April 2003 archives, parts 2-3
April 30 – “Lawyers who won $10 bil. verdict had donated to judge”. Okay, so it’s among the year’s least surprising headlines: “Illinois campaign records show 19 lawyers or relatives connected to a law firm [Korein Tillery] that recently won a record tobacco judgment gave almost $10,000 in political donations to the presiding state judge last year, according to a published report”. Perhaps a bit more surprising: Judge Nicholas Byron’s campaign had also gotten $6,000 from the law firm that represented the defendant, Philip Morris. “Illinois law doesn’t prevent judges from accepting money from attorneys who argue cases in their courts, and there are no limits on the number or amount of contributions that politicians and judges can accept.” (AP/Chicago Sun-Times, Apr. 14; “Tobacco Case Judge Got Campaign Funds From Lawyers: Report”, Wall Street Journal, Apr. 11). An analysis for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch “found that judges running for election or retention in Madison County last year averaged more than $100,000 each in campaign receipts. That’s three times the roughly $29,000 average the newspaper found for judges statewide and 10 times the $10,000 average in Cook County’s crowded judicial system. The average take for Madison County judges is about four times more than for judges in neighboring St. Clair County, which has roughly the same population.” Most of the donations came from practicing lawyers. (Kevin McDermott, $218,000 for one judge”, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Apr. 27)(see Mar. 24, Apr. 2, Apr. 4).
State governments — and the municipal-finance lawyers that have helped them “securitize” streams of future tobacco booty — heaved a sigh of relief when Judge Byron earlier this month agreed to reduce Philip Morris’s appeals bond (to a still extraordinarily onerous level), thus averting a possible bankruptcy filing and interruption of payments to the states (Brenda Sandburg, “Tobacco Decision Gives Bond Lawyers Breathing Room”, The Recorder, Apr. 15). Judge Byron also decreed in the original verdict that the tobacco company should pay the plaintiff’s team legal fees approaching $1.8 billion, which works out to $13,100 per hour even if you swallow the lawyers’ contention that they spent a staggering 135,500 hours of work on the case over the past three years. If you’re curious to see the audit trail documenting those hours, your curiosity may be in vain. “Charles W. Chapman, a retired Illinois appellate court judge who testified in support of such fees for the plaintiffs’ attorneys, “said that it was not his duty to verify the hours Tillery worked. ‘It’s basically an honor system,’ Chapman said. ‘I don’t have any way of knowing if he worked those hours.’” (Trisha L. Howard and Paul Hampe, “Record legal fee averages to $13,100 an hour”, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Apr. 6). (DURABLE LINK)
April 28-29 — Latest Rule of Lawyers publicity. At Forbes.com, reviewer Robert Lenzner pens a rave for our editor’s new book: “Anyone in the market for a truly gripping read about tort lawyers should skip [John] Grisham’s [latest] novel and instead pick up Walter K. Olson’s nonfiction book The Rule of Lawyers, a brilliant expose of the way courts are being overwhelmed by mass tort actions. … Grisham’s indictment of the tort bar can’t hold a candle to Olson’s thorough journalistic impeachment of the dangers posed by these lawyers.” (Robert Lenzner, “The Rule of Lawyers”, Forbes.com, Apr. 21). The blurb/summary for the review provided by the Forbes.com editors is reasonably flattering as well. In Paris, meanwhile, Le Monde discusses our editor’s “dernier livre” and also provides a link to this website, which it describes as “très documenté”. (Claire Ané, “Dommages et intérêts collatéraux de la justice américaine”, Le Monde, Apr. 22). The March/April issue of the American Spectator features a substantial excerpt from the book’s chapter on trial lawyers and politics (Walter Olson, “The Lawsuit Lobby”, not online). In the print version of National Review, the book is favorably reviewed by Doug Bandow (“Shyster Heaven”, Apr. 21). And the Boston Globe‘s Charles Stein mentioned the book and quoted our editor in a recent column on the states’ interest in preventing tobacco companies from going under (“States confront a necessity: ‘evil’”, Apr. 13). (DURABLE LINK)
April 28-29 – Had no idea you can’t launder campaign contributions. “A lawyer for Tab Turner, the head of a Little Rock law firm under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice, suggested Thursday that his client had not been aware of an election law that prevents him from reimbursing employees who contribute to U.S. Sen. John Edwards’ presidential campaign.” (John Wagner, “Edwards donor will cooperate”, Raleigh News & Observer, Apr. 25). “Twenty people who were identified on Edwards’s report as ‘paralegal’ employees each gave $2,000, as did nine persons described as ‘legal assistants.’” Most of those contacted by the Washington Post claimed that they had chosen to donate their own money, but two employees at Turner’s firm indicated that they expected to be reimbursed by their employer. “Federal election laws prohibit a person from funneling donations through someone else to conceal their source. Such practices would enable the reimburser to exceed the legal contribution limit for individuals, recently raised to $2,000 from $1,000 per election.” Turner is among the best-known attorneys specializing in product liability suits against automakers. (Thomas B. Edsall and Dan Balz, “Edwards Returns Law Firm’s Donations”, Washington Post, Apr. 18). (DURABLE LINK)
