccines may not have been responsible for the occurrences of permanent developmental disability that so often led to high awards. Worldwide alarm over the vaccines’ feared side effects, stoked in no small part by the litigation, contributed to a decline in immunization rates that resulted in a resurgence of the diseases in several countries, killing many children. (DURABLE LINK)

SOURCES: William E. Barlow, Robert L. Davis et al, “The Risk of Seizures after Receipt of Whole-Cell Pertussis or Measles, Mumps, and Rubella Vaccine”, New England Journal of Medicine, Aug. 30 (abstract); Philip J. Hilts, “Study Clears Two Vaccines of Any Long-Lasting Harm”, New York Times, Aug. 30 (reg); and dueling headlines: Daniel Q. Haney, “Two Vaccines Linked to Seizures”, AP/Yahoo, Aug. 29, and Gene Emery, “Researchers: Vaccines Carry Little Risk of Seizures”, Reuters/Yahoo, Aug. 29. Adds AP: “In April, an Institute of Medicine committee issued a report saying there is no evidence that MMR causes autism, as some have speculated.” (more)

August 31-September 2 – Radio daze. The nation’s largest radio chain, Clear Channel, is known for hardball lawyering — as when it sued Z104, a rival station in Washington, D.C., for having the temerity to hold a listener contest in which the prize was tickets to an outdoor concert in Los Angeles staged by a Clear Channel subsidiary. Violated their client’s “service mark”, the lawyers said (Frank Ahrens, “Making Radio Waves”, Washington Post, Aug. 22).

August 31-September 2 – “Man Pleads Guilty to Use of Three Stooges’ Firm in Fraud Scheme”. In Lubbock, Texas, Patrick Michael Penker has admitted bilking banks and other institutions out of $1 million in a scheme in which he “used the name of the slapstick comedy trio’s fictional law firm Dewey, Cheatham and Howe to obtain cashier’s checks” (more on that illustrious firm: Google search). “It did seem just a bit unusual for a company name,” said a bank officer who alerted the FBI (AP/FoxNews, Aug. 27).

August 29-30 – Washington Post on class action reform. “No portion of the American civil justice system is more of a mess than the world of class actions. None is in more desperate need of policymakers’ attention.” Excellent Post editorial which should help fuel reform efforts (“Actions Without Class” (editorial), Washington Post, Aug. 27).

August 29-30 – Firefighter’s demand: back pay for time facing criminal rap. David Griffith, a Hispanic firefighter in Des Moines, Iowa, “has sued city officials, alleging racial bias in their refusal to give him back pay for a leave of absence after he was arrested.” Griffith went on a six-month unpaid leave after he “was arrested in December 1999 on three counts of third-degree sexual abuse involving a then-22-year-old woman. The charges were dropped in May 2000 after Griffith pleaded guilty of assault with intent to inflict injury and harassment. … In his lawsuit, Griffith said he ‘was treated less favorably than non-Hispanic employees and believed such treatment was based on race’. … City attorney Carol Moser said Des Moines officials never forced Griffith to take a leave of absence but simply granted his request.” (Jeff Eckhoff, “D.M. firefighter sues for back pay after arrest, alleges discrimination”, Des Moines Register, Aug. 24).

August 29-30 – “Trolling for Dollars”. Lawyers are turning aggressive patent enforcement into a billion-dollar business, and companies on the receiving end aren’t happy about it (Brenda Sandburg, “Trolling for Dollars”, The Recorder, July 31).

August 29-30 – Negligent to lack employee spouse-abuse policy? The husband of a Wal-Mart employee in Pottstown, Pa., came to the store and shot her, then killed himself. Now her lawyer is suing the retailer, arguing (among other theories) that it should have had a policy to protect its employees from spousal abuse. (Shannon P. Duffy, “Employee Sues Wal-Mart Because Store Didn’t Protect Her From Husband’s Attack”, The Legal Intelligencer, Aug. 24).

August 29-30 – Updates. Further developments in perhaps-familiar cases:

* Extremist animal-rights group PETA, which not long ago cybersquatted on the domain ringlingbrothers.com where it posted anti-circus material, has prevailed in its legal battle (see July 3, 2000) to wrest the domain peta.org away from a critic which had used it for his contrarian “People Eating Tasty Animals” site (more/yet more). (Declan McCullagh, “Ethical Treatment of PETA Domain”, Wired News, Aug. 25).

