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Geoffrey Fieger

October 31 roundup

by Walter Olson on October 31, 2014

  • “Government Is the Biggest Threat to Innovation, Say Silicon Valley Insiders” [J.D. Tuccille, Reason]
  • Acrimonious split between Overlawyered favorite Geoffrey Fieger and long-time law partner Ven Johnson [L.L. Brasier, Detroit Free Press]
  • Case against deference: “Now More Than Ever, Courts Should Police Administrative Agencies” [Ilya Shapiro on Perez v. Mortgage Bankers Association; boundary between "interpretive" and "legislative" agency rules]
  • “The Canary in the Law School Coal Mine?” [George Leef, Minding the Campus] Ideological diversity at law schools [Prof. Bainbridge and followup]
  • Familiar (to economists) but needed case against state auto dealership protection laws [Matt Yglesias, Vox; our tag]
  • Trial lawyers dump millions into attempt to defeat Illinois high court justice Lloyd Karmeier [Chamber-backed Madison County Record, Southern Illinoisan]
  • A genuinely liberal regime would leave accreditation room for small Massachusetts college that expects students to obey Biblical conduct standards [Andrew Sullivan, more]

Medical roundup

by Walter Olson on December 4, 2011

  • Talking back to the “malpractice litigation is no big deal, docs should grin and bear it” theorists [David Sack, ACP via White Coat] “Worst states for medical malpractice risk” [White Coat]
  • Jury awards $25 million against hospital that didn’t file abuse report after boy came in with broken wrist [Fayetteville, N.C. Observer]
  • “Doctors Question Disability Decisions as Agency Moves to Speed Up Process” [WSJ via Walter Russell Mead]
  • New “Federalist Society equivalents” in medicine (Benjamin Rush Society), business, foreign affairs [John J. Miller, Philanthropy]
  • Fieger wins $144 million verdict blaming hospital for newborn’s cerebral palsy [suburban Detroit Tribune]
  • Feds force birth control coverage on Catholic organizations, and free association suffers [Roger Pilon, Cato]
  • Phone call from doc to patient’s home did not establish subsequent jurisdiction to sue there [Madison County Record] NY steps up program to streamline courts’ handling of med-mal claims [WSJ]

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The latest lawsuit from Geoffrey Fieger raises the question whether the sort of mildly embarrassing episode you might once have dined out on for a few weeks now qualifies as something you should be able to retire on. Kevin Underhill wonders too.

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Oh, please let it be true for the sake of all the good copy it’ll make for us … please let it… please…. (Leonard N. Fleming, “Fieger weighs Detroit mayor bid”, Detroit News, Sept. 12).

Aficionados of the John Edwards-Rielle Hunter scandal may have noticed a new attorney’s name cropping up in news reports: Lee Rohn of the U.S. Virgin Islands. From the New York Daily News:

One day before Edwards went public with the affair, Hunter and 6-month-old daughter Frances were flown to the Virgin Islands on a chartered jet, the Enquirer reported.

The $50,000 trip was paid for by friends of Edwards. The newspaper also said she stayed at the oceanfront home of another Edwards’ pal, lawyer Lee Rohn.

(Larry McShane, “John Edwards promised Rielle Hunter they’d be together – report”, Aug. 20)(via ABA Journal)(Update: Rohn vehemently denies the Enquirer story as false, saying she neither hosted Hunter nor is close to Edwards; see below). Readers may be wondering: is Rohn yet another attorney whose doings are going to make irresistible copy for a site like this, much as with Edwards chum/Democratic moneyman/perennial Overlawyered mentionee Fred Baron? To which the answer would appear to be, “you bet”:

St. Croix attorney Lee Rohn has stirred up a chorus of criticism and complaints about her professional practices both inside and outside the courtroom.

Her most vocal critics have been opposing parties or counsel in lawsuits she has filed. They have alleged a wide spectrum of professional conduct violations.

