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banana pesticide litigation fraud

Only three days after Judge Kaplan’s spectacular ruling in the Chevron/Ecuador case, notes Paul Barrett at Business Week, “a state appellate court in California upheld a trial judge’s finding that what had been billed as a watershed liability verdict against Dole Food over pesticide use in Nicaragua was actually the product of a corrupt conspiracy by plaintiffs’ lawyers.”

The case at issue in the March 7 ruling, known as Tellez, went to trial in 2008 and produced a multimillion-dollar verdict for workers. That verdict was thrown out when Dole’s attorneys proved that many of the plaintiffs never worked for the company and weren’t, in fact, sterile. Witnesses and investigators were intimidated in Nicaragua, and plaintiffs were coached to concoct false stories.

Barrett has related pieces here and here. He notes the string of high-profile plaintiff’s lawyers tripped up by unethical conduct — Dickie Scruggs, Bill Lerach, Mel Weiss, Stan Chesley — and observes that the jackpots obtained by the mass tort bar in the 1990s incentivized, when they were not themselves the result of, ethical problems that have taken years to play themselves out. I’ve been on these themes since (and before) my book The Rule of Lawyers, and began tracking the banana pesticide litigation five years ago.

October 14 roundup

by Walter Olson on October 14, 2011

  • Pre-terror-attack antibiotic availability? HHS doesn’t think you’re sophisticated enough to handle that freedom [Stewart Baker]
  • Uh-oh: some New York lawmakers want “a more refined First Amendment” [Slashdot, Lucy Steigerwald]
  • Wal-Mart v. Dukes decision could curb certification of some wage and hour class actions [Fox]
  • “Miss. Supreme Court Removes Judge from $322M Asbestos Case Because of Dad’s Lawsuits” [ABA Journal]
  • Mass. town wants to seize family motel under forfeiture law, IJ objects [Jacob Sullum, Mark Perry]
  • Will FDA use its new tobacco-regulatory power to stub out cigars? [DC]
  • “Dole settles pesticide litigation” [WSJ Law Blog, background]

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Glenn Garvin at the Miami Herald has spotted a trend on the film festival circuit. Among the questions he raises: why was the New York Times so oddly unskeptical about the Chevron-bashing opus Crude? And why was such widespread credulity accorded to the showcasing of Jamie Leigh Jones’s lawsuit in Susan Saladoff’s Hot Coffee? More: Jim Dedman, Abnormal Use.

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July 14 roundup

by Walter Olson on July 14, 2010

  • “Sources: Trial lawyers expect tax break from Treasury Department” [Legal NewsLine, PoL, earlier; measure would reportedly replicate contents of bill that didn't pass Congress]
  • No doubt totally unrelated: eight Dem Senate candidates journey to Vancouver for AAJ fundraiser [The Hill, David Freddoso, ShopFloor, more]
  • Report: elderly man jailed after making “bomb” joke about carry-on at airport [NBCNewYork]
  • New York debt collection law firm files 80,000 actions a year, critics say errors and lack of documentation inevitable [NYT]
  • Kimberly-Clark: quit letting asbestos plaintiffs forum-shop against us [SE Texas Record] How a new asbestos defendant can get “passed around” among claimants [Global Tort, scroll] Prosperity of one Cleveland asbestos law firm I’d never heard of [Briefcase]
  • North Carolina court of appeals: employee rushing to bathroom after getting off work not acting within scope of employment [Matthews v. Food Lion, PDF]
  • “Curse of the greedy copyright holders” [Woodlief, WSJ, via de Rugy, NRO; TechDirt]
  • Update: “Ninth Circuit suspends Walter Lack, reprimands Thomas Girardi” [famed California lawyers tripped up in Dole suit; Legal Ethics Forum, PoL, earlier]

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July 12 roundup

by Walter Olson on July 12, 2010

  • Kagan to senators: please don’t confuse my views with Mark Tushnet’s or Harold Koh’s [Constitutional Law Prof]
  • Too much like a Star Wars lightsaber? Lucasfilm sends a cease-and-desist to a laser pointer maker [Mystal, AtL]
  • Ottawa, Canada: family files complaint “against trendy wine bar that turned away dinner party because it included 3mo baby” [Drew Halfnight, National Post]
  • “House left Class Action Fairness Act alone in SPILL Act” [Wood/PoL, earlier]
  • Not so indie? Filmmaker doing anti-Dole documentary on Nicaraguan banana workers says he took cash from big plaintiff’s law firm Provost Umphrey [AP/WaPo, WSJLawBlog, Erik Gardner/THREsq., new plaintiffs' charges against Dole]
  • Will liability ruling result in closure of popular Connecticut recreational area? [Rick Green, Hartford Courant; earlier]
  • Class action lawyer Sean Coffey, running for New York attorney general, has many generous supporters [NYDN, more, WNYC (Sen. Al Franken headlines closed fundraiser at Yale Club)]
  • “Judge Reduces Damages Award by 90% in Boston Music Downloading Trial” [NLJ, earlier on Tenenbaum case]

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July 9 roundup

by Walter Olson on July 9, 2010

  • Many interesting reader comments on post about jury award against manufacturer over injury on bicycle motorized post-sale;
  • Reimbursed for money never paid: “Calif. Trial Lawyers Welcome Latest Ruling on Recovery of Medical Expenses” [The Recorder]
  • Update: Defamation suit against travel blogger Chris Elliott resolved successfully [Citizen Media Law, earlier]
  • Podcast: Northwestern lawprof Steven Calabresi on McDonald (Second Amendment incorporation) case [Federalist Society]
  • “Provost Umphrey claims banana picker reps siphoned clients, money” [SE Texas Record]
  • Lawprofs in a NYT flutter about deductibility of punitive damages [Walk, Drug & Device Law] On the merits, Carter at ShopFloor: “Changing Tax Laws to Punish Businesses — Unless They Settle”
  • Troubled Pacific Law Center to close in San Diego [ABA Journal, earlier]
  • New York high court rules Atlanta exec cannot invoke New York’s pro-plaintiff state or city laws to contest firing [NYLJ]

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June 10 roundup

by Walter Olson on June 10, 2010

  • Compensation awards to soldiers in the UK: £161,000 for losing leg and arm, but £186,896 for sex harassment? [Telegraph]
  • Judge in banana pesticide fraud case says threats have been made against her and against witnesses [AP, L.A. Times]
  • Teacher plans to sue religious school that fired her for having premarital sex [Orlando Sentinel]
  • Now sprung from hoosegow, class-actioneer Lerach on progressive lecture circuit and “living in luxury” [Stoll, Carter Wood at PoL and ShopFloor (Campaign for America's Future conference), San Diego Reader via Pero]
  • Connecticut law banning “racial ridicule” has palpable constitutional problems, you’d think, but has resulted in many prosecutions and some convictions [Volokh, Gideon]
  • Gone with the readers: newsmagazines, metro newspapers facing fewer libel suits [NY Observer] More: Lyrissa Lidsky, Prawfs.
  • Having Connecticut press comfortably in his pocket helped Blumenthal turn the tables against NY Times [Stein/HuffPo] Must not extend to the New Britain Herald News, though;
  • Interview with editor Brian Anderson of City Journal [Friedersdorf, Atlantic] I well remember being there as part of the first issue twenty years ago.

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February 3 roundup

by Walter Olson on February 3, 2010

November 16 roundup

by Walter Olson on November 16, 2009

  • German law firm demands that Wikipedia remove true information about now-paroled murderers [EFF] More: Eugene Volokh.
  • “Class Actions: Some Plaintiffs’ Lawyers Fed Up, Too?” [California Civil Justice]
  • Drop that Irish coffee and back away: “F.D.A. Says It May Ban Alcoholic Drinks With Caffeine” [NYT]
  • Profile of L.A. tort lawyers Walter Lack and Thomas Girardi, now in hot water following Nicaraguan banana-pesticide scandal [The Recorder; my earlier outing on "Erin Brockovich" case]
  • Federalist Society panel on federalism and preemption [BLT]
  • Confidence in the courts? PriceWaterhouseCoopers would rather face Satyam securities fraud lawsuits in India than in U.S. [Hartley]
  • Allegation: Scruggs continuing to wheel and deal behind bars [Freeland]
  • Not much that will be new to longtime readers here: “Ten ridiculous lawsuits against Big Business” [Biz Insider] P.S.: Legal Blog Watch had more lists back in June.