* The Big Five Texas tobacco lawyers have enjoyed an almost perfect record of success so far in dodging investigation of their $3.3 billion-fee deal to represent the Lone Star State in the national tobacco litigation, but Texas Attorney General John Cornyn should not be counted out yet (see Sept. 1, 2000, May 22, 2000, June 21, 2001): last month he scored an advance for his long-stymied ethics probe when the Fifth Circuit ruled he should be given a chance to pursue state court proceedings aimed at putting the Five under oath about the lucrative arrangements (Brenda Sapino Jeffreys, “Texas Attorney General May Depose Tobacco Lawyers in State Court”, Texas Lawyer, July 30).

* Conceding that one of its execs did indeed use a disrespectful nickname for its Denver stadium (“the Diaphragm”, referring to its shape), the Invesco financial group agreed to drop its threatened defamation lawsuit (see July 5) against the Denver Post for reporting the remark (“Invesco won’t sue Post”, Denver Post, July 6).

August 27-28 – Clinical trials besieged. Since the Jesse Gelsinger case, where survivors of an 18-year-old who died in a gene-therapy experiment brought a successful lawsuit against the University of Pennsylvania, lawsuits have been burgeoning against universities, private health-research foundations and other sponsors of clinical trials and experimental medical treatments; one recent high-profile case targets the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. The “suits have sent shudders through the biomedical community. … Some experts in the biomedical field believe the litigation will have a chilling effect on research that benefits humankind through scientific advancement. They also worry that volunteers will dry up.” A lawyer who specializes in the new suits makes a practice of suing not only researchers and deep-pocket institutions but also “bioethicists as well as members of institutional review boards, the volunteers charged with reviewing and approving clinical trials.” (on bioethicists, see also Oct. 6, 2000) (Vida Fousbister, “Lawsuits over clinical trials have doctors wary, but not quitting research yet”, American Medical News, April 16; Maureen Milford, “Lawsuits Attack Medical Trials”, National Law Journal, Aug. 21; Kate Fodor, “Insurance Companies Get Stricter on Clinical Trials “, Reuters/CancerPage.com, June 27; Christy Oglesby, “Volunteers sustain clinical trials”, WebMD/CNN, July 23).

August 27-28 – Recommended new weblog. Launched a few weeks ago, Instapundit by U. of Tennessee law prof Glenn Reynolds has already made it onto our must-read list with frequently updated commentary on such topics as gun laws, patients’ bill of rights legislation, abusive prosecution, the tobacco settlement, and stem-cell research. Also new among our “dailies” links (left column of front page) are Joshua Micah Marshall’s and Marshall Wittmann’s weblogs, both oriented toward political matters.

August 27-28 – “Jailed under a bad law”. “The arrest by federal authorities of a Russian computer programmer named Dmitry Sklyarov is not the first time the so-called Digital Millennium Copyright Act has led to mischief. It is, however, one of the most oppressive uses of the law to date — one that shows the need to revisit the rules Congress created to prevent the theft of intellectual property using electronic media,” contends the Washington Post in an editorial. Sklyarov wrote a program, legal in Russia, that enables users to defeat the copy-protection on Adobe’s eBook Reader system; the DMCA bans such programs even though they have uses unrelated to unlawful copying, and it does not require the government to prove in prosecution that facilitating piracy was part of a defendant’s intent. (Washington Post, Aug. 21; Julie Hilden, “The First Amendment Issues Raised by the Troubling Prosecution of e-Book Hacker Dmitry Sklyarov”, FindLaw, Aug. 10; Declan McCullagh, “Hacker Arrest Stirs Protest”, Wired News, July 19; Glenn Reynolds (see also other items in his weblog). More ammunition for anti-DMCA sentiment: Amita Guha, “Fingered by the movie cops”, Salon, Aug. 23.

August 27-28 – Urban legend alert: six “irresponsibility” lawsuits. Much in our inbox recently: a fast-circulating email that lists six awful-sounding damage awards (to a hubcap thief injured when the car drives off, a burglar trapped in a house who had to eat dog food, etc.). Circumstantial details such as dates, names, and places make the cases sound more real, but all signs indicate that the list is fictitious from beginning to end, reports the urban-legends site Snopes.com (Barbara Mikkelson, “Inboxer rebellion: tortuous torts“). Snopes also has posted detailed discussions of two of the other urban legends we get sent often, the “contraceptive jelly” yarn, which originated with a tabloid (“A woman sued a pharmacy from which she bought contraceptive jelly because she became pregnant even after eating the jelly (with toast).” — “Jelly babied“) and the cigar-arson fable (“A cigar aficionado insures his stogies against fire, then tries to collect from his insurance company after he smokes them.” — “Cigarson“). What we wonder is, why would people want to compile lists of made-up legal bizarreries when they can find a vast stockpile of all-too-real ones just by visiting this website? (DURABLE LINK)

NAMES IN STORIES: The never-happened stories include tales about “Kathleen Robertson of Austin Texas” (trips on her toddler in furniture store); “Carl Truman of Los Angeles” (hubcap theft) “Terrence Dickson of Bristol Pennsylvania” (trapped in house), “Jerry Williams of Little Rock Arkansas” (bit by dog after shooting it with pellet gun), “Amber Carson of Lancaster, Pennsylvania” (slips on drink she threw), and “Kara Walton of Claymont, Delaware” (breaks teeth while sneaking through window into club). All these incidents, to repeat, appear to be completely fictitious and unrelated to any actual persons with these names.