Among Rohn’s frequent targets is Innovative Communication Corp., which runs the Virgin Islands’ local telephone provider and the islands’ newspaper, and whose lawyers say they’ve lost count of how many times she’s sued them. The company’s chairman, Jeffrey Prosser, has called in vain for Rohn’s disbarment, complaining of “intolerable” and “abusive” instances of “ethical misconduct” as well as “vitriolic” public attacks: “In some cases with us, she coerced her clients to sign documents that were knowingly false [and] ignored judge’s orders on limits of discovery inquiry during depositions,” he wrote.

In 2002, Rohn publicly blasted one of the islands’ two federal district judges, Thomas Moore, accusing him of inappropriate behavior, and Moore recused himself from some of her cases citing the antipathy. Subsequently, after she moved to demand Moore’s recusal from yet another of her cases, he refused, stating in his written ruling, “I believe attorney Rohn’s personal attack on one of the two sitting judges in this jurisdiction was nothing more than a calculated litigation tactic that would be labeled ‘judge shopping’ in most places.” Moore, who has sanctioned Rohn for insulting and profane language toward witnesses and court personnel, wrote in another case, in which the Caribbean Geoffrey Fieger “sought to compel testimony from all the federal judges in the territory”:

“Nothing Lee Rohn does surprises me anymore, although subpoenaing all the federal judges in the jurisdiction is a high point of ingenuity and creativity in attempting to manipulate the system,” Moore wrote.

“I do not believe, however, that an attorney should be allowed to use her calculated personal attack on a sitting judge as a technique to prevent that judge from presiding over any of her cases, especially in a small district with only two judges.”

A few weeks ago, it may be recalled, we looked at the question of lawyers’ public denunciations of judges and whether they do or should result in recusal by those judges. (Jason Robbins and Lee Williams, “From judges to opponents, Rohn has no shortage of harsh critics”, Virgin Islands Daily News, Mar. 29, 2004 — the newspaper, it bears repeating, and its parent company have been frequent targets of Rohn’s litigation, as in this libel case arising from her airport pot bust). Death by a Thousand Paper Cuts has more, including a picture of the Rohn villa.

The National Enquirer, which keeps breaking new developments in the story, is now reporting that “a team of six more lawyers have been involved in the coverup”. They can’t all be as interesting as Baron and Rohn, can they?

Update Fri. 8:20 p.m.: the Daily News reports Rohn categorically denies the story’s truth:

The Enquirer quoted Virgin Island pol Anne Golden as saying Hunter stayed for 10 days in an oceanfront home owned by prominent St. Croix lawyer Lee Rohn.

Rohn hotly denied that to the Daily News and vowed to sue.

“It is absolutely false,” she told The News. “The Enquirer knows the story is not true as they sat on a hill above my house for a week with telephoto lenses and video cameras and had no sighting of her. The guest cottage she was supposedly staying in is under construction and has no floor.”

Rohn said that while she donated money to Edwards, she is not friends with him. Records show she gave $2,300 to Edwards a year ago and another $2,300 to Barack Obama early this year.

(Helen Kennedy, “John’s island girl Rielle fled to St. Croix on eve of cheating flap”, Aug. 21). And — hat tip to commenter Ken Floyd — the opinions of heated Rohn critic Jeffrey Prosser, the newspaper/telephone magnate, should be evaluated in the perspective of his own controversial and colorful business record, which recently culminated in high-profile bankruptcy proceedings involving his Innovative Communication empire. Some sources on that here, here, here, and here. For more background on the recusal disputes involving Rohn and Judge Thomas K. Moore, see this Moore opinion (U.S. v. Roebuck, PDF) and this Third Circuit opinion (Selkridge v. Mutual of Omaha, 360 F. 3d 155). DBKP wishes it had been a fly on the wall during an AAJ award ceremony honoring Rohn. And see commenter #7 below who seems to have been doing considerable digging.

