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attorneys general

Pennsylvania attorney general Kathleen Kane dropped a longstanding corruption “sting” probe that had snagged several Philly officials. The Philadelphia Inquirer raised questions about her decision in its reporting, which contributed to a public outcry over the episode. Then Attorney General Kane brought a prominent libel litigator with her to a meeting with the Inquirer editors, and that lawyer announced that Kane was exploring her options of suing the paper and others that had reported on the matter, and that he was going to do the talking for her.

On Sunday the paper continued to cover the sting story here and here. Ed Krayewski comments at Reason. Longtime Overlawyered readers may recognize the name of Kane’s attorney Richard Sprague.

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Caleb Brown interviews me for this new Cato podcast on a knotty question: when should a state attorney general decline to argue in court in defense of a law he thinks unconstitutional? On the one hand, the legal profession’s norms strongly favor giving every client and cause its day in court, and practical dysfunction might result were cases routinely handed over to others to defend or dropped entirely. On the other hand, attorneys general like other officials take an oath of office to the constitution, which calls in doubt whether they should (or even may) use their skills on behalf of unconstitutional measures. Complicating matters: how should unconstitutionality be assessed, by way of the AG’s own judgment, by way of predicting how the highest relevant court would rule, or by some other method? What kind of difference should it make whether the assessment appears certain, very probable, or more ambiguous than that?

In recent weeks about a half-dozen Democratic AGs around the country have declined to defend their states’ bans on same-sex marriage, on the grounds that they are inconsistent with the Supreme Court’s Windsor decision of last year, while other AGs both Republican and Democratic have argued in defense of those laws. (Today, Kentucky’s attorney general announced that he will not appeal a federal court ruling requiring the state to recognize out-of-state marriages, although the state’s governor is stepping in to do so.) Finding either liberals or conservatives who have preserved entirely consistent positions on the issue, though, is not always easy. Former attorney general Ken Cuccinelli, a strong conservative, declined to defend a state education reform law last year, while in 2011 Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen declined to defend a state domestic partnership registry they deemed unconstitutional. In a case like the latter it was liberals who tended to criticize the refusal to defend a law, and conservatives who applauded — patterns that to some extent have been reversed this time around.

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Now this is bound to end well: Mississippi lawmakers vote to give Attorney General Jim Hood, a frequent mentionee in this space, his own strike forces [Radley Balko, AP]

February 20 roundup

by Walter Olson on February 20, 2014

  • “Woman Arrested Nine Years After Failing to Return Rented Video” [S.C.: Lowering the Bar, more]
  • “Why India’s Ban Against Child Labor Increased Child Labor” [James Schneider, EconLib]
  • “I’ve never seen an attorney general sanctioned.” Court hits Nevada AG Catherine Cortez Masto with sanctions after collapse of robosigning suit against mortgage servicer that state hired D.C.’s Cohen Milstein to bring [Daniel Fisher, update (case settles)]
  • Another review of the new collection The American Illness: Essays on the Rule of Law (Frank Buckley, ed.) [Bainbridge, earlier]
  • They would be major: “The Gains from Getting Rid of ‘Run Amok’ Occupational Licensing” [David Henderson]
  • E-cigarettes could save lives [Sally Satel, Washington Post]
  • How incentives to avoid tax can lead to social tragedy, in this case via ABBA stage outfits [Guardian]

“Lawyers are pitching state attorneys general in 16 states with a radical idea: make the food industry pay for soaring obesity-related health care costs. … So far none have agreed to sign on.” One hope: the theory popularized by former FDA chief David Kessler that bacon, brownies and buttered popcorn should be seen as “addictive.” Paul McDonald, a Chicago lawyer who is organizing the campaign, is described as a former “senior counsel at Kraft Foods.” [Helena Bottemiller Evich, Politico]