August 27-28 – “Incense link to cancer”. Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the Sixties (BBC, Aug. 2). But not to worry, since it seems everything else in the world has also been linked to the dread disease: Brad Evenson, “Everything causes cancer — so relax”, National Post (Canada), Aug. 4.

August 24-26 – “Delta passenger wins $1.25 mln for landing trauma”. Outwardly uninjured after a terrifying emergency landing en route to Cincinnati in 1996, Kathy Weaver has nonetheless won $1.25 million from Delta Air Lines after her lawyer persuaded a Montana jury that the episode had caused her to suffer post-traumatic stress syndrome and an aggravation of her pre-existing depression. The judge ruled that “her terror during the landing led to physical changes within the brain that could be defined as injury”. (Reuters/Yahoo, Aug. 23; PPrune thread) (more on white-knuckle lotto: Oct. 19, 2000, Oct. 8, 1999).

August 24-26 – “Cessna pilots association does some research…”Last week’s decision by a Florida jury to ding Cessna to the tune of $480 million for allegedly faulty chair railings in a Cessna 185 has raised more than a few eyebrows,” reports AvWeb. “Cessna’s lawyers blamed the crash on pilot error — as did the NTSB final report — but the plaintiffs’ attorneys argued that the seat-latching mechanism was defective, and the seat slipped back suddenly as the pilot was trying to land. A plaintiff’s attorney was quoted in the Wall Street Journal last week as saying that Cessna ‘knew the seats could slip, but they never told the pilots that.'” On the contrary, says the Cessna pilots association: the company issued a service advisory in 1983, a Pilot Safety and Warning Supplement in 1985, and in 1989 offered all owners a free secondary seat-stop kit “that would provide positive retention of the seat in the event that the primary system failed. Owners had to pay for about three hours’ labor at a Cessna Service Center to install the free kit.” In 1987, the FAA issued its own Airworthiness Directive “with detailed instructions for inspecting the seat-latching system for wear, pin engagement and cracks”. (AvWeb, undated). More of what general aviation folks have to say about that jury award (much of it highly uncomplimentary): AvWeb reader mail; Pprune threads #1, #2.

August 24-26 – Can I supersize that class action for you? The FBI has charged eight persons in the conspiracy, allegedly dating back to 1995, to steal the winning pieces in McDonald’s promotional Monopoly game. Although the fast-food chain was among the victims of the scheme and has already promised a make-it-up sweepstakes promo, can we doubt that the class action lawyers will soon descend? “And never mind those gloomy folk who say the lawyers will win millions while the rest of us each gets a coupon for a packet of fries.” (“They Knew It” (editorial), Washington Post, Aug. 23); Yahoo Full Coverage).

August 24-26 – The document-shredding facility at Pooh Corner. “A family-owned company that receives royalties from the sale of Pooh merchandise says that Walt Disney Co. has cheated it out of $US 35 million … by failing to report at least $US 3 billion in Pooh-related revenue since 1983. … the case has been entangled in Los Angeles Superior Court for a decade …. Last year a Superior Court judge sanctioned Disney for deliberately destroying 40 boxes of documents that could have been relevant to the case, including a file marked ‘Winnie the Pooh-legal problems'”. (“Claimants call Pooh a bear of very little gain”, L.A. Times/Sydney Morning Herald, Aug. 17). Update Mar. 30, 2004: court dismisses suit after finding misconduct on plaintiffs’ side. (DURABLE LINK)

August 24-26 – More traffic records at Overlawyered.com. What summer slowdown? Last week set a new record for pages served, and so did last month … thanks for your support!