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October 22 roundup

by Walter Olson on October 22, 2009

  • Unsafe at any read: new Ralph Nader novel panned by Chris Hayes, Washington editor of The Nation [Barnes and Noble Review via Suderman, Reason]
  • Microsoft says “most, if not all” customer data from T-Mobile Sidekick smartphones has been recovered, but class action lawyers say they’re undeterred [Seattle P-I]
  • Sue them all and sort things out later? Lawsuit over Air France Airbus crash off coast of Brazil names long list of aerospace suppliers as defendants [Reuters]
  • “No cash for this clunker”: opposition mounts to proposal for Massachusetts public law school [Boston Herald editorial via Legal Blog Watch, earlier link roundup at Point of Law]
  • Ralph Lauren experiences Streisand Effect over skinny-model nastygram [Althouse, earlier]
  • High-profile L.A. plaintiff’s lawyer Walter Lack speaks under questioning about role in Nicaraguan banana-worker suit against Dole [Recorder, earlier, background] And: “Dole on a Roll: Court Declines to Enforce $97M Judgment” [WSJ Law Blog, Bloomberg]
  • Miller-Jenkins lesbian custody case, much meddled in by conservative religious groups, recalls the ways divorced dads get cut out of their kids’ lives [Glenn Sacks/Ned Holstein via Amy Alkon, background]
  • Daniel Kalder speculates on why the New York Times editorially “purred with approval” of the new FTC blogger regulations in such an “impressively superficial” way [Guardian Books Blog]. More on FTC’s semi-backtracking on the controversy: Media Bistro “Galleycat”, Publisher’s Weekly, Galleysmith. And having been hoping for ages to get a link some day from blogging legend Jason Kottke, this one will go in the souvenir file [Kottke.org]

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California Lawyer covers the Nicaraguan pesticide litigation fraud (via California Civil Justice). And Dole has dropped its never-should-have-been-filed lawsuit against a Swedish filmmaker that had promoted the plaintiffs’ case [AP, earlier] More: ShopFloor.

October 6 roundup

by Walter Olson on October 6, 2009

  • Woman who escaped first WTC bombing broke her ankle ten days later. Should New York’s Port Authority pay her $500,000? [Hochfelder]
  • Former New York congressman and Pace Law School dean Richard Ottinger and wife rebuffed in what court deems SLAPP suit against commenter who criticized them on online forum; commenter says legal fees have cost him two years’ income [White Plains Journal-News, Westchester County; earlier] Amici in Massachusetts case endorse anti-SLAPP protection for staff of media and advocacy organizations [Citizen Media Law] “Canadian Court Rejects Defamation Liability for Hyperlinks” [same]
  • “Chuck Yeager Tries Again to Stretch Right of Publicity” [OnPoint News, earlier]
  • And naturally the advocates are demanding more regulation rather than less: “[Restaurant] Calorie Postings Don’t Change Habits, Study Finds” [NYT] More: Ryan Sager, Jacob Sullum.
  • Famed L.A. lawyers Thomas Girardi and Walter Lack might get off with wrist-slaps over Nicaraguan banana suit scandal [The Recorder, Cal Civil Justice, earlier]
  • Ralph Lauren lawyers: don’t you dare reproduce our skinny-model photo in the course of criticizing our use of skinny models [BoingBoing; and welcome Ron Coleman, Popehat readers; more at Citizen Media Law and an update at BoingBoing] Copyright expert/author Bill Patry is guestblogging at Volokh Conspiracy [intro, first post, earlier]
  • Profile of John Edwards aide who played key role in Rielle Hunter affair [Ben Smith, Politico]
  • Blind lawyer’s “call girl bilked my credit card” claim includes ADA claim against credit card company (but judge rejects it) [ABA Journal, Above the Law]

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August 20 roundup

by Walter Olson on August 20, 2009

July 14 roundup

by Walter Olson on July 14, 2009

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It’s in this morning’s paper; I call attention to a few highlights at Point of Law.

