January 18-20 — Web defamation roundup. “The Atlanta Humane Society has filed a $75,000 defamation lawsuit against a woman who called its executive director ‘Mr. Kill’ in an Internet chat room.” (“Woman sued over chat room comments”, AP/USA Today, Jan. 10). In New Jersey, a court has found that local officials have not sufficiently justified the use of subpoena power to reveal the identity of persons who posted insulting things about them on online bulletin boards (Robert MacMillan, “Judge Bars Town Brass From Learning Detractors’ IDs”, Newsbytes, Jan. 3). U.S.-based Dow Jones is entangled in a battle over whether the courts of Australia can require it to stand suit down there over an online article that it published about an Australian businessman. The lower court decision “opened up the possibility that publishers and Internet sites were potentially open to litigation in any country that allowed defamation cases.” (“Dow Jones Can Pursue Jurisdiction Battle in Internet Defamation Case”, AP/Law.com, Dec. 17; Eric J. Sinrod, “Online Defamation — It’s a Small World After All”, Law.com, Sept. 18)(Update Nov. 20, 2004: Dow Jones settles case). And an appeals court in New York has declined to resolve the question whether altering a website counts as “republication”, which can be legally important for various reasons, such as by restarting the clock on the statute of limitations. (John Caher, “New York Appellate Panel Upholds Dismissal of Web Defamation Claim”, New York Law Journal, Oct. 15).
January 18-20 — “How many people will this kill, I wonder?” Writes Natalie Solent on her weblog: “Sometimes it’s the little stories, the unsensational ones tucked away in the business section, that are the most ominous. An EU directive imposes insanely strict product liability. It is used to sue the providers of the free (FREE for heaven’s sake) blood transfusion service. So maybe, think would-be investors, researchers, entrepreneurs, jobseekers, just maybe we won’t go into the lifesaving business after all.” (Jan. 14; “EU rules open door to lawsuits”, Daily Telegraph (UK), Jan. 14). From another item on her site: “Al-Qaeda. Anthrax. Alimony. Which is the one that really terrifies you guys?”
January 18-20 — Planners tie up land for twenty years. For twenty years Patricia and Perry Smith’s dream of building a retirement home on their land at Lake Tahoe was blocked by a local moratorium on new construction. In a case now before the Supreme Court, lawyers for the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency say no compensation is owed owners like the Smiths because the moratorium might have been lifted at some point, whether or not it actually was. Too late for Perry Smith: “He died in 1999 and was never able to enjoy his dream of a Lake Tahoe retirement with his wife.” Local officials worry, however, that recognizing a right to compensation could cause a flood of litigation by owners. (Warren Richey, “A lakeview lot, a dream deferred, a 20-year lawsuit”, Christian Science Monitor, Jan. 7). Things aren’t much better up in British Columbia: Elizabeth Nickson, “B.C. property rights: endangered species”, National Post, Dec. 7.
January 16-17 — Australian summer festival. Look to your laurels, L.A.: Australia has become “an extraordinarily litigious environment”, said Nicholas Conca, senior vice president of a unit of Liberty Mutual Insurance, quoted in an article on suits against company officers and directors: “‘New South Wales has replaced Southern California as the most litigious environment in the world’ in terms of frequency of suits, he said.” (Regis Coccia, “D&O liability lawsuits increasing around the world”, Business Insurance, Nov. 26, not a free link). Plus: In a story that confirms everything you ever imagined about the atmosphere in Australian liquor establishments, a bar patron there is being sued after strapping pork chops to his feet like shoes and striding across the bar floor, leaving a greasy trail on which another patron allegedly slipped and fell (Leonie Lamont, “Meat tray winner faces $750,000 bill for carrying on like a pork chop”, Sydney Morning Herald, Jan. 15). And: Jellyfish stings are just one reason why touchy Oz residents sue their travel agents a lot (Simon Liddy (Ebsworth & Ebsworth), “Travellers behaving badly”, FindLaw Australia, undated)(via LegalHumour.com). Even more: should litigation lawyers have to display health warnings? (“Does litigation harm your health?”, ABC (Australian) with Damien Carrick, Oct. 23 (racp.edu.au report in PDF format)). (DURABLE LINK)
January 16-17 — “FTC Taking ‘Seriously’ Request To Probe Firearms Sites”. No one will accuse the left-wing lawyers’ group Alliance for Justice of being too delicate about its opponents’ free speech rights: it’s petitioned the Federal Trade Commission to prohibit firearms companies from arguing in print that buying a gun for home use is a way of protecting one’s family’s safety (Robert MacMillan, Newsbytes.com, Jan. 10; “‘Homeland Security’ Gun Not Misnamed — Firearms Dealer”, Jan. 14). It’s much the same approach as is taken in the federal government’s lawsuit against the tobacco industry, which charges the companies with unlawfully seeking to advance “false and misleading positions on issues” (emphasis added) (see Sept. 23, 1999). (DURABLE LINK)
January 16-17 — Undignified survivors. “Last month, for example, the federal government announced plans to disburse about as much money this year to families of attack victims as the entire international aid community has slated to give to Afghanistan over the next decade — and that money will come in addition to incredible amounts of charitable aid also already raised. Nevertheless, a spokesman for a victims’ lobby group immediately dissented, demanding more. ‘We are exploring our legal options and lining up attorneys,’ he said. Almost no criticism could be found in response.