August 22-23 – Meet the “wrongful-birth” bar.BIRTH DEFECTS — When did your doctor know? … You may be entitled to monetary damages,” according to an advertisement by the law firm of Blume Goldfaden Berkowitz Donnelly Fried & Fortea of Chatham, N.J. The theory behind “wrongful-life” and “wrongful-birth” suits? “If the health team had done its job, the [parents] would have known of the defect — and could have chosen not to have the baby. … Lawyers file the cases if — and only if — the parents are prepared to testify that they would have aborted the pregnancy.” Many disabled persons, joined by others, are not exactly happy about the premise that it might be better for some of the physically imperfect among us never to have been born. Attorneys believe such cases “will become more common as prenatal sonograms, blood tests, and genetic counseling become routine, and the public learns of the potential for large financial awards when genetically defective babies are born.” “Any child born with a birth defect has a potential wrongful birth or wrongful life claim,” says one optimistic lawyer. (Lindy Washburn, “Families of disabled kids seek peace of mind in court”, Bergen Record, Aug. 19; “N.J. has taken lead in allowing parents, children to sue”, Aug. 19). Note the bizarre headline on the first of the two stories: just how likely is it that “peace of mind” will be found by having the parents swear out a permanent public record to the effect that they wish their child had never been born? (more on wrongful birth/life: Nov. 22-23, Sept. 8-10; June 8, May 9, Jan. 8-9, 2000). (DURABLE LINK)

August 22-23 – Pricing out the human species. According to Idaho governor Dirk Kempthorne, the federal government’s proposal to reintroduce grizzly bears into Idaho “assumed injury or death to people and even calculated the value of human life. A human killed by a grizzly bear in Idaho would cost the federal Treasury between $4 million and $10 million, and the plan even amortized the annual costs at $80,000-$200,000. As far as we know, this is the first time that death or injury to humans has been factored into a program proposed by the federal government under the [Endangered Species Act].” (“Risk to humans too great”, USA Today, Aug. 17). And did reluctance to draw water from a river containing threatened fish contribute to the deaths of four firefighters during a big wildfire in Okanogan County, Wash. last month? (Chris Solomon, “Why Thirty Mile Fire raged without water”, Seattle Times, Aug. 1; “Endangered Fish Policy May Have Cost Firefighters’ Lives”, FoxNews.com, Aug. 2).

MORE: “NWFP [Northwest Forest Plan] standards and guidelines and other agency policies such as PACFISH set streamside buffers with virtually zero risk to fish species, regardless of the effects of large buffers to other management objectives. Managing risks requires value-based decisions. We understand that the zero-risk [to fish -- ed.] approach is largely a result of lawsuits….” (James E. Brown of the Oregon Department of Forestry at a House Agriculture Committee oversight hearing, June 21, 1999 — scroll to near end of document). (DURABLE LINK)

August 22-23 – Slavery reparations suits: on your mark, get set… “By year-end, an all-star team of lawyers calling themselves the ‘Reparations Coordinating Committee’ plans to file a suit seeking reparations for slavery. … Multiple cases in multiple forums are likely. The defendants will come from both the public and private sectors”; among businesses likely to be named as defendants is J.P. Morgan Chase. (Paul Braverman, “Slavery Strategy: Inside The Reparations Suit”, American Lawyer, July 6). Harvard Law prof Charles Ogletree said “‘an amazing series of possible actions’ is slated for early next year.” (Emily Newburger, “Breaking the Chain”, Harvard Law Bulletin, Summer). Some of the reasons it’ll be a terrible idea: John McWhorter, “Against reparations”, The New Republic, July 23 (more on reparations: July 6-8, April 17, Dec. 22-25, 2000 and links from there). (DURABLE LINK)

August 22-23 – “New York State’s Gun Suit Must Be Dismissed”. No, bad lawsuits don’t always prosper: “The New York state attorney general’s novel lawsuit to find the gun industry liable under a nuisance theory must be dismissed,” Justice Louis B. York has ruled in Manhattan. New York was the only state to have joined 32 municipalities in suits against the gun industry that aim to extract money from gunmakers as well as arm-twist them into adopting various gun controls that legislatures have declined to enact. New York AG Eliot Spitzer is said to be “dismayed” by the decision. Good! (Daniel Wise, New York Law Journal, Aug. 15).

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July 10 – Tobacco: why stop at net worth? Trial judge Robert Kaye, presiding over the Engle tobacco class action in Miami (see July 8, 1999, Sept. 28, June 2, our WSJ take July 1999), has declared that in calculating a basis for punitive damages there’s no reason jurors should feel obliged to stop at a sum representing the tobacco companies’ net worth. “There’s much more to this case than net worth or stockholder equity,” he said. Earlier, Judge Kaye ruled that it was proper to place before the jury the companies’ capacity to borrow funds to help meet a punitive damage award, and also agreed to let the jury consider companies’ operations worldwide in assessing those damages, though foreign countries might wonder why the hypothesized victimization of smokers worldwide should result in a punitive payoff exclusively to (certain) Floridians, and though overseas court systems are generally far more averse than ours to the award of punitive damages. Moreover, Judge Kaye “barred the defendants from arguing to the jury that they have already been punished enough by their earlier settlements with states valued at $246 billion” even though those settlements took place in the shadow of demands for punitive damages. (Imagine copping to a plea bargain in one court over your past doings, and then finding you get no double jeopardy protection when hauled up for punishment by a second court — after all, your plea bargain was “consensual”, so how can it count as punishment? But American courts are in fact permitted to assess punitive damages against civil defendants an unlimited number of times to chastise them for a single course of conduct, so it’s not as if any due process is owed or anything.)

