April 29-30 — “Gunning for manufacturers through courts”. “A NYC council member is seeking to limit access to guns in NYC even more by opening the door to lawsuits against gun manufacturers who don’t follow a ‘corporate code of conduct’. David Yassky, a former law professor and aide for Chuck Schumer when he was a congressman, received money from 189 attorneys and others of his ‘social class’ in his successful campaign for Council, and filed an amicus brief in the US vs Emerson case encouraging a finding that in the 2nd Amendment, ‘bear arms’ meant for military use only.” (“Gunning for manufacturers through courts”, “Cut on the Bias” blog (Susanna Cornett), Apr. 22; “Metro Briefing: New York”, New York Times, Apr. 22).
On a happier note, the city of Boston last month dropped its extortionate lawsuit against the gun industry (David Abel, “Gun control forces say suits to go on”, Boston Globe, Mar. 29; “Mayor was right to drop gun case” (editorial), Boston Herald, Mar. 29 (“This case was frankly a publicity stunt — an expensive publicity stunt supposedly in the cause of ‘public health.’ But the roughly $500,000 it cost so far was diverted from other goals.”); “Boston Abandons Lawsuit Against Firearms Manufacturers”, National Shooting Sports Foundation press release, Mar. 28). (DURABLE LINK)
April 29-30 — “Erin Brockovich, the Brand”. “She gets confused with Heather Locklear and Suzanne Somers. … Over the course of last year, she became the most popular public-speaking client in the William Morris stable.” For newer readers, here’s our take. (Austin Bunn, New York Times Magazine, Apr. 28). (DURABLE LINK)
April 29-30 — Lawyers for chimps? “More and more legal reformers … are pressing to give chimpanzees legal standing — specifically, the ability to have suits filed in their names and to ask courts to protect their interests. … The advocates of granting legal standing to chimps have gained support from constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe, a Harvard Law School professor.” (David Bank, “A Harvard Professor Lobbies to Save U.S. Chimps From Monkey Business”, Wall Street Journal, Apr. 25 (online subscribers only); “Monkeying Around With the Constitution”, Ribstone Pippin blog, Apr. 25; InstaPundit, Apr. 25) (& see May 14-15). (DURABLE LINK)
April 29-30 — “Targeting “big food'”. The “campaign against Big Food is following the attack on Big Tobacco almost to a ‘T.’ … Any day now, I expect to hear that Big Food has secretly been adding special ingredients with known health risks — like salt — to their products for years to tempt the ignorant.” (Bruce Bartlett, “Targeting ‘big food'”, National Center for Policy Analysis opinion editorial, Apr. 3). It is already being argued that obesity, like smoking, imposes costs through health care provision on the non-obese, allegedly justifying more intensive government regulation of lifestyle choices (Pierre Lemieux, “It’s the Fat Police,” National Post (Canada), Apr. 6). And a 1998 revision by the federal government of its Body Mass Index standards more or less ensures that a large portion of the population will be considered to be suffering from a weight problem; according to the index, NCAA basketball stars Lonny Baxter of Maryland, Oklahoma’s Aaron McGhee, Kansas’s Nick Collision and Indiana’s Tom Coverdale are all considered “overweight” and in need of more exercise. (“Husky hoops stars?”, Center for Consumer Freedom, Mar. 27). (DURABLE LINK)
April 26-28 — “Positive Nicotine Test To Keep Student From Prom”. In Hartford City, Ind., Blackford High School has banned senior Rob Mahon, 18, from the senior prom after he tested positive for nicotine in a random drug test. Mahon, who is the editor of the school newspaper, “did not smoke on school property and is upset that he’s being punished for an activity that is legal for someone his age.” School officials, however, said that Mahon “knew the rules prohibiting drugs, alcohol and nicotine before he agreed to the testing that’s required for those in extracurricular activities.” The Indiana Civil Liberties Union is planning to represent him in a legal challenge. (TheIndyChannel.com, Apr. 25). Update May 10-12: school backs down. (DURABLE LINK)
