May 31-June 2 – Welcome Fox News viewers/readers. Our editor is interviewed on air and quoted in print in this piece on the quest to make casinos and lottery operators the next Big Tobacco (Alisyn Camerota, “Trial Lawyers Target Gambling”, Fox News, May 31) (see May 20-21). (DURABLE LINK)
May 31-June 2 – “After stabbing son, mom sues doctors”. Pennsylvania: “Janice Taylor, who stabbed her 4-year-old son two dozen times outside their Lake Ariel home in 2000, is suing her doctors for not adequately responding to her psychosis as she neared the end of a pregnancy.” (Scranton Times Tribune, May 29). (via WSJ OpinionJournal “Best of the Web“, May 30). (DURABLE LINK)
May 31-June 2 – Activist judges north of the border. In the United States judicial activism has been falling into gradual disrepute for a quarter century, but in Canada many highly placed jurists seem eager to boogie like it’s 1975: the Ontario Court of Appeal has just struck down as unconstitutional one of the central planks in welfare reform, the principle that recipients with live-in boyfriends should not draw benefits accorded to single mothers. It’s only the latest in a long string of decisions in which judges seem to be writing their own preferences into law, according to columnist Christina Blizzard. Earlier this year the Supreme Court of Canada struck down as unconstitutional a Conservative government’s repeal of a law authorizing unionization of workers on family farms, although the effect of the repeal would only have been to revert to the state of the law as of a couple of years previously. Next up: a challenge to another plank of welfare reform, a lifetime ban on payment of benefits to persons caught cheating the system. Paging Mickey Kaus — they need you up there! (Christina Blizzard, “Disorder in the court”, Toronto Sun/Canoe, May 18). On U.S. judicial activism, see John Leo, “Running away with the law”, U.S. News/Jewish World Report, May 13. (& see letter to the editor, Jun. 14). (DURABLE LINK)
May 31-June 2 – Folk medicine meets child abuse reporting. The Vietnamese and Hmong folk remedy cao gio, or coining, “involves the rubbing of warm oils or gels across a person’s skin with a coin, spoon or other flat object. It leaves bright red marks or bruises, but many Asian families believe the marks represent bad blood rising out of the body and allow improved circulation and healing.” The lesions are typically not of medical significance, according to many Western medical observers, but they sometimes lead school and social service workers to report suspected child abuse, in part owing to the influence of laws mandating that possible instances of abuse be reported even if borderline. In Omaha, following such reports, police swooped down and removed ten children from their parents; following an outcry, charges against the parents were dropped and the children were returned to their homes. (Omaha World-Herald coverage including Joe Dejka, “Asian couples work to get children back”, May 3; Jeremy Olson, “Asian remedy raises few alarms elsewhere”, May 3; Joseph Morton, “2nd coining case dropped; Asian family expresses relief”, May 14; Karyn Spencer and Angie Brunkow, “Officials not sanctioning all ‘coining'”, May 17). (DURABLE LINK)
May 30 – “Oxy Morons”. “Last fall,” reports Forbes, North Carolina law firm Lutzel & Associates “sent a letter soliciting users of [time-release pain medication] Oxycontin and several other drugs. Claiming that the Food & Drug Administration had ‘banned’ the medications, the letter advised them to ‘stop using’ the drugs immediately.” But in fact Oxycontin was neither banned nor threatened with removal, and for a patient suffering pain suddenly to discontinue its use without a doctor’s recommendation can result in medically serious consequences as well as needless agony. (Ian Zack, “Oxy Morons”, Forbes.com, Apr. 29). Despite vigorous efforts by some plaintiff’s lawyers to stoke mass tort litigation over the drug (see Apr. 10 and links from there), the National Law Journal reports that drugmaker Purdue Pharma has “had a string of confidence-building victories in early litigation.” (Bob Van Voris, “OxyContin Maker Not Yet Feeling Much Pain”, National Law Journal, April 30). (DURABLE LINK)
May 30 – “Privileged chambers”. Earlier this year the Albany Times Union ran a five-day editorial series (“Unequal Justice” — scroll down to find it) on judicial misconduct in New York state. It concluded that discipline is generally lax when Empire State judges behave badly and that it can take years to remove a jurist from the bench even after charges of serious misconduct (“Privileged chambers”, Feb. 3; “Justice denied”, Feb. 4; “Conduct unbecoming”, Feb. 5; “Starving the watchdog”, Feb. 6; “The need for reform”, Feb. 7). (DURABLE LINK)
May 29 – Our editor interviewed. John Hawkins at Right Wing News interviewed our editor by email about this site and our ideas on legal reform, and publishes the results this morning (“An Interview with Walter Olson“). Earlier interviewees in the series include Glenn Reynolds of InstaPundit, Wendy McElroy of iFeminists and FoxNews.com, and Australian journalist Tim Blair. Update: nice things said about this by Protein Wisdom, VodkaPundit, and Eve Tushnet.
