March 2001 archives, part 1


March 9-11 – Push him into a bedroom, hand him a script. “A group of lawyers that includes Hugh Rodham, the brother-in-law of former President Bill Clinton, submitted a videotaped tribute from Mr. Clinton about its role in tobacco-related lawsuits to help support a fee request of up to $3.4 billion.” “The way I understand it, they pushed him into a bedroom during a fund-raiser, gave him a script and shot the tape,” said a local official with the American Lung Association, the once estimable but now litigation-infatuated public health group that gave the lawyers an award. The Castano Group lawyers haven’t won their own cases, but are now trying to claim credit for having created an atmosphere in which the state AGs could win theirs, or something like that. Anyway, they want several billion. (Barry Meier, “Rodham and Group Seeking Legal Fees Uses Clinton Testimonial”, New York Times, March 8) (& see Oct. 25, 1999).

March 9-11 – “Panel backs deaf patron’s claim against club”. “The Ohio Civil Rights Commission is tentatively supporting a deaf West Toledo woman’s claim that a local comedy club discriminated against her when it refused to provide an interpreter at one of its shows. Rebecca M. Bisesi, 23, contends the club violated state law when it did not agree to supply an interpreter.” (David Patch, Toledo Blade, Mar. 6).

March 9-11 – Narrow escape from ergonomic regs. We sure were lucky Congress ditched those awful new rules, for reasons that Tama Starr’s op-ed makes clear (“Getting Older? The Government Says Blame Your Boss”, Wall Street Journal, Mar. 8, reprinted at Dynamist.com; Helen Dewar and Cindy Skrzycki, Washington Post, Mar. 6; “House Scraps Ergonomic Regulation”, Mar. 8).

MORE: John Tierney, “Best Incentive for Job Safety – Money”, New York Times, March 9 (reg); “Developing a Framework for Sensible Regulation: Lessons from OSHA’s Proposed Ergonomics Rule,” by Robert W. Hahn and Petrea R. Moyle, AEI-Brookings Joint Center Regulatory Analysis, March 2000 (PDF); “Bad Economics, Not Good Ergonomics,” by Robert W. Hahn, AEI-Brookings Joint Center Policy Matters, December 1999; Karlyn H. Bowman (AEI), “Ergonomic Standards,” Roll Call, Dec. 2, 1999.

March 9-11 – Trial lawyer president? North Carolina trial-lawyer-turned Senator John Edwards (D) is “consistently mentioned as a likely presidential candidate” and turned up in Iowa to give a speech at Drake Law School. (Jennifer Dukes Lee, “Campaign 2004: Iowa visits begin”, Des Moines Register, March 3; Emily Graham, “Senator says money skews justice”, March 4) (via WSJ OpinionJournal.com) (& see Aug. 15, 2000).

March 7-8 – Show your diversity commitment, or don’t bother applying. In Pennsylvania, Bucks County Community College gives job applicants a questionnaire in which it requires them to describe their “commitment to diversity.” The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, challenging the policy, says it tends to screen out applicants with insufficiently progressive opinions on multicultural controversies, much as universities in the 1950s weeded out Communist professors by way of loyalty oaths. A college official says the question is not meant to enforce any orthodoxy. (Robin Wilson, “Diversity Question on College’s Job Application Amounts to ‘Loyalty Oath,’ Group Contends”, Chronicle of Higher Education, Feb. 21, reprinted at FIRE site).

March 7-8 – “Painting the town — with lawsuits”. Oakland and San Francisco have joined other California localities in suing companies that once made lead paint, pushing the sort of tobacco- and gun-style “recoupment” claim that “flies in the face of centuries of Anglo-American common law”, writes George Mason University law professor Michael Krauss. Krauss says the California cities “allege that a conspiracy of lead paint manufacturers hid the truth from them until 1999, so they couldn’t sue before then”, an “astounding” claim since by the 1950s an official of the Lead Industry Association was vigorously publicizing the dangers of flaking lead paint in dilapidated housing. “In 1999, a Maryland court dismissed a conspiracy suit against paint companies with the finding that there was ‘no evidence whatsoever’ that manufacturers ‘concealed any studies, altered any documents or misrepresented any finding.’ Where have California cities been these last 50 years?” (Michael I. Krauss, “Painting the Town — With Lawsuits”, Independent Institute, Jan. 30).