April 28-29 – “Solicitor billed for 81-hour day”. Pennsylvania: “The lawyer for Upper Darby’s financially pressed schools paid back $19,361 in fees after The Inquirer showed him evidence that he had billed the district for more than 24 hours’ work on each of four days. …Barry Van Rensler, who was paid $421,327 last year and more than $2.8 million in his last 14 years as district solicitor, said the billings in question were innocent mistakes involving misplaced decimal points. … District officials say they are satisfied that the errors in Van Rensler’s billings were innocent.” One bill was for an 81-hour day. (Barbara Boyer and Tina Moore, Philadelphia Inquirer, Apr. 27). (DURABLE LINK)
April 28-29 – Wouldn’t want to look unsafe. City officials in Oakland, Calif. would like to crack down on businesses’ right to use “exterior security devices” to protect their premises. Aside from unsightliness, “It gives a sense that our community is not a very safe city,” said City Manager Robert Bobb. Last month a City Council committee “backed a plan … to prohibit barbed wire fences in commercial districts but stopped short of supporting a more far-reaching proposal to eliminate burglar bars, roll-down doors and retractable security gates, common fixtures throughout the city.” Many small business owners aren’t impressed: “‘There is a lot of crime in Oakland. Who’s trying to kid who?’ Josefina Lopez, owner of Corazon Del Pueblo, said at her Mexican imports store and art gallery on International Boulevard, near High Street. … When riots broke out after the Super Bowl in January, Lopez watched from her store as vandals and looters broke nearly every window of the Kelly-Moore Paint store across the street. Her shop, with a wrought-iron gate in front of its doors and metal roll-down doors over the windows, escaped unharmed.” (Janine DeFao, “Oakland trying to avoid that ‘war zone’ look: Ban on metal bars, roll-down doors considered”, San Francisco Chronicle, Mar. 26). (DURABLE LINK)
April 25-27 – Price of bad hairdo: $6,000. “The bad hairdo blamed by a woman for her emotional tailspin was worth $6,000, a St. Louis County jury decided Wednesday in a verdict that delivered far less than she sought.” Geremie Hoff sued the local Elizabeth Arden salon after an Aug. 2001 hair straightening job was followed by brittleness and fall-outs. Hoff’s attorney had said “his client was so distressed that she retired early from the University of Missouri at St. Louis, where she taught, and also stopped guiding tours to Italy.” A defense lawyer, however, “noted that Hoff didn’t retire until nearly a year later, after her hair returned. He said her tour business would have suffered anyway, in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.” (William C. Lhotka, “Jury awards Creve Coeur woman $6,000 in suit over hairdo”, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Apr. 9; Cynthia Billhartz, “What’s the price of a really bad hair day?”, Apr. 14). (DURABLE LINK)
April 25-27 – Gun lawsuit columns. Did the U.S. House of Representatives ignore proper principles of federalism when it recently passed a bill that would pre-empt some lawsuits in state court seeking to saddle gun manufacturers with the costs of crimes? Columnist Jacob Sullum takes up the question, quoting our editor’s recent Capitol Hill testimony on the subject (“Federalist Case”, syndicated/Reason, Apr. 18). Also citing our work on gun lawsuits recently have been columnists Chuck Colson (“Standing on Dangerous Ground”, syndicated/TownHall, Apr. 16); Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association, in his second monthly column in a row (“Standing Guard”, American Hunter, May, not online); and Paul Craig Roberts (“Gun control: the criminal lobby”, syndicated/Town Hall, Apr. 23). (DURABLE LINK)
April 25-27 – “Reforming Class-Action Suits”. “[C]ompanies operating nationwide get haled into local courts that plaintiffs’ lawyers have found particularly willing to accept class actions — and to hit out-of-state firms with costly judgments. This situation allows state judges at the county level to issue rulings that ‘federalize’ their decisions — effectively writing rules for the whole country. In recent years, for example, an Illinois court imposed Illinois law on the insurance laws or regulations of New York, Massachusetts, and Hawaii. Class-action suits have also become an ATM for unscrupulous lawyers, who win millions of dollars for themselves but sometimes leave clients empty-handed.” The Christian Science Monitor lends its editorial endorsement to the Class Action Fairness Act, which has passed the House and is now pending in the Senate (Apr. 17). And Baseball Crank, which we have been tardy in thanking for its kind link to us, has a highly recommended post (Apr. 16) on “Federalism’s Edge: the point at which an exercise of state power (by a state or group of states) infringes on the right to self-government of the citizens of the other states”, an issue that underlies both the CAFA and gun-suit-preemption controversies. (DURABLE LINK)
April 25-27 – Manufacturer sued after bullet fails to take down lion. Professional big-game hunter Rolf Rohwer is suing bullet manufacturers after an unfortunate occurrence on safari in Africa in which he shot a charging lion from about 30 yards away but was mauled anyway. According to his lawyer’s allegations, the Federal Cartridge Co.’s Trophy Bonded Bear Claw bullet, even if suitable for hunting such big game animals as rhinoceros, elephant, buffalo and hippopotamus, was insufficiently lethal when aimed at a lion because the smaller animal’s thinner skin permitted the bullet to pass through with minimal damage. (Howie Padilla, “Injured big-game hunter takes aim at bullet manufacturers”, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Apr. 16). Update Jan. 15, 2005: judge dismisses complaint. (DURABLE LINK)
April 24 – Posting to resume tomorrow. Following two weeks in which our editor, called away by a death in his family, was without web-posting capability, we expect to pick up where we left off momentarily.
April 14-23 – (On hiatus).