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CRST Van Expedited v. EEOC

Another unanimous loss for Obama, another trip to the dunking booth for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: my new Cato post on last week’s Supreme Court decision on the proper standard for awarding attorneys’ fees to prevailing defendants in Title VII employment discrimination cases. Justice Thomas has it right in his concurrence: the ruling at hand is all well and good, but the Court needs to go further and rethink precedents that bend over backward to give prevailing employment plaintiffs a set of fee entitlements that it does not allow to prevailing defendants (& welcome SCOTUSBlog readers).

Champerty and maintenance explainer (Gawker/Hogan/Thiel edition)

[Wrestler Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker Media over its publication of a sex tape resulted in a Florida jury’s award of $140 million against the widely loathed journalistic entity. There had been rumors that someone staked Hogan the money to sue. Now, Ryan Mac and Matt Drange in Forbes write that anonymous sources have told them the hidden funder was Silicon Valley libertarian Peter Thiel. The article does not make clear whether, if the reports are true, Thiel stands to gain a share of the suit’s proceeds, or was acting from dislike of Gawker.]

At common law, funding another’s lawsuit was “champerty” if done for a share of the proceeds and “maintenance” if done for the hell of it. Both were unlawful at common law (as was “barratry,” the stirring up of litigation whether or not resources were advanced for its prosecution) but as I discussed in The Litigation Explosion (1991), the old common law rules have fallen into general disuse. What rules still remain vary from state to state, often taking the form of rules specifically governing what lawyers and their associates can do (which will often leave non-lawyers free to carry on the same acts.)

Champerty and maintenance rules both came under attack from legal academics and influential commentators during the general rise of pro-litigation sentiment in the decades after 1950, and were dismissed as outdated and ethically wrongheaded. The path was different in each case, however. In the case of champerty, the rise to acceptance of the lawyer’s contingency fee, as a wholesome prescription for the general case rather than a necessary evil in special kinds of cases, tended to erode disapproval of champerty: if there was nothing at all wrong with lawyers taking a share in claims, why not invite others to do so too? As an internet search on the phrase “litigation finance” will quickly show — or a glance at a tag on the subject at Overlawyered — third-party financing of lawsuits has become a booming and largely unregulated business in the United States and a few other nations, even as champerty remains unlawful in many other countries. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, believing that litigation finance is likely to fuel the volume of lawsuits, has fought for restrictions on the practice.

Maintenance, on the other hand, metamorphosed around the 1960s into what we now know as the public interest litigation model: foundation or wealthy individual A pays B to sue C. Since litigation during this period was being re-conceived as something socially productive and beneficial, what could be more philanthropic and public-spirited than to pay for there to be more of it? So what had been stigmatized or even illegal not long before soon emerged as the most admired kind of legal practice.

Once the old ethical qualms about champerty and maintenance fall, it seems unlikely that they will be revived only as to some causes or persons. Funding someone else’s lawsuit for ideological reasons, long perceived as a dangerous stirring up of social conflict that might otherwise have remained at rest, is now applauded as a means of holding powerful institutions accountable, ensuring wronged parties their day in court, and so forth. Inevitably, once all parties grow comfortable with this tool, it will be used not just against the originally contemplated targets, such as large business or government defendants, but against a wide range of others — journalistic defendants included.

International free speech roundup

  • Tonight in New York City, Cato presents its Milton Friedman Award to Danish journalist Flemming Rose, a key figure in the [still-ongoing] Mohammed cartoons episode, and author of The Tyranny of Silence [David Boaz, Cato]
  • Troubles in Turkey: journalists sentenced to two years in jail for reprinting Charlie Hebdo cover [Reuters, Reason] Erdogan’s campaign against foreign critics assumes extraterritorial reach with complaints against comedian in Germany and Geneva exhibit [Colin Cortbus/Popehat, Foreign Policy]
  • Ya mad wee dafty: “Man faces hate crime charge in Scotland over dog’s ‘Nazi salute'” [Guardian]
  • Publish a “wrong” map of India, face seven years in jail and a huge fine [Hindustan Times; “crore” = 10 million]
  • United Kingdom man fined £500 for calling romantic rival “fat-bellied codhead. [Blackpool Gazette]
  • Emulating USA tycoon D. Trump, China pressures finance analysts against negative forecasts [WSJ, Barron’s on the Marvin Roffman story, which I used to tell when giving speeches on my book The Litigation Explosion]

Employer sues to unmask GlassDoor commenters

GlassDoor is a Yelp-like forum on the topic of what it’s like to work at employers, and a much-used tool for those checking on the job market. Now California law firm Layfield & Barrett and its attorney Philip Layfield have filed a suit seeking to unmask John Does who posted a dozen disobliging comments, and Layfield’s comments at Above the Law are drawing further attention to the controversy. [Timothy Geigner, TechDirt]

Mike Moore’s Mississippi multitasking

Overlooked tidbit from last month on the doings of former Mississippi attorney general Michael Moore, famed for his role in the great tobacco caper, who’s tight with longtime Mississippi AG and Overlawyered favorite Jim Hood [Jacob Gershman, WSJ Law Blog]:

In February, Google released discovery documents that the company said showed that the DCA [the Hollywood-linked “Digital Citizens Alliance”] paid former Mississippi attorney general Mike Moore’s law firm $180,000 for consulting services “at the very same time [Mike Moore Law Firm] was officially deputized to lead the Attorney General’s so-called investigation of Google.”

