Posts tagged as:

crash faking

Torts roundup

by Walter Olson on July 3, 2013

  • State attorneys general and contingent-fee lawyers: West Virginia high court says OK [WV Record] Similar Nevada challenge [Daniel Fisher]
  • Driver of bus that fatally crushed pedestrian fails to convince court on can’t-bear-to-look-at-evidence theory [David Applegate, Heartland Lawsuit Abuse Fortnightly]
  • UK uncovers biggest car crash scam ring, detectives say County Durham motorists were paying up to £100 extra on insurance [BBC, Guardian, Telegraph]
  • “A Litigator Reviews John Grisham’s The Litigators” [Max Kennerly]
  • Quin Hillyer, who’s written extensively on litigation abuse, is putting journalism on hold and running for Congress from Mobile, Ala. [American Spectator]
  • Not clear how man and 5-year-old son drowned in pool — he’d been hired for landscaping — but homeowner being sued [Florence, Ala.; WAFF]
  • “U.S. Legal System Ranked as Most Costly” [Shannon Green, Corp Counsel] “International comparisons of litigation costs: Europe, U.S. and Canada” [US Chamber]

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“A South Florida mom who brought her five young children along for the ride when she staged car crashes to make cash will spend even longer in prison because she put her kids in harm’s way, a judge ruled Friday.” [Sun-Sentinel]

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July 27 roundup

by Walter Olson on July 27, 2012

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March 15 roundup

by Walter Olson on March 15, 2012

  • Part III of Radley Balko series on painkiller access [HuffPo]
  • “Note: Add ‘Judge’s Nameplate’ to List of Things Not to Steal” [Lowering the Bar]
  • California’s business-hostile climate: if the ADA mills don’t get you, other suits might [CACALA]
  • Bottom story of the month: ABA president backs higher legal services budget [ABA Journal]
  • After string of courtroom defeats, Teva pays to settle Nevada propofol cases [Oliver, earlier]
  • Voting Rights Act has outstayed its constitutional welcome [Ilya Shapiro/Cato] More: Stuart Taylor, Jr./The Atlantic.
  • Huge bust of what NY authorities say was $279 million crash-fraud ring NY Post, NYLJ, Business Insider, Turkewitz (go after dishonest docs on both sides)]

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March 30 roundup

by Walter Olson on March 30, 2011

  • “Woman Sues Adidas After Fall She Blames on Sticky Shoes” [Lowering the Bar]
  • Texas lawmakers file loser pays proposals [SE Tex Record] Actual scope of proposals hard to discern through funhouse lens of NYT reporting [PoL] Marie Gryphon testimony on loser-pays proposals in Arkansas [Manhattan Institute, related]
  • Google awarded patent on changing of logo for special days [Engadget via Coyote]
  • “Civil Gideon in Deadbeat Dad Cases Would Be ‘Massive’ Change, Lawyer Tells Justices” [Weiss, ABA Journal, Legal Ethics Forum]
  • Amateur-hour crash-fakers in Bronx didn’t reckon on store surveillance camera [NY Post]
  • “Plaintiffs’ Lawyers in Cobell Defend $223M Fee Request” [BLT]
  • Show of harm not needed: FDA kicks another 500 or so legacy drugs off market, this time in the cold-and-cough area [WaPo]
  • “Wal-Mart v. Dukes: Rough Justice Without Due Process” [Andrew Trask, WLF]

Arizona Sen. John McCain is under fire for asserting on the Bill O’Reilly show that “the drivers of cars with illegals in it … are intentionally causing accidents on the freeway.” It would be natural to assume he was referring to the well-established “swoop-and-squat” racket described repeatedly in these columns — here, for instance. You might think illegal aliens would avoid these scams for fear of deportation, but you would be wrong: they are well represented among the participants.

I hold no brief for McCain, and I doubt very much that the workings of this particular criminal subculture should figure among the top twenty policy considerations in deciding how best to handle illegal immigration. And if a Senate spokeswoman is to be credited, McCain may actually had in mind the phenomenon of high-speed police chases — though it is far from clear why those crashes would ordinarily count as intentional. But blogger incredulity about the idea that car crashes can ever be intentional seems misplaced.

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“For several years, [defendant Susana] Chung ‘acted as the conduit’ of fraudulent insurance claims filed in connection with staged crashes in Northern California, said Larry Blazer, an Alameda County assistant district attorney.” Nearly 100 persons, mostly “victims” of bogus accidents but also including three chiropractors, have been found guilty in the scheme. [San Francisco Chronicle, Oakland Tribune via ABA Journal]

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November 4 roundup

by Walter Olson on November 4, 2009

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Microblog 2008-10-31

by Walter Olson on October 31, 2008

  • Beck & Herrmann skewer Waxman report on drug tort pre-emption [Drug & Device Law h/t Ted; much more at PoL] #
  • Good news, Fed Circuit in Bilski case limits business method patents [AP, Patently-O, Parloff] #
  • “Silicon Valley Stands United Against Prop. 8″ [TechCrunch] # Not too late to donate against the proposition whether or not you live in California [before you forget] #
  • Crash-faking ring in Queens targeted Asian drivers [NY Times] #
  • Community Reinvestment Act: bogeyman in housing mess, or unrelated red herring? Truth somewhere in between [Husock, City Journal] #
  • “Dopeler Effect” = tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly [@legalblogger] #
  • Going to go as Wall Street and terrify everyone: Happy Hallowe’en. #

October 14 roundup

by Walter Olson on October 14, 2008

  • Don’t miss Roger Parloff’s tour de force coverage in Fortune blowing whistle on that dodgy suit in Moscow against Bank of New York Mellon, adorned by participation of lawprofs Dershowitz and Blakey [PoL overview, main article]
  • Digital remixes and copyright law [Lessig, WSJ]
  • Surgeon at Connecticut’s Greenwich Hospital revealed as drug abuser, Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder now pressing suit on behalf of general class of patients, which sounds like it means “whether harmed or not” [Greenwich Time, Newsday via TortsProf weekly roundup]
  • Chicago sheriff halting foreclosures, or maybe not, reportage is confused [Reuters, big discussion at Steve Chapman blog] And is Obama taking the idea national with bid for 90-day moratorium on foreclosures? [AP]
  • Foie gras-style financial gavage? “None of banks getting government money was given a choice about it, said one of the people familiar with the plans.” [Bloomberg, Bernstein @ Volokh] More: Ann Althouse, Kuznicki/Cato at Liberty.
  • Trey Allen law firm in Dallas agrees to pay $840,000 restitution after profiting from staged car crash scheme, but Allen’s lawyer says client wasn’t aware of any fraud [ABA Journal]
  • Smoking bans, alcohol taxes contributing to steep decline of English village pubs [Newsweek]
  • Bias-law panel rules Wal-Mart within its rights not to hire a female applicant for Santa Claus position [eight years ago on Overlawyered]

The FBI undercover crash-fraud investigation netted 35 defendants, including 31 patients faking injury supposedly arising from car crashes and three “runners”. It also caught lawyer Jordan Luber (Luber & Cataldi) of Philadelphia. Per the Philadelphia Business Journal:

The sting included a fake chiropractic clinic the FBI set up in Northeast Philadelphia called Injury Associates. Instead of providing care it generated paperwork to make it appear patients received treatment so they could file fake claims.

