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Cincinnati

A Cincinnati couple has gone through 17 years of contentious litigation. “Their divorce case file had more than 1,400 entries in it. Many had to do with a back-and-forth custody dispute over their children, now ages 17 and 20.” Both husband and wife are law professors. [Cincinnati Enquirer via Daily Mail]

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Disbarred in Kentucky, disgraced in the eyes of many onetime admirers, the veteran mass tort lawyer does not seem to have been disgraced in the eyes of the Cincinnati city council: it just unanimously appointed him to the city’s Human Relations Commission. [WCPO, earlier, background and on Kentucky fen-phen scandal).

Four-part series on rise and fall of front-rank mass tort lawyer Stan Chesley [WCPO]

Part one: How Chesley, born in modest circumstances in Cincinnati, helped pave the way for modern mass tort law by suing dozens upon dozens of defendants — in particular, makers of furnishings and furniture — over the Beverly Hills Supper Club nightclub fire (scroll for more). Advice from Robert Gettys, the only lawyer to hold out and beat Chesley in that case: “Don’t listen to his B.S.”

Part two: “in a 2004 interview, Chesley estimated his firm had recovered nearly $7 billion for clients since he began doing mass tort litigation in the 1970s.”

Part three: he dishes out generously to both Democratic and Republican parties in Ohio, as well as to philanthropies that subsequently undergo embarrassment when the Kentucky Supreme Court finds Chesley “engaged in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation following the initial distribution of client funds and concealed unethical handling of client funds by others.”

Part four: “Chesley’s friends call his professional demise a ‘personal tragedy.’ But his detractors call him a bully who manipulates the media to help his causes. Plenty of local lawyers dislike him. Most, however, declined to be quoted. That’s partly because, although he’s no longer practicing law, Chesley still is married to a federal judge.” Also: why Jacquelyn McMurtry, a fen-phen claimant who attended the civil trial over fee finagling in the Kentucky case, doesn’t share the opinion of settlement guru Kenneth Feinberg that Chesley was somehow the victim of others’ fraud.

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Why they overlap [Noah Kristula-Green, U.S. News]

P.S. There was a flurry of national coverage last week when Cincinnati-area judge Robert Ruehlman struck down a traffic camera ordinance in the village of Elmwood Park, declaring the cameras a “scam” and “high-tech game of three-card monte.” [Cincinnati.com] Readers with long memories may recall that Judge Ruehlman appeared to favorable advantage in these columns back in 1999 when he threw out the city of Cincinnati’s abusive lawsuit against gun manufacturers, trade associations and a distributor, the first of the municipal gun suits to reach trial on the merits.

P.P.S. Why police drones aren’t the same thing privacy-wise as police helicopters [ACLU via HuffPo via Amy Alkon](& Bainbridge)

“A longtime French and Spanish high school teacher is suing the Mariemont school district, alleging it discriminated against her because she has a disability – she has a phobia of young children.” [Cincinnati Enquirer] More: Eric Owens, Daily Caller.

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Among the departing lawyers are those representing the state of Ohio in a public employee retirement fund-led class action; the state may not appreciate the fallout from Chesley’s efforts to fight disbarment in Kentucky over the fen-phen scandal. [Cincinnati Enquirer] Many of the one-time “Master of Disaster’s” bipartisan political ties, however, remain cozy:

Chesley noted that Hamilton County [= Cincinnati] Prosecutor Joe Deters, who has worked for Chesley as a private attorney for four years, continues to work at the firm.

Deters also works as a private attorney for the new firm created by Chesley’s former lawyers. Deters, a leader in Hamilton County’s Republican Party, praises Chesley, who has helped raise millions for Democrats…

October 14 roundup

by Walter Olson on October 14, 2009

  • Uh-huh: new report from federal Legal Services program calls for gigantic new allocation of tax money to, well, legal services programs [ABA Journal]
  • “Judge: Man’s a ‘vexatious litigator’” [Cincinnati.com]
  • Wisconsin governor signs bill requiring prescription to buy mercury thermometer [Popehat]
  • “Injured by art?” Woman sues Museum of Fine Arts Houston after fall in artist-designed light tunnel [Mary Flood, Houston Chronicle "Legal Trade"]
  • On Carol Browner and the cry of “environmental racism” (a/k/a “green redlining”) [Coyote]
  • New York: “Lawyers implicated in $9 million mortgage fraud” [Business Insider]
  • In Canada, as in the U.S., medical privacy rules hamper police investigations [Calgary Herald]
  • Stalin’s grandson loses lawsuit in Russia against newspaper that supposedly defamed the dictator [WSJ Law Blog, Lowering the Bar, Volokh]