“Emerson once wrote that ‘every hero becomes a bore at last.’ Well, at least their lawyers and lobbyists do.” (Nicholas Thompson, “Hero inflation”, Boston Globe, Jan. 13) (via Arts & Letters Daily). And why, exactly, are taxpayers or any other innocent parties obliged to compensate victims of the terrorist attacks for pain and suffering? (Thomas Connor, “Terror Victims Aren’t Entitled To Compensation”, Wall Street Journal, Jan. 2)(online subscribers only). (DURABLE LINK)
January 16-17 — Bounce those economists. There has been considerable progress in challenging the use of “junk science” in federal court, but it took a while for many participants to realize that disciplines like economics are also subject to the judicial-gatekeeper rules of the Supreme Court’s Daubert decision. Economists who hire themselves out to help lawyers make their case in antitrust, damages or commercial disputes had better be prepared to defend their methods and reasoning. (David Hechler, “Federal Judges Applying Tougher Standards on Expert Testimony”, National Law Journal, Jan. 8). (DURABLE LINK)
January 14-15 — “Avoiding court is best defence”. “The best way to deal with the legal industry is to avoid it. It should not be regarded as a justice system. It is an industry that provides incomes for its insiders and, as an industry, its raw material is us.
“Consider a 40-year-old father of three with an income in the $70,000 [C] range who appealed to the family court system for shared parenting. Before the court would rule, it insisted on a psychiatric assessment. That cost him $5,200 on top of legal fees that are approaching the $15,000 mark.” (Dave Brown, Ottawa Citizen, Jan. 12).
January 14-15 — Sept. 11 and court awards. An apparent decline in the number of huge jury awards since the terrorist attacks may represent a shift toward conservatism in juror psychology, or simply lawyers’ decision to postpone trials; police brutality claims are among those that seem to be faring less well. (Richard Willing, “Study: Sept. 11 influenced jury awards”, USA Today, Jan. 7; Pam Louwagie, “Lawyers, consultants: Sept. 11 influencing jurors”, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Jan. 7). Insurers have been paying far more than expected in recent years on employment practices liability claims, one reason being Congress’s 1991 expansion of the right to file discrimination suits. (Reed Abelson, “Surge in Bias Cases Punishes Insurers, and Premiums Rise,” New York Times, January 9).
January 14-15 — Armenians on reparations bandwagon too. “Descendants of Armenians killed in 1915 in what was then the Ottoman Empire have won a preliminary round in their class action fight to force New York Life Insurance Co. to pay benefits to insured victims’ families. New York Life sought to dismiss the suit, arguing that the insurance policies, purchased between 1875 and 1915, required litigation to be filed in France or England.” The state of California, in which Armenian-Americans constitute an ethnic lobby of some importance, had passed a law to help its constituents win. (Emily Heller, “Armenian Descendants Win Early Court Round”, National Law Journal, Dec. 21).