According to prosecutors: Two agents posing as cleaning women told Luber they went to Injury Associates and wanted to pursue claims. They admitted on audio and video recordings to Luber that they had not received any treatment and had created fake medical records. Luber still pursued the claims, telling an insurer they were in an accident and received treatment. He negotiated a settlement of $7,500 each.

Luber, who is reported to have kept $6,000 of the $15,000 or 40% as his fee, drew a sentence of two months plus a year of supervised release and 100 hours of community service. He is “also prohibited from practicing law for a year.” The Philadelphia Daily News account says he’s surrendered his license, although the only report I could find online is of a suspension (PDF). So it sounds as if, assuming equal luck in any bar disciplinary process, he might reapply for the license and be back practicing law before too long. Won’t that bolster confidence in our court system? (IFA Webnews via P&S weekly roundup).

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Los Angeles police arrested 20 suspects, with warrants for another 20 still outstanding, in what the department said was another massive auto accident claim fraud ring, headed they say by Curtis H. Connor with involvement from many members of his family. After faking accidents, investigators say, the Connors would “use lawyers in on the scam to submit claims and demand payments for both injuries and damage to the car.” A chiropractic office and auto body repair shop were also part of the family enterprise. (Joel Rubin and Ken Bensinger, “Family members held in major insurance scam”, L.A. Times, Mar. 7). Earlier coverage here, here, here, etc.

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June 8 roundup

by Walter Olson on June 8, 2007

  • Litigation as foreign policy? Bill authorizing U.S. government to sue OPEC passes House, and is already contributing to friction with Russia [AP; Reuters; Steffy, Houston Chronicle; earlier here, here, and here]

  • Albany prosecutors charge boxing champion’s family with staging 23 car crashes, but a jury acquits [Obscure Store; Times-Union; North Country Gazette]

  • New at Point of Law: Bill Lerach may retire; Abe Lincoln’s legal practice; Philip Howard on getting weak cases thrown out; “Year of the Trial Lawyer” in Colorado; and much more;

  • Multiple partygoers bouncing on a trampoline not an “open and obvious” risk, says Ohio appeals court approving suit [Wilmington News-Journal]

  • Skadden and its allies were said to be representing Chinatown restaurant workers pro bono — then came the successful $1 million fee request, bigger than the damages themselves [NYLJ]

  • Who will cure the epidemic of public health meddling? [Sullum, Reason]

  • Turn those credit slips into gold, cont’d: lawsuits burgeon over retail receipts that print out too much data [NJLJ; earlier]

  • Lawprof Howard Wasserman has further discussion of the Josh Hancock case (Cardinals baseball player crashes while speeding, drunk and using cellphone) [Sports Law Blog; earlier]

  • “Women prisoners in a Swedish jail are demanding the ‘human right’ to wear bikinis so they can get a decent tan.” [Telegraph, U.K.]

  • Disbarred Miami lawyer Louis Robles, who prosecutors say stole at least $13 million from clients, detained as flight risk after mysterious “Ms. Wiki” informs [DBR; earlier at PoL]

  • Indiana courts reject motorist’s claim that Cingular should pay for crash because its customer was talking on cellphone while driving [three years ago on Overlawyered]

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The operation staged thousands of car accidents around the New York City area, investigators say, following the classic modus operandi of having a ring member pull in front of an unsuspecting driver and slam on the brakes to force a collision so as to generate insurance claims. (New York has a no-fault insurance law; similar scams are found in states with both fault and no-fault systems). A second car would then drive up, often discharging more claimed passengers while whisking away the original driver of the scam vehicle (so that his name would not turn up in too many claims). “Those indicted included doctors, psychiatrists, chiropractors, dentists and nearly 20 bogus health-care clinics … Lawyers whom prosecutors said were aware that the claims were false often called the insurance companies and threatened to file suits if the claims were not paid.” (Patrick Healy, “Investigators Say Fraud Ring Staged Thousands of Crashes”, New York Times, Aug. 13)(see Apr. 2, 2001, Aug. 25-27, 2000, Sept. 13, 1999).


July 31 – 1.5 million pages served on Overlawyered.com. Last month set a new visitor traffic record, and this month will set another one …. Thanks for your support!

July 31 – N.J.: 172 nabbed on fake car-crash charges. “Capping a 19-month investigation, prosecutors [July 19] announced the indictment of 172 people in New Jersey, including a medical doctor, a lawyer and two chiropractors, charging them with staging 19 automobile accidents and filing false medical claims totaling more than $5 million. …’Runners’ would recruit drivers and passengers, who would meet ahead of time, typically in West New York, N.J., to discuss details of the staged collisions, which were mostly minor,” according to first assistant Hudson County prosecutor Terrence Hull. “Participants were paid up to $2,500 and would be coached about the types of injuries to fake, Mr. Hull said.” (“False Claims From Fake Crashes Leads [sic] to Charges Against 172″, New York Times, July 20, not online). Meanwhile, a detailed Boston Globe front-page investigation finds that lawyers employing “runners” to bring in accident business are contributing to a sharp run-up in the cost of auto insurance fraud in Massachusetts; one of the state’s biggest personal injury law firms “is under investigation by federal authorities for participating in a criminal scheme that resulted in more than $50,000 worth of claims being filed from a staged accident.” (Stephen Kurkjian, “Injury claims flourish in loophole”, Boston Globe, July 16; “Study ID’s high injury claim areas”, July 19). “Massachusetts is not alone in experiencing a dramatic increase in payments for suspicious injuries from minor automobile accidents. Fed by runners who are arranging for faked accidents and phony personal injury claims, medical payments made by auto insurers jumped by more than 30 percent last year in New York, according to a study by the Insurance Information Institute, an industry research group, in March.” (more).

July 31 – Global warming suit? “States like Bangladesh that are the victims of climate change have a good case in law for suing polluters like the United States for billions of dollars, a law professor will tell a London conference today. With the US delaying action on climate change and President George Bush refusing to ratify the Kyoto protocol, the case for court action is becoming overwhelming, according to Andrew Strauss, of the school of law at Widener University, Delaware.” (Paul Brown, “Rich nations ‘could be sued’ by climate victims”, The Guardian (U.K.), July 10) (& see Aug. 19, 1999).

July 31 – “The Lost Art of Drawing the Line”. “The air in America is so thick with legal risk that you can practically cut it and put in on a scale,” says Philip Howard, attorney at Covington & Burling and author of the new book The Lost Art of Drawing the Line, which was preceded by his bestselling The Death of Common Sense. Howard is working with the founders of the Concord Coalition to establish something to be called the Common Sense Coalition. “The trial lawyers have to be taken on,” he says. “Leadership is required by whoever can get public attention.” (Lucy Morgan, “Author sees good sense as cure for what ails us”, St. Petersburg Times, July 28; official book site; Diane Rehm show, June 5; William Galston, “The Art of Judgement” (review), Washington Monthly, July/August; Cass Sunstein, “The Stifled Society” (review), The New Republic, July 9; Pete DuPont, National Center for Policy Analysis, “Drawing the Line”, May 1).

July 30 – “Couple sues over flaming Pop-Tart”. In Washington Township, N.J., Brenda Hurff and her husband are “suing the Kellogg Co. for $100,000 in damages caused to their home when an unattended Pop-Tart allegedly burst into flames inside their toaster.” A spokesman for the Battle Creek, Mich., cereal maker counters: “Pop-Tarts are safe and do not cause fires.” (Reuters/CNN, July 28; Jake Wagman, “From toaster to lawsuit”, Philadelphia Inquirer, July 28).

July 30 – Mommy, can I grow up to be an informant? Controversy mounts over large payouts ($40 million in one case, $25 million in another) under the False Claims Act to “whistle-blowers” who rat out overbilling by government contractors in health care, defense and other areas. “‘I think it’s a ridiculous ripoff of the taxpayers’ money,’ said U.S. Representative John Duncan, a Texas Republican, who has proposed a $1 million cap on rewards. ‘I don’t mind some compensation for these people, but I do not think they should be allowed to make off like bandits.'” A lawyer who represented one of the informants in the $40 million case takes a different view: ”It’s almost got to be set up like the lottery or very few people in their right mind would do this.” An informant given only $12 million for his work on an overbilling case against Quorum Health Group has gone to court to demand more, calling the figure “insulting” (Alice Dembner, “Whistle-blower windfalls questioned”, Boston Globe, July 29). Last year the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the act’s informant (“relator”) provisions, but ruled that state governments cannot be named as defendants (Francis J. Serbaroli, “Supreme Court Clarifies, Broadens Antifraud Laws”, New York Law Journal, July 27, 2000, reprinted at Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft site)(more on False Claims Act: Sept. 9, 1999; Jan. 18, 2000; April 30, 2001).

July 30 – N.J. court declares transsexuals protected class. Earlier this month an appeals court in the Garden State ruled that “gender dysphoria”, or dissatisfaction with the gender one has been assigned at birth, is protected as a handicap under the state’s disabled-rights law. In addition, it declared that by banning employers from discriminating on grounds of sex the law actually bans them from discriminating on the basis of “qualities society considers masculine or feminine”. The American Civil Liberties Union was overjoyed, but our editor, quoted by Fox News, was not. (Catherine Donaldson-Evans, “Transsexual Rights in Spotlight Following N.J. Court Ruling That Condition a Handicap”, Fox News, July 9; Mary P. Gallagher, “Transsexuals Held to be Protected Class Under New Jersey Law”, New Jersey Law Journal, July 11) (more transsexualism cases: March 23, 2001, May 31, 2000).

July 27-29 – Welcome New York Times readers. John Tierney’s column on overzealous prosecution quotes our editor and mentions this site. (“The Big City: Prosecutors Never Need to Apologize”, July 27)(reg).

July 27-29 – Report: “medical errors” studies overblown. “Alarming studies suggesting that medical errors kill close to 100,000 U.S. hospital patients each year probably overestimate the problem, with the real total perhaps 5,000 to 15,000, researchers say.” Readers of this space will not be surprised. The higher estimates have been much cited by Ralph Nader and others to promote medical malpractice litigation, but they rest on case-review studies whose format is problematic because reviewing doctors show little consensus as to which cases involve errors and which errors cause or hasten death, according to the new report in the Journal of the American Medical Association. In addition, “clinicians estimated that only 0.5 percent of patients who died would have lived three months or more in good cognitive health if care had been optimal.” (“Number of Medical-Error Deaths Overestimated, Researchers Say”, AP/ FoxNews.com, July 24; “Researchers Question Data on Fatal Medical Errors”, Reuters/ABC News, July 24; “Findings: Study Disputes Report on Fatal Medical Errors”, Washington Post, July 25; Rodney A. Hayward and Timothy P. Hofer, “Estimating Hospital Deaths Due to Medical Errors: Preventability Is in the Eye of the Reviewer,” JAMA, July 25; National Academies report on medical errors, 1999).

July 27-29 – Needed: assumption of risk. Community swimming holes are disappearing, and one reason is landowners’ fear of litigation, reports the New York Times. “In New York, landowners have become particularly wary of swimmers,” because state law pointedly omits swimming from a list of activities that they can permit to visitors without fear of liability. “Though recreation groups have lobbied to expand the law to include swimming, these efforts have been blocked by the state’s trial lawyers. ‘We have done everything we could to slip it in,’ said Neil F. Woodworth, deputy executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club. (Winnie Hu, “Keep Out: The Water’s Fine, but Private”, New York Times, July 23 (reg)). First-time skydiver Paul Bloebaum is suing Archway Skydiving Center in Vandalia, Ill. over injuries incurred in his maiden jump; he “wants a judge to throw out the lengthy waiver he signed before he jumped and make Archway responsible for his injuries. Bloebaum wrote his initials beside all 25 paragraphs of the release.” (“Company Sued Over Skydiver’s Fall”, AP/Fox News, July 25). And Atlanta Braves outfielders, after catching third outs to end an inning, routinely throw the balls to fans in the stands, but now a woman is suing star centerfielder Andruw Jones saying she was hit in the face when he did that recently (Carroll Rogers, “Bullpen becoming a strength”, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, July 22 (third item)). However, a Michigan appeals court “has overturned a million-dollar verdict against the Detroit Tigers for injuries suffered by a child hit by a baseball bat splinter.” (Alan Fisk, “$1 Million Ballpark Injury Award Strikes Out”, National Law Journal, July 27).

July 27-29 – Chandra, Monica, and sex-harass law. Why is the furtive liaison between the ardent young woman and the powerful older man still so common in Washington, D.C.? “Politicians are immune from the sexual harassment systems that protect young women in corporate workplaces and academia, where the presumption has become that the older male will say no or face brutal consequences. These kinds of advances would cost your political science professor his job. In an office, it would be sexual harassment. In D.C., it’s still 1951, and young girls are still curvy temptresses.” (Dahlia Lithwick, “G-Girl Confidential”, Slate, July 25).

July 27-29 – Feeling queasy? Litigation over E. coli food poisoning has proliferated rapidly, so much so that there’s now a law firm whose specialty consists of filing cases over the nasty bacterium. (“E. Coli’s Twisted Tale of Science in the Courtroom and Politics in the Lab”, Los Angeles Times, June 6, reprinted at STATS).

July 26 – Welcome CourtTV.com visitors. This week the cable network’s online “Caught in the Web” feature profiles “the hub of all things legally absurd on the Net”, from its origins on our editor’s hard drive as “an out-of-control file of favorite bookmarks” to our current popularity on who knows how many continents (key to the editorial mix: “frequent food pellets” so that you regular readers “keep on pressing the lever”). Seriously, this counts as the most comprehensive profile of the site that’s appeared anywhere, for which we’re grateful to CourtTV.com correspondent Adrien Seybert (the opening Shakespeare line didn’t actually come up in our talk, though) (“Chasing the Ambulance Chasers”, July 25). Also: we’re a web pick of the week for Australia’s FHM (“It’s a Guy Thing”); Herff.com (“Neat stuff on the Internet” — see “Shark Indigestion”); Follow Me Here weblog, early July (450k).

July 26 – Dispute over $118 pizza bill costs $18,000. Nebraska: “Lancaster District Court Clerk Kelly Guenzel is now pondering whether she should go to court to force the county to pay the $18,000-plus in legal fees she racked up defending herself against a charge she misused public funds in reimbursing herself for $118.76 worth of pizza.” (“Pizza bill just grows and grows” (editorial), Lincoln Journal-Star, undated (sent to us July 20))

July 26 – Latex liability, foreseeable or not. “Bucking a national trend in design defect cases, the Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld a jury’s finding that a brand of latex gloves was defectively designed, even though no one, including the manufacturer, was aware of latex-related health problems until years after the brand was put on the market.” Rejecting the argument that the company should be liable only for foreseeable risks, the court ordered Smith & Nephew AHP Inc. to pay $1 million to Linda M. Green, who developed a latex allergy from the naturally occurring substances found in the gloves. (Gary Young, “Defective Latex Glove Costs $1 Million”, National Law Journal, July 23).

July 26 – “Criminals could sue their victims”. Dateline U.K.: “Criminals could find it easier to sue members of the public who injure them while defending their homes, under Law Commission reforms proposed yesterday. … The recommendations are open for consultation until the autumn when a final report is made to Parliament.” (Frances Gibb, The Times (London), June 29).

July 26 – Quiz: which are the made-up cases? Funny L.A. Times feature where you have to guess which outlandish news report isn’t true: “Hypersensitivity, political correctness and frivolous lawsuits are taking over the world. Increase your awareness with this handy quiz.” (Roy Rivenburg, “It’s Truly a Dangerous World Out There”, July 24) (via Kausfiles).

July 25 – By reader acclaim: “Parents file suit over son’s drug death”. “The parents of an 18-year-old University of Florida student who died after taking OxyContin last year have filed a lawsuit against the drug’s manufacturer and the pharmacy chain where one of Matthew Kaminer’s friends stole the painkiller.” Kaminer was found dead in a fraternity house bedroom after taking one of the pills, stolen by another student from an Eckerd drugstore. “The powerful painkiller was designed to combat chronic pain with a time-release formula,” but abusers chew the capsules in order to get “an immediate, heroin-like high.” The parents are blaming drugmaker Purdue Pharma as well as the Eckerd chain. (Erika Bolstad, Miami Herald, July 24) (via WSJ OpinionJournal.com “Best of the Web“).

July 25 – 220 percent rate of farmer participation. “In a 1999 major class-action settlement, the Clinton administration agreed to pay $50,000 to each black farmer who had suffered discrimination at the hands of the federal government. As of 2001, some 40,000 people have applied for their cash. The problem is, according to the Census Bureau, there are only 18,000 black farmers in the country.” (Steve Brown, “Settlement Is a Crass-Action, USDA Employees Say”, Fox News, July 14).

July 25 – “Trial lawyers derail Maryland small claims reform”. “In an unexpected setback to small claims reform, on May 17 Maryland Governor Parris Glendening vetoed HALT-supported legislation, despite its unanimous approval by both houses of the state legislature.” The legislation would have raised the jurisdiction of Maryland’s small claims court from $2,500 to $5,000, and eliminated formal pleadings in cases below $2,500, reducing the occasion for disputants to hire lawyers. “According to his message, Glendening acted in response to concerns that ‘prompted the Maryland Trial Lawyers Association to request a veto of this bill.’ … The Maryland Trial Lawyers Association organization was one of the largest institutional supporters of Glendening’s 1998 reelection campaign, donating $12,000 to him directly and spending about $110,000 on radio and television advertisements supporting him.” (Tom Gordon, HALT.org “Legal Reformer”, Spring) (more on small claims: Sept. 29, Oct. 3 and (letters) Oct. 5, 2000) (& see letter to the editor, Aug. 1).

July 25 – Yesterday’s visitors to this site came from domains including eop.gov, usdoj.gov, sec.gov, nrc.gov, treas.gov, ornl.gov; dowjones.com, trib.com, usnews.com, disney.com; boeing.com, gendyn.com, lucent.com, ibm.com, fujitsu.com, honeywell.com, att.com, philips.com, pg.com, ual.com, oracle.com, cat.com, sun.com, cisco.com, intel.com, pge.com, roche.com…

…columbia.edu, uiuc.edu, asu.edu, uncg.edu, american.edu, lu.se, uoregon.edu, ucsd.edu, stanford.edu, utoronto.ca, gatech.edu, rutgers.edu, auckland.ac.nz, wustl.edu, upenn.edu; state.mn.us, state.fl.us, state.oh.us, state.mo.us; omm.com, debevoise.com, kirkland.com, ffhsj.com, lockeliddell.com, corboydemetrio.com, atlahq.org (which has been poking around here a lot lately); army.mil, af.mil, navy.mil, nipr.mil; thehartford.com, prudential.com, statefarm.com, travelers.com, fanniemae.com, bear.com, schwab.com, jpmorgan.com, socgen.com, agedwards.com, norwest.com, tiaa-cref.org; cato.org, cir-usa.org; jcpenney.com, fedex.com, ups.com; bigpond.com, gc.ca, gov.au, and asce.org, among many, many others including countless local ISPs. Moral: your competitors read us regularly, so there’s no reason why you should feel guilty about doing so too.

July 24 – “The Louima millions”. “Last week, after the Giuliani administration and the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association agreed to pay [Abner] Louima nearly $9 million to settle his police brutality lawsuit, Louima said he did not feel like a rich man. That’s because Louima cannot touch one dime until he settles a bitter quarrel with [his lawyers]“. The dispute pits the lesser-known attorneys who originally represented Louima against the high-profile trio of Johnnie Cochran, Barry Scheck, and Peter Neufeld (“Johnnie- come- latelies”) who took over afterward. Before getting to the juicy particulars, be sure to catch the opening quote, from an attorney named Harold J. Reynolds: “So ingrained and unexamined is the notion of the one-third contingency fee that it has taken on the character of a natural law. … if liability and recovery were certain, then there is no contingency that Louima’s lawyer is risking … [and the operation of the fee percentage] would have done nothing except guarantee to that lawyer a freight train of money that should have been paid to Abner Louima.” (Peter Noel, Village Voice, July 18-24). More on why contingency fees are so seldom discounted: Judyth Pendell (Manhattan Institute), “Price Colluder, Esq.”, Forbes, July 23, reprinted at MI site. Update: see Nov. 8-10, 2002.

July 24 – Junk fax litigation: blood in the water. We’ve covered the saga of junk fax litigation, in which federal law allows class action lawyers to demand $500-$1,500 per unsolicited fax sent, which means the sums at stake can quickly mount up to enormous levels (see Oct. 22, 1999; March 3, 2000; March 27, 2001). Now the New York Times weighs in to report a number of recent breakthroughs for the lawyers, including a recent $12 million judgment that forced Hooters of Augusta, Ga., a unit of the national restaurant chain, to declare bankruptcy; it had been an advertiser in six omnibus fax mailings sent to 1,321 customers. Some more new developments: “Last month, a South Carolina judge approved a settlement of another class-action suit in which a North Charleston Ramada Inn paid $450,000 for sending thousands of faxes advertising a New Year’s Eve celebration. Last week, a Texas judge authorized a class-action trial of claims on behalf of thousands of people who received fax advertisements from an apartment rental company.” (William Glaberson, New York Times, July 22 (reg)).

July 24 – “Melbourne man patents the wheel”. “A Melbourne man has patented the wheel. Freelance patent attorney John Keogh was issued with an Innovation Patent for a ‘circular transportation facilitation device’ within days of the new patent system being invoked in May. But he has no immediate plans to patent fire, crop rotation or other fundamental advances in civilisation. Mr Keogh said he patented the wheel to prove the innovation patent system was flawed because it did not need to be examined by the patent office, IP Australia.” (Nathan Cochrane, The Age (Melbourne), July 2).