April 26-28 — “Support case hinges on failed sterilization”. An attorney for plaintiff Heather Seslar is attempting to convince the Indiana Supreme Court that the doctor whose effort to sterilize Seslar fell short, with the result that she became pregnant and gave birth to a healthy baby girl, should pay for the entire cost of raising the child to adulthood. “A lower court already has sided with Seslar. Unless the Supreme Court overturns that decision, Indiana would become the fifth state to grant parents who underwent sterilization the right to sue doctors for the costs of raising an unexpected child. California, New Mexico, Oregon and Wisconsin also recognize the right.” (Vic Ryckaert, Indianapolis Star, Apr. 4). (DURABLE LINK)
April 26-28 — Columbia Law School survey on public attitude toward lawyers. A new nationwide survey commissioned by Columbia Law School asked a thousand respondents nationwide what they thought of the profession. It “contains some disheartening news for lawyers. … A full sixty percent of respondents said lawyers are overpaid, compared with a mere two percent who thought lawyers underpaid.” Thirty-nine percent considered lawyers either especially dishonest or somewhat dishonest, while 31 percent found them especially honest or somewhat honest, which left them faring better than politicians in the honesty ratings but sharply worse than police. Finally, respondents were asked: “Do you believe that lawyers do more harm than good by filing lawsuits that may raise the cost of doing business, or do they perform a beneficial role by holding big companies accountable to the law?” The wording of this question is decidedly peculiar — its first half, for example, states the case critical of trial lawyers about as ineptly as it is possible to do — and yet the side holding that lawyers “perform a beneficial role” prevailed by only a fifty to forty-one percent margin. (Michael C. Dorf, “Can the Legal Profession Improve Its Image?”, FindLaw, Apr. 17). (DURABLE LINK)
April 25 — “Disability rights attorney accused of having inaccessible office”. “The attorney who sued Clint Eastwood over disability accommodations at his hotel near Carmel was himself sued Tuesday on allegations his office bathroom was not wheelchair friendly. The federal suit was brought by George Louie, executive director of Oakland-based Americans with Disabilities Advocates. He alleges the bathroom and other amenities at attorney Paul Rein’s office in Oakland violate the Americans with Disabilities Act.” (AP/Contra Costa Times, Apr. 23)(see Oct. 2, 2000, Sept. 21, 2000 and links from there). Update: the allegations, which Rein vigorously contested, were later dropped without payment, according to court records (Joy Lanzendorfer, “Enforced Compliance”, MetroActive, Dec. 26, 2002). (DURABLE LINK)
April 25 — Mold sweepstakes: You May Already Be a Winner. “Entertainer Ed McMahon is suing his insurance company for more than $20 million, alleging that he was sickened by toxic mold that spread through his Beverly Hills house after contractors cleaning up water damage from a broken pipe botched the job.” (“Ed McMahon sues over mold, says dog died”, Los Angeles Times/ AZCentral.com, Apr. 9). Buyers of homeowners’ insurance may wind up among the losers: “State Farm, the largest insurer in California representing 22 percent of the market, decided last week that it would no longer write new homeowner policies in the state starting May 1. While that’s partly due to past losses, it’s also in large part due to the rising cost of mold-related claims. … In Texas, which has had the most claims increases [over mold] in the nation, rates have already nearly doubled for many homeowners.” (Deborah Lohse, “Mold becomes toxic issue to homeowners, insurers”, San Jose Mercury News, Apr. 23). Mold claims “could be the next asbestos. Yes, there’s a bit of difference: Asbestos fibers are known to cause disease and death. Whether household mold can do so is, to put it charitably, a matter of debate. But that hasn’t slowed the litigation over mold.” (Mary Ellen Egan, “The Fungus that Ate Sacramento,” Forbes, Jan. 21). Update May 21, 2003: McMahon’s claim said to have reaped $7 million settlement.
