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Harry Reid

Former Utah Attorneys General John Swallow and Mark Shurtleff were arrested Thursday on a combined 23 counts arising from a series of episodes in which the two men are said to have accepted cash and favors from persons with business dealings with their offices; Swallow is also accused of destroying and falsifying evidence to cover up dealings with a now-deceased entrepreneur from whom he had allegedly accepted $17,000 in gold coins. The two men, both Republicans, say they are innocent and expect to be vindicated. The Salt Lake Tribune’s coverage saves the Harry Reid angle for paragraph 19; the Las Vegas Review Journal gives it more attention, emphasizing Reid’s strong denial of any wrongdoing. Unrelated but also depressing: a former New Mexico AG and a penny stock.

Also: Meanwhile in Pennsylvania, officials have placed plaques beneath portraits of four lawmakers in the state capitol with details of their eventual criminal convictions. I have more details in a Cato post.

Sen. Harry Reid seems to have been central:

“We felt really good the last couple of days,” said the tech lobbyist. “It was a good deal—one we could live with. Then the trial lawyers and pharma went to Senator Reid late this morning and said that’s it. Enough with the children playing in the playground—go kill it.”…

Trial lawyers are heavy donors to Democratic politicians, including Reid. … The long history of the divide over other kinds of legal tort reform loomed over the bill, which was dubbed the Innovation Act in the House. The fact that it was the trial lawyers’ lobby that reportedly delivered the death blow suggests that the rift only got wider as debate dragged on.

Key Litigation Lobby allies like Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) spoke out against the legislation on the Senate floor. [Joe Mullin, ArsTechnica]

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July 14 roundup

by Walter Olson on July 14, 2010

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

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New at Point of Law

by Walter Olson on March 23, 2010

Things you’re missing if you’re not following my other site:

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March 16 roundup

by Ted Frank on March 16, 2010

  • Are you a member of Tyson chicken or H&R Block Express IRA class action settlements?
  • Jim Copland on Harry Reid and the trial bar. [NRO]
  • Jim Copland on the Ground Zero settlement, which may pay lawyers $200 million—but the judge plans fee scrutiny. [NY Post; NY Daily News]
  • Kevin LaCroix interviews the Circle of Greed authors. [D&O Diary]
  • Judgeships: Rhode Island lead paint trial lawyer in despite mediocre rating, but Sri Srinivasan out because of his clients—not Al Qaeda, but, heaven forfend, eeeevil corporations like Hertz.
  • There’s no evidence that workers on automotive brakes (which sometimes contain asbestos) get mesothelioma at a greater rate than the rest of the population, but auto companies still get sued over it. Ford fought one in Madison County, rather than settle, and won. [Madison County Record]
  • Overview of defensive medicine at work. [AP]
  • Pantsless Rielle Hunter on John Edwards: “He’s very honest and truthful.” [GQ]

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My Manhattan Institute colleague Jim Copland has an op-ed today in the WSJ explaining how current campaign finance rules magnify the influence of trial lawyers, as through the favored status of “bundling”. Excerpt:

Over the current six-year senatorial election cycle, four of the top seven donors to the campaign committee and leadership PAC of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) were plaintiffs firms. Plaintiffs firms were the top two donors to Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D., Ill.).

The first piece of legislation signed by President Obama—the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 — gutted statutes of limitation in employment lawsuits. The first legislative triumph for new Sen. Al Franken (D., Minn.), an amendment to the defense appropriations bill, foreclosed employment arbitration clauses for federal contractors.

More from Jim at Point of Law, including a mention of Trial Lawyers, Inc.: K Street–A Report on the Litigation Lobby 2010, the newest installment in the Trial Lawyers, Inc. series, which will be available later today here.

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Sean Higgins’ article quotes me today on the lameness of the Reid health bill’s allocation of $50 million to liability demonstration projects carefully screened to avoid anything that might bother the trial bar. (Earlier here and at Point of Law.) I also joined Mike Rosen on his radio show today to talk about the provision’s political role as a fig leaf for Democratic members who feel they need to say back home that they made some gesture on this topic.