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August 22 roundup

by Walter Olson on August 22, 2008

  • “Law school is not such a leap” for licensed Nevada prostitute’s next career move — hey, we didn’t say that, Robert Ambrogi at Law.com did [Legal Blog Watch, Bitter Lawyer]
  • Today’s representative class-action plaintiff: “For five years, her diet consisted almost exclusively of Chicken-of-the-Sea tuna…” [PoL]
  • Prolific California disabled-access filer Jarek Molski ordered to pay fees for “scorched-earth” tactics in one case, but wins a second [Metropolitan News-Enterprise via Bashman]
  • Another sperm donor surprised by legal obligation to pay child support [Santa Fe, N.M. Reporter; earlier]
  • “Lawyer Fees Jumped 50% After Bankruptcy Law Change” [ABA Journal]
  • “Whatever it takes to win a case”, and checking out jurors’ Facebook profiles is the least of it [NLJ]
  • High-profile U.K. attorney Nick Freeman registers his nickname “Mr. Loophole” [Times Online a while back]
  • When can a plaintiff claiming sexual assault sue anonymously? Courts will apply mushy balancing test [NYLJ]
  • Hold on to your hats, looks like Geoffrey Fieger is online [Fieger Time]

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Fort Lauderdale, Fla., criminal defense attorney Sean Conway claims he was within his First Amendment rights and should not face disciplinary action over his blog comments calling one of the judges he practices before an “evil, unfair witch” who is “seemingly mentally ill”. (Jordana Mishory, “Attorney Argues His ‘Witch’ Comments About Judge Are Protected Speech”, Daily Business Review, Jul. 16; earlier). To me, this seems rather to miss the point: sure, almost everyone but a member of the local bar enjoys or should enjoy a First Amendment right to call a judge an evil, unfair witch. Lawyers admitted to practice, however, enlist as “officers of the court” with special obligations, among which may be (to name only one) to avoid the sorts of displays of enmity that might complicate future cases before that judge, as by provoking recusal. For an extreme instance, see the Geoffrey Fieger episode recounted here, here, here, and here. More on what lawyers can say about judges from Bruce Campbell (Campbell & Chadwick) at Texas Lawyer.

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July 20 roundup

by Walter Olson on July 20, 2008

  • Judge Henry Lackey, who went to feds to report bribe attempt by Dickie Scruggs associate, gets award and standing ovations at Mississippi bar convention, says he was just doing a judge’s job [NMC/Folo]
  • Related: should Ole Miss Chancellor Robert Khayat have used official university stationery for his letter pleading leniency for chum/ benefactor Scruggs? [Daily Mississippian and editorial via YallPolitics, continuing coverage at Folo; earlier]
  • Stephen Dubner: if lawyer/subscriber can sue Raleigh News & Observer over perceived decline in its quality, who’s next? [NYT/Freakonomics blog, earlier]
  • Maneuvering over retrial of Kentucky fen-phen defendants Gallion and Cunningham [Lexington Herald-Leader]
  • A Fieger sideshow: though acquitted in recent campaign laundering prosecution, controversial lawyer fared less well in lawsuit against Michigan AG Michael Cox; Sixth Circuit tossed that suit and upheld order that Fieger fork over attorney fees to Michigan Supreme Court Justice Stephen Markman over subjecting the justice to unfounded vilification [ABA Journal; fixed typo on Circuit]
  • Citing long history of frivolous litigation, federal judge in central Texas fines disbarred lawyer Charles Edward Lincoln and his client and bans Lincoln from bringing any more federal suits [SE Texas Record]
  • Faced with $18 million legal-malpractice jury verdict, Indiana labor law firm stays in business by agreeing to make token payment, then gang up on its liability insurer for the rest [Indianapolis Business Journal, Ketzenberger/Indy Star via ABA Journal]

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Detroit’s liberal newspaper voice, which supports extending campaign finance law, has this to say in an editorial:

…There is no doubt that Southfield attorney Geoffrey Fieger completely subverted [the aims of campaign law] when he essentially laundered through employees of his law firm hefty contributions to the 2004 presidential campaign of John Edwards.

But can you make a federal case out of it? A U.S. District Court jury didn’t think so, refusing Monday to convict Fieger and law partner Vernon (Ven) Johnson of doing anything illegal. So congratulations to Fieger for gaming the system and then beating it.

But that doesn’t make what he did right. …

…the system ought to have some integrity, and the limits established by law ought to be enforced. Fieger got around them by being clever, pleading ignorance, then getting a jury to see it his way. It certainly helped that the local U.S. attorney’s office had been frighteningly aggressive in its pursuit of Fieger, and that he had the cash to hire an attorney who reputedly has never lost a case. Yes, money matters in criminal justice at least as much as it does in politics.

