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Walter Olson

And if so, could/should it be fixed by extending its accommodation requirement to deeply held secular convictions? [Sasha Volokh] Earlier on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 here.

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“Former Panama dictator Manuel Noriega, 80, filed a lawsuit in California yesterday against video game publisher Activision Blizzard Inc., alleging that Call of Duty: Black Ops II portrays him as ‘a kidnapper, murderer and enemy of the state.’” [Adrianne Jeffries/The Verge, New York Post, L.A. Times] Citing the mess that is California “right of publicity” law, Eugene Volokh writes that such a suit is “crazy, but unfortunately possible.”

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July 22 roundup

by Walter Olson on July 22, 2014

  • Facebook fought dragnet-with-gag-order subpoena in NY police/fire disability-fraud case [Mike Masnick, TechDirt]
  • Two lawyers charged in alleged plot to extort millions from wealthy sheik [ABA Journal]
  • Judge declares mistrial, plans new trial date in case of allegedly faulty guardrails [Bloomberg, more, background]
  • Last year Overlawyered made the “Hall of Fame” and from now through Aug. 8 you can nominate other sites for the ABA’s annual Blawg 100 honor;
  • Supreme Court, which seldom grants cases raising non-delegation doctrine, agrees to hear Dept. of Transportation v. Assn. of American Railroads [Roger Pilon/Cato, Gerard Magliocca] And Prof. Philip Hamburger, author of bracing new book Is Administrative Law Unlawful (earlier), has just guest-blogged about it for a week at Volokh Conspiracy, and has a related podcast at Law and Liberty;
  • David Henderson writes rave review of new Peter Schuck book Why Government Fails So Often [Regulation, PDF; excerpts also at Econlib and more, earlier on Schuck book]
  • Legal academia stunned, in grief after highly regarded criminal law specialist Dan Markel is murdered in his Tallahassee home [PrawfsBlawg, Dave Hoffman, Marc DeGirolami]

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KC Johnson is closing his definitive blog on the Duke lacrosse case and its aftermath, and reflects on it all in this final essay.

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“A Texas law firm has sued a former client over a negative Yelp review, posted after the firm sued the client for attorney fees.” Joseph Browning of Austin had comprehensively denounced the firm as “disorganized, deceptive, manipulative and largely disrespected,” “selfish and incapable of showing empathy towards their clients,” and one that “will take everything you’ve got,” in a review that the law firm described as defamatory and “blatantly false.” [ABA Journal]:

The new suit, [attorney Kirk] Fulk said, “is not about the money. I would be shocked and amazed if [the firm’s name partners] even got their filing fees back from Mr. Browning. It’s purely a matter of principle and personality. They don’t want their names slandered.”

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“If we don’t get a dime, that’s OK, if we can make a difference and save some lives,” said longtime Overlawyered favorite Willie Gary, one of the lawyers representing a woman awarded $23 billion-with-a-b in punitive damages by a Florida jury for the lung cancer death of her husband, a longtime smoker. [USA Today] I’ve covered earlier stages in the long-running Florida Engel tobacco litigation, which included a $145 billion punitive damage verdict later thrown out, in articles here, here, and here, as well as Overlawyered coverage; more on Willie Gary.

More: Jacob Sullum on the illogical basis of the jury’s decision.

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Politics roundup

by Walter Olson on July 21, 2014

  • Bruce Braley’s “farmer” gaffe might hurt long-term because it fits into a wider pattern about the would-be Iowa senator [John Tabin/Rare, earlier]
  • Disbarred ex-D.A. and longtime Overlawyered favorite Andrew Thomas running for GOP Arizona governor nomination [Phoenix New Times]
  • Did Wisconsin John Doe probe include email dragnet? Yahoo billed DA for “costs associated with subpoena compliance” [M.D. Kittle/Wisconsin Reporter, more]
  • “We need a Democratic sweep. Stay focused.” — work-hours tweet by former Federal Election Commission enforcement lawyer whose hard drive, like that of her former FEC boss Lois Lerner, now tragically missing [House Oversight report, Daily Caller]
  • Texas hurricane claims: megadonor Steve Mostyn “successfully drags state senator into TWIA lawsuit” [Legal NewsLine, TLR]
  • No more pay to play? Two Ohio lawmakers seek to curb campaign giving by law firms hired by state’s attorney general [Aurora Advocate]
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s research on medical bankruptcy may be shaky, but it’s hard to fault her taste in English sports cars [Ira Stoll, American Spectator]

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The federal government has prevailed on a grand jury to indict Federal Express for servicing what it should have known were illicit online pharmacy operations. FedEx says it repeatedly asked the government to supply a list of shippers it considered illicit so that it could cut off service, but that the government refused; the Department of Justice contends that circumstantial evidence should have been enough to alert the package shipment company. Writes Mike Masnick at TechDirt: “we don’t want shipping companies to be liable for what’s in packages, because then they have not just the incentive, but the mandate to snoop through all our packages.” Amy Alkon has more on reactions. Earlier, UPS paid the government $40 million to resolve similar allegations, and Google agreed to pay a fine of $500 million for (as we put it at the time) “matching willing buyers with sellers through Canadian pharmacy ads… a forfeiture geared to the revenue the pharmacies (not it) took in from the ads.”