July 23 – “2nd Circuit Upholds Sanctions Against Firms for Frivolous Securities Claims”. “The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld sanctions against two law firms for pursuing frivolous securities claims. New York’s Schoengold & Sporn and Philadelphia’s Berger & Montague were sanctioned a total of $84,153 based on the fact that under a settlement advocated by Schoengold & Sporn, the plaintiff class in the case would have received nothing, while the firm would have been paid $200,000.” Trial judge Shira Scheindlin had reduced the sanctions against Berger & Montague after concluding that it had acted to a significant extent at the direction of the other class-action firm. (Mark Hamblett, New York Law Journal, July 16).

July 23 – Stories that got away. News items from recent months that fell through our editorial cracks at the time, but better late than never:

* Sacramento Bee investigation of the state of the environmentalist movement includes a look at the extent to which some lawyers may be using endangered-species complaints as a way of generating legal fees for themselves (Tom Knudson, “Litigation central: A flood of costly lawsuits raises questions about motive”, April 24) (series). See also Michael Grunwald, “Endangered List Faces New Peril,” Washington Post, March 12; “Protect Animals, Not Lawyers” (editorial), Detroit News, May 7; “Congress Grapples With Endangered Species Law”, AP/Fox News, May 9. And the more recent controversy over agricultural water use in Klamath Falls, Ore., reminds us of the “enclosures” by which upper-class landowners tossed tenant farmers off the land in early industrial England: Michael Kelly, “Evicted by Environmentalists”, Washington Post, July 11 (& letter to the editor in response from Brock Evans, July 13).

* The still-in-progress controversy over whether the Digital Millennium Copyright Act really allows the recording industry to keep a Princeton professor from publishing a research paper on the subject of breaking digital music encryption (Declan McCullagh, “Watermark Crackers Back Away”, Wired News, April 26; Janelle Brown, “Is the RIAA running scared?”, Salon.com, April 26; Brenda Sandburg, “Recording Industry Sued in Battle Over Research”, The Recorder, June 7). See also Carl S. Kaplan, “CyberLaw Journal: Does an Anti-Piracy Plan Quash the First Amendment?”, New York Times, April 27; Brad King, “ISPs Face Down DMCA”, Wired News, Dec. 23, 2000).

* That odd case from Everett, Wash. where a federal judge “has thrown out the kidnapping and sexual assault convictions of a man who had argued he was not responsible for those crimes because another of his 24 separate personalities had committed it.” A Snohomish County judge declared the multiple personality defense inadmissible, but “U.S. District Judge Marsha J. Pechman in Seattle ruled Friday that it was up to the trial court to clarify the question for jurors by establishing standards for assessing legal responsibility.” (“Judge Throws Out Conviction of Multi-Personality Defendant”, AP/Fox News, June 12).


August 31 – Update: Alabama campaign-tactics case. A judge has sentenced prominent Alabama trial lawyer Garve Ivey to 30 days in jail after a jury convicted him on misdemeanor charges arising out of a smear campaign against the state’s Lieutenant Governor, Steve Windom (see Sept. 1 and Aug. 26, 1999). Shortly before the 1998 election, with Windom running a hard-fought race against a trial lawyer-backed opponent, a former prostitute and heroin addict named Melissa Myers Bush stepped forward with a lawsuit dramatically charging that Windom had raped and beat her seven years earlier when she worked for an escort service. Ivey, who was serving at the time as an official of the state trial lawyers association, paid to have 300 copies made of a videotape of Bush describing her charges, “which were distributed to news outlets across the state”. But as questions arose, Bush soon recanted and said she’d been paid to tell her story and that it was false. According to later testimony at trial, Bush accepted $2,700 from Birmingham businessman Scott Nordness, money that was later reimbursed by Ivey. Nordness was granted immunity by prosecutors seeking his testimony and charges were filed against Ivey and a private investigator who’d worked with him, Wes Chappell.

On June 22 a Mobile County jury acquitted Chappell of the charges and rendered a split decision in Ivey’s case, acquitting him on the felony count of bribing Bush to give false testimony while convicting him on two misdemeanor counts of witness tampering and criminal defamation. According to AP, the witness tampering charge arose from Ivey’s having gotten Nordness to sign a sworn statement after Bush’s lawsuit which, in prosecutors’ view, seemed to suggest that no money had changed hands in the case. Windom says he feels vindicated after two years and expects an apology from the state trial lawyers’ group, which he says tried to dodge the appearance of involvement in the smear efforts when trial testimony indicated the contrary. “The evidence clearly showed that there was a great deal of involvement at every stage. They need to come clean with the public and with their own members,” he said. (The AP coverage does not include a response from the trial lawyers’ group.) Ivey’s lawyers plan an appeal; still pending as well are civil suits that Ivey and Windom have filed against each other over the affair. Update: in July 2001 the Alabama Supreme Court reversed these convictions and ordered Ivey acquitted of the charges (see July 7, 2001).

SOURCES: “Ivey sentenced to 30 days in jail on witness tampering”, AP, August 9, not online, available on NEXIS; Garry Mitchell, “Chappell cleared, Ivey found guilty in Windom trial”, AP/Decatur Daily, June 23; Garry Mitchell, “Windom wants apology from trial lawyers”, AP state and regional wire, June 23, not online, available on NEXIS; Gary McElroy, “Former call girl testifies”, Mobile Register, June 16; “Chuck’s Page” (page by Chuck Harrison, a witness called in the case; scroll down halfway to “Just Desserts”).

August 31 – “Diva awarded $11M for broken dream”. Last week a Little Rock, Ark. jury awarded aspiring opera singer Kristin Maddox, now 23, $11 million “for injuries she suffered when an American Airlines jet went off a runway last year while landing in a thunderstorm”. Maddox was studying opera in hopes of becoming a star but says damage to her voice box and hands in the crash ruined her professional chances. Her lawyer, “Bob Bodoin, told jurors that no amount of money would make up for her pain and the loss of a career that could have rivaled opera stars Beverly Sills or Luciano Pavarotti’s”. However, a university voice teacher who evaluated one of Maddox’s pre-crash performances on video said she had a voice that, while “lovely”, was also too light to fill an auditorium in the Sills or Pavarotti manner. (AP/Philadelphia Daily News, Aug. 25; discussion on Professional Pilots Rumour Network boards).

August 31 – “Breaking the Litigation Habit”. The business-oriented Committee for Economic Development released a report in April which “calls our litigation system ‘too intrusive, too slow, and too expensive.’ The current system does not adequately or fairly compensate people for injuries; it imposes costs that threaten to impair economic innovation; and it undermines the trust and civility among our citizens that are essential to a well-functioning, democratic society.” The report goes on to endorse “Early Offers” and “Auto Choice” reforms, both aimed at providing rapid compensation for injuries without litigation (introductory page links to executive summary and full report in PDF format).