No doubt, Fieger’s acquittal gives a little more mettle to other fat cats who want to skirt the law. It’s a victory for him, but a step back for the political process.

Fieger himself has tried to put out the line that it is only because of some mean old plot against politically active trial lawyers that he was ever prosecuted at all. If the Free Press editorial is any indication, it doesn’t look as he’s getting very far with that line. More here and here.

Further: Scott Greenfield, and Freep reporter Dawson Bell (unless your name is Geoffrey Fieger, don’t try to get away with doing what he did: “It’s still a crime.”). Ted in comments adds: “And let’s not forget the all-too-typical and appalling sight of the defendant partying with the jurors he snookered.” Per the account in the Free Press, “Champagne sat on ice at each table” in the Greektown establishment. “A stocked bar was in the corner.” Earlier on post-trial juror fraternization with winning disputants and their lawyers here, here, etc.

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Terry Carter in the ABA Journal has more on the legal background:

The straw-donor law invoked against Fieger has been around since 1972, though Congress upped the ante and made it a felony as part of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, known as the McCain-Feingold Act. In all these years there has been but one jury verdict concerning the law, before it was a felony, and it was for acquittal. (There have been several plea agreements in recent years.)

Thus no court has crafted an opinion concerning the law itself, according to some of the few experts in this narrow slice of election law.

Spence told the jury that the government tried to use snippets of law to go after Fieger, a prominent plaintiffs lawyer and former Democratic candidate for governor in Michigan, for political purposes. The campaign finance law (2 U.S.C. § 441f) says:

“No person shall make a contribution in the name of another person or knowingly permit his name to be used to effect such a contribution, and no person shall knowingly accept a contribution made by one person in the name of another person.”

The defense argued that the law, as worded, does not prohibit reimbursing people who make contributions.

If in fact Fieger’s acquittal will be cited in favor of the notion that the use of straw donors reimbursed after the fact is lawful after all, that might seem to blow a rather large hole in the side of the McCain-Feingold law — which makes it all the odder that the Fieger trial drew so little attention from either backers or critics of that law on the national level.

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Fieger gets off

by Walter Olson on June 2, 2008

All those reimbursements of employees who donated to John Edwards? Just one vast coincidence, not a purposeful way of evading federal campaign finance laws. Now that the verdict’s in, could we please repeal the campaign finance laws in question ASAP, before some less lucky soul tries the same thing and gets sentenced to time in the slammer because his name isn’t Geoffrey Fieger and his lawyer isn’t Gerry Spence? (David Ashenfelter and Joe Swickard, “Fieger, law partner acquitted of illegal political donations”, Detroit Free Press, Jun. 2).

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After three days of deliberations, it’s not clear any resolution is near in the trial of high-profile Michigan lawyer Geoffrey Fieger and a colleague on charges of massively evading campaign-finance laws (David Ashenfelter, “Fieger jury signals verdict could take a while”, Detroit Free Press, May 30). Norm Pattis, who has attended the trial (and who hopes Fieger gets off) writes as follows (May 30):

This jury was told that it is unlawful for a person to ask another to make a contribution to a political candidate and promise to reimburse them for the contribution. There is power[ful] evidence before the jury that this is precisely what Fieger did. When I see, as I did at trial, evidence that a person making $560 a week with no prior history of political contributions makes a $2,000 contribution to their boss’s candidate, I wonder. When I see the boss reimburse the employee days after the contribution, giving in a “bonus” even enough to cover payroll tax, I am more than a little suspicious. When this pattern is repeated scores of time[s], I am like Archimedes springing from his tub: “Eureka!”

A jury could easily convict Fieger.

But [celebrated defense lawyer] Gerry Spence asked them not to. In a mesmerizing performance he commanded the room as can few others. He asked for commitments from jurors, showing himself to be vulnerable so as to make jurors at ease with their own vulnerability. Spence is charisma personified.