See also this 2014 post by Jay Caruso at Pocket Full of Liberty. More on Jim Hood’s role as a cat’s paw for Hollywood against Google here, here, here, and here. More on Hood and Moore here, etc.

May 24 roundup

  • Not the theater’s fault, says a Colorado jury, rejecting Aurora massacre suit [ABA Journal, earlier here, here, and here, related here, etc.]
  • Senate GOP could have cut off funds for HUD’s social-engineer-the-suburbs power grab, AFFH. So why’d they arrange instead to spare it? [Paul Mirengoff/PowerLine, more, earlier] Related: federal judge Denise Cote denies motion to challenge supposed speech obligations of Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino under consent decree with HUD [Center for Individual Rights; earlier here, here, etc.]
  • “Earnhardt Family Fighting Over Whether One Earnhardt Son Can Use His Own Last Name” [Timothy Geigner, TechDirt]
  • Freddie Gray charges, bad new laws on pay, the state’s stake in world trade, armored vehicles for cops, bar chart baselines that don’t start at zero, and more in my latest Maryland policy roundup [Free State Notes]
  • “You can be fined for not calling people ‘ze’ or ‘hir,’ if that’s the pronoun they demand that you use” [Eugene Volokh on NYC human rights commission guidance]
  • Despite potential for schadenfreude, please refrain from taxing university endowments [John McGinnis]

Louisiana moves to add cops as hate crime protected group

Under a bill that passed the state legislature with little opposition and now heads to the desk of Gov. John Bel Edwards (D), Louisiana “is poised to become the first [state] in the nation where public-safety personnel will be a protected class under hate-crime law.” That will bring us much closer to the end of all principled conservative opposition to hate-crime laws, so thanks for nothing, Louisiana. [New Orleans Times-Picayune, Washington Post] My case against the idea, which has been pushed by the Fraternal Order of Police union, is here.

House Judiciary: freeze that slush

The House Judiciary Committee, by an 18-6 vote, has given its approval to the Stop Settlement Slush Funds Act of 2016, which would curtail the Department of Justice’s practice of using legal settlements to funnel money to favored groups [Rep. Bob Goodlatte press release, Nicholas Quinn Rosenkranz, Dan Lungren testimony, U.S. Chamber] Earlier here (Randal John Meyer), here, etc.

Campus free expression roundup

  • 21 professors, including Bartholet, Epstein, and McConnell, write letter to Department of Education Office of Civil Rights [OCR] challenging its directives on campus sexual harassment [Ashe Schow, Washington Examiner] Student suing Colorado State over multi-year suspension adds OCR as a defendant [Scott Greenfield; more, George Will]
  • President Obama has been saying things students need to hear about intellectual freedom at commencements [Howard and Rutgers, Jonathan Adler] “Does Obama understand that his own government is responsible for the safe-space phenomenon he frequently decries?” [Robby Soave]
  • Protesters these days disrupting and physically shutting down a lot of pro-Israel campus speeches and events on US campuses [Observer; UC Irvine]
  • “Jokes, insensitive remarks, size-ist posters”: from a distance the doings of the University of Oregon’s Bias Response Team can seem kind of hilarious. Maybe not up close [Robby Soave/Reason, Catherine Rampell/Washington Post] “Towson U. [Maryland public university] implements ‘hate/bias’ reporting system to ensure ‘anti-racist campus climate’” [The College Fix]
  • Read and marvel at the arguments being deployed against Prof. Dale Carpenter’s proposal for bolstering free expression at the University of Minnesota [Susan Du, City Pages] “Why Free Speech Matters on Campus” [Michael Bloomberg and Charles Koch]
  • Faculty at George Mason University law school unanimously affirm commitment to renaming school after Justice Antonin Scalia [Lloyd Cohen, Michael Greve]

Climate advocacy as “racketeering”: they knew

They knew, because their own allies had told them: “As you know, deception/disinformation isn’t itself a basis for criminal prosecution under RICO.” — an official of the Union of Concerned Scientists, writing to the organizers of a campaign to enlist scientists behind a call for a RICO investigation of the fossil fuel industry for its statements about climate change. The letter added, explaining UCS’s unwillingness to back the letter, “We don’t think that Sen. [Sheldon] Whitehouse’s call gives enough of a basis for scientists to sign on to this as a solid approach at this point.” [Reason]

Despite cautions like these, calls for a RICO investigation soon caught on among the political class and an investigation launched by Democratic state attorneys general has now aimed dragnet climate subpoenas at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and, thus far less directly, at nearly 100 advocacy, free-market, and university-based groups. “These include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, the George Mason University Law and Economics Center, the American Enterprise Institute, the National Taxpayers Union Foundation, the Cato Institute [which publishes Overlawyered], the National Black Chamber of Commerce, the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies, the Heritage Foundation, and on and on,” writes Ronald Bailey. CEI responded to the subpoena here (in a brief written by Andrew Grossman) and here, and on May 13 Cohen Milstein, the private contingency-fee law firm representing the attorney general of the Virgin Islands, responded, reserving the right to compel compliance with the subpoena, which demands the production of ten years’ worth of documents.

Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are among public figures who have backed calls for a racketeering investigation of fossil fuel companies’ participation in climate debates. I have found no evidence that either has expressed concern about the direction in which such investigations are headed.