August 29-30 – Back-to-school roundup: granola bars out, Ritalin in. The Fallingbrook Community Elementary School, in an Ottawa suburb, has “banned all snacks except fruits and vegetables in an attempt to protect children with allergies”. Children in K-4 “have been asked not to bring cheese and crackers, dips, yogurt, candy bars or homemade muffins for snacks” for fear of triggering reactions in other kids with peanut, dairy, egg or other allergies. Fallingbrook parent Theresa Holowach would like to send cereal bars or homemade muffins with her eight-year-old son and kindergartner-to-be daughter but was willing to settle for rice cakes, cheese and crackers; her requests, however, “were refused on the grounds that the school would be legally liable if actions were not taken to limit the risks for children with serious allergies. ‘To me the school is going to have serious liabilities if my child chokes on a carrot because you’ve forced me to give her raw fruit and vegetables,’ said Ms. Holowach”. (Gina Gillespie, “School bans all snacks except fruit, vegetables”, Ottawa Citizen/National Post, Aug. 26).

Meanwhile, both the New York Law Journal and USA Today say there are other cases, besides the recently reported one near Albany, N.Y. (see July 26), in which schools are resorting to legal action to compel unwilling parents to dose their children with Ritalin, the controversial psychiatric drug. (John Caher, “New York Ritalin Case Puts Parents, Courts on Collision Course”,New York Law Journal, Aug. 18; Karen Thomas, “Parents pressured to put kids on Ritalin”, USA Today, Aug. 8). The Christian Science Monitor also reports on a different kind of legal pitfall that may await the non-medicating parent: in 1995 the Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld a $170,000 jury verdict against parents whose fourth-grade special-ed student attacked his teacher after they took him off medication that had reduced his aggressive behavior. (Katherine Biele, “When students get hostile, teachers go to court”, Christian Science Monitor, Aug. 22). However, the Wisconsin court stressed in that case that it was not imposing on parents a duty to keep the child on medication, but rather a lesser duty to warn the school if they decided to discontinue the drug (summary on Spedlaw.com website of Nieuwendorp v American Family Ins Co., 22 IDELR 551 (1995)).

The Monitor reports that educators are taking kids themselves to court over an ever-wider range of misconduct, especially defamation (see Sept. 28, Nov. 15). Most students are deemed “judgment-proof” but state laws specify a limited measure of parental financial responsibility for kids’ misbehavior, usually limited to such sums as $1,000 or $2,500, which can however escalate to unlimited amounts if the parents are deemed negligent, as in the Wisconsin case. And in Rhode Island, to update an earlier story (see April 19), two years of wrangling over whether Westerly High School sophomore Robert Parker was out of line to wear a rock band T-shirt displaying the numerals 666 have ended, with the school facing a cumulative bill for the dispute of $60,000. (American Civil Liberties Union/AP, July 6).

August 29-30 – Denny’s bias charges: let’s go to the videotape. Another day, another discrimination suit demanding money from the Denny’s restaurant chain on charges of racially based denial of service. But it so happened that a security video camera was running during the alleged Cutler Ridge, Fla. incident, and the story told by its tape was so at odds with the story the complainants were telling that their lawyer, Ellis Rubin of Miami, felt obliged to withdrew from the case for fear of facing sanctions if he continued. “In 1994, Denny’s settled a $46 million class action with hundreds of black customers who had alleged that they were refused service at the chain’s restaurants”; despite the diversity training it’s instituted since then it still faces many new public-accommodations suits, but its management vows to fight those that it considers opportunistic. (David E. Rovella, “Denny’s Serves Up a Winning Video”, National Law Journal, Aug. 24) (see also Sept. 29).

August 29-30 – Welcome Yahoo Internet Life readers. Last Friday’s installment of “Ask the Surf Guru” carried this nice accolade: “*** Special to Gwendolyn: Like Cassandra said in Mighty Aphrodite, “I see disaster. I see catastrophe. Worse, I see lawyers.” But better is seeing Walter Olson’s daily odes to odious lawyering at Overlawyered.com, where he chronicles how attorneys clog the drain of American life with lawsuits that redefine the word ‘frivolous.'” Thanks! (ZDNet/Yahoo Internet Life, Aug. 24 — final item).

August 29-30 – “Lawyers want millions as cut of Holocaust settlement”. “On April 12, 1997, Arthur Bailey, one of the dozens of lawyers who helped negotiate a $1.25 billion settlement finalized last month between Swiss banks and Holocaust survivors, bought a copy of the book ‘Nazi Gold’ by Tom Bower and spent 8.6 hours reviewing it. Cost to plaintiffs: $2,365, or $275 an hour.” Lengthy telephone conversations between lawyers and a half-hour interview granted by a lawyer to the Washington Post are among other outlays of lawyers’ time for which reimbursement is being sought in the $13.5 million fee request, which Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress, described as “outrageous”: “We said from the beginning that the lawyers should be acting pro bono,” i.e., without compensation. (Steve Chambers, Newhouse News Service/Cleveland Plain Dealer, Aug. 15).

August 29-30 – Imagine if she’d had a photo of a gun too. Police in Davidson, North Carolina “are defending an officer’s decision to search a woman’s car for drugs after spotting a photo of a marijuana plant on the cover of a newspaper in her car.” The driver, when stopped at 1 a.m., had a copy of an alternative weekly in her car with a cover story on police use of helicopters against marijuana growers, and consented to the search request, police said. A journalism professor says carrying such material could not possibly be probable cause for a car search. Nothing unlawful was found in the vehicle. (“Police say photo of marijuana plant sufficient cause for drug search”, AP/Raleigh News & Observer, Aug. 25) (via Progressive Review).

August 28 – “Man killed in gas explosion told to clean up rubble”. “One day after a Brooklyn couple died in a gas explosion at their home, city officials fired off a letter to the dead husband insisting that he was responsible for immediately cleaning up the rubble.” On July 11 a massive blast leveled the home of Leonard Walit, 72, and his 66-year-old wife Harriet, who were buried under the rubble of the four-story brownstone with a third victim. “The responsibility to [repair or demolish the premises] is yours, and because of the severity of the condition, the work must begin immediately,” declared the form letter from building commissioner Tarek Zeid, which warned the deceased couple that if they delayed the city would perform the necessary work and bill them for the expenses. Critics say the city should have known better given that the blast made big headlines, and a spokesman for the Buildings Department has apologized. (AP/Yahoo, Aug. 26).

August 28 – Campaign consultants for judges. At $15,000 a pop it gets expensive fast to hire professional campaign help, but elected Florida judges increasingly feel they have to shell out for two, three or four of the hotshot local consultants — especially since if they don’t put them on retainer, they might just find themselves facing a challenger who has. It’s another reason reformers are hoping to move to an appointive system. (Tony Doris, “Full-Court Press”, Miami Daily Business Review, Aug. 23).

August 28 – “Relatives find ‘proof’ they own New York”. “Descendants of an 18th-century privateer are hoping that a copy of an ancient lease discovered in an attic in South Wales may finally prove that they are the rightful owners of the world’s most valuable piece of real estate,” reports London’s Sunday Times. “For 120 years the descendants of Robert Edwards have been trying to establish their rights to 77 acres of Manhattan on which now stand Wall Street, the New York Stock Exchange, [lower] Broadway and the World Trade Center.” And who’s to say they won’t succeed, given the enthusiasm shown by American courts for hearing Indian land suits (see Feb. 1), liability claims arising from the sale of products in the first years of the Twentieth Century, and perhaps, before long, slavery reparation cases as well? (Simon de Bruxelles, Sunday Times (London), Aug. 22).

