In case you had any doubt that the Kathleen Kane ethical saga in Pennsylvania is destined for a Hollywood treatment [Kathryn Rubino, Above the Law; Beth Ethier, Slate, whence the above headline] Relatedly or otherwise, our friends at the Competitive Enterprise Institute have named their pick of the nation’s six worst state attorneys general, with Kane topping the list [Hans Bader/CEI, and thanks for link]
My lengthy profile of New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in the new City Journal ranges over many topics, including mortgage and Wall Street settlements; Uber, Lyft, AirBnB and the sharing economy; unions’ efforts to light legal fires under fast-food operators; the unreconstructed Left politics of Manhattan’s Upper East Side; and much more, including Schneiderman’s dubious campaign against herbal supplement retailers. One section that I hope is of interest beyond New York is a sidebar on the politics of state attorney general offices. An excerpt:
…State attorneys general really took off as players on the national scene in the 1970s and 1980s, a period in which the number of staff attorneys in AG offices quadrupled, according to figures in Paul Nolette’s new book, Federalism on Trial. Once the National Association of Attorneys General, or NAAG, began to take a more active role in helping beef up and coordinate formerly scattered efforts, multistate AG litigation, in which many state offices band together to file suit, began to grow, from fewer than five cases a year three decades ago to 40 to 50 cases a year more recently.
Is this a spontaneous upsurge reflecting the decentralized genius of our system? Not quite: as Nolette explains, Congress was, in fact, busy over this period funneling federal grants to state AG offices to build up their strike-force capacity against business defendants, while revamping laws to give them more enforcement power. The executive branch helped, too: “[F]ederal agencies have aggressively promoted [state AG] litigation working groups,” Nolette writes….
The tobacco episode — and the idea it encouraged that AGs should step in to reform national industries through litigation and master settlement when the U.S. Congress declined to do so — changed everything. One of its consequences was to send hundreds of millions, even billions of dollars in settlement money sloshing through the formerly sleepy AG offices:
…It’s common for AGs’ offices to keep at least enough money from settlements to cover their own investigation; state laws vary widely, however, on whether they have to turn over surplus money to a general fund. When they don’t do so, the AG office can quickly become a power center, handing out (in effect) appropriations that bypass the state legislature’s scrutiny. In states like Arkansas, Massachusetts, and West Virginia, AG offices have channeled settlement funds to health nonprofits, police and fire charities, and agencies of their own choosing within state, county, and local government. Other favored beneficiaries include legal-aid programs, bar associations, and law schools—the legal profession being, of course, a key political constituency of any AG’s office. With control over big money flows, smart AGs can populate a political landscape with grateful allies. …
Last week I linked a sidebar on the legal system’s failure to protect businesses (small banks, in this case) from the exercise of arbitrary authority by officials like Schneiderman. While my piece is critical of his enforcement actions, it also makes clear that most of what he’s up to simply applies the set of far-reaching powers assembled by earlier state attorneys general before him, from Eliot Spitzer and Andrew Cuomo in New York to figures in other states like Jerry Brown, Richard Blumenthal, Jim Hood, and even Bill Clinton. Whole thing here.
We’ve covered her travails ethical and otherwise, and now she’s facing charges of “obstructing administration of law or other government function, official oppression, criminal conspiracy, perjury and false swearing.” [PAPolitics.com; Pittsburgh Tribune-Review; Wallace McKelvey, Harrisburg Patriot-News] At Philadelphia Magazine, Patrick Kerkstra recalls the sugary treatment Kane was getting from the press, including himself, as recently as 2013.
We’ve covered this topic before, but Mike Masnick at Techdirt has a slew of revealing new details on how Mississippi attorney general Jim Hood acted as cat’s paw for Hollywood studios in his legal battles against Google. Former Mississippi attorney general Michael Moore, another longtime Overlawyered favorite, plays a key role in the story as well. Our coverage of Hood’s work over many years is here.