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A source on Capitol Hill who asks not to be identified writes:

The “tort reform” section of Senator Reid’s substitute amendment is not merely meaningless, but is actually a significant giveaway to the trial lawyers. It is essentially a 5-year, 50-million dollar grant program to encourage states to develop more plaintiff-friendly alternatives to the current medical liability system.

Section 10607 (p.344 of the Manager’s) establishes a 5-year grant program. The program is administered by the HHS Secretary (Sebelius), in consultation with a review panel. The review panel is structured to ensure that trial lawyers are amply represented, with seats specifically reserved for “patient advocates,” “attorneys with expertise in representing patients,” and “patient safety experts.”

Grantee states will merely be required to “develop an alternative to current tort litigation” that:

(A) allows for the resolution of disputes over injuries allegedly caused by health care providers or health care organizations; and

(B) promotes a reduction of health care errors by encouraging the collection and analysis of patient safety data related to disputes resolved under subparagraph (A) by organizations that engage in efforts to improve patient safety and the quality of health care.

Nothing about this language requires that the “alternative to litigation” decreases litigation costs. And many of the “patient safety” organizations who will collect data under subsection (B) will likely be trial lawyer ["consumer" or "patient-safety"] front groups…

The conditions tied to the grants ensure that the “alternative to litigation” established under the grants will, in practice, increase doctors’ liability and trial lawyers’ paydays. Most importantly, the grantee-State is required to “provide[] patients the ability to opt out of or voluntarily withdraw from participating in the alternative at any time and to pursue other options, including litigation, outside the alternative . . . .” If the plaintiff has a unilateral right, at any time, to pull out of the “alternative” and pursue litigation, then the “alternative” will only be used when the plaintiff’s lawyer believes that the “alternative” is more plaintiff-friendly than the litigation system.

The demonstration project also cannot “limit or curtail a patient’s existing legal rights, ability to file a claim in or access a State’s legal system, or otherwise abrogate a patient’s ability to file a medical malpractice claim.” This language means that damage caps and statute of limitations reforms would likely be off the table in any “alternative to litigation” established under the grants.

The closest that the bill comes to implying that these “reforms” reduce rather than increase litigation costs is by listing “encouraging the efficient resolution of disputes” and “improv[ing] access to liability insurance” among the goals that grantee-States are supposed to advance. But other goals include “increasing the availability” of dispute resolution, and “the disclosure of health care errors.”

In conclusion, Sen. Reid’s bill spends 50-million taxpayer dollars on a grant program run by trial lawyers for the benefit of trial lawyers. The money will be spent to establish “alternatives to litigation” that are even more lucrative for trial lawyers and costly for doctors than the current broken system.

More: Point of Law. And welcome Coyote, For What It’s Worth, Darleen Click/Protein Wisdom, TigerHawk, ShopFloor, Point of Law, Cultural Offering readers.

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According to the U.S. Chamber-backed Legal NewsLine, the litigation lobby is quietly preparing to push through a $1.6 billion (with a “b”) tax break that would let contingent-fee lawyers deduct expenses as made, rather than in the year of settling a suit. American Association for Justice lobbyist Linda Lipsen says Sens. Harry Reid and Max Baucus and Reps. Nancy Pelosi and Charles Rangel are among those on board, as well as “some Republicans”, but “the problem is there is not a tax vehicle yet,” — “You cannot have a stand alone bill to help lawyers … so we have to tuck it into something.” [cross-posted, and slightly adapted, from Point of Law; updates and additional links there]

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raggedyannincustody

  • Virginia Postrel, who understands both the world of design and the world of ideas, has one of the best pieces yet on the law at her Dynamist blog. “Not since the early 1970s, has ‘regulation’–the general idea, not a specific proposal–seemed so alluring.” And this particular regulation? “It’s completely nuts”. