February 2002 archives, part 3


February 27-28 – Aerobics studio mustn’t favor the svelte. “In one of the first cases under San Francisco’s ‘fat and short’ law, a 240-pound fitness enthusiast has filed a discrimination complaint with the city against a leading exercise firm that won’t let her be a company aerobics teacher.” Jazzercise Inc. thinks Jennifer Portnick, at size 16-18, “looks too heavy to be a good role model for exercise buffs,” but Portnick’s supporters say the important thing is that she is fit enough to teach the class. (Elizabeth Hernandez, “240-pound San Francisco woman rejected as aerobics teacher alleges bias”, San Francisco Chronicle/ Minneapolis Star Tribune, Feb. 26)(see Dec. 8, 2000). Update May 10-12: Portnick wins settlement.

February 27-28 – The thrill of it all: plaintiffs win 28 cent coupon. “Food Lion customers who held an MVP [store discount] card between 1995 and 1998 have a 28-cent rebate coming their way as a result of a class-action lawsuit.” Not answered in the article is the burning question: how much more than 28 cents are the lawyers going to get? (“Food Lion MVP customers to get tiny rebate”, AP/Raleigh News & Observer, Feb. 24).

February 27-28 – Ford didn’t push pedal extenders, suit says. A lawsuit at trial in Louisville, Ky., accuses Ford Motor of not promoting and publicizing pedal extenders as a safety boon for drivers of short stature. “If the company were to tout the adjusters’ benefit in helping prevent air bag injuries, it could be open to more lawsuits if a driver is hurt or killed by an air bag while using it.” Ford offers the popular extenders as a convenience feature without stressing their safety aspect. (“Lawsuit faults Ford on safety issue”, AP/Louisville Courier-Journal, Feb. 19; AP/Auto.com, Feb. 18)(& letter to the editor, Apr. 11)

February 27-28 – Milberg faces second probe. “Already the subject of a grand jury investigation in Los Angeles, New York-based Milberg Weiss Bershad Hynes & Lerach is also facing scrutiny over its relationship with a high-ranking political figure in Philadelphia. Both state and federal authorities are looking into whether Philadelphia City Controller Jonathan Saidel received consulting fees from two law firms — one of which is Milberg Weiss — in exchange for helping the firms win city contracts.” (Jason Hoppin, “Milberg Weiss Faces Questions on Second Front”, The Recorder, Feb. 26).

February 27-28 – Jail for schoolyard taunts? In Hastings, Minn., prosecutor James Backstrom has announced “one of the toughest juvenile-justice policies in the nation: School bullies will go to jail.” Subject to the policy are not only kids who violently lay hands on classmates but also those who “intimidate, harass, pick a fight on the playground or the bus … Mr. Backstrom wants those who are at least 13 years old to hear a cell door click behind them. … The jail-for-bullies policy has been in effect since last spring here in Dakota County.” Local prosecutors complain, however, that some judges are undercutting the policy’s intent by taking into account such mitigating factors as whether a youngster’s misbehavior was provoked. (“New plan to put bullies behind bars”, Los Angeles Times/Christian Science Monitor, Feb. 26).

February 27-28 – Welcome Sunday Times (London) readers. We’re mentioned in Andrew Sullivan’s article on the journalistic impact of weblogs (“A Blogger Manifesto”, Sunday Times (London), Feb. 24, reprinted at AndrewSullivan.com).

February 25-26 – European workplace notes. “A French court has ruled that a ‘workplace accident’ claimed the life of an electrician who overdosed on vodka while drinking with colleagues in Russia. The unnamed 44-year-old Frenchman died of alcohol poisoning after a night of heavy drinking with Russian colleagues in Nalchik, southern Russia, three years ago.” (“Vodka death ruled ‘industrial accident'”, BBC, Feb. 18). In County Cavan, Ireland, a “piggery manager who claimed he had suffered deafness as a result of the noise of squealing pigs settled his action against the piggery owner.” (“And this little piggy …. missed his day in court”, Irish Independent, Feb. 19). And in Kent, England, “a dyslexic banker branded ‘Trebor’ by his boss — his Christian name spelled backwards — has been awarded damages of £95,000 by an employment tribunal.” (David Sapsted, “Sacked dyslexic awarded £95,000″, Daily Telegraph, Feb. 22).