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February 3 roundup

by Walter Olson on February 3, 2014

  • “Class counsel in Facebook ‘Sponsored Stories’ case seeks to impose $32,000 appeal bond on class-action objectors” [Public Citizen, Center for Class Action Fairness]
  • The best piece on bar fight litigation I’ve ever read [Burt Likko, Ordinary Gentlemen]
  • Casino mogul Adelson campaigns to suppress online gaming; is your state attorney general among those who’ve signed on? [PPA, The Hill]
  • Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA): “Anyone who values the rule of law should be alarmed by the ADM enforcement action.” [Mike Koehler]
  • New FMCSA rules on length of workweek make life difficult for long-haul truckers [Betsy Morris, WSJ via Lee Habeeb and Mike Leven, National Review and more]
  • “It takes a remarkable amount of nerve to cobble together publicly available facts, claim you’ve uncovered a fraud on the government, and file a lawsuit from which you could earn substantial financial benefits.” [Richard Samp, WLF] Whistleblower-law lobby tries to get its business model established in West Virginia [W.V. Record]
  • Pittsburgh readers, hope to see you tomorrow at Duquesne [law school Federalist Society]

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Ethics roundup

by Walter Olson on October 23, 2013

  • Eliciting false testimony among sins: “Ninth Circuit finds ‘textbook prosecutorial misconduct’” [Legal Ethics Forum]
  • Syracuse: jurors say insurance company lawyer observing trial got uncomfortably close [Above the Law]
  • South Carolina: “Prosecuting attorney is accused of dismissing charges in exchange for sexual favors” [ABA Journal]
  • Judge, handing down six-year sentence, calls defense lawyer’s briefing of witness a “playbook on how to lie without getting caught” [Providence Journal]
  • Kentucky high court reinstates $42 M verdict against lawyers for fleecing fen-phen clients [Point of Law] Accused of bilking clients, prominent S.C. lawyer surrenders license, pleads to mail fraud [ABA Journal]
  • Former Kansas attorney general accused of multiple professional violations: “Phill Kline is indefinitely suspended from practicing law” [Kansas City Star]
  • “Nonrefundable ‘Minimum Fee’ Is Unethical When Fired Lawyer Will Not Refund Any of It” [BNA]

A buzzed-about scheme for state AGs (of all people) to wade into the patent troll controversy might have hit a snag in Nebraska. [John Steele/Legal Ethics Forum, earlier]

Because you thought he was some kind of big privacy advocate or something? “Attorney General Eric Schneiderman subpoenaed the data as part of an investigation into the website stemming from a 2010 law that makes it illegal to use such sites to rent out your own apartment.” He says he’s after the 15,000 or so customers who used the service to let guests stay on their premises for a fee. Next: Craigslist? [New York Daily News, Matt Welch/Reason]

Funny thing, though: its state members aren’t exactly financially impartial about the matter. [Daniel Fisher, Forbes]

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That’s the gist of an announcement this morning from the office of Maryland attorney general Doug Gansler, following on the passing into effect of the state’s groundbreaking “cyberbullying” law, which I criticized earlier this year. The National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) is involved too in the Educator Escalation Channel, which will start with a pilot Maryland program. Gansler says those targeted for post takedowns will include Facebook users who are “not committing a crime… We’re not going to go after you, but we are going to take down the language off of Facebook, because there’s no redeeming societal value and it’s clearly hurting somebody.” Although the rationale is to protect Maryland juveniles from unwelcome and hurtful online communications, the initial press reports offer no indication that the Facebook users whose speech is targeted for takedown will necessarily be other Maryland juveniles.

What could possibly go wrong? I’ve got some thoughts on the question at Cato at Liberty. More: Scott Greenfield (“Facebook becomes the agent of the state. … Welcome to the start of something big.”)

Jack Shafer has a few thoughts:

Schneiderman mustn’t neglect the product endorsement industry. Do those celebrity endorsers really love the product or service as much as they say they do? … Fake reviews on Yelp, properly considered, are Yelp’s problem, not the state of New York’s. Let the Yelp people clean up the sewer. And the attorney general? Aren’t there any genuine crimes in the state for him to investigate?

