May 2003 archives, part 1


May 9-11 – Senate panel nixes tobacco-fee clawback. “Senators working on a tax bill Thursday stripped a proposal that would have forced attorneys in a landmark tobacco lawsuit to give $9 billion in fees back to the states they represented.” Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., had proposed requiring plaintiff’s lawyers in the tobacco affair to return to their state-government clients fees in excess of $2,500/hour or thereabouts. “But Democrats, led by Sen. John Breaux, D-La., and joined by Republican Sens. Orrin Hatch of Utah and Gordon Smith of Oregon, won a 12-8 vote to strike the language. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said that if Congress can change the terms of the tobacco settlement, there is nothing to stop it from telling every business in America to change the way they pay their executives.” It’s almost as if Sen. Kerry doesn’t realize that 1) a host of federal laws already on the books, notably tax provisions, do purposely shape the way businesses compensate their executives; 2) lawyers, unlike business execs, practice under professional ethical codes which are supposed to bar them specifically from charging excessive fees; 3) lawyers who claim to represent the government (and thus the public) come under some of the most stringent ethical constraints of all. (“Senate Democrats Strike Proposal to Limit Fees for Lawyers in Tobacco Case”, AP/Tampa Bay Online, May 8; Stephen Moore, “Targeting lawyers who got rich off tobacco trials”, Scripps Howard/Nando Times, May 2) (& welcome Law.com readers). (DURABLE LINK)

May 9-11 – Update: “U.S. is sued for deaths of crossers”. “The families of 14 illegal entrants who died crossing the desert east of Yuma in May 2001 have filed a $42 million lawsuit against the U.S. Department of the Interior.” As we reported a year ago when the cases were at an earlier procedural stage, “The suit charges the government with failing to authorize the placement of water stations intended for use by unlawful visitors, though it knew smugglers of immigrants were active in the desert area.” (Michael Marizco, Arizona Daily Star (Tucson), May 8). (DURABLE LINK)

May 8 – “No Crueler Tyrannies”. Dorothy Rabinowitz’s long-awaited book on the mass-child-abuse accusation frenzy of the 1980s and 1990s is now available at this link. It collects and extends the widely acclaimed Wall Street Journal reporting that prepared the way for the author’s 2001 Pulitzer Prize (review by Carol Iannone, Commentary, May; C-SPAN “Booknotes” interview with Brian Lamb, May 4; Suzanne Fields, “A cruel tyranny at home”, syndicated/TownHall, Apr. 3; other reviews at Amazon site). (DURABLE LINK)

May 8 – More on Edwards’ law-firm donations. Washington periodical The Hill digs deeper into the curiously uniform $2,000 contributions Sen. John Edwards’ presidential campaign got from so many receptionists, paralegals and other low-level staffers at plaintiff’s law firms. The $2,000 donors include many employees who had not given to candidates or even voted in the past, and others who are listed on the voting rolls as Republicans. Many spouses and relatives of the staffers likewise contributed the maximum. Some of the munificent staffers have recently gone through the kind of personal financial reverses — bankruptcy filings, for example — which would not seem to correlate in the natural order of things with having a large available checkbook for political donations. “In many instances, all the checks from a given firm arrived on the same day — from partners, attorneys, and other support staff.” Employees denied that their law-firm employers had signaled any willingness to reimburse the donations, which would constitute a violation of federal law. (Sam Dealey, “Donations to Sen. Edwards questioned”, The Hill, May 7). (DURABLE LINK)

May 7 – Mississippi investigation heats up. Per the Times of South Mississippi (Hattiesburg), the “net may be widening” in the FBI’s previously reported investigation of improper ties between Mississippi judges and well-known trial lawyers (see Oct. 9-10 and 11-13, 2002). “Sources said this week as many as 25 indictments could be issued …While reports of the investigation have focused on the Gulf Coast, sources said the probe now includes campaign contributions from trial lawyers connected to Southwest Mississippi,” renowned as the center of intense litigation against pharmaceutical companies. (“Bob Pittman, “FBI widening its investigation of campaign funding”, Times of South Mississippi (Hattiesburg), May 5. See also “Diaz’s dad testifies before grand jury”, Jackson Clarion Ledger, Apr. 12; Jerry Mitchell, “Judicial probe intensifying”, Jackson Clarion Ledger, May 2).