TEXAS MOLD LINKFEST: “Insurers estimate they paid out $670 million for mold-related property damage in Texas in 2001, more than double the total in 1999.” (Egan, Forbes, link above). See (all links 2001:) Jacob Sullum, “Fungi phobia”, TownHall.com, Aug. 21 (the wonderfully named Dripping Springs case); Bill Summers, “Mold cases could have a rotten effect”, San Antonio Express News, Oct. 18, reprinted at Texans for Lawsuit Reform; Eric Berger, “Mold Fears Overblown, Experts Say”, Houston Chronicle, July 12; CALA Houston links; Shannon Buggs, “Tackling Questions on Mold Coverage”, Houston Chronicle, Nov. 18; W. Gardner Selby, San Antonio Express News, “Coverage cut under review”, Nov. 13. (DURABLE LINK)
April 25 — Durbin’s electability. Illinois Democratic Senator Dick Durbin, a key Capitol Hill ally of the trial lawyers (he was the point man in defense of their unconscionable fees in the tobacco affair, for example), ran less well in his recent primary than incumbents usually do. Could he be headed for one-term status, like former Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun? (Steve Neal, “Durbin lacks the profile of a winner”, Chicago Sun-Times, Apr. 24)(see July 7, 2000). (DURABLE LINK)
April 23-24 — Fieger’s ivied walls. Controversial attorney Geoffrey Fieger is in the news again after losing a murder case for a client in Sarasota, Fla.: “Chief Circuit Judge Thomas Gallen said Fieger should be punished for calling two men who served on the jury ‘Nazis’ and ‘creeps.’ Fieger fired back, saying he has a First Amendment right to say bad things about jurors and that he may sue the judge for saying otherwise. Gallen said the Michigan lawyer’s ‘outrageous’ behavior violated a Florida Bar rule that says an attorney ‘shall not make a statement that the lawyer knows to be false or with reckless disregard as to its truth or falsity concerning the qualifications or integrity of’ court officials and jurors.” Fieger client Ralf Panitz, 42, “was convicted March 26 of killing his ex-wife, Nancy Campbell, on July 24, 2000, the same day he, Campbell and his new wife appeared on an episode of the ‘Jerry Springer Show.'” (Jennifer Sullivan, “Attorney, judge in war of words”, Manatee (Fla.) Herald-Tribune, Apr. 2).
Civility disputes involving Fieger are of course a staple item on this site. Last year, for example (see May 3, 2001), he faced a probe before the state attorney grievance commission following reports that he used his radio show to unleash “an obscenity-laced tirade” against three state appeals judges. For more examples of the Southfield, Mich.-based attorney’s style, see Sept. 14, 1999 and May 31, 2001. So it came as a bit of a shock to learn that the litigator’s name is now going to be adorning a prominent Michigan institution of legal education. According to Michigan State University’s law school, “Fieger has made a gift of $4 million to initiate and sustain the Geoffrey Fieger Trial Practice Institute,” billed as “the first trial practice institute at a law school designed specifically to train law students as successful trial lawyers.”
Rising to the dignity of the occasion in a press release, MSU-DCL dean and professor Terence Blackburn endorsed the school’s new benefactor in language well suited for a client recruitment brochure. “Mr. Fieger is arguably the most preeminent [sic] trial lawyer in the country, and he is an inspiration to our students,” Blackburn said. “It is Mr. Fieger’s dedication to his clients, his thorough preparation for each case and his skill in the courtroom that serve as a model for this institute.” (“Fieger’s $4 Million Gift To Law College at MSU Establishes Nation’s First Trial Practice Institute for Law Students”, MSU news release, Nov. 27; “$4 million gift to MSU-DCL funds trial practice institute”, MSU News, Dec. 6; “Fieger’s gift”, Lansing State Journal, Nov. 29 (defense of grant); letter from concerned alum, Detroit Free Press, Nov. 28). Last year the Detroit Free Press found Fieger unapologetic about charges by his opponents that he bullies and badgers witnesses on the stand. (Dawson Bell, “Fieger’s wins lose luster in appeals”, Detroit Free Press, May 29). “‘Trials are battles,’ Fieger said. Intimidating witnesses ‘is what trial attorneys do,’ he said.” Can we assume that it will therefore be a skill taught at the new institute? (DURABLE LINK)