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“The fans will split $50,700 with no one receiving more than $2,600 and most getting just $100. Their attorneys will get $175,000.” [Huntington, W.Va. Herald-Dispatch] More: Cincinnati Enquirer. To be fair, the main benefit of the litigation to the fans was evidently not the cash that changed hands, but the stipulation that they were not obliged to buy further tickets they said they had never agreed to buy.

Ohio: “The 88-year-old Blue Ash woman arrested after refusing to give a 13-year-old neighborhood boy his football back after it landed in her yard has sued the youth’s parents, alleging emotional distress. The lawsuit by attorney H. Louis Sirkin on behalf of Edna Jester contends that Paul and Kelly Tanis “and their minor children ‘regularly and without permission’ enter Jester’s yard to retrieve footballs and other play items that have been ‘carelessly tossed’ onto her property, the suit adds. …The Blue Ash city solicitor and city prosecutor later dropped the misdemeanor theft charge filed against Jester after she refused a police officer’s order to return the Tanis boy’s football.” (Barry M. Horstman, “Football keeper files lawsuit”, Cincinnati Enquirer, Jan. 3).

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Judge Joseph Bamberger rubber-stamped a Kentucky fen-phen settlement agreement where plaintiffs’ attorneys cheated class members out of tens of millions of dollars. In the process, his former law partner was paid millions by the settlement, which he used to buy a Florida house with Bamberger, and Bamberger himself received a $5000/month sinecure. At trial of the three lead attorneys yesterday, jurors were shown a videotape where one of the plaintiffs questioned the judge on how low her settlement was and the validity of her release; the videotape shows Bamberger browbeating the plaintiff, but then awarding her an additional $100,000 and a $1200/month life annuity on the condition that she cease talking about the settlement and her objections to it. (Jim Hannah, “Judge dressed down victim”, Cincinnati Enquirer, May 24) (h/t R.U.). For some reason yet undisclosed by prosecutors, Bamberger is on the witness stand rather than in the dock with Gallion, Mills, and Cunningham.

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Here’s your $3 million bonus, young man, and whatever you do, don’t tell the clients how much the case settled for (Jim Hannah, “Fen-phen lawyer details bonus”, Cincinnati Enquirer, May 15; earlier)(via Slater, WSJ law blog).

May 16 roundup

by Walter Olson on May 16, 2008

  • Polar bears on parade: “Lawsuits are not the best way to force the public into solving planet-size problems such as climate change.” [Christian Science Monitor editorial]
  • Jury convicts private investigator Anthony Pellicano, trial of entertainment lawyer Terry Christiansen set for July [Variety; earlier]
  • Knockoff sneakers differed from Adidas original in having two or four stripes instead of three, didn’t save Payless Shoes from getting hit with $304 million verdict [American Lawyer]
  • Following up on our discussion of municipal tree liability: Michigan high court OKs homeowner class action over sewer line damage from city trees [AP/MLive]
  • Attorney Franklin Azar, of Colorado TV-ad fame, says jury’s verdict ordering him to pay a former client $145,000 was really a “big victory” for him [ABA Journal]
  • Annals of tolling-for-infancy: “Dog bite 10 years ago subject of civil suit” [MC Record]
  • Feds indict Missouri woman for cruel MySpace hoax that drove victim to suicide: Orin Kerr finds legal grounds weak [@ Volokh]
  • “I blame R. Kelly for Sept. 11″: some ways potential jurors managed to get off singer’s high-profile Chicago trial [Tribune; h/t reader A.K.]
  • Update: “click fraud” class actions filed in Texarkana against online ad providers have all now settled [SE Texas Record; earlier]
  • Judge orders dad to stay on top of his daughter’s education, then jails him for 180 days when she fails to get her general equivalency diploma [WCPO, Cincinnati; update, father released]
  • Lawyers still soliciting for AOL volunteer class actions [Colossus of Rhodey; earlier]