“Meanwhile,” the Hattiesburg paper continues, “four trial lawyers who have been active in lawsuits against prescription drug manufacturers are named as defendants in a growing number of court actions in Jefferson County. In at least four suits filed to date, trial lawyers Dennis Sweet, Shane Langston, Richard Freese and Richard Schwartz, all of Jackson, have been named as defendants in cases in which it is alleged that the four either withheld settlement money from clients or failed to pay hired ‘runners’ who were employed to enroll plaintiffs in cases which the lawyers filed in several different counties in Mississippi, including Jasper County.” (May 5 article, cited above). See also Bob Pittman, “Judge asked to step aside in trial lawyer suit”, May 1; Bob Pittman, “Suit alleges lawyer used ‘fake clients'”, May 1. (DURABLE LINK)

May 7 – Jury selection in Britain. Notwithstanding the understandable outcry over a recent case in which a British judge excluded prospective jurors from a politically sensitive trial based on their religion, the general rule in the English system is for jurors to be drawn from a near-universal pool and selection to be made at random. “English lawyers are not pestered by jury consultants: they do not exist here. We do not have days of jury selection before a trial starts, as I have seen for myself several times in the United States, with prospective jurors questioned in depth and sometimes with aggression by lawyers anxious to explore possible prejudices. Defense barristers in England used to have the right of seven (then whittled down to three) peremptory challenges without any need for courtroom interrogation….But Parliament abolished peremptory challenges by the defense in 1989, and although not technically abolished, ‘standing by for the Crown’ [the equivalent for the prosecution] now seldom occurs.” For-cause challenges are rare as well. (Fenton Bresler, “Picking juries — or not”, National Law Journal, Mar. 17, not online). (DURABLE LINK)

May 6 – “Robber sues clerk who shot him during holdup”. Muncie, Ind.: “A convicted robber is suing the convenience store clerk who shot him as he fled after a holdup. Willie Brown, 44, claimed the clerk acted ‘maliciously and sadistically’ in firing five shots as Brown ran out of Zipps Deli with money from the store’s cash register.” Brown, who was struck by bullets in the back and side, pleaded guilty to robbery and was sentenced to four years in prison. His earlier convictions included one for robbery and two for burglary. (AP/Indianapolis Star, Apr. 18). And in Great Britain, “Government lawyers trying to keep the Norfolk farmer Tony Martin behind bars will tell a High Court judge tomorrow that burglars are members of the public who must be protected from violent householders.” (Robert Verkaik, “Government lawyers say burglars ‘need protection'”, The Independent (UK), May 5). Plus: in Bentonville, Ark., inmate Kenneth J. Lewis II is suing Nina Baugh for $140,000 in damages; according to affidavits, Lewis was shot by Baugh after he attempted to burglarize her family’s pawn shop and another business. Lewis was sentenced in January to 12 years’ imprisonment after he pleaded guilty to commercial burglary and aggravated assault (Tracy M. Neal, “Convicted burglar sues woman who shot him during crime”, Benton County Daily Record, Apr. 19). (DURABLE LINK)

May 6 – Year’s most injudicious judges. The National Law Journal‘s annual survey of misbehavior on the bench includes jurists alleged to have slept with litigants, offered to fix cases, set new records for rudeness, and run a Ponzi scheme from chambers, not to mention the jurist who is said to have referred to himself as “God”. (Gail Diane Cox, “The Injudicious: Judges who crossed the line — or erased it”, May 5). (DURABLE LINK)