April 23-24 — “Woman sues snack-food company for spoiling diet”. By reader acclaim: “A woman is suing a snack food company for $50 million saying its label on Pirate’s Booty corn and rice puffs foiled her diet. … Pirate’s Booty, manufactured by Robert’s American Gourmet Food, Inc., was recalled in January after the Good Housekeeping Institute found it contained 147 calories and 8.5 grams of fat, while its label said it contained only 120 calories and 2.5 grams of fat.” Now Meredith Berkman, 37, is suing claiming the mislabeling caused her to suffer “emotional distress” and “weight gain…mental anguish, outrage and indignation.” (AP/Salon, Apr. 13). Update: Feb. 9, 2006 (Berkman objects to settlement). (DURABLE LINK)
April 23-24 — Norway toy-ad crackdown. Yes, reports Bjorn Staerk on his blog (Mar. 25, Apr. 2), the Scandinavian country really does have an Ombudsman for Gender Equality whose apparent duties include monitoring sexism in toy ads, and yes, this ombudsman really is proposing to ban a particular toy ad which refers to boys as “tough”. (DURABLE LINK)
April 22 — Lawyers puree Big Apple. Figures from the City of New York’s fiscal year 2000 show that the city paid a record $459 million in judgments and settlements, a 10.5 percent increase over the previous fiscal year. $406 million of that figure was laid out on personal injury claims, up 11.5 percent from fiscal 1999. (Elaine Song, “Costs Climb for the City”, New York Law Journal, Mar. 21; “New York Sees Higher Verdicts in 2001″, New York Law Journal, Mar. 21; “Tort City, U.S.A.” (editorial), Wall Street Journal, Apr. 17 (online subscribers only). (DURABLE LINK)
April 22 — “How to Stuff a Wild Enron”. P.J. O’Rourke gives a flat tire to the pols and pundits who’ve tried to get anti-capitalist mileage out of the Enron scandal (The Atlantic, Apr.).
MORE ENRON LINKS: C. William (Bill) Thomas, “The Rise and Fall of the Enron Empire”, Texas Society of CPAs (via Political Hobbyist, who generously names us “one of the more famous blogs out there in the blogosphere“); Renee Deger, “Widening the Enron Net”, The Recorder, Apr. 9 (law firms, investment banks sued); Laura Goldberg, “Enron plaintiffs target bankers’ deep pockets”, Houston Chronicle, Apr. 5; Otis Bilodeau, “Gimme Shelter”, Legal Times, Apr. 16 (“In a worst-case scenario — where damages are so high that the firm itself goes bankrupt — partners in a general partnership could be forced to pay off the damage award over their entire careers.”); Renee Deger, “Leaning on the Lawyers”, The Recorder, Apr. 15; (prospects for Vinson & Elkins, Kirkland & Ellis); “Lerach’s Enron Sweep” (editorial), Wall Street Journal, Apr. 17 (online subscribers only); bloggers “Robert Musil” Apr. 14 and other dates, “Max Power” Apr. 10. (DURABLE LINK)
April 22 — “St- st- st- st- stop.” “A man with a stutter was turned down as a driving instructor by the British School of Motoring because he couldn’t say ‘stop’ fast enough in an emergency”. Mr. Arsenal Whittick, 39, has filed a complaint with an employment tribunal charging disability discrimination. (“Stutterer turned down as driving instructor”, Evening Standard, Apr. 11)(via andrewsullivan.com, from which our headline is also swiped). And Dave Kopel, analyzing the pending Supreme Court case of Chevron v. Echabazal (can employers exclude physically vulnerable workers from jobs that might kill them? — see Mar. 1), includes a very kind reference to this site. (National Review Online, Mar. 27). (DURABLE LINK)
April 21 — Social notes from all over: New York Blog Bash. It isn’t easy to get our editor over to Avenue B, but he brings back a glowing report of the Friday night event hosted by the formidable duo of Orchid and Asparagirl and with econ-blog-diva Megan McArdle in attendance. Not only were those present uniformly agreeable to converse with, but their weblogs — see the RSVP list at Daily Dose for a not quite complete list — collectively make for an afternoon’s browse that’s about 8,500% percent more enjoyable and stimulating than is afforded by, say, the Sunday New York Times. Update: photos courtesy Asparagirl (our editor is the one with the beard and dark clothes). (DURABLE LINK)