March 7-8 – Can you own common words? “In one of the broadest crackdowns ever issued against a domain name holder, a federal judge has ordered eReferee.com to stop using the word ‘referee’ in all of its domain names. … In issuing the court ruling, Wisconsin federal [j]udge C.N. Clevert sided with Referee magazine, a periodical holding the trademark to the word ‘referee’ for the purposes of publication.” David Post, an associate professor of law at Temple, called the ruling “unbelievable”, saying that regardless of whether eReferee.com had violated trademark law, as was alleged, by using a logo confusingly similar to its rival’s, “You just don’t want to let someone own the word ‘referee’”. (Lisa M. Bowman, “Judge approves domain name penalty on eReferee”, CNet, Feb. 16; Gretchen Schuldt, “Referee Enterprises Seeks to Halt Competitor from Using ‘Referee’ in Web Name”, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/Corporate Intelligence.com, Feb. 23).

March 6 – “EEOC sued for age bias”. “As a regional attorney for the [Atlanta office of the] Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, William D. Snapp’s job was to ensure workers weren’t discriminated against because of race, gender, or age. But he alleges he was told to get rid of senior attorneys and replace them with younger staffers. Now, the EEOC is being sued for discrimination by attorneys who led the agency’s civil actions against private employers throughout Georgia.” Among those suing is 25-year veteran attorney Maureen Malone, who says it was an inside joke among her fellow EEOC trial lawyers that the agency “would require us to hold an employer to the line … when we were the biggest violators of all.” The agency’s management denies the charges. (R. Robin McDonald, Fulton County Daily Report, Mar. 2). According to the Wall Street Journal OpinionJournal.com‘s “Best of the Web”, which picked up this item, EEOC may stand for “Expel Every Old Codger”.

March 6 – Tendency of elastic items to recoil well known. “A federal judge in Pennsylvania dismissed a products liability suit brought by a man who seriously injured his eye when the elastic cord on the hood of his jacket recoiled. ‘This court assumes,’ the judge wrote, ‘that the average ordinary consumer is well acquainted with the propensity of all manner of elastic items to recoil after they have been extended and released.’” (Shannon P. Duffy, “Jacket’s Recoil Danger Well Known, Says Judge, Dismissing Liability Case”, The Legal Intelligencer (Philadelphia), Mar. 2).

March 5 – Watch what you call me. An Indiana death-row inmate has sued jail officials for discrimination and religious persecution, saying they fail to call him by the name Zolo Agona Azania, which he legally adopted in 1991, and instead go on addressing him by the name he was given at birth, Rufus Averhart, which he terms his “slave name”. Sheriff Jim Herman said jail employees use the older name because that’s the one under which charges were filed, besides which: “No one can pronounce his new name.” “Azania, 46, was sentenced to death for the 1981 murder of a Gary police officer during a bank robbery. … [He] has filed at least 27 other lawsuits against various officials since 1980. ‘I imagine it’s not going to end,’ Herman said, ‘until Rufus is executed or becomes a free man.’” “Inmate on Death Row Sues Jailers For Using His ‘Slave Name’”, AP/Fox News, Mar. 1).

March 5 – “Lawyers get tobacco fees early”. Last month, “[i]n an unprecedented financial transaction, a group of plaintiff’s lawyers who participated in the 1998 settlement against the tobacco industry … converted nearly $1 billion in legal fees that would have been paid over 12 years into $308.1 million in cash.” The transaction, arranged with the help of investment bankers, covers only a portion of the total fees that lawyers collectively expect from the tobacco caper; if it serves as a model for further conversion of the fee stream to immediate dollars, the attorneys could soon be looking at cash-in-hand exceeding $3 billion.

“With the tobacco victory behind them, some of the trial lawyers said they plan to expand their legal activities into new areas. Richard ‘Dickie’ Scruggs, one of the leading plaintiff’s lawyers, said he intends to file suit against government contractors, especially shipbuilders in the Mississippi port of Pascagoula.” The qui tam (“whistleblower”) provisions of federal law allow for triple-damage suits against government contractors alleged to have overbilled, and lawyers can collect a sizable portion of that sum (see Jan. 18, 2000). (Thomas Edsall, “Lawyers Get Tobacco Fees Early”, Washington Post, Feb. 14, fee-based archives).