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A theme we’ve touched on before in this space. [The Economist]

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A step too far for the surveillance state? And has it even been authorized by Texas law? [Dave Lieber, Dallas Morning News and more via Jon Cassidy, Watchdog.org]

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“A French judge has ruled against a blogger because her scathing restaurant review was too prominent in Google search results.” Caroline Doudet “was sued by the owner of Il Giardino restaurant in the Aquitaine region of southwestern France after she wrote a blogpost entitled ‘the place to avoid in Cap-Ferret: Il Giardino’”. [BBC]

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Schools roundup

by Walter Olson on July 18, 2014

  • Harris v. Quinn aftermath: California teacher’s suit might tee up renewed challenge to Abood [Rebecca Friedrichs, earlier here, here, etc.] Recalling when CTA spent its members money trying to convince them their voting preferences were wrong [Mike Antonucci]
  • Calcasieu parish school board in Louisiana votes to stop paying insurance on student athletics [AP/EdWeek]
  • “Maryland Tested Kids on Material It No Longer Teaches, Guess What Happened?” [Robby Soave, Common Core transition]
  • Sexual harassment training of college faculty: a professor talks back [Mark Graber, Balkinization]
  • Eighth Circuit orders new trial in Teresa Wagner’s lawsuit charging Iowa Law discriminated against her because of her conservative views [Paul Caron/TaxProf, earlier]
  • “The 4 NYC teachers banned from classrooms who rake in millions” [Susan Edelman, New York Post] Adventures in Bronx teacher tenure [New York Daily News]
  • New Jersey: “Expensive New School Security System Traps Teacher in Bathroom” [Lenore Skenazy, Reason]

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Former Utah Attorneys General John Swallow and Mark Shurtleff were arrested Thursday on a combined 23 counts arising from a series of episodes in which the two men are said to have accepted cash and favors from persons with business dealings with their offices; Swallow is also accused of destroying and falsifying evidence to cover up dealings with a now-deceased entrepreneur from whom he had allegedly accepted $17,000 in gold coins. The two men, both Republicans, say they are innocent and expect to be vindicated. The Salt Lake Tribune’s coverage saves the Harry Reid angle for paragraph 19; the Las Vegas Review Journal gives it more attention, emphasizing Reid’s strong denial of any wrongdoing. Unrelated but also depressing: a former New Mexico AG and a penny stock.

Also: Meanwhile in Pennsylvania, officials have placed plaques beneath portraits of four lawmakers in the state capitol with details of their eventual criminal convictions. I have more details in a Cato post.

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CALPERS, the giant California public-sector pension fund, is among the nation’s leading scolds of corporate governance. So as Ira Stoll points out, it’s kind of newsworthy that its CEO over most of the 2000s just pled guilty to taking $200,000 in bribes from a contractor, the money handed over in paper bags and a shoebox. [New York Sun]

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George Leef reviews a new book by John Compton, political scientist at Chapman University, on how evangelical anti-vice campaigns against gambling, liquor and other social ills helped undermine the Constitution’s curbs on centralized power, paving the way for later Progressive gains.

The tension between moral reformers who insisted on a virtually unlimited view of the “police powers” of government (i.e., to regulate in ways intended to protect the health and morals of the citizenry) and the Constitution’s framers, who feared the results of allowing factions to use government power for their ends, was crucial in shaping constitutional law during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The book shows that by the time the New Deal’s aggressive expansions of federal power came before the Supreme Court, its earlier decisions in favor of approving legislation against liquor and lotteries had so undermined the defenses of property rights, contract, and federalism that it was nearly inevitable that the Court would cave in.

For example, when the Court decided the 1934 case of Blaisdell v. Savings and Loan, gutting the former understanding of the impairment of contracts clause, Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes cited an earlier decision on interstate shipment of lottery tickets which had acquiesced in a new extension of the police power, on the grounds that a previously sacrosanct constitutional barrier could be “qualified” when a state needed to “safeguard the interests of its people.” [Forbes]

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EEOC roundup

by Walter Olson on July 17, 2014

  • “U.S. Chamber of Commerce challenges EEOC over its ‘unreasonable’ enforcement tactics” [Jon Hyman, more on House oversight hearing, earlier on court rebuffs to agency and more]
  • On summary judgment: “EEOC case alleging ADA violations against Womble Carlyle nixed by federal judge” [ABA Journal]
  • By 3-2 commissioner vote, EEOC adopts detailed, restrictive new guidance on pregnancy discrimination [Eric Meyer, Hyman]
  • Commission thinks its investigation, mediation and other pre-litigation procedures should be immune from court oversight and public transparency [Merrily Archer]
  • Survey: “Are Employers Adapting to EEOC Guidance on Employment Background Checks?” [Nick Fishman, Employee Screen, related earlier]
  • Commission sues Wisconsin Plastics, Inc. for terminating employees with low-rated English skills as part of English on the job policy [Scott Greenfield, EEOC, my two cents way back]
  • “Is the EEOC the new NLRB?” [John Holmquist, Michigan Employment Law Connection]

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A House panel approves a bill aimed at patent demand letters that are in bad faith or based on invalid patents [Reuters]

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In the upcoming case of Yates v. United States, the Supreme Court will decide whether a fisherman can be prosecuted under Sarbanes-Oxley’s prohibition on destroying or concealing “any record, document, or tangible object” to impede an investigation. The records, documents, or tangible objects in question were undersized fish, which Mr. Yates threw overboard instead of bringing back to the dock as instructed by inspectors. Cato has filed an amicus brief urging the Court to rule that Mr. Yates was not adequately put on notice of the reach of “tangible object” to include not just business items such as hard drives, but small marine creatures, lest the law “potentially criminalize an unfathomable range of activities.” [Trevor Burrus, earlier]

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