“Ugly” question raised by arrest of New York assembly speaker Sheldon Silver: how often do law firms trade cash to doctors for mesothelioma referrals? [Alison Frankel/Reuters, Science magazine, earlier] And from the New York Times:
…mesothelioma doctors and personal injury lawyers specializing in asbestos-related litigation have developed over the years what some medical ethical experts describe as an unseemly alliance.
For plaintiffs’ lawyers, mesothelioma patients are a bonanza, worth $1.5 million to $2 million on average per case, according to legal experts; individual cases can yield much more. The hunger for these clients is evident to anyone who has watched late-night cable television and seen the garish ads aimed at those afflicted with the disease….
A symbiotic relationship has emerged, with lawyers financing research on the disease for doctors who send along streams of potentially lucrative clients.
- “Silver’s perversion of a health-care grant that was earmarked for post-9/11 programs” [New York Daily News editorial] Columbia University closes its Mesothelioma Center, deeply involved in the scandal, which had been given a commendation by the New York Assembly in 2011 as its director quietly referred millions in cases to Silver [Daily News]
- Circle wagons first, name committee chairs later: Albany in panic over Silver nab [New York Post, Albany Times-Union]
- Lawyer referral fees, nonprofit cash figured in Lerach/Weiss scandal as well [Daniel Fisher, more]
- Eric Schneiderman, Kathleen Rice… “Law Firm at Center of Silver Scandal Donated Huge Sums” to Moreland Commission figures [New York Observer]
- More: New York Post on, inter alia, strong position held by Weitz & Luxenberg in New York courts; Wayne Barrett/Village Voice 2009 on Silver’s work in obtaining Chief Judge job for old friend Jonathan Lippman. And from Bob McManus at the New York Post: “Orange Is The New Silver.”
According to multiple reports, the FBI has taken New York assembly speaker Sheldon Silver into custody following a corruption investigation. Silver is widely thought to know more about the internal workings of Albany than any other person, so if he begins talking things could get interesting. Our previous coverage of Silver — and there’s been a lot — is here, or chronologically at this tag. My coverage of him 2005-2010 at Point of Law is here.
More: The complaint (courtesy WSJ) alleges improprieties with income both from a real estate law firm and from asbestos legal cases. On the latter, it alleges that Silver directed state research money to a university doctor in Manhattan, and that the doctor referred lucrative asbestos cases to Silver’s firm of Weitz & Luxenberg. The doctor is described as a “well-known expert” who “conducts mesothelioma research” and who had created a center at his university by or before 2002 related to that subject. The doctor, not named in the complaint, “has entered into an agreement with the USAO SDNY [U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York] under which he will not be prosecuted for the conduct described herein, and that obligates him to provide truthful information to and cooperate with the government.” [pp. 24-25] Related post: Cato at Liberty.
Yet more: Remembering when the National Council of State Legislatures awarded Silver its “prestigious” and delightfully named “William M. Bulger Excellence in State Leadership Award” [Howie Carr, New York Post via Margaret Soltan] http://nypost.com/2012/07/23/a-fitting-award-for-speaker-silver/
“U.S. personal injury lawyers allegedly concealed evidence and induced clients to commit perjury to drive up asbestos-related settlements and garner bigger fees, according to lawsuits unsealed on Tuesday in the bankruptcy of a gasket maker.” [Reuters, earlier] My 1998 piece on asbestos witness-coaching is here.
While the court did not endorse “but-for” causation standard favored by the defense, it did rule against the ultra-accommodating position that “any exposure” to asbestos should result in liability even if far greater exposure came from a different source. The court instead hinged liability on whether a defendant’s product or activity was a “substantial factor,” which it defined “as one that more than doubles the risk of injury to the plaintiff.” [Deborah La Fetra, PLF]
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]