May 5 – Friends in high places, cont’d. A bill expanding wrongful death damages — a top priority of the state’s trial lawyer association — is moving quickly through the GOP-controlled New York state senate; it happens that the “head of the Judiciary Committee and the sponsor of the bill is big-time trial lawyer John DeFrancisco (R-Syracuse). It’s not just Democrats like Assembly Speaker (and trial lawyer) Shelly Silver who are in the lawyer lobby’s pocket.” (“Lawyer leeches would bleed N.Y.C.” (editorial), New York Daily News, Apr. 18)(more on bill, Business Council of New York State)(see Dec. 13-15, 2002, Oct. 4, 2000). And in Kansas, “Gov. Kathleen Sebelius used her first veto to reject a bill designed to promote rural tourism. Specifically, the bill would shield from lawsuits farmers and ranchers who, for a fee, let people watch and take part in some farm activities. … The strongest opposition to the bill came from the Kansas Trial Lawyers Association, which employed Sebelius as executive director before her election to the House in 1986.” (Steve Painter, “Sebelius vetoes farmer liability shield”, Wichita Eagle, Apr. 16). While with the KTLA Sebelius “worked closely with the Legislature as a lobbyist” (bio) and then went on to attract widespread notice as her state’s insurance commissioner before running for governor. (DURABLE LINK)

May 5 – Prospering despite reform. Some observers thought the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 law “was aimed at putting [class action firm] Milberg Weiss — and especially partner William Lerach, the lawyer many corporate executives love to hate — out of business. … Instead, according to a new study by Stanford Law School’s Securities Class Action Clearinghouse and Cornerstone Research, Milberg Weiss is doing better than ever.” (Tamara Loomis, “Milberg Weiss Stronger Than Ever Despite Reform Act”, New York Law Journal, Apr. 24). An analysis for the Cato Institute by Adam S. Pritchard of the University of Michigan Law School concludes that the law has, as intended, worked to raise the average quality of securities suits and weed out those with least merit. (“Should Congress Repeal Securities Class Action Reform?”, Cato Policy Analysis, Feb. 27 (executive summary, full text in PDF format)). (DURABLE LINK)

May 3-4 – “Streets Strewn With Glass, Gold”. Don’t miss this profile of D.C.’s subculture of “accident investigators” who solicit participants in car crashes to file lawsuits, often bombarding their phones with evening and early-morning calls for days. “The lawyer who introduced him to the business was killed by a car while standing on an exit ramp, apparently talking with accident victims, ["personal injury specialist" Warren] Johnson says.” (Libby Copeland, Washington Post, May 1). (DURABLE LINK)

May 3-4 – By reader acclaim: “Student sues over top title”. “A Moorestown [N.J.] High School senior, contending that the district superintendent is engineering new rules that would force her to share the title of valedictorian with another student, sued school officials yesterday. Blair L. Hornstine, 18, who aspires to be a lawyer, asked a federal judge to prevent the school from declaring valedictorian anyone other than the student with the highest GPA.” (John Shiffman, Philadelphia Inquirer, May 2; Tanya Barrientos, “Student’s lawsuit shows lack of class”, May 3). Update May 13: Hornstine wins suit (DURABLE LINK)

May 1-2 – It ain’t heavy to him, he’s my brother. In September, according to the National Law Journal‘s “Verdicts and Settlements” column (Oct. 7, 2002, not online) a Texas jury awarded $134,000 to Jennifer Grobe, an employee of the Granite & Iron Store in Fredericksburg. “According to Grobe, she suffered two herniated lumbar discs when she lifted one of two 100- to 125-pound granite tables that the store’s owners had left in the entrance”. Why Grobe’s claim went to a jury in the form of a lawsuit, rather than to the workers’ comp system, is not clear from the context.

The bit in the NLJ‘s report that drew our attention was the following: Grobe’s suit alleged that her employer was negligent “for placing the tables in the entrance and for failing to comply with store policy by not having two male employees available.” Perhaps we’re missing something, but wouldn’t the employer have faced likely liability exposure if it had enforced a policy of “having two male employees available” to handle heavy deliveries? As any self-respecting sex-discrimination litigator would point out, such a policy closes off some work opportunities to women and trades on impermissible (no matter how generally accurate) stereotypes of men as wielding greater upper-body strength. (DURABLE LINK)

May 1-2 – Those litigious Americans. “An ad for Dutch brewer Heineken NV depicts lawsuit-happy Americans suing each other over spilled beer…The idea is that Heineken is so good it makes Americans abandon their litigious natures.” (Erin White, “National Lampoon: U.K. Ads Satirize American Demeanor”, Wall Street Journal, Apr. 28, online subscribers only). (DURABLE LINK)

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Peremptory juror challenges
03.06.09 at 8:24 am

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