- Med mal something of a regional problem: nearly half of payouts are in Northeast, with New York alone paying out more than the entire Midwest [New Jersey Civil Justice Institute on Diederich Healthcare analysis] “Neurosurgeons were 50% more likely to practice defensive medicine in high-risk states compared with low-risk states” [Smith et al., Neurosurgery via NJCJI]
- New Paul Nolette book on state attorneys general Federalism On Trial includes history of suits led by New York’s Eliot Spitzer to redefine as “fraud” widely known drug-pricing practices that Congress had declined to ban or otherwise address. The resulting lucrative settlements also earmarked money to fund private critics of the pharmaceutical industry;
- City of Chicago signs on to one of the trial bar’s big current recruitment campaigns, suits seeking recoupment of costs of dealing with prescription opioid abuse [Drug & Device Law; earlier here, here, here]
- We here in Washington, D.C. take very seriously any violations of HIPAA, the health privacy law. Just kidding! If a union supporter pulls information from an employee medical database to help in an organizing drive, that might be overlooked [Jon Hyman on National Labor Relations Board administrative law judge decision in Rocky Mountain Eye Center]
- “Preferred Care defendants respond to New Mexico Attorney General’s lawsuit, argue it was filed at urging of Cohen Milstein law firm” [Legal NewsLine]
- Philadelphia police run warrant checks of hospital visitor lists, and as a result many persons with outstanding warrants avoid going to hospitals. So asserts sociologist Alice Goffman in her book On the Run, but the evidence is disputed [Sara Mayeux last August, Steven Lubet in review challenging the book more broadly on ethical and factual grounds, Goffman’s response]
- Making contraceptive pill available over the counter without prescription should please supporters of birth control access, right? Funny you should ask [Elizabeth Nolan Brown, Reason, earlier]
- All aboard! “Louisiana AG hires nine private law firms, 17 attorneys for federal antitrust pharmaceutical lawsuit” [Legal NewsLine]
- National Association of Insurance Commissioners has, and exploits, legally privileged status as collector of insurance data. Time for open access [Ray Lehmann]
- Europe’s antitrust charges against Google remind us of “the poverty of the standard antitrust doctrine” [Pierre Lemieux]
- Court blasts Morrison Foerster for ‘nonsensical’ legal theories and ‘carnival fun house’ arguments [ABA Journal]
- “Trolls aren’t the primary problem with the patent system. They’re just the problem Congress is willing to fix.” [Timothy Lee, Vox] What makes you think lawyers and rent-seekers aren’t going to turn “patent reform” to their own purposes? [Mark Mills]
- “It only goes that one direction, too.” Rachel Maddow recognizes the fairness problem with one-way fee shifting, this one time [Huffington Post on pro-defendant Colorado firearms law]
- CPSC still going after Zen Magnets, which isn’t backing down [Nancy Nord, earlier]
- Widely discussed new Charles Murray book, By the People: Rebuilding Liberty without Permission, includes extensive discussion of failures of law and litigation system [Carlos Lozada WaPo review, Cato’s Letter, podcast and related post, J.D. Tuccille/Reason]
- Rare and welcome book-length work on state attorneys general, Paul Nolette’s Federalism on Trial: State Attorneys General and National Policymaking in Contemporary America, I’ll have more to say about it in due course [Liberty and Law, discussion with author]
- The Libertarian Mind: A Manifesto for Freedom by my Cato colleague David Boaz, a revised and updated edition of his earlier Libertarianism: A Primer, includes chapter on law and the constitution as well as much related discussion; boasts blurbs from John Mackey, Peter Thiel, and Richard Epstein;
- Arnold Kling on Political Realism, new free e-book from Jonathan Rauch; also, Kling reviews a recent talk at Cato by Michael Shermer on his book The Moral Arc: How Science and Reason Lead Humanity toward Truth, Justice, and Freedom;
- “We will fight for a fair contract!” proclaimed then-N.J. Gov. Jon Corzine to government workers, neat trick if you accept assumption that he was on opposite side of negotiating table from them [Michael Toth on new Daniel DiSalvo book on public sector unionism, Government Against Itself: Public Union Power and Its Consequences]
- In the mail: Akhil Amar, The Law of the Land: A Grand Tour of Our Constitutional Republic, on how the idiosyncrasies of particular states, regions, and localities have shaped our understanding of the U.S. Constitution;
- And: Jay Cost, A Republic No More: Big Government and the Rise of American Political Corruption [related Cato event]
- And: Diana Furchtgott-Roth and Jared Meyer, Disinherited: How Washington Is Betraying America’s Young;
- And: Jack C. Fisher, Silicone on Trial: Breast Implants and the Politics of Risk [Sager Group]
- “The makers of smokeless tobacco products like to claim that their products are safer than cigarettes.” Hey, New York Times, that’s ’cause it’s true! [Jacob Sullum]
- New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman pursues high-profile case against Standard & Poor’s, accepts $50K contribution from CEO of another credit rating firm [Richard Pollock/Daily Caller, some background]
- Megan McArdle on child support and the difficulty of replacing social norms with law [Bloomberg View, my recent Cato post and podcast]
- “Wisconsin Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson should drop her lawsuit” [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial, earlier; AP (federal judge declines to block law’s implementation while suit is pending)]
- CVS opposes certification of securities class action, saying government pension managers filing it were influenced by political donations from plaintiff’s law firm [Law360, reg]
- “Has Conley v. Gibson really been overruled? (And did the Fourth Circuit just tee up the next big SCOTUS case on pleading?)” [Adam Steinman, Civil Procedure Blog, arguing from premises different from mine, on Fourth Circuit’s decision in McCleary-Evans v. Maryland Department of Transportation]
- The Maryland knife law angle in the Freddie Gray story [Patrik Jonsson, Christian Science Monitor; my post at Free State Notes]