May 28-29 – The scandal of the Phoenix memo. It warned FBI higher-ups that Islamic radicals including followers of Osama bin Laden were training at American flight schools. So why wasn’t it followed up? FBI director Robert Mueller told Senators May 8 that it would have been a “monumental undertaking” to investigate the 20,000 or so students at domestic flight schools. “What a load of nonsense,” writes Christopher Caldwell. “Any small-town newspaper reporter could have narrowed down that 20,000 to under a hundred in an afternoon, just by focusing on names like … oh, I don’t know … try Mohamed, Walid, Marwan, and Hamza. Couldn’t the entire FBI have done the same?
“As it turns out, no. And the reason is, whoever got Williams’s memo would understand that there is one commonsensical way to implement it: Look for Arabs. And given congressional pressure on racial profiling and the president’s own outrageous pandering on the subject during the 2000 election campaign, Williams’s lead was something no agent with an instinct for self-preservation would want to touch with a barge pole.” (Christopher Caldwell, “Low Profile”, Weekly Standard, May 24) (via WSJ Best of the Web, May 24). See also John Fund, “Willful Ignorance”, WSJ OpinionJournal.com, May 22; “Key Lawmaker: Probe of FBI Warrant Will Look at ‘Racial Profiling’ Concerns”, AP/Fox News, May 26). Update: perfect Mark Steyn column (“Stop frisking crippled nuns”, The Spectator, May 25). (DURABLE LINK)
May 28-29 – “Rocketing liability rates squeeze medical schools”. “The University of Nevada School of Medicine in Reno could be forced to close if it can’t find affordable liability insurance by June 30. In West Virginia, Marshall University’s Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine in Huntington has cut its pathology program and is trimming resident class size. Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine in Hershey is cutting faculty salaries, which will make it hard to land top researchers. ‘The sudden, very large increase in expenses that were not anticipated or budgeted is creating a great deal of anxiety,’ says Jordan J. Cohen, MD, president of the Assn. of American Medical Colleges.” (Myrle Croasdale, American Medical News, May 20). (DURABLE LINK)
May 28-29 – “Barbed wire might hurt burglars, pensioner warned”. In Northampton, England, 94-year-old Ruby Barber has finally gotten permission from the borough council to put barbed wire on her garden walls after suffering four break-ins to her bungalow over the past year and a half. The council granted permission “as long as she uses warning signs and agrees to take full responsibility if a would-be intruder is injured“. Her son Burt, who lives nearby, said: “It is bordering on the ridiculous to say that if they hurt themselves getting in here I am responsible. The Queen has got it all around Buckingham Palace and if it is good enough for her it is good enough for my mother. She is the Queen to me.” (Ananova, May 24). (DURABLE LINK)
May 28-29 – Must-know-Spanish rules defended. Recently it was reported that a Miami social services agency was requiring an Anglo worker to learn Spanish on pain of losing her job. Some commentators were upset, but Eugene Volokh, of the Volokhii, argues that “speaking a foreign language is a valuable skill, and … employers may legally discriminate against employees who lack this skill”. (Volokh blog, May 8, May 11; Jim Boulet Jr., “Mandatory Spanish”, National Review Online, May 10, and running commentary by Boulet at English First site). And the factual background of the case turns out to be considerably less simple than first reports indicated; not only does the county deny that failure to learn Spanish was the reason for the worker’s firing, but it seems she held herself out as having “proficiency” in that language when she accepted the job (Jay Weaver, “Poor work, not language barrier, got employee fired, court says”, Miami Herald, May 11). (DURABLE LINK)
May 28-29 – Goodbye, Wendell Barry. Eve Tushnet administers a well-deserved thrashing to the overrated localist (“Hayseeds and Straw Men”, Eve Tushnet blog, May 27) (DURABLE LINK)
May 27 – McArdle on food as next-tobacco. “If you can’t be held responsible for what you put in your mouth, what are you responsible for?” (Megan McArdle, “Can We Sue Our Own Fat Asses Off?”, Salon, May 24). See also Duncan Campbell, “Junk food firms fear being eaten alive by fat litigants”, The Guardian, May 24; Jacob Sullum, “Food Fight”, Reason Online, May 10 (& see Jun. 3-4). (DURABLE LINK)