Plaintiffs offered an expert witness, Prof. George Mundstock of Univ. of Miami School of Law, who testified that the nation’s five biggest cigarette makers “are worth $157 billion domestically and have a ‘strikingly rosy’ future”, per AP, which appears to make hash of suggestions that lawyers’ efforts previous to this point have made a vital difference in putting us on the road to a “smoke-free society”. Mundstock’s methodology reportedly reduced to a present value stream the surplus of all future tobacco company income over expenses. Even the Wall Street Journal‘s Milo Geyelin, not a reporter suspected of pro-business leanings, writes that Kaye’s handling of the legal issues in the suit has been “unorthodox”. At the New York Times, meanwhile, reporter Rick Bragg last month interviewed several of the dozen or more smoking-ravaged spectators who throughout the trial have taken highly visible seats in the courtroom day after day where the jury can hear and see their labored breathing, oxygen tanks, and mechanical voice boxes. While extracting considerable human-interest content from these interviewees, Bragg’s story does not display the least curiosity as to whether the idea of attending just happened to occur to all of them spontaneously, or instead, as defendants have hinted, was the result of an orchestrated effort by plaintiff’s attorneys Stanley and Susan Rosenblatt, which might have been ruled out of bounds as manipulative and prejudicial by a jurist less agreeable to the plaintiffs’ cause than Judge Kaye.

SOURCES: Milo Geyelin, “Judge Won’t Allow Tobacco Industry To Cite Settlements”, Wall Street Journal, May 18; “Jury can hear about tobacco industry’s borrowing power, judge rules”, FindLaw, May 31, no longer online; “Economist estimates tobacco industry worth $157 billion”, AP/FindLaw, June 6, no longer online; Gordon Fairclough, “Judge in Smoking-Illness Suit Tells Jury Not to View Settlements as Punishment”, Wall Street Journal, June 14; “Judge KO’s Tobacco Try on Damages”, AP/FindLaw, July 6; Milo Geyelin, “Judge Reverses, Lets Jury Weigh Foreign Tobacco Sales”, Wall Street Journal, June 7; Rick Bragg, “Where Smoking Damages Are Argued, Plaintiffs Fight for Air”, New York Times, June 3.

July 10 – “Why You Can’t Trust Letters of Recommendation”. Fear of lawsuits isn’t the only factor inhibiting candid letter-writing in higher education, but it’s an important one, especially since a recent decision by the Virginia Supreme Court stripped professors of immunity for allegedly defamatory reference-giving in the tenure process. Open-records laws add to the difficulties, as in the University of California system, where job candidates enjoy a big head start in figuring out who’s saying what about them (Alison Schneider, “Why You Can’t Trust Letters of Recommendation”, Chronicle of Higher Education, June 30) (via Arts & Letters Daily).

July 10 – Wonder Bread hierarchy too white, suit charges. What more symbolically fraught company to get sued on race discrimination charges than Wonder Bread? Bay Area politician/attorney Angela Alioto, representing 21 black workers at Interstate Brands’ San Francisco bakery, thinks $260 million an appropriate amount to ask for failure to promote and other sins; the trial began May 24. A feud has also developed between Alioto and co-counsel Waukeen McCoy, with Alioto accusing McCoy of swiping three of her clients. (Dennis J. Opatrny, “Wonder Bread Race Discrimination Trial Opens in S.F.”, The Recorder/CalLaw, May 30; Alioto website). Update: jury awarded $11 million in compensatory and $121 million in punitive damages (see Aug. 4).