But Spence made one mistake in his argument that could cost Fieger his freedom. “If this prosecution can happen to Fieger, it can happen to any of us,” he said. It is a powerful argument in the right case. But as jurors ponder this case, and Spence’s magic recedes, someone will, sooner or later, raise the following question: “Who was Spence talking about?” The fact is most Americans cannot conceive of giving more than $100,000 to a political candidate by using employees as strawmen. This is not a case of the Government versus Everyman. Much though it pains me to admit this, there was power in the Government’s assertion that “Fieger thinks he is smarter than you.” With wealth comes, alas, arrogance.

Perhaps forgoing a chance to reach out for libertarian allies — though no doubt wisely as a matter of criminal-defense strategy — the defendants are not taking the position that the campaign-finance restrictions are improper restrictions on political freedom that should have been struck down as unconstitutional and even now merit condemnation. Instead, to quote the Freep’s Ashenfelter, their “lawyers have said they would have never risked their legal careers or put their employees or family members in harm’s way had they known it was wrong.”

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Well, at least some doctors are hoping to discern such a trend on the strength of two data points: the case Ted has covered in which the Ohio Supreme Court struck down a $30 million verdict because of the shenanigans of attorney Geoffrey Fieger, and a Michigan case from March in which an appeals court overturned a $500,000 verdict against a Flint doctor and ordered a new trial. In the latter case the appeals court “noted the trial judge ‘valiantly and repeatedly attempted’ to restrain Konheim [Southfield, Mich., plaintiff attorney Joseph Konheim]. ‘There is a point, however, when an attorney’s deliberate misbehavior becomes so repetitive and egregious that it necessarily impacts the jury, notwithstanding the judge’s efforts. That point was reached here,’ the unanimous opinion states. It also says that Konheim belittled witnesses on the stand and made ‘irrelevant’ and ‘disparaging’ statements that diverted the jury’s attention from the case’s merits. Konheim is asking the court to reconsider.” (Amy Lynn Sorrel, “Lawyers’ misconduct triggers new liability trials”, AMedNews (AMA), May 5).

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Norm Pattis (here and here) and Scott Greenfield (here) have some highly interesting coverage of the efforts of the colorful Michigan lawyer and his defense lawyer, Gerry Spence, to turn his trial on charges of contribution-laundering into a trial of the feds’ efforts to “get” him.

New at Point of Law

by Walter Olson on April 23, 2008

Carter Wood has been doing great things lately with the National Association of Manufacturers’ Shop Floor blog, which often treats legal reform topics. Since Monday he’s also been posting up a storm guestblogging at Point of Law. Topics include: ATLA/AAJ’s juvenile pre-nose-thumbing at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s 2008 Lawsuit Climate Report (which, like similar studies from ATRA and Pacific Research Institute, tries to pick best and worst state legal environments); the employment-litigation-expanding Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (more); some thoughts on journalistic shield laws; and sundry reports from the Geoffrey Fieger trial, Florida politics, and Texas Supreme Court-watching.

April 11 roundup

by Walter Olson on April 11, 2008

  • Plenty of reaction to our Tuesday post questioning the NYT school-bullying story, including reader comments and discussion at other blogs; one lawprof passes along a response by the Wolfe family to the Northwest Arkansas Times’s reporting [updated post]
  • Geoffrey Fieger, of jury-swaying fame, says holding his forthcoming criminal trial in Detroit would be unfair because juries there hate his guts [Detroit News]
  • Another Borat suit down as Judge Preska says movie may be vulgar but has social value, and thus falls into “newsworthiness” exception to NY law barring commercial use of persons’ images [ABA Journal]
  • Employer found mostly responsible for accident that occurred after its functionaries overrode a safety device, but a heavy-equipment dealer also named as defendant will have to pay more than 90 percent of resulting $14.6 million award [Bloomington, Ill. Pantagraph]
  • New Mexico Human Rights Commission fines photographer $6600 for refusing a job photographing same-sex commitment ceremony [Volokh, Bader]
  • “Virginia reaches settlement with families of VA Tech shooting victims” [Jurist]
  • Roger Parloff on downfall of Dickie Scruggs [Fortune]
  • Judge in Spain fined heavily and disbarred for letting innocent man spend more than a year in jail [AP/IHT, Guardian]
  • Hard to know whether all those emergency airplane groundings actually improved safety, they might even have impaired it [Murray/NRO "Corner", WSJ edit]
  • “Freedom of speech is an American concept, so I don’t give it any value” — tracking down the context of that now-celebrated quote from a Canadian Human Rights Commission investigator [Volokh]
  • Who was it that said that lawyers “need to be held accountable for frivolous lawsuits that help drive up the cost of malpractice insurance”? Hint: initials are J.E. [three years ago on Overlawyered]