February 25-26 – Fen-phen: gold standard indeed. The lead plaintiffs’ lawyers in the fen-phen diet drug litigation want a court to award them $567 million in fees for work negotiating a multibillion-dollar settlement, claiming their efforts set the “gold standard” for devising a mass tort “mega-settlement”. Besides, it’s peanuts when you consider that plaintiffs who opted out “have racked up more than $8 billion in settlements, leading to more than $2.8 billion in fees for their lawyers.” The brief also alleges that drug manufacturer American Home Products “paid its attorneys about $1.2 billion to $1.6 billion in fees and costs for defense of the diet drug cases.” (Shannon P. Duffy, “Fen-Phenomenal”, The Legal Intelligencer, Feb. 21).

February 25-26 – “Drunken Driver’s Widow Wins Court’s OK To Sue Carmaker”. New York’s highest court has ruled that the widow of a Westchester County man killed in a crash of his VW Jetta with more than twice the legal amount of alcohol in his system can nonetheless sue the German automaker. In a 10-page dissent, Justice Albert Rosenblatt wrote that the “majority’s rationale … invites people injured as a result of their own seriously unlawful acts to blame others and recover damages previously prohibited”. (Kenneth Lovett, New York Post, Feb. 20).

February 25-26 – “PETA Says It Will Sue New Jersey Over Deer/Car Accident”. Two activists with the extremist animal rights outfit were driving along the New Jersey Turnpike when a deer (lamentably heedless of their rights) darted out in front of their vehicle, and the ensuing crash caused considerable property damage. Now they have sent “a notice to the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife declaring their intent to sue the state of New Jersey for contributing to the accident through their deer management practices,” the theory being that the state is too willing to cater to the hunters who reduce the deer herd — no, it doesn’t make any sense to us either. (AnimalRights.net (Brian Carnell), Feb. 18)(& see Nov. 29, 2001).

February 22-24 –USA Today on slavery reparations. The story comes close to acknowledging that the legal basis for the impending lawsuits is so shoddy that their only real settlement value comes from the hope of inflicting bad publicity on companies and other defendants willing to pay to make it stop. So what does Gannett/USA Today, itself a likely defendant, do? It awards the lawyers another ton of publicity against named companies. Makes sense, right? Note that Willie Gary now claims the lawyers’ “work is likely to be done pro bono“, which is a very different story from what he said not too long ago (see Dec. 22, 2000) (James Cox, “Activists challenge corporations that they say are tied to slavery; Team of legal and academic stars pushes for apologies and reparations”, USA Today, Feb. 21). (DURABLE LINK)

February 22-24 – Role of the oath. We must take issue with Andrew Sullivan (“The Dish”, Feb. 21), who thinks it’s okay for President Bush to sign a substantially unconstitutional campaign finance bill on the expectation that the Supreme Court will throw out the unconstitutional parts. (Members of Congress sometimes cite a similar theory to explain why they vote for bills they are not sure are constitutional.) But as such commentators as Justice Scalia have pointed out, members of each of the three branches of government, not just the high court, take oaths pledging to uphold the Constitution. Among the functional purposes of the oath is to impress on them that the task of upholding the document is not just someone else’s, but theirs as well. To adopt what you might call the sole-goalie theory of constitutionality — which lets you kick the ball toward the goal of a Constitutional violation, relying on the Court to block — is to leave the document at best in the vulnerable state of being defended once when it deserves three-deep defense. (DURABLE LINK)

February 22-24 – “Student Grading by Peers Passes High Court Test”. The Supreme Court, interpreting federal law, unanimously decides it’s not illegal for teachers to let students rate each other’s work (see Nov. 28, 2001) (Charles Lane, Washington Post, Feb. 20).

February 22-24 – Culture war over BB guns. As suburban culture clashes with rural in Alpharetta, Ga., outside Atlanta, “a new ordinance here makes it a crime to let children under 16 use a BB gun — or its modern cousin, the paintball gun — without parental supervision.” Quotes our editor, although the sentiments attributed to us came out slightly more colorful than what we actually recall saying (Patrik Jonsson, “Town’s curb on BB guns becomes a clash of values”, Christian Science Monitor, Feb. 22).