August 25-27 – Mich. high court: tough on working (arsonist) families. As the nasty race for the Michigan Supreme Court heats up (see May 15, May 9, Jan. 31), opponents have rolled out television ads assailing three Republican justices as “antifamily” and biased toward business, on the strength of 43 decisions they’ve rendered that supposedly fit that pattern. However, when the Detroit Free Press‘s Dawson Bell looked into the details, he discovered that among the rulings being flayed as “antifamily” is one from last year denying insurance coverage to “a pair of convicted arsonists who burned down a row of buildings”. A look at the rest of the cited court decisions likewise “indicates that the content provided in the ads borders on the bogus.” For example, in six cases the ad-makers counted government defendants in lawsuits — that is to say, the taxpayers — as “corporations”; they omitted a half dozen cases that obviously didn’t fit their pattern, while including “at least seven cases in which an individual won, or a corporation wasn’t a party;” and they included fourteen cases in which the court’s Democrats agreed with the outcome. Where’s the state Democratic Party getting the money for its big ad buy trashing the GOP judges? It’s hard to know for sure, but trial lawyers are said to have privately pledged millions to defeat the trio at the polls (see May 9). (Dawson Bell, “Party politics enters high court race”, Detroit Free Press, Aug. 3; Kathy Barks Hoffman, “Chamber runs ads to counter Democrats’ attacks on justices”, AP/Detroit News, Aug. 17; Charlie Cain, “High court race will be nasty, pricey”, Detroit News, June 23). Opponents of the three justices have mounted not one but two websites: AgainstMichiganFamilies.com and The Justice Caucus. But in fact “Michigan’s Supreme Court may be the nation’s best example of a court committed to interpreting the law — not manufacturing it,” contends National Review Online contributor Peter Leeson (“Michigan’s Supreme Court Is Supreme”, Aug. 22). That makes it a notable contrast with the high court in neighboring Ohio, where a narrow majority of justices last year (see Aug. 18, 1999) used activist reasoning to strike down legislated liability limits, and are now being heavily backed by trial lawyers in their re-election bids (Thomas Bray, “A Nation of Laws, or of Judges?”, Opinion Journal, Aug. 17).

August 25-27 – “Albuquerque can seize homes hosting teen drinking”. Under a bill approved by the city council of New Mexico’s largest city, you can now look forward to losing your house if the neighbors complain about repeated gatherings of tippling teens while you’re away. (Kate Nash, Albuquerque Tribune/Nando Times, Aug. 23).

August 25-27 – “How do you fit 12 people in a 1983 Honda?” Brazen, well-organized car-crash fraud rings thrive in the Big Apple, according to a series of New York Post exposés this summer. Other states are well ahead of New York in enacting legislation aimed at curbing fraud; meanwhile, the “Pataki administration is in court trying to overturn a decision in which the trial lawyers and medical profession successfully sued to have the state’s existing no-fault regulations thrown out.” June 25 (related story); June 26; June 27; July 16 (related story); August 6). Last year New York City recouped $1 million following the racketeering and fraud convictions of attorney Morris Eisen, a one-time major filer of injury claims who prosecutors say introduced fraudulent evidence in at least 18 cases, including three against the city (press release from office of Comptroller Alan Hevesi, May 18, 1999).

August 25-27 – Retroactive crash liability. Following years of lobbying by trial lawyers, Congress passed and President Clinton signed in April a new law retroactively raising the amounts payable in lawsuits to relatives of those killed in three air crashes over international waters, including the loss of TWA Flight 800. The little-publicized passage, “nestled on page 71 of a 137-page budget bill … carries an effective date of July 16, 1996″ — almost four years before its signing. It abolishes old limitations on lawsuits set by the historic Death on the High Seas Act so as to expand the sums recoverable for “non-pecuniary” losses, such as the “care, comfort and companionship” of the deceased. The result is to ensure substantially higher payouts in litigation over the TWA crash, for which that airline and Boeing are being sued, as well as the Atlantic downings of Swissair Flight 111 and EgyptAir Flight 990. Sen. Slade Gorton (R-Wash.), who represents Boeing’s home state, had argued to no avail that it was unfair to expand the companies’ obligation retroactively. (Frank J. Murray, “Retroactive move allows big awards in TWA crash”, Washington Times, Aug. 24).

August 23-24 – Class actions: are we all litigants yet? If you’re a member of American Airlines’ frequent-flier plan, you may have received by now a class action settlement notice in which the airline agrees to make legal amends for the atrocity of having raised from 20,000 to 25,000 miles the point level needed to claim a free coach round-trip. After slogging through the legal jargon, St. Petersburg Times columnist Susan Taylor Martin finds that the “most that ‘class members’ in my category can expect is this: a 5,000-mile discount on a frequent-flier award or a certificate for $75 off on a ticket costing at least $220. Wow. But let’s read on. In return for negotiating this settlement, the lawyers representing me and other plaintiffs will apply for fees ‘not to exceed $25 million.’ No wonder we’re such a lawsuit-happy nation.”. She asks her newsroom colleagues if they’ve been represented in class actions, and they inundate her with responses. Then she goes on to cite this website, quote a number of comments from our editor, discuss proposed reforms that would redirect nationwide class suits to federal courts, and finally take up the much-recurring question: what’s the best way to discourage further legal excesses of this sort, to fill out and return the claims form, or toss it in the waste basket? (Susan Taylor Martin, “Is anyone not involved in a class-action lawsuit?”, St. Petersburg Times, Aug. 20). Also see Sarah Haertl, “Bill Limits Class-Action Fees for Attorneys”, Office.com, June 19.

August 23-24 – Funds that don’t protect. “Client protection funds” are supposed to reimburse persons who fall victim to thievery by their lawyers, but a National Law Journal investigation finds the funds “poorly endowed, stingy about payouts and virtually a secret, even to many lawyers, whose bar dues help finance them”. Many victims get just pennies on the dollar, or nothing at all: “cheated clients are getting twice betrayed by the legal professionals who should be protecting them”. (“Wronged Clients Face an Empty Promise in Some States”, Aug. 21).

August 23-24 – Fateful carpool. The consent of one’s spouse is no excuse for violating a restraining order obtained by her earlier, as Blaine Jeschonek has learned to his sorrow in Bedford, Pennsylvania. When Jeschonek, 44, arrived in court accompanied by his estranged wife Beth, Judge Thomas Ling promptly ordered him arrested and charged with criminal contempt for violating a court order forbidding him to have contact with her. “The Jeschoneks had traveled together to court to ask Ling to dismiss the restraining order. ‘I will not tolerate these orders being violated in my presence, under my nose, in my own courtroom,’ Ling said.” (“Pennsylvania man carpools to court and faces contempt”, AP/CNN, Aug. 14).