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February 19 roundup

by Walter Olson on February 19, 2008

  • Raising ticket revenue seems more important to NYC authorities than actually recovering stolen cars [Arnold Diaz/MyFoxNY video via Coyote]
  • Subpoena your Facebook page? They just might [Beck/Herrmann]
  • Rhode Island nightclub fire deep pockets, cont’d: concert sponsor Clear Channel agrees to pay Station victims $22 million, adding to other big settlements [ProJo; earlier]
  • Manhattan federal judge says “madness” of hard-fought commercial suit “presents a cautionary tale about the potential for advocates to obscure the issues and impose needless burdens on busy courts” [NYLJ]
  • Wooing Edwards and his voters? Hillary and Obama both tacking left on economics [Reuters/WaPo, WSJ, Chapman/Reason, WaPo editorial]
  • Sad: if you tell your employer that you’re away for 144 days on jury duty, you actually need to be, like, away on jury duty [ABA Journal]
  • New at Point of Law: Florida “three-strikes” keeps the doctor away; court dismisses alien-hiring RICO suit against Tyson (and more); Novak on telecom FISA immunity; fortunes in asbestos law; Ted on Avandia and Vioxx litigation; new Levy/Mellor book nominates Supreme Court’s twelve worst decisions; and much more;
  • U.K.: “Lawyers forced to repay millions taken from sick miners’ compensation” [Times Online]
  • Outside law firm defends Seattle against police-misconduct claims: is critics’ beef that they bill a lot, or that they’re pretty good at beating suits? [Post-Intelligencer]
  • Cincinnati NAACP is campaigning against red-light cameras [Enquirer]
  • Omit a peripheral defendant, get sued for legal malpractice [six years ago on Overlawyered]

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As a number of commentators have noted (e.g. Brett Kittredge @ Majority in Mississippi, Alan Lange @ YallPolitics), Booneville attorney Joey Langston, who just entered a guilty plea on charges of judicial corruption, is someone accustomed to throwing the weight of his pocketbook around in Mississippi politics. In particular, he has been among the biggest donors to incumbent Mississippi attorney general Jim Hood, even as Hood employed Langston and partner Tim Balducci on contract to handle the controversial MCI tax bill negotiations, with their resulting $14 million legal fees payable to Langston et al, and the potentially very lucrative Zyprexa litigation.

Equally interesting in some ways, however, are Langston’s activities on the national political scene. To take just one example: this CampaignMoney.com listing tabulates the top “527″ contributions to a group called the Democratic Attorneys General Association, whose political and electoral mission is implied by its name. In the listing, two donors are tied for first place, with contributions of $100,000 apiece. One is the large Cincinnati law firm of Waite Schneider Bayless Chesley, associated with one of the country’s best-known plaintiff’s lawyers, Stanley Chesley. The other $100,000 contribution is from Joey Langston.

In presidential politics, Langston has recently been a repeat donor to the quixotic (and, since Iowa, defunct) campaign of Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), a lawmaker whose high degree of seniority on the Senate Judiciary Committee makes him important to ambitious lawyers whether or not he ever attains the White House. When the Scruggs scandal was still in its early stages, the WSJ law blog (Dec. 10) noted that two key figures in the affair, Tim Balducci and Steve Patterson, were strong backers of the Biden campaign: “Their bet on Biden was that he wouldn’t win the presidency but would become Secretary of State under a Hillary Clinton administration, according to two people familiar with their thinking.” The Journal reprinted (PDF) an invitation to an Aug. 10, 2007 fundraising reception for Biden at the Oxford (Miss.) University Club, sent out above the names of six hosts, three of whom (Scruggs, Balducci and Patterson) were soon indicted. Scruggs, of course, is better known for his support of Mrs. Clinton, a fundraiser for whom he had to cancel after the scandal broke.

Campaign-contributions databases such as OpenSecrets.org and NewsMeat indicate that Langston has been a prolific and generous donor to incumbent and aspiring Senators across the country, mostly Democrats (Murray, Cantwell, Daschle, Nelson, etc.) but also including a number of Republicans who might be perceived as swing votes or reachable, such as Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Susan Collins (Me.), and Arlen Specter (Penn.)

Incidentally, some critics have intimated that Langston’s generous support to DAGA, the Democratic Attorneys General Association, should actually be interpreted as a roundabout gift to Hood, who was the beneficiary of interestingly timed largesse from DAGA. It does not appear, however, that any of the parties involved — Langston, Hood or DAGA — have acknowledged any connection between the timing of the donations (& welcome Michelle Malkin, David Rossmiller, YallPolitics readers).

