One has to hope this kind of thing doesn’t happen often [press release, Office of the U.S. Attorney, District of New Jersey]:
A former attorney in the Haddonfield, N.J., office of a firm specializing in toxic tort litigation today admitted that he falsified defendants’ names in more than 100 asbestos suits filed in New York State courts in order to increase business and his standing in the firm, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.
Arobert C. Tonogbanua, 44, of Sicklerville, N.J., pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Noel L. Hillman in Camden federal court to an information charging him with one count of wire fraud. During the proceeding, Tonogbanua admitted that he fraudulently inserted the names of his former law firm’s clients into legitimately filed asbestos suits and charged the clients more than $1 million in attorney’s fees, costs and settlements to defend them.
[via Legal NewsLine; South Jersey Times] For a retrospective on the Lynn Boyd Stites/”Alliance” scam of years ago, in which a circle of defense lawyers in Los Angeles used manufactured litigation to harvest fees, see clips here, here, here, and here.
What percent of the dollar value demanded in asbestos litigation these days is grounded in deceitful or duplicative claims practices? Would 90 percent be an unreasonable guess? “A bankruptcy judge slashed by 90 percent the amount gasket manufacturer Garlock Sealing Technologies owes asbestos plaintiffs. … The judge cited the practice of plaintiff lawyers [of hiding] evidence their clients were exposed to products made by other companies, both by coaching their clients to deny exposure and by failing to disclose claims they made in other cases.” [Daniel Fisher/Forbes and followup and related, Joe Nocera/New York Times, Paul Barrett, Bloomberg Business Week, Charlotte Observer, order at TortsProf] On the patterns of multiple dipping exposed by Judge Janis Graham Jack in 2005 litigation, see Jim Copland’s summary here. I wrote about the coaching of asbestos claimants to “remember” working with certain products and not others in my 2004 book The Rule of Lawyers and in this earlier Reason column. More: Richard Faulk, WLF.
Perhaps it was overreach for a prominent New York City plaintiff’s law firm to file asbestos litigation on behalf of Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, the famously fond-of-smoking Long Island Congresswoman now fighting lung cancer, against General Electric, Pfizer and more than 70 other companies. The high-profile case is focusing public attention on the legal fictions by which lawyers have been lassoing seemingly conventional lung cancer cases and bringing them into the asbestos litigation system [Joe Nocera, New York Times; Daniel Fisher; earlier]
P.S. Patterns of filing non-mesothelioma cancer cases reflect asbestos lawyers’ economic incentives [Daniel Fisher]
Paul Barrett at Business Week:
…even a politically moderate, law school-educated guy like me, someone who’s perfectly prepared to root for a suit against a dishonest insurance company or an exploitative landlord, finds himself increasingly dismayed by the uses to which our civil justice system is put.
That’s by way of introducing the lawsuit filed by 69-year-old Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.), known as a big-time smoker, attributing her lung cancer to asbestos products made by more than 40 companies. Did we mention that representing her is the politically well-connected New York firm of Weitz & Luxenberg?
It’s against a law firm for allegedly wrongly naming a car dealership as a defendant in an asbestos case. The (unpublished) decision, denying a SLAPP-law motion, is here (Tulare SAG, Inc. v. Keller, Fishback, and Jackson LLP). Note: Link is a document download, not a page, and may not work for all browsers or users.
“A federal judge has tripled the damages awarded against two former members of a Pittsburgh law firm and the radiologist they were found to have conspired with to fabricate asbestos claims in West Virginia.” [Chamber-backed WV Record] Many claims based on medical evidence supplied by the radiologist, Dr. Ray Herron, were among those dismissed in 2005 by federal judge Janis Graham Jack in an opinion in which she wrote, “These diagnoses were driven by neither health nor justice – they were manufactured for money.” In June 2013 the editorialists of the New York Times hilariously wrote that “there is no persuasive evidence of any significant fraud or abuse” in asbestos claiming.
An expert witness testifying on behalf of Garlock Sealing Technologies, a maker of gaskets and seals, says the company has already paid at least $1.3 billion in damages to asbestos claimants. The company is telling a bankruptcy court that its remaining liability amounts to a mere $125 million, but lawyers for claimants say that’s a pipe dream and that the actual figure is ten times that or more. The case offers a window into some economic dimensions of asbestos litigation. [Charlotte Observer, Chamber-backed Legal NewsLine] A judge has declined to allow reporters access to some of the proceedings, including portions of testimony by Cardozo professor Lester Brickman outlining the role of what he says is pervasive fraud and double-claiming in asbestos claims. [LNL]
“The Orioles’ team doctor, William H. Goldiner, tended to orange-clad ballplayers at the same time as he diagnosed thousands of blue-collar workers with asbestos-related illnesses whose cases were taken up by prominent lawyer and team owner Peter G. Angelos.” [Baltimore Sun, earlier]
It’s behind a paywall, but TortsProf has a few highlights. Some lawyers are battling to stave off transparency that could catch out counsel and clients who tell inconsistent stories from one case to the next in the course of squeezing maximum payouts from bankruptcy trusts set up to handle claims against asbestos defendants; the trusts themselves have extensive managerial ties to leading plaintiff’s-side firms.
P.S. And House hearings [Bloomberg News, Chamber-backed Legal NewsLine].