May 27 – “Lawsuit stifles Internet critics”. The Richmond Times-Dispatch and Long Island Business News have new stories out on the PetsWarehouse case (in which a pet store owner has sued aquatic plants hobbyists on charges of online defamation based on their postings on mailing lists and websites — see Aug. 6, 2001 & May 22, 2002). Both interview several parties, including defendant Dan Resler (a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University), plaintiff Robert Novak, and (in the Richmond paper) free-speech law commentator Rodney Smolla. A key factor working to defendants’ disadvantage: liberal jurisdictional rules which allow a plaintiff to file an Internet libel case in his local court (in this case the Eastern District of New York) and force defendants who live in distant states to shoulder the cost of litigating there from a distance. (Gordon Hickey, “Online speech not free”, Richmond Times-Dispatch, May 26). In Long Island Business News, owner Novak is quoted as being aware of this cost asymmetry: “‘It’s only five miles for me,’ he said. ‘All these people have to come here at their own expense.'” (Ken Schachter, Long Island Business News, “PetsWarehouse.com founder dries out aquarists in courts”, May 24-30). More on Internet jurisdiction: Carl S. Kaplan, “A Libel Suit May Establish E-Jurisdiction”, New York Times, May 27 (reg). Update Oct. 4-6: Novak sues Google and other defendants. Further update: Oct. 5, 2003. (DURABLE LINK)
May 24-26 – Nader credibility watch. In France, the litigation advocate called fast-food restaurants “weapons of mass destruction”. (“Ralph Nader met en garde les Français contre les ‘fast food'”, Yahoo/AFP, May 17; via Matt Welch, May 18; see comments at Tim Blair blog, May 26). More on Nader’s credibility or lack thereof: Matt Welch, “Speaking Lies To Power”, Reason, May; Thomas Oliphant, Boston Globe, Apr. 21. (DURABLE LINK)
May 24-26 – “Counseling center may face closure”. Chickasha, Okla.: “The largest civil verdict in Grady County history may mean the county’s largest mental health center will have to close for financial reasons, officials said Wednesday. A $1.5 million jury verdict awarded last week against Chisholm Trail Counseling Service was a bittersweet victory for the family of James Phillips, who committed suicide a few hours after being interviewed and released by one of the agency’s counselors.” (Penny Owen, The Oklahoman, May 23). (DURABLE LINK)
May 24-26 – Australia’s litigation debate. “Some of Australia’s most famous beaches face closure after a huge damages award to a man paralysed while swimming at Bondi Beach, local authorities have warned.” (BBC, “Closure ‘threat’ to Australia’s beaches”, May 14). Former chief justice of the High Court of Australia Harry Gibbs “said the culture of litigation had been fostered by some lawyers, while some judges seemed to strive to find a reason for finding in favour of an injured plaintiff and award damages in cases where a reasonable and informed person would not have thought the defendant was at fault. He said the deficiencies of the law of negligence had now become apparent. ‘It favours generosity to the plaintiff at the expense (in many cases) of justice to the defendant’.” Gibbs suggested that Australia might want to consider emulating the New Zealand model under which most negligence actions are replaced with a system of no-fault compensation. (“Lawyers blamed for crisis” (editorial), Queensland Courier-Mail, May 16). See Susanna Lobez, “Snails, Consumer Power and the Law”, ABC national radio transcripts, The Law Report, June 1, 1999)
“The latest figures available from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that as of June 30, 1999, there were 10,819 barrister and solicitor practices in Australia, an increase of 11 per cent over three years, and these practices generated an income of $7.04 billion, a robust 27 per cent increase over three years. Income from personal injury cases grew still faster, by 31 per cent.” What strikes us as remarkable about these figures is not just the rapid growth in sums redistributed, but that the figures are obtainable at all. Virtually no data is available, reliable or otherwise, on how much money American lawyers receive in the aggregate from personal injury cases. Why not? If the answer that occurs to you is “because our legal profession doesn’t want it to be collected”, you may be on to something. (Paul Sheehan, “Laws made by lawyers — well they would like that, wouldn’t they?”, Sydney Morning Herald, May 6). (DURABLE LINK)