July 7-9 – Veeps ATLA could love. For the organized plaintiff’s bar, more reason to smile: recent speculation about a running mate pick for Al Gore has centered on such names as Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Defense Secretary Bill Cohen, a Republican Senator from Maine before joining the Clinton Administration. Trial lawyers have had few better friends in the U.S. Congress than Durbin, who’s taken a prominent role in advancing their interests in virtually every hot area of recent years: tobacco (where, notwithstanding language on his website about how he’s worked to prevent “unnecessary windfalls for special interests“, he led the successful fight against limiting multi-billion-dollar lawyers’ fees), gun and HMO liability (in both cases sponsoring legislation that would make it easier to sue) and product liability (where he helped lead opposition to various GOP-sponsored bills, such as one to ease liability pressure on biomaterials used in implants and other advanced medicine). (PBS “NewsHour with Jim Lehrer” transcript, May 19, 1998 (tobacco — scroll to near end); Bob Barr (R-Ga.) press release on Durbin gun bill, March 4, 1999; Durbin press release on HMO liability, April 29, 1998; Jeffrey J. Kimbell, “Biomaterials Access Bill Continues To Move Through Congress”, American Society for Artificial Internal Organs, undated 1998) (also see May 8). Cohen, though unlike Durbin not closely identified with the trial lawyer agenda, has the unusual distinction of having worked early in his career for both the Association of Trial Lawyers of America (as an assistant editor-in-chief) and the Maine Trial Lawyers Association (as vice president); not surprisingly, he acquired a reputation on the Hill as one who often strayed from the Republican fold on litigation issues. (Biographical note, University of Maine/Orono; Ramesh Ponnuru, “The Case for Bill Cohen”, National Review Online “Washington Bulletin”, July 3). (DURABLE LINK)

July 7-9 — Inmate: You didn’t supervise me. A former inmate at the Spartanburg County, S.C. jail has filed a lawsuit saying officials negligently failed to supervise him while he engaged in horseplay alone in his cell. Torrence Johnson, of Rock Hill, who was in jail after his arrest on charges of driving with a suspended license and another traffic infraction, says he fell and broke a vertebra with resulting paralysis. “If jail personnel had done a better job of supervising him, Johnson claims, he never would have been able to engage in the ‘horseplay’ that paralyzed him.” “He stood up on a desk in his cell and was cutting back flips off of it,” said jail director Larry Powers. “With the small number of detention officers we have, there’s no way that we can constantly monitor every inmate continuously around the clock.” (Tom Langhorne, “Paralyzed man blames jail for injury”, Spartanburg (S.C.) Herald-Journal, July 6).

July 7-9 – The Wal-Mart docket. The world’s largest retailer gets sued with such regularity that an enterprising Nashville lawyer has erected a site entitled the Wal-Mart Litigation Project devoted to the subject. You can browse 99 Verdicts Against Wal-Mart, search for attorneys who volunteer a willingness to sue the company, or consult a price list of packets you can buy on dozens of specialized topics such as “Pallets or Dollies Left in Aisle Ways (12 items, $100)” “Shopping Carts – Overloaded (4 items, $45)”, and “Restrooms – Water on Floor (3 items, $40)”. Some of the bigger-ticket lawsuits against the chain assert liability over the sale of guns later used to commit crimes, over abductions and other crime occurring in parking lots, and over tobacco sales: a suit in Arkansas last year labeled the retailer a “co-conspirator” with cigarette companies. Update: for another suit, see July 21-23.

SEE ALSO: “Ala.Wal-Mart to pay up to $16 million over shotgun used to kill woman”, AP/Court TV, Feb. 23; Trisha Renaud, “Tangled Mind, Tangled Case”, Fulton County Daily Report (Atlanta), March 24; Bob Van Voris, “Wal-Mart Discovery Tactics Hit”, National Law Journal, March 29; Bob Van Voris, “More Sanctions for Wal-Mart”, National Law Journal, April 14; Seth Blomeley, “Pair sues Wal-Mart, tobacco firm, calls them ‘co-conspirators'”, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Dec. 16, 1999 (no longer online); Bob Van Voris, “Wal-Mart’s Bad Day”, National Law Journal, June 5.

July 7-9 – Welcome Australian Bar Association members. Our editor was a featured speaker at the Association’s conference in New York this week, which has helped boost this site’s already considerable traffic from Down Under. For more on Dame Edna’s fateful gladiolus toss, mentioned in our remarks, see our May 26 commentary.

July 6 – Foreign policy by other means. The Constitution entrusts to the President and his appointees the task of managing this nation’s relations with foreign powers, but now some in Congress are keen on giving private litigators ever more authority to initiate courtroom fights against those foreign powers, whether or not the State Department considers that such hostilities fit well into a coordinated national policy. A bill that would entitle U.S. victims of Iranian-backed terrorism to collect compensation payments from blocked Iranian bank accounts is moving swiftly on Capitol Hill, despite a plea from the Clinton Administration’s Stuart Eizenstat that significant foreign policy interests of the government will be impaired if blocking of foreign assets becomes simply a preliminary to attachment of those assets on behalf of particular injured litigants. (Jonathan Groner, “Payback Time for Terror Victims”, Legal Times (Washington), June 7). The touchy issue of U.S. relations with member nations of OPEC has in the past and might someday again engage this nation in armed conflict abroad, but Rep. Benjamin Gilman, R-N.Y., chairman of the House International Relations Committee, has just introduced a Foreign Trust Busting Act that could empower litigants to seize OPEC assets in this country, removing a legal obstacle known as the “Act of State” doctrine, under which U.S. courts generally avoid ascribing liability to the official acts of foreign governments. Presumably oil sheiks would proceed to submit to depositions in American courtrooms and negotiate over the size of the fees payable to entrepreneurial class action lawyers. (Ted Barrett, “Bill will allow antitrust suits against OPEC”, CNN, June 24). And lawyers for Argentine veterans and relatives are in Strasbourg, France, preparing to file a war crimes case against Great Britain over the 1982 sinking of the cruiser General Belgrano, which killed 323 seamen; Britain and Argentina were at war at the time over Argentina’s invasion of the Falkland Islands. (“Argentine war victims sniff justice in Belgrano case”, Reuters/CNN, July 3) (see Feb. 14 commentary and links there, and July 14).

