December 2002 archives, part 3
* A panel of the Fourth Circuit threw out (PDF) the $2 million punitive damage award against Duke University under federal sex discrimination law to Heather Sue Mercer, “who was allowed a walk-on spot as a kicker on the school’s football team but [was] treated differently than other players.” (see Oct. 13, 2000) (Leslie Brown, “Court voids kicker’s award”, Raleigh News & Observer, undated circa Nov. 16) (The Mat forums)
* The Ohio Supreme Court’s pro-litigation majority, shortly before voters turned it into a minority, dealt Ford Motor Co. a setback by ordering a new trial in a case where the automaker had rebuffed charges of “sudden acceleration” in its Crown Victoria model (see Jun. 6, 2000) (Alan Fisk, “Videotape Revives Lawsuit Against Ford Motor Co.”, National Law Journal, Oct. 21).
* An Alaska federal judge cut the punitive damage award against Exxon Mobil in the Valdez spill case from $5 billion to $4 billion; the litigation could still drag on for years more (see Nov. 15, 2001) (Jason Hoppin, “Exxon Valdez Award Reduced — but Only to $4B”, The Recorder, Dec. 10).
* In the controversy over baseball bats that are allegedly too powerful (see Apr. 19, 2002), a California state appeals court has rejected assumption-of-risk defenses and ruled that a college baseball player can sue the University of Southern California, “the Pacific-10 Conference, the National Collegiate Athletic Association and the makers of the Louisville Slugger bat on the ground that the company’s Air Attack 2 bat substantially increases the dangers of America’s pastime by letting the ball be smacked at hair-raising speeds.” (Mike McKee, “Bat Ups Chance of Baseball Injuries, Appeals Court Rules”, The Recorder, Dec. 24). (DURABLE LINK)
December 27-29 – Receivers in bankruptcy. “In the bizarre yet lucrative world of Enron’s bankruptcy, everyone seems to have a complaint these days. The $300-an-hour lawyers complain that the $500-an-hour lawyers are charging exorbitant fees. … Already, lawyers and other professionals have billed Enron close to $300 million in what some critics say is an unparalleled fee bonanza,” some of it going to the same high-priced professionals who advised the company before its fall. (David Barboza, “The Meter Runs in Enron Case, as the Lawyers Retain Lawyers”, New York Times, Dec. 25). Some of the lawyers have submitted expense requests that included liquor purchases; other practices include “marking up the costs of photocopies and faxes, and charging for clerical work at lawyers’ steep hourly rates”. (Otis Bilodeau, “Enron Lawyers Face Fee Cuts”, Legal Times, Dec. 10). (DURABLE LINK)
December 27-29 – California’s hazardous holiday. Chestnuts-roasting menace averted, cont’d: taking a cue from Berkeley and other Bay Area cities, air quality regulators in California’s Central Valley are proposing a ban on traditional wood-burning fireplaces in homes, as well as regulations on how existing ones can be used. “Under proposed rules that would take effect next year, most wood-burning fireplaces and stoves would be banned in new homes. Masonry fireplaces would have to be permanently disabled, converted to natural gas or upgraded to expensive soot-containing models before homes could be sold. Also, on bad air days during the winter, many Central Californians would be prohibited from lighting up their existing wood-burning stoves and fireplaces in a concerted effort to get the smoggy valley to comply with the Clean Air Act.” (Kim Baca, “California air regulators propose fireplace ban”, Sacramento Bee, Dec. 6)(see Dec. 24-27, 2001). Also in California, environmentalist lawyers using a bounty-hunting statute recently sued restaurants serving French fries on the grounds that the fries contain measurable amounts of acrylamide, a potentially hazardous substance generated when starch is subjected to heat. A complicating factor, however, according to the food-industry-defense Center for Consumer Freedom, is that “A nationwide study carried out in Germany has found that gingerbread contains seven times the amount of acrylamide found in French fries.” Better enjoy that holiday baking binge while it’s still legal. (“Just when you thought the holidays were safe”, Center for Consumer Freedom, Dec. 9; “French fry lawsuit-mongers unmasked“, Sept. 9). (DURABLE LINK)
December 24-26 – Merry Christmas. We’ll take a couple of days off to celebrate the holiday, and see you Friday. (DURABLE LINK)
December 24-26 – “Court Waives Deadline as ‘Reasonable Accommodation’ for Disabled Litigator”. We figured this would happen, and now it has: “An upstate New York judge has held for the first time that the courts must reasonably accommodate a visually impaired attorney who breached the time restrictions for submitting a judgment. … Finding that the ‘courtroom and court system constitute the trial lawyer’s workplace,’ and that the workplace ‘logically extends to the preparation of documents associated with litigation,’ [New York State Supreme Court Justice Robert] Julian held that [attorney Norman] Deep is owed an accommodation.” (John Caher, “Court Waives Deadline as ‘Reasonable Accommodation’ for Disabled Litigator”, New York Law Journal, Dec. 2). (DURABLE LINK)
December 24-26 – “Britain sued for millions by Mau Mau terrorists”. “The families of soldiers who fought the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya reacted with fury last night to news that former terrorists are planning to sue the British Government over their treatment after being taken captive.” (Daniel Foggo and Christian Steenberg, Daily Telegraph, Nov. 10). (DURABLE LINK)
December 23 – Lawyers’ advertising, 25 years later. In 1977, by a 5 to 4 majority, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that lawyers have a constitutional right to advertise for clients. A retrospective by the National Law Journal‘s Mark Ballard mentions some of the resulting low-water marks of taste, including “the one where 300 pounds of lawyer emerges from the water to the strains of ‘Swan Lake’ bedecked in gold chains and carrying a chest of cash with the message that he’ll bring the treasure home to you,” the one featuring “Robert Vaughn, former ‘Man from U.N.C.L.E.,’ in suspenders, sternly promising that whichever attorney was hired in that particular market was so fearsome that otherwise recalcitrant insurance companies will roll over and pay up big bucks,” and — no specifics given, alas, but deplored by a former Florida bar president — episodes in which lawyers have “drive[n] hearses to shill no-frill wills” and sponsored cars in demolition derbies to promote personal-injury practices. (Mark Ballard, “Coming to Terms With the $20,000 Ad”, National Law Journal, Sept. 25; “The Ad-Made Man and the Old-Line Firm”, National Law Journal, Oct. 3; “The Little Ad That Changed Everything”, National Law Journal, Oct. 10). (DURABLE LINK)