May 22-23 – Convicted hospital rapist sues hospital. “A Sandusky man serving a 10-year sentence for raping a patient at the former Providence Hospital is suing both the hospital and his former attorney for negligence, according to Erie County Common Pleas Court records. Edward Brewer filed suit Monday against Providence Hospital, now part of Firelands Regional Medical Center, for ‘inadequate security in protecting visitors as well as their patients’ which caused him pain and suffering, according to court documents. Brewer, 47, was found guilty in October of raping a 44-year-old acquaintance in her hospital bed in June 1998. … Brewer claims negligence by the hospital, including a poorly trained nursing staff, negatively affected his criminal case, according to the suit.” The suit, which Brewer filed on his own behalf, asks for $2 million in damages; separately, Brewer is suing his former criminal attorney. (Emily S. Achenbaum, “Convicted rapist sues hospital”, Sandusky [Ohio] Register, May 21). Update: court dismisses case, see Mar. 5-7, 2003. (DURABLE LINK)
May 22-23 – Reparations suits “pure hooey”. The “slave-reparation plaintiffs have articulated neither standing nor a cognizable claim. In the final analysis, these cases are not really about pushing the envelope and making new law. Rather, they are part of a strategy to inflict public relations damage in order to coerce political and economic concessions. The federal courts should stand firm against this gathering storm, dismiss the lawsuits and leave the complex issues of social policy they raise to the political process.” (Steven P. Benenson, “Reparations Suits Are Too Little, Too Late”, National Law Journal, May 20). “Any judge not assessing sanctions for the filing of frivolous litigation should be ashamed. … So much for laches, the statute of limitations and all the other legal devices that assure that disputes are resolved in a timely manner. No wonder the world laughs at our love of litigation.” (Norm Pattis, “The Color of Money: It’s Red for Reparations”, Connecticut Law Tribune, Apr. 15).
“The villain Calvera said, ‘Generosity, that was my first mistake,’ as he peered ominously from beneath his mega-sombrero at the gringo gunman in the classic scene from the 1960 film The Magnificent Seven. … Honchos at Aetna Inc., the insurance company named in a recent lawsuit seeking reparations for slavery, must be remembering that quote right about now.” (Gregory Kane, “Generosity goes unnoticed in slavery reparations lawsuit”, Baltimore Sun, Apr. 20). Kane says Aetna has responded to the suit with “infuriating wussiness” and says “what Aetna bigwigs should tell [plaintiff-activist Deadria] Farmer-Paellmann and her lawyers [is]: ‘Get a life!'” (DURABLE LINK)
May 22-23 – PetsWarehouse.com defamation suit, cont’d. Last year we reported on the ongoing litigation filed by Robert Novak, founder and owner of PetsWarehouse.com, against members of an internet discussion list that he said had defamed him and his company (see Aug. 6, 2001; letter to editor from Novak, Aug. 10). Many aquarium enthusiasts, alarmed by the legal action, have at various times posted information on their sites about the suit, sometimes posting banners that solicit donations on the defendants’ behalf. (“$15,000,000 lawsuits suck the life out of online discussions. Please support the APD Defense Fund,” reads one.) According to Katharine Mieszkowski, writing last month in Salon, a number of these site operators have been given reason to regret that they ever took such rash steps. In particular, according to Mieszkowski, Novak has proceeded to add more defendants to the suit, including supporters of the APD Defense Fund who put up its banner solicitations, and the webmaster of a site that had posted information on the case, charging them with violating his PetsWarehouse copyright and engaging in a conspiracy against him. Among evidence of copyright infringement offered in his suit was webmasters’ use of Pets Warehouse as a “metatag”, that is to say, a keyword directed at search engines but not normally seen by ordinary users (more on metatag litigation: Sept. 25, 1999).
A number of defendants have settled out of the case, including a Colorado webmaster who says she spent thousands on her defense and who turned over the rights to her domain to Novak as part of the settlement, having shut it down after being sued. “Other defendants had to run banners on their sites promoting Pets Warehouse.” “According to [defendant Dan] Resler, at one point, the money in the defense fund ran out, and when the defendants had to start paying out of their own funds, they got scared. (Novak is representing himself ‘pro se’ in the case.)” Resler himself agreed to pay $4,150. “Beyond the lawsuit itself, other supporters of the case say they have received cease-and-desist letters for using the words ‘Pets Warehouse’ on their sites.” Among them: the webmaster of a site that “features a banner advertisement that mentions the case with this headline: ‘Pets Warehouse Sues Hobbyists’ and links to the aquarists’ site about the case. ‘I’m just literally reporting that the case exists and linking to another site,’ he says.” (Katharine Mieszkowski, “Free speech and the Internet; a fish story”, Salon, Apr. 4). (DURABLE LINK)