August 23-24 – Bankrupting Canadian churches? A remarkable legal story is unfolding in Canada, where down through the 1960s the country’s major churches, under an arrangement with the national government, administered residential schools for youths from Indian tribes. A significant share (perhaps 20 percent) of all school-age Indians attended these schools, thus being separated from native communities for much of their childhood. As ideas of multiculturalism made headway, the schools with their premise of assimilation to English culture came to be regarded as an embarrassing legacy, though at the time they had enjoyed the support of most Indian bands. In recent years adults who attended the schools in their youth have filed legal actions against the school proprietors, originally in small numbers over claims of past physical and sexual abuse, but more recently in much larger numbers, more than 7,000, with the predominant alleged injury among new cases being “cultural deprivation” years or decades earlier. Claimant recruitment by attorneys has played a major role in the expansion of the dispute; one lawyer alone, Tony Merchant of Regina, Saskatchewan, has assembled no fewer than 4,300 former school residents from across Western Canada to press claims. Although very few cases have yet reached court, early rulings suggest that the litigation may inflict money transfers and legal costs so large as to bankrupt or financially cripple some or all of the church defendants: the Anglican Church of Canada, United Church of Christ, Presbyterian Church of Canada and Roman Catholic Church of Canada (David Frum, “The dissolution of Canadian churches”, National Post, Aug. 19; “Tending the flock”, editorial, Aug. 16; Richard Foot, “Deputy PM to meet Church leader over bankruptcy crisis”, Aug. 16; Ian Hunter, “Paying for past injustice is unjust”, July 20; “Sins of the fathers”, editorial, July 17; Ferdy Baglo, “Canada’s Anglican Church Considers Possibility of Financial Ruin“, Christianity Today). (DURABLE LINK)

MORE RESOURCES: Law Commission of Canada; Anglican Church of Canada (main page; apology; in Oji-Cree syllabics (pdf)); United Church of Canada (FAQ, news); Turtle Island Native Network (resources, news); Diane Rowe for White Oppenheimer & Baker (plaintiff’s law firm); Jane O’Hara and Patricia Treble, “Abuse of Trust”, Maclean’s, June 26; “Residential Schools: An Essential Component of Genocide” (University of Victoria); Jay Charland, “St. Paul diocese part of $195M suit”, Western Catholic Reporter; Patrick Donnelly, “Scapegoating the Indian Residential Schools”, Alberta Report, Jan. 26, 1998, reprinted at Catholic Educator Resource Center.

August 23-24 – Welcome screenwriters. It’s hard to beat what goes on in courtrooms for sheer drama, which may be one reason at least two sites catering to professional screenwriters link to Overlawyered.com. CreateYourScreenplay.com gives us a nice encomium on its “Research” page (scroll down to “O”) and we also figure on the “Miscellaneous” links page of DailyScript.com.

August 21-22 – Tobacco- and gun-suit reading. National Journal columnist Stuart Taylor, Jr. pens a powerful critique of the tobacco litigation (“Tobacco Lawsuits: Taxing The Victims To Enrich Their Lawyers”, Aug. 1; quotes our editor). The American Tort Reform Foundation has published a review of the state tobacco suits, with particular attention to the questionable interrelationships between private for-profit lawyers and state attorneys general; the authors are well-known Wall Street Journal editorialist John Fund and Martin Morse Wooster (“The Dangers of Regulation Through Litigation: The Alliance of Plaintiffs’ Lawyers and State Governments,” March 30, available through ATRF). Prof. Michael Krauss, of George Mason University School of Law, has written an analysis for the Independent Institute exploring the manifold legal weaknesses of the recoupment actions filed by states and cities against both firearms and tobacco makers (“Fire and Smoke”, orderable through II). And we’ve now posted online our editor’s op-ed from last month on the Florida jury’s $145 billion punitive damage award in Engle v. R.J. Reynolds (Walter Olson, “‘The Runaway Jury’ is No Myth”, Wall Street Journal, July 18).

August 21-22 – A thin-wall problem. A suburban Chicago attorney with Tourette’s Syndrome, the neurological condition that causes its sufferers to experience tics often in the form of uncontrollable utterances or gestures, is going to collect upwards of $300,000 in settlement of a lawsuit against the condominium association of which he and his wife were members. Jeffrey Marthon, 54, agreed in exchange to move out and to drop his suit contending that the association had violated fair-housing laws by attempting to evict him; the association had filed a legal action complaining of the noise from his involuntary hooting and foot-stomping. “Several neighbors said in affidavits that they were losing sleep because of noises coming from Marthon’s third-floor condo,” and engineers said it was impossible to install soundproofing to mitigate the problem. (Dan Rozek, “Man with Tourette’s cuts deal vs. condo”, Chicago Sun-Times, Aug. 18).

August 21-22 – Fit to practice? The California Supreme Court, reversing a lower panel, has unanimously ruled against granting a law license to convicted felon Eben Gossage, a scion of an affluent San Francisco family who says he’s turned his life around and is fit to become an attorney notwithstanding an extensive record of past trouble with the law, most notably a manslaughter conviction for having brutally killed his own sister (Kevin Livingston, “Convicted Killer Denied California Bar Card”, The Recorder/CalLaw, August 16). At a June hearing, Justice Joyce Kennard “made it clear she was bothered by Gossage omitting 13 of his convictions on his Bar application.” (“How Long Is Long Enough?”, June 7). Several prominent Bay Area politicians had appeared as witnesses for Gossage, among them state senate president John Burton; after the one nonlawyer member of the lower disciplinary panel dissented from the panel’s decision that Gossage should be allowed to practice law, Burton introduced and helped secure passage of a bill which abolished that nonlawyer’s seat on the panel, sending, in the view of commentator George Kraw, an unsubtle message — “Don’t antagonize important legislators” (“Friends in High Places”, July 31; Mike McKee, “Court Sounds Leery of Bar Court Shuffle”, May 4; Mike McKee, “State Bar Court Braces for Upheaval”, June 29, reprinted at Kerr & Wagstaffe LLP site). Meanwhile, at least two lawyers implicated in California’s famous “Alliance” scandal are trying to regain their licenses to practice; the “Alliance”, a covert joint venture between plaintiffs’ and defense lawyers to manufacture and prolong legal claims for which the insurers would be obliged to employ legal counsel, bilked large insurance companies out of hundreds of millions of dollars in the 1980s (Mike McKee, “Scoundrel — or Scapegoat?”, The Recorder/CalLaw, June 13; more about Alliance (Kardos CPA site)).

August 21-22 – Watch those fwds. Last month “Dow Chemical, the No. 2 U.S. chemical company, fired about 50 workers and suspended another 200 for up to four weeks without pay, for sending or storing pornographic or violent e-mail messages. ” The “range of material” involved includes “stuff that would be in a swimsuit edition” as well as more offensive material, the company says; in a fit of mercy, it did not discipline workers who merely received such material as email and did not forward it to others. Under widely accepted interpretations of harassment law, companies that fail to take action against circulation of ribaldry in the workplace face possible liability for allowing a “hostile working environment”. (“Dow Scrubs 50 for Eyeing Porn”, Reuters/Wired News, Jul. 28). Workers who imagine that their email is private, readily deleted, and secure don’t seem to realize the current state of the law and the technology, says a risk-consulting division of law firm Littler Mendelson (Chris Oakes, “Seven Deadly Email Thoughts”, Wired News, Aug. 8). Nor are “anonymous” postings to bulletin boards really anonymous once the legal actors — including private lawyers — launch their subpoenas (Carl S. Kaplan, “In Fight Over Anonymity, John Doe Starts Slugging”, New York Times, June 2; Michael J. McCarthy, “Can Your PC Be Subpoenaed?”, ZDNet, May 24; Lauren Gard, “Yahoo Hit With Novel Privacy Suit”, The Recorder/CalLaw, May 15).

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