July 2002 archives, part 1


July 10-11 – Convicted, but still on their teaching jobs. How hard is it to fire a bad teacher in New York City? “Daniel LaBianca, chief of outside funding for School District 14 in Brooklyn, pleaded guilty in 1999 to helping private school officials embezzle millions in federal aid for poor children. Three years later, he still holds his New York public school job — and has a $10,000 raise to boot. A Daily News review of the seven cases since 1999 in which the Board of Education filed to terminate tenured school teachers or administrators with criminal convictions found that in every case, the crooks stayed in the school system.” The state education probe requires that attempts to oust educators be sent to arbitration, where the teacher’s union has an impressive record of defending its members against ouster. (Alison Gendar and Bob Port, “Cons in Classroom: Crooked teachers, officials cling to jobs”, New York Daily News, Jun. 26) (& welcome Joanne Jacobs readers; she describes three appalling teacher-ouster cases that she covered years ago). (DURABLE LINK)

July 10-11 – Memo to bar associations: save your P.R. bucks. The new president of the Florida Bar “is asking Florida lawyers to chip in as part of a $750,000 campaign to improve the image of lawyers. He’s even hired a public-relations firm.” Back in 1993 “the American Bar Association tried this same sort of thing …. The ABA paid a consultant $170,000 to improve the image of lawyers. It didn’t do any good then, either.” The way to salvage the profession’s reputation is precisely what the bar associations are not about to do, namely to police the profession’s excesses, writes columnist Howard Troxler. (“Mere PR campaign won’t change public’s low view of lawyers”, St. Petersburg Times, Jul. 8). Read the whole thing, which is full of observations like: “People tell lawyer jokes as a defense mechanism, because a certain percentage of lawyers exist for the sole purpose of finding a new victim from whom to extract money. Every small business owner dreads the lawsuit that will destroy all their efforts.” And see fuller report, Oct. 3. (DURABLE LINK)

July 10-11 – The legal price for roommate discrimination. “Do you have the right to say whom you want for a roommate? In California, you apparently don’t”, notes Eugene Volokh. “On May 7, the California Fair Employment & Housing Commission penalized Melissa DeSantis $500 for inflicting ‘emotional distress’ on a would-be roommate by allegedly telling him that ‘I don’t really like black guys. I try to be fair and all, but they scare me.’ It also required her to pay him $240 in expenses — and take ‘four hours of training on housing discrimination.’” The case is Department of Fair Employment & Housing v. DeSantis (Cal. FEHC May 7, 2002).) Volokh thinks that if the issue were litigated far enough the courts would probably wind up finding there to be a constitutional right to “intimate association” that would protect people like DeSantis from being forced to room with people they didn’t want to room with, but writes, “To my knowledge there’s no caselaw on the matter.” (Volokh brothers blog, Jul. 8). In the reasonably well-publicized “lesbian roommate” case of 1996, however, Ann Hacklander-Ready and another respondent were made to pay several hundred dollars plus thousands of dollars in plaintiff’s attorney fees after deciding that they didn’t want to be co-tenants with a lesbian applicant, in violation of the fair housing laws of Madison, Wisconsin. The case reached the state’s appellate courts (Court of Appeals, Sept. 26, 1996) and the U.S. Supreme Court eventually denied certiorari (Hacklander-Ready v. Wisconsin, 117 S.Ct. 1696 (May 12, 1997)). So it would be natural for the California authorities to assume that, no, there is no remaining individual liberty left in this country to decide with whom one wants to live in a shared tenancy (& see Volokh updates, Jul. 12 -1-, -2-). More: Aug. 10, 2005 and Feb. 9, 2006 (Craigslist) (DURABLE LINK)

July 10-11 – They thought we’d just sue. “The fifth element that made Bin Ladenism possible was the West’s, especially America’s, perceived weakness if not actual cowardice. A joke going round the militant Islamist circles until last year was that the only thing the Americans would do if attacked was to sue the attackers in court. That element no longer exists. The Americans, supported by the largest coalition in history, have shown that they are prepared to use force against their enemies even if that means a long war with no easy victory in sight.” (Amir Taheri, “Bin Laden no longer exists: Here is why”, Arab News, Jul. 9) (via Instapundit, Jul. 7). (DURABLE LINK)

July 3-9 – Now we are three. We launched Overlawyered.com on July 1, 1999, which means we’re now beginning the site’s fourth year of commentary. Tell your friends! (DURABLE LINK)

July 3-9 – Law blogs. While we’re on a week-long hiatus, check out some of these weblogs on law and law-related topics, a category that barely existed a year ago. Aside from InstaPundit and the Volokhii, which if you’re like us you already visit daily or more often, there are the pseudonymous “Max Power” and pioneering Breaching the Web; Rick Klau; Bag and Baggage; Ernie the Attorney; zem; and Held in Contempt. (All the above-mentioned also display an excellent sense of taste by linking to this site). Most have link lists that will lead you to other law blogs and sites. Two others that are deservedly popular: Howard Bashman’s How Appealing and the pseudonymous “Robert Musil“. Not surprisingly, blogs are especially well established in the world of IP law and copyright, with such entries as Yale Law’s LawMeme; Donna Wentworth‘s blog at Corante, and EFF’s wonderfully named Consensus at LawyerPoint. (DURABLE LINK)