July 6 – Trial-lawyer candidates. New York Press columnist Chris Caldwell, reflecting on the New Jersey Senate primary victory of Goldman Sachs executive Jon Corzine, predicts that more millionaire candidates will enter Democratic politics by staking their own campaigns, but says “[i]t’s unlikely most of them will be finance executives. More probably, they’ll resemble North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, who made his 25 million as a trial lawyer. Trial lawyers are the Democratic Party’s biggest contributors, and the party repays the favor by helping create a favorable litigating climate, and even breeding such golden-egg-laying geese as the various state tobacco agreements. But they’re increasingly coming to the conclusion that there’s no reason to bribe the party when you can run it yourself.

“Typical of the new lawyer/candidate class is Minnesota’s Michael Ciresi, who’s seeking the Democrat/ Farm[er]/ Labor nomination for Senate. Ciresi’s law firm got $400 million of Minnesota’s tobacco money. Why? Because then-state Attorney General Skip Humphrey (Hubert’s son) said it should. We seem to be arriving at a situation in which it is the government itself that puts up candidates.” (“Hill of Beans: Iron Jon (second item), New York Press, June 13).

July 6 – Update: Canadian skydiver recovers damages from teammate. A judge has awarded C$1.1 million ($748,000) to Gerry Dyck, a veteran skydiver who sued teammate Robert Laidlaw for allegedly failing to exercise proper care toward him during a dive. The case, along with other recent suits, had been criticized by some in the skydiving community as bad for the sport (see May 26) (“Canadian skydiver wins lawsuit against teammate”, Reuters/FindLaw, June 26).

July 5 – Feds’ own cookie-pushing. Even as the White House and Senators wring their hands over the threat to privacy posed by visitor tracking by private websites, dozens of federal agencies use cookies to track visitors, including those dispensing information on such sensitive topics as drug policy and immigration. (Declan McCullagh, “Feds’ Hands Caught in Cookie Jar”, Wired News, June 30; Eric E. Sterling, “Uncle Sam’s ‘cookie’ is watching you”, Christian Science Monitor, July 3). So does the website of a New Jersey Congressman who’s expressed high dudgeon about privacy issues in the past (Declan McCullagh, “How Congressional Cookies Crumble”, Wired News, June 30; John T. Aquino, “Senate Online Profiling Hearing Suggests Movement Toward Federal Legislation”, E-Commerce Law Weekly, June 16). Meanwhile, state attorneys general, emboldened by taking tobacco and Microsoft scalps, are moving closer to filing cases against cookie-setting dot-coms: “It’s like the thought police. It’s really an alarming specter in terms of privacy”, claims Michigan AG Jennifer Granholm, of the ability of servers to detect particular repeat visitors to their sites (Gail Appleson, “States may launch privacy suits”, Reuters/ZDNet, June 20). The Federal Trade Commission has moved to regulate privacy policies at financial services sites, and is asking Congress for legislation that would extend its authority much further (Keith Perine and Aaron Pressman, “FTC Publishes Internet Privacy Rule”, Industry Standard/Law.com, May 16; Keith Perine, “FTC Asks Congress for Online Privacy Laws”, Industry Standard/Law.com, May 24).

July 5 – Prospect of injury no reason not to hire. In May, the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that employers can’t deny a job to a disabled applicant even if the work poses a “direct threat” to that applicant’s health or safety. Chevron had turned away Mario Echazabal for a job at the “coker unit” of its El Segundo, Calif., oil refinery in 1995 after a pre-employment exam revealed that he had a liver disorder that the company’s doctors feared would worsen in the unit’s harsh environment (“coker units” explained: Industrial Fire World site). Prominent liberal jurist Stephen Reinhardt, writing for a unanimous three-judge panel, held that it should be up to a disabled worker whether to risk a toxic exposure — never mind that the employer will predictably be presented with much or all of the bill if the exposure does wind up incapacitating the worker. Jeffrey Tanenbaum, with the San Francisco office of the management-side law firm Littler Mendelson, said “either the decision is terribly wrong, or the ADA is written in a ludicrous manner,” because “it makes no sense to make an employer violate a federal or state health and safety law,” referring to Occupational Safety and Health Administration statutes that require employers to avoid exposing employees to injury. (Michael Joe, “Employment Bar in Tizzy Over 9th Circuit Decision”, The Recorder/CalLaw, June 16).