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January 15 roundup

by Walter Olson on January 15, 2008

  • Client’s suit against Houston tort lawyer George Fleming alleges that cost of echocardiograms done on other prospective clients was deducted as expenses from her fen-phen settlement [Texas Lawyer]
  • Preparing to administer bar exam, New York Board of Law Examiners isn’t taking any chances, will require hopefuls to sign liability waivers [ABA Journal]
  • Thanks to Steven Erickson for guestblogging last week, check out his blogging elsewhere [Crime & Consequences, e.g.]
  • “Freedom of speech” regarded as Yankee concept at Canadian tribunal? [Steyn @ NRO Corner; reactions]
  • Court rules Dan Rather suit against CBS can go to discovery [NYMag; earlier here, here]
  • Served seventeen years in prison on conviction for murdering his parents, till doubts on his guilt grew too loud to ignore [Martin Tankleff case]
  • Orin Kerr and commenters discuss Gomez v. Pueblo County, the recent case where inmate sued jail for (among other things) making it too easy for him to escape [Volokh]
  • New at Point of Law: Cleveland’s suit against subprime lending is even worse than Baltimore’s; Massachusetts takes our advice and adopts payee notification; law firm websites often promote medical misinformation; lawyer for skier suing 8-year-old boy wants court to stop family from talking to the press; Ted rounds up developments in Vioxx litigation once and then again; guess where you’ll find a handsome statue of Adam Smith; and much more;
  • Good news for “resourceful cuckolds” as courts let stand $750,000 alienation of affection award to wronged Mississippi husband [The Line Is Here; ABCNews.com]
  • Kimball County, Nebraska cops don’t know whether that $69,040 in cash they seized from a car is going to be traceable to drug traffickers, but plan to keep it in any case [Omaha World-Herald via The Line Is Here]
  • Hunter falls out of tree, and Geoffrey Fieger finds someone for him to sue [seven years ago on Overlawyered]

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December 2 roundup

by Ted Frank on December 2, 2007

  • Remember that ludicrous case where the Florida driver fell asleep, crashed his Ford Explorer, his passenger was killed, and a jury blamed Ford to the tune of $61 million? (See also Sep. 10.) A Florida court got around to reversing it, though only to grant a new trial under a variety of erroneous evidentiary rulings that prejudiced Ford, rather than because the suit was too silly to ever conceivably win in a just society. The remand goes back to the same judge that let the suit go forward and committed multiple reversible errors in favor of the plaintiff. [Ford Motor v. Hall-Edwards (Fla. App. Nov. 7, 2007); Krauss @ Point of Law; Daily Business Review; Bloomberg/Boston Globe]
  • Not really a man-bites-dog story, but Geoffrey Fieger (Aug. 25 and rather often otherwise) speaks. [ABA Journal]
  • Uh-oh: Former litigator hired to invest $100m in court cases for UK hedge fund. [Times Online]
  • The real NatWest Three deal. [Kirkendall; July 2006 in Overlawyered]
  • Homeowners fined $347,000 for trimming trees without a permit—after the Glendale Fire Department sent them a notice telling them to trim their trees for being a fire hazard. (h/t Slim) [Consumerist]
  • Disclaimers at children’s birthday parties (h/t BC) [Publishers Weekly]
  • British Christmas parades handcuffed by litigation fears. (h/t F.R.) [Telegraph]
  • Underlawyered in Saudi Arabia: A “19-year-old Saudi gang-rape victim was recently sentenced to 200 lashes and six months in jail for being in a car with an unrelated male when the attack occurred. Last week, her lawyer was disbarred for objecting too vociferously.” [Weekly Standard]
  • Don’t forget to vote for us at the ABA Journal Blawg 100.

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