July 3-9 – “Tampa Judge Tosses Out Class-Action Suit Against Hog Company”. “A judge dismissed a federal class-action lawsuit against the nation’s largest hog producer, ordering the plaintiffs’ attorneys, including Robert Kennedy Jr., to pay the company’s legal expenses.” (We’ve been covering this case since it was farrowed in late 2000, not excluding Kennedy’s embarrassing public forays into the controversy). Chief U.S. District Judge Elizabeth A. Kovachevich granted Smithfield Foods’ motions to dismiss the case, “saying the plaintiffs did not succeed in establishing how the company’s actions damaged their property. The judge also said the plaintiffs’ attorneys filed ‘frivolous motions,’ and ordered the dozen or so law firms representing the plaintiffs, including Kennedy’s, to pay Smithfield’s legal costs.” Sometimes the system does work as it ought to — happy Fourth of July! (AP/Tampa Bay Online, Jul. 2). (DURABLE LINK)

July 3-9 – Drunk pilots. It’s apparently happened again, this time with an America West flight stopped before taking off at Miami. We covered the legal aftermath the last time around. (DURABLE LINK)

July 1-2 – Going to blazes. Raging wildfires are what you get if you suppress smaller burns and forbid deliberate thinning of forests through logging, but both logging and “controlled burns” out West have run into community opposition and litigation. “The uncertainty caused by [anti-logging] lawsuits has decimated the logging industry in Arizona, and that has contributed heavily to the situation we find ourselves in today,” writes Republican Rep. Jeff Flake of Arizona. “… If we want to save what remains of our forests in Arizona, we’ve got to get a handle on the frivolous lawsuits that prevent us from doing so.” (Rep. Jeff Flake, “Costly lawsuits provide kindling for forest blazes”, Arizona Republic, Jun. 25). In an article promoting the use of controlled burns, the New York Times cites prominent Westerners who seem to feel much as Flake does (“Gov. Jane Dee Hull of Arizona said it was ‘policies from the East Coast’ that kept the Forest Service from pruning overgrown forests. Gov. Judy Martz of Montana said environmental groups ‘played a great role in the fires,’ by blocking some efforts to log trees.”) while also quoting environmentalists who point to a General Accounting Office study which they say proves that they have seldom challenged fuel-reduction projects (Timothy Egan, “Idea of Fighting Fire With Fire Wins Converts”, New York Times, Jun. 30). Update: “Plans to cut fire danger by thinning trees in an Arizona forest now being destroyed by the nation’s largest active wildfire were blocked for three years by a Tucson environmental group, a Tribune investigation has found. The U.S. Forest Service approved a plan to thin trees and remove volatile debris in parts of the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest on the Mogollon Rim in September 1999, according to court records. The plan was halted after the Center for Biological Diversity appealed the decision, then sued in May 2000, claiming the Forest Service had not followed regulations. The matter is still pending in federal court.” Mark Flatten and Dan Nowicki, “Green group lawsuit blocked forest thinning”, East Valley Tribune, Jul. 1). Further update Jul. 12-14: new Forest Service report indicates that fire-prevention projects have been frequently litigated, throwing doubt on the environmentalists’ case. (DURABLE LINK)

July 1-2 – Updates. The other shoe drops on various stories:

* Well, that didn’t last long: “Home Depot Changes Mind, Will Sell to Uncle Sam” reads the headline (AP/Tampa Bay Online, Jun. 28)(see Jun. 17-18).

* Former Minnesota court of appeals judge Roland Amundson has been sentenced to 69 months in prison for stealing more than $300,000 from the trust fund of a mentally retarded client (see Mar. 19) (Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Jun. 8) (via Burt Hanson’s Law and Everything Else, Jun. 8; Hanson argues that the sentence is too stiff).

* Another wrongful birth case for your list: “The family of a child born with a disabling chromosomal defect that went undetected during pregnancy has settled a wrongful-birth lawsuit against the mother’s obstetrician for $1.65 million, according to court papers and attorneys.” Cynthia Fields argued that she would have had an abortion “in the blink of an eye” had she been given an amniocentesis that revealed that her daughter Jade, now 7, would be born severely disabled, requiring round the clock care (Lindy Washburn, “Family of disabled child settles for $1.65M”, NorthJersey.com, May 23). On the crisis in obstetrics law generally, see Rita Rubin, “Fed-up obstetricians look for a way out”, USA Today, Jun. 30. (DURABLE LINK)

July 1-2 – Mississippi’s other disaster. As if the collapse of locally based WorldCom weren’t bad enough, state lawmakers still haven’t done anything about the litigation climate (Tim Lemke, “Best place to sue?”, Washington Times, Jun. 30). But at least Judge Lamar Pickard says his court in Jefferson County has enough out-of-town litigants for now and has told plaintiffs with no local connection to start taking their business elsewhere. (DURABLE LINK)

July 1-2 – Moving to new host. We’re in the process of moving this site to a new host (Verio); we moved our editor’s home site there a couple of weeks ago, as a trial run. It’ll be a little more expensive, but we can afford it thanks to our generous readers whose Amazon Honor System donations (more than $1,000 in all) put the site in the black last year. We expect the new service to be more reliable, especially on email, which had been a chronic problem with our previous service (we had a miserable time trying to get email to AOL users, for example). Thanks for your support! (DURABLE LINK)