[Second of a two-part post. The first part is here.]

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Middle linebacker Odell Thurman of the Cincinnati Bengals and Tampa Bay Bucs cornerback Torrie Cox, both suspended for repeat violations of the National Football League’s substance abuse policy, filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging discrimination on the basis of being regarded as disabled, with alcoholism being the disability. The Americans with Disabilities Act has been construed to prohibit discrimination against rehabilitated alcoholics, but not to protect current substance abuse. However, the line distinguishing behavior regarded as current from that regarded as past can be hazy. (Len Pasquarelli, “Bengals’ Thurman, Bucs’ Cox file discrimination claims against NFL”, ESPN.com, Aug. 17). Paul Secunda discusses at Workplace Law Prof (Aug. 23).

“The court finds that there is a serious risk that the funds will be moved offshore and that with these funds at their disposal, the defendants will flee to a country with which the United States has no extradition treaty or otherwise disappear,” U.S. District Judge William Bertelsman wrote in the Friday order sending Shirley Cunningham Jr., William Gallion, and Melbourne Mills Jr. to jail without bond until the January 7 trial date. (Jim Hannah, “Fen-phen lawyers are jailed”, Cincinnati Enquirer, Aug. 11). We have lots of coverage of the Kentucky fen-phen lawyers, who have been found in a civil case, to have misappropriated $62 million of settlement funds by overcharging on attorneys’ fees and other diversions. Cincinnati attorney Stan Chesley, who has not been criminally indicted, is also civilly liable on part of his $20 million fee for helping to negotiate the settlement, with the scope of liability yet to be determined; trial has been delayed while the criminal trial is pending.

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Most recently: May 15; at American.com.

  • Curlin, the horse owned by fen-phen fraudsters Gallion and Cunningham, won the Preakness by a head. Curlin’s trainer is apparently ensconced in his own scandal, having served a six-month suspension for illegally drugging horses. (Andrew Beyer, “Making a Run for It”, Washington Post, May 20; Jennie Rees, “Curlin camp a crowded place”, Louisville Courier-Journal, May 20).
  • Stan Chesley did not even show up to the court-ordered May 16 mediation session, allegedly forcing a rescheduling until May 23. (Chesley’s attorney says he was in contact with his client at the hearing.) Plaintiffs have asked for sanctions. (Paul Long, “Mediation over lawyer fees fails”, Cincinnati Post, May 18).

Earlier: May 11, May 8, Apr. 5, Apr. 4, etc.

  • Barbara Bonar gets supporting testimony in her claims against Stan Chesley, but loses bench trial in case she brought over questionable settlement over Catholic church sex abuse. Bonar, the next president of the Kentucky Bar, will appeal. In the meantime, she faces trumped up ethics charges for representing class member opt-out settlements. (Andrew Wolfson, “Covington lawyer loses fee dispute case”, Louisville Courier-Journal, May 12).
  • Angela Ford, who is bringing the lawsuit on behalf of Kentucky fen-phen victims ripped off by their attorneys against their co-counsel, Stan Chesley, is now also facing what seems to me retaliatory political pressure; a Hamilton County, Ohio, judge, apparently unaware of deposition commissions, is complaining that she subpoenaed an Ohio witness without being licensed to practice law in that state. For some reason, a Kentucky judge, Stanley Billingsley, is testifying on behalf of Chesley. An American Home Products witness contradicted defendants’ claims that they “set aside” some settlement money for future Kentucky claimants (who, under the U.S. Supreme Court Amchem precedent, could not be bound by the settlement). And the parties are in mediation tomorrow and Thursday, which, judging by Chesley’s attorney’s complaints about press coverage, implies a confidential settlement is near. Next court hearing is May 31. (Shelly Whitehead, “Fen-phen suit heads to mediation”, Cincinnati Post, Apr. 24; Beth Musgrave and Jim Warren, “Lawyers meet Wednesday to try to reach deal on fen-phen millions”, Lexington Herald-Leader, May 14).
  • Angela Ford herself has a website, which is not surprising, but it does include a remarkable resource of publicly-available court documents related to the Abbott v. Chesley case.