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September 23 roundup

by Walter Olson on September 23, 2013

  • Drunk driver leaves road, hits power pole, Washington high court allows suit against property owner to proceed [Lowman v. Wilbur, PDF]
  • State attorneys general pressure clothing maker to drop t-shirts with drug names [ABA Journal, related earlier]
  • More transparency needed in Child Protective Services [Reason TV] One lawyer’s critique of CPS [Laurel Dietz, Straight (Vancouver)]
  • While aspiring to nudge us into more farsighted financial practices, government has trouble staying out of dumb bond deals itself [Coyote, and more (Detroit)]
  • You can care about safety but still think some speed limits are set too low [Canadian video on Jalopnik]
  • Trial lawyers aim to extend to Indiana their Idaho victory over “Baseball Rule” on spectator liability [NWIT, earlier here, here, here, etc.]
  • New “fair-housing” assessment and planning process propels federal government into social engineering [IBD editorial via AEI Ideas, HUD]

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Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on August 21, 2013

  • Chicago-area bus company keeps menacing customer-critics with lawsuits [Coyote]
  • Some government officials want a say in who owns newspapers [Ira Stoll on Hartford Courant/Koch story] Using public apparatus to squelch political adversaries not exactly something new in America [David Beito on New Deal episodes]
  • Barbarity: “Saudi Court Condemns Editor to 600 Lashes With Breaks” [Bloomberg ("insulting Islam"), Volokh]
  • Scheme backed by many state AGs to roll back websites’ immunity for content posted by visitors “could singlehandedly cripple free speech online” [ACLU, earlier]
  • Attention enemies of Ken at Popehat: even if you can find your bus pass you’ll still need to withstand his cat squirt bottle [Popehat; another speech case there (censorious bell can't be unrung) and yet another (bogus DMCA notice)]
  • State law providing that persons with erased records are “deemed never to have been arrested” never meant to muzzle discussion of arrests [Eugene Volokh]
  • Nova Scotia: “cyberbullying legislation allows victims to sue” [CBC]

Class action roundup

by Walter Olson on August 5, 2013

  • Judge Alsup “shopping for new plaintiffs lawyers” for class action against Wells Fargo “because he isn’t happy with the team that brought suit”
    [Recorder]
  • “Sixth Circuit Rejects Class Settlement in Pampers Case” [Adler] More: William Peacock, FindLaw (“something stinks”)
  • Supreme Court to decide whether quasi-class-actions spearheaded by state attorneys general (“parens patriae”) can dodge CAFA’s mandate of removal to federal court [Deborah Renner, WLF]
  • Channeling Google settlement funds to the Google-favored Lawrence Lessig center at Stanford is already a dubious use of cy pres, but thanking the lawyers makes it worse [Ted Frank]
  • “Class actions ending in ‘ridiculous results’ continue to plague California, critics say” [Legal NewsLine]
  • Big Ninth Circuit win for Ted Frank big win in inkjet coupon class action [Recorder, PoL, more]
  • “Sixth Circuit Can’t Take A Hint From SCOTUS, Reinstates Whirlpool Smelly-Washer Case” [Daniel Fisher; earlier on Sears v. Butler, Business Roundtable; PoL, Fisher and our coverage]

August 2 roundup

by Walter Olson on August 2, 2013

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July 27 roundup

by Walter Olson on July 27, 2013

  • Authorities arrest woman they say obtained $480,000 by falsely claiming injury from Boston Marathon bombing [CNN]
  • More on the buddy system by which Louisiana officials pick private-practice pals for contingency contracts [WWL, The Hayride, Melissa Landry/La. Record; earlier on levee district's new megasuit against oil industry]
  • “Why would the President meet with the IRS chief counsel rather than his own counsel at OLC, and without the IRS commissioner present?” [Paul Caron, TaxProf] “The IRS as microcosm”: government lawyers lean left politically [Anderson, Witnesseth]
  • California county lead paint recoupment case finally reaches trial, judge jawbones defendants to settle [Mercury-News, Chamber-backed Legal NewsLine]
  • The insanity of film production local incentives, Georgia edition [Coyote]
  • Questioning NYT’s underexplained “Goldman aluminum warehouse scam” tale [Yglesias, Stoll, Biz Insider]
  • Yes, government in the U.S. does do some things to accommodate Islam, now don’t get bent out of shape about it [Volokh]

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