March 2-4 – Securities law: time for loser-pays. Congress’ 1995 round of securities-law reform has been mostly ineffective in quelling meritless class actions. While judges are dismissing more complaints, “[t]he marginal cost of drafting additional complaints is small (it is not uncommon for ‘cookie cutter’ complaints to erroneously contain the names of defendants from previous cases filed by the law firm), while the potential rewards are large.” Existing sanctions provisions are almost completely ineffective, which means it’s time for Congress to put plaintiff’s lawyers at risk of a fee shift when cases are dismissed for failure to state a legal claim, argues attorney Lyle Roberts of the northern Virginia office of San Jose-based Wilson Sonsini Goodrich and Rosati, which represents defendants in these cases (“Losers Weepers”, Legal Times, Feb. 5).

March 2-4 – Mold wars, cont’d. Dampness, water intrusion and the consequent appearance of mold and mildew in buildings are as old as shelter itself, but it certainly makes it scarier, and more than enough reason to call a lawyer, when you relabel the problem as “toxic mold” (see Oct. 10). Los Angeles attorney Alex Robertson claims to be representing 1,000 individuals on mold claims in California alone. Melinda Ballard, whose nationally publicized case against Farmers Insurance is slated to go to trial in Texas momentarily, says she has collected a database of 9,000 mold-related lawsuits around the country, most filed within the last two years. Ballard and her family are accusing Farmers, in part, “of failing to inform them about the dangers of [the mold] Stachybotrys, which ultimately drove them out of their 22-room mansion, located just west of Austin in the aptly named town of Dripping Springs. The Ballards are seeking $100 million in civil damages.” Dallas journalist Joanna Windham, meanwhile, believes mold in her apartment is responsible for her dog’s getting cancer. (Rose Farley, “Attack of the black mold”, Dallas Observer, Feb. 22).

MORE: “Mold: A Health Alert”, USA Weekend, Dec. 5, 1999; Catherine Tapia and Constance Parten, “Mold in Buildings”, Insurance Journal of Texas, Nov. 20; Kerri Ginis, “Tulare workers sue county over mold”, Fresno Bee, Oct. 27. Attorney Robertson “said that his IAQ [indoor air quality] litigation cases have seen a decided shift from building furnishings’ VOCs [volatile organic chemicals] to mold in buildings.”: John N. McNamara, “IAQ Seminar Fact or Fiction: A Paradigm of Perspectives”, Industrial Hygiene News website, July.

March 2-4 – Trial lawyer heads Family Research Council. You might not have guessed that Washington’s most visible religious right organization would be able to boast endorsements for its incoming president from such figures as former Association of Trial Lawyers of America president Michael Maher, Democratic Florida Attorney General (and tobacco-lawyer benefactor) Robert Butterworth, and American Bar Association president Martha Barnett, as well as John Ashcroft, Jeb Bush and James Gwartney (more). But that’s what happened when the Family Research Council picked as its new president plaintiff’s lawyer Kenneth L. Connor, who made his fortune suing nursing homes in the Sunshine State (see June 20) and has been a tenacious advocate of the interests of the litigation community in that state’s politics. According to one of his fans, Mr. Connor “filibustered” to keep a state advisory panel on nursing homes from endorsing liability reforms, as most of his fellow panelists wished to do (aradvocate.com). And in October Connor was quoted in the press, identified as FRC president, as criticizing efforts to replace Florida’s elective judgeships with an appointive “merit selection” system; the system of judicial elections has aroused unease because of the propensity of interest groups, led by lawyers, to shovel money into judges’ campaigns (“Judges’ Selection in Hands of Voters” (editorial), St. Petersburg Times, October 30, 2000, no longer online, summarized at NYU Brennan Center). In an interview with National Journal, Connor says “I don’t engage in personal attacks or attacks against classes of people,” which must have made it hard for him to run a legal practice demanding punitive damages from nursing-home operators, no? (Shawn Zeller, “New Advocate on the Religious Right”, National Journal, Feb. 10, not online).

March 2-4 – Debate on Microsoft case. Tom Hazlett vs. Ken Auletta, on (Microsoft’s) Slate (“Dialogue”, Feb. 28 and after).

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