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California Civil Justice Blog calls attention to some further details on that remarkable litigation claiming mass injury from pesticides which led presiding Judge Victoria Chaney to remark, “… if you took all the bad cases I’ve read and put them together, they don’t even come close to what’s happened here.” (earlier coverage: Mar. 30, Apr. 23, Apr. 27).

Nicaraguan lawmakers got the ball rolling with a legislated assumption that anyone who worked on a banana farm got poisoned. Nicaraguan judges, lawyers, and heavy-handed client “recruiters” rolled the ball into perhaps 10,000 class action plaintiffs. Some California lawyers took over and pitched it into an L.A. courtroom.

CCJB also catches lead attorney Juan Dominguez making what in retrospect might seem an incautious boast on his website: “I oversee the legal work by all lawyers [in the pesticide case] both here in the United States and in Central America.”

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And attorneys were the brains of the operation, according to Judge Victoria Chaney (transcript, PDF, courtesy American Lawyer). Ben Hallman of American Lawyer calls it “the most egregious plaintiffs lawyer extortion and fraud allegations we’ve seen this side of criminal indictment”:

After several days of testimony on defense allegations of Dominguez’s misconduct [Los Angeles plaintiff's lawyer Juan Dominguez], Chaney tossed the tort cases before her. “I find that there is and was a pervasive conspiracy to defraud American and Nicaraguan courts, to defraud the defendants, to extort money from not just these defendants — but all manufacturers of DBCP and all growers or operators of plantations in Nicaragua between 1970 and 1980,” she said from the bench. Her ruling puts in doubt $2 billion in pending judgments Dominguez won in dozens of similar suits. Chaney also said she would refer the matter to state bar associations and to prosecutorial agencies. …

The court testimony that led to Chaney’s ruling detailed how a group of Nicaraguan lawyers, in apparent collusion with local officials, judges and lab technicians, rounded up 10,000 men whom they coached to claim sterility — and to blame that sterility on Dole’s chemicals.

When Dole attempted to investigate the claims, its representatives were harassed and some plaintiff’s lawyers even put out a bounty seeking the identity of witnesses. Chaney said that she did not suspect a Sacramento law firm that also represented the plaintiffs of being involved with the fraud. I’ve started a new tag to collect our coverage of the scandal.

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Explosive testimony in a Los Angeles courtroom after a judge begins digging into indications of possible fraud in lawsuits by Nicaraguans against Dole Food alleging toxic harms from banana pesticides (L.A. Times via Cal Biz Lit, WSJ law blog; earlier at Overlawyered). The fraud went on for decades, a Dole lawyer charged, and included recruiting and coaching poor Nicaraguan men to pose as having been rendered sterile, even if they had children and had never worked on banana plantations. A California jury had awarded millions of dollars in one of a string of cases that drew controversy over the competence of stateside courts in evaluating claims over injuries that took place in foreign countries. According to the L.A. Times, one lawyer representing the plaintiff’s side in the litigation expressed regret over the actions of a co-counsel and said “all parties were in a nightmare situation.” Bloomberg:

Most of the employment records of Dole workers in Nicaragua were destroyed in the aftermath of the Sandinista revolution, opening the door to the fraudulent claims, Edelman said at the hearing.

Nicaraguan witnesses for Dole whose faces were hidden and whose voices were distorted to prevent identification, said in videotaped statements shown in court that they feared retribution if it became known they provided information to company investigators.

“They even would set fire to my house, even with my family in there,” one witness said. “These people don’t care.”

The cases of thousands more plaintiffs from poor banana-growing countries are waiting for trial in Los Angeles; Dow Chemical is also a defendant, because it manufactured the pesticide. [Update Apr. 24: judge tosses two consolidated lawsuits against Dole]

For another dramatic episode in which poor Latin American plaintiffs have surfaced in U.S. courts with hard-to-disprove claims, see the case of purportedly illegitimate Guatemalan children left fatherless by international air crashes (Nov. 29, 2000).

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