July 5 – “Exporting tort awards”. Study of more than 7,000 personal injury cases by Eric Helland (Claremont McKenna College) and Alexander Tabarrok (Independent Institute) finds civil awards against out-of-state defendants ran an average of $652,000 in states where judges reach office by partisan election, but only $385,000 where selection is nonpartisan. For cases against in-state defendants, the gap was a narrower $276,000 vs. $208,000 — suggesting that while one effect of partisan judicial elections may be to raise the level of awards, an even more important effect may be to worsen the bias against out-of state entities which are not represented in a state’s political process but are subject to wealth redistribution by its courts (“Exporting Tort Awards“, Regulation, vol. 23, no. 2 (autoredirects to pdf document); “The Effect of Electoral Institutions on Tort Awards” (links to pdf document), Independent Institute Working Paper #1).

July 5 – We probably need a FAQ. “Does your law firm handle driving under the influence cases?” — thus a recent email to this site from a Mr. R.S. We do seem to spend an inordinate amount of time explaining to correspondents that we aren’t a law firm or legal referral service, and that we can’t advise folks with their legal problems, no way, nohow — both from lack of time and inclination and because we fear being dragged off to the Unauthorized Practice dungeons where they stow people who presume to dispense such advice without advance permission from the bar.

July 3-4 – “Parody of animal rights site told to close”. Several years ago internet entrepreneur Michael Doughney registered the web address www.peta.org and used it to put up a site called People Eating Tasty Animals, parodying the militant animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Now a federal judge “has ordered him to relinquish the web address to PETA and limit his use of domain names to those not ‘confusingly similar'”. Doughney’s lawyer says he plans to appeal and says it’s not a cybersquatting case because his client had no wish to sell the domain name but simply wanted to use it for parody. Doughney has moved the site here; it includes a substantial list of links to sites which take the position that there’s nothing unethical about animal husbandry as such, as PETA would have it. (“Parody of animal rights site told to close”, Ananova.com, June 21; “Domain Strategies for Geniuses”, Rick E. Bruner’s Executive Summary, May 12, 1998). As for PETA, it’s not a group to shy away from charges of hypocrisy: it itself registered the domain name ringlingbrothers.com and used it for a site decrying alleged mistreatment of circus animals. A lawsuit by the real Ringling Brothers Circus ended with PETA’s agreement to relinquish the name. (“PETA’s Internet hypocrisy”, Animal Rights News (Brian Carnell), May 18, 1998; DMOZ).

July 3-4 – Multiple chemical sensitivity from school construction. At Gloucester High School on Massachusetts’s North Shore, some present and former staff members and students have sued the architects and contractors after a school construction project whose fumes, some of them say, sensitized them to the point where they now grow ill from a whiff of window cleaner, perfume, hairspray, or new upholstery, or even from contact with people who’ve laundered their clothes in regular detergent. The reporter doesn’t quote anyone who seems familiar with the skeptics’ case against MCS, but to us this sounds like a case for Michael Fumento (see his “Sick of It All”, Reason, June 1996). (Beth Daley, “Disrupted lives”, Boston Globe, June 26)

July 3-4 – A Harvard call for selective rain. “So far, legislators, loath to tamper with the dot-com wealth machine powering the U.S. economy, have left Web companies alone. But Jonathan Zittrain, executive director of Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, believes that era is ending. Hot-button issues like personal privacy are putting Web companies under a microscope, he says. And continuing advancements in technology will soon make it easier for companies to patrol their sites much more aggressively. ‘No one wants to rain on the Internet parade so much that you wash it out,’ Mr. Zittrain says. ‘But people are starting to realize you’ll be able to very selectively rain on the parade'”. Aside from feeling some alarm at the content of these remarks by Mr. Zittrain, we hereby nominate them for the Unfortunate Metaphor Award: if rain is the sort of thing he thinks can be made to fall “very selectively”, why do we keep hearing that it falls on the just and the unjust alike? (Thomas E. Weber, “E-World: Recent Flaps Raise Questions About Role of Middlemen on Web”, Wall Street Journal, June 5) (fee).

July 3-4 – Overlawyered.com one year old. We started last July 1 and have set new visitor records in nearly every month since then, including last month … thanks for your support!

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