January 14-15 — Profiling: the costs of sparing feelings. Someone’s going to get killed, maybe soon, because our leaders — President Bush himself, John Ashcroft, Norman Mineta — bow to current civil rights doctrine by refusing to allow added scrutiny to airport-goers who fit terrorist demographic profiles. Will they change their minds in time? (Rich Lowry, “Mineta’s Folly”, National Review Online, Jan. 10; James Q. Wilson and Heather R. Higgins, “It Isn’t Easy Being Screened”, OpinionJournal.com, Jan. 10; Heather Mac Donald, “The War on the Police”, Weekly Standard, Dec. 31; Dorothy Rabinowitz, “Hijacking History”, OpinionJournal.com, Dec. 7; Terry Eastland, “Fitting the Profile”, Weekly Standard, Oct. 31).
January 11-13 — Class action on behalf of illegal-alien college students. On Monday, lawyers filed suit against the City University of New York on behalf of about 2,200 “undocumented immigrant” (a euphemism) students challenging a new policy under which the university would charge them out-of-state tuition rates, as opposed to the steeply subsidized rates available to city residents. University officials promptly caved in and agreed to notify the students “about a program to defer their tuition payments this semester.” The tuition hike came after CUNY administrators, re-evaluating their policies on immigrant students after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, “decided they had not been complying with a 1996 federal law making it illegal to favor undocumented immigrants over U.S. citizens.” Apparently the university has ruled out the option of ceasing to enroll illegals entirely, let alone the option of actively assisting the Immigration and Naturalization Service in enforcing the laws at which the plaintiffs have been thumbing their noses. It’s another sign, if any were needed, of what a privileged status university administrators enjoy in our legal system compared with employers, who face stringent penalties if they knowingly put illegals on their payroll. (Mae M. Cheng, “Tuition Waiver For CUNY Immigrants”, Newsday.com, Jan. 9). Plus: coverage of similar controversy at the Univ. of California mentions administrators’ “fears that the nine-campus system could be held liable if a nonresident of California who is a legal U.S. citizen challenged the law [giving illegals the in-state tuition break] and sued UC”. (Tanya Schevitz, “UC regents urged to let illegal immigrants pay in-state tuition rate”, San Francisco Chronicle, Jan. 12).
January 11-13 — Mummery of the law. A federal judge has ruled that lawyers pursuing civil suits against Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda over the World Trade Center attack can serve them with adequate process by placing international broadcast TV ads and legal-notice ads in foreign newspapers. Maybe Osama will see one of the notices while browsing the classifieds for army-surplus munitions. (Melissa Sepos, “TV, Newspaper Ads Will Be Used to Serve Notice on Bin Laden, Al Qaeda”, The Legal Intelligencer, Jan. 8).
January 11-13 — “Ex-student sentenced for rape lie”. Key line in sad tale of made-up gang-rape story: “….she will begin classes at Drake University in Des Moines this month, and she wants to be an attorney.” (Staci Hupp, “Ex-student sentenced for rape lie”, Des Moines Register, Jan. 8)(via Obscure Store)(see May 26, 2000, on the Stephen Glass case).
January 11-13 — Prison litigation: “Kittens and Rainbows Suites”. As part of a federal court settlement with inmate lawyers, the state of Wisconsin has agreed to soften various living conditions at its Boscobel prison for the most violent and disruptive male offenders, and will stop calling the prison “Supermax”. “Lawyers for the inmates have objected to the ‘Supermax’ name and elected officials’ statements that it was built to hold the ‘worst of the worst’.” Republican Gov. Scott McCallum, asked recently about the phrase “worst of the worst”, told a reporter: “We’re not supposed to use that word anymore.” Rep. Mark Gundrum (R-New Berlin) proposes that the facility, which houses many murderers and rapists, be renamed “Kittens and Rainbows Suites”. (Steven Walters, “Supermax deal ‘coddles’ prisoners, GOP lawmakers say”, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Jan. 2). And in Canada, “the federal government quietly paid William Canning $2,500 last year after he took it to court for breaching the Charter of Rights by subjecting him to the ‘cruel and unusual punishment’ of second-hand smoke.” Canning, 44, is serving a 22-year sentence in a Quebec prison and objected to his cellmate’s smoking. (Janice Tibbetts, “Prisoner granted $2,500 because cellmate smoked”, Southam News/National Post, Jan. 7).