Posts Tagged ‘ethics’

When prosecutors collect private grants

In Altoona, Pa., a private philanthropic group assisted by local businesses has funneled millions of dollars to local prosecutors to go after illegal drug cases [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette] Leaders of the group, called Operation Our Town, “said they don’t pressure prosecutors, and only publish the annual arrest and prosecution numbers as a way to raise funds.” Still, the practice sheds light on the changing status of privately assisted prosecutions, which were common in the Nineteenth Century but then came under an ethical cloud:

“It’s pretty much disappeared, in part because we want disinterested prosecutors who answer to the public, and not to individuals,” said Bruce A. Green, director of the Stein Center for Law and Ethics at Fordham University in New York.

Decisions by courts in California and Tennessee, among other places, have disapproved of private subsidies to prosecutors in cases where private parties had themselves been victimized by a crime or wanted to see more enforcement of obscenity laws. On the other hand, insurance and banking industry financial participation in efforts to investigate crimes like insurance fraud and bank robbery is widely accepted, although some trial lawyers have raised questions about insurers’ role.

In Key West, Fla., last year, nonprofit groups steered funds to underwrite a local prosecutor assigned to handle drunken driving cases. The arrangement died after defense attorney Jiulio Margalli sued, saying it violated state law.

“Do you want the motivation to be justice,” asked Mr. Margalli, “or do you want the motivation of the prosecutor to be a guilty verdict so that that [office] could continue to receive funding from the organization who paid them?”

March 4 roundup

“Activist theater” and the campaign against Judge Edith Jones

Tamara Tabo has some choice things to say following judges’ unanimous rebuff to a bogus ethics complaint against Fifth Circuit Judge Edith Jones: “Using professional misconduct proceedings to harm an ideological rival is worrisome. …It was weakly supported, politically motivated, self-serving, and opportunistic. It’s dirty pool.” Among jurists on the panel that recommended dismissal of the complaint was respected D.C. Circuit Chief Judge Merrick Garland, a Clinton appointee [Above the Law, opinion] We cast a dubious eye on the allegations earlier here, here, and here.

Petitioners in the case, to quote the opinion, “include the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC); the NAACP (Austin Chapter); the National Bar Association (Dallas Affiliate – J.L. Turner Legal Association); the Texas Civil Rights Project; La Union del Pueblo Entero (LUPE); legal ethics experts, and law professors specializing in judicial ethics.” They should each reflect upon the costs to an independent judiciary of leveling unsubstantiated allegations for political motives. More: Jonathan Adler.

Garlock allegations unsealed

“U.S. personal injury lawyers allegedly concealed evidence and induced clients to commit perjury to drive up asbestos-related settlements and garner bigger fees, according to lawsuits unsealed on Tuesday in the bankruptcy of a gasket maker.” [Reuters, earlier] My 1998 piece on asbestos witness-coaching is here.

The ten-bests continue

Adding to our list of lists, a few more: John Steele’s top ten legal ethics stories of 2014, National Law Journal via TaxProf’s list of ten legal education stories, and James Beck’s ten best pharmaceutical-law cases from a defense perspective, to go with the earlier list of ten worst. Daniel Schwartz has three predictions about labor and employment law (intensifying battles over NLRB; alarm at wave of regulation coming out of the administration; Supreme Court continues to meander and zigzag)

“Prosecutors Who Rent Out their Letterhead to Debt Collectors”

The American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility moves against a dubious practice. “The demand letters are effective at scaring consumers because they are sent on prosecutor letterhead and contain threats of criminal prosecution — threats that no other debt collector could make.” However, they mobilize the prosecutor’s apparent public authority on behalf of legal threats which typically the prosecutor has not reviewed individually exercising professional judgment, and they can deceive debtors about the legal status of their claimed obligation. [Deepak Gupta, Consumer Law & Policy; earlier]

Mass tort roundup

  • New Hampshire lottery: after Granite State’s MTBE contamination suits pays off big, Vermont files its own [WLF Legal Pulse]
  • Supreme Court declines to review various cases arising from Florida’s Engle tobacco litigation [Lyle Denniston, SCOTUSBlog, earlier] “U.S. Supreme Court Rejects Fen-Phen Lawyers’ Appeal of $42M Kentucky Verdict” [Insurance Journal, earlier]
  • In action against five drug firms over opioid marketing, California’s Santa Clara County partners with law firms Robinson Calcagnie, Cohen Milstein, and Hagens Berman, marking at least the tenth time the county has teamed up with outside law firms to file suits [Legal NewsLine; earlier on Chicago’s involvement in painkiller suit]
  • Lester Brickman on fraud in mesothelioma litigation [SSRN] “Plaintiff Lawyer Offers Inside Look At `Institutionalized Fraud’ At Asbestos Trusts” [Daniel Fisher]
  • “‘Light’ cigarette case vs Huck’s continues after 9 years; Two current judges had been plaintiff’s counsel” [Madison Record, ABA Journal]
  • “If honesty in the judicial system means anything, it means proceeding with candor before the tribunal, which plaintiffs’ counsel did not do during the removal proceedings.” [dissent in Peter Angelos Cashmere Bouquet asbestos case, Legal NewsLine]
  • Report on products liability and the driverless car [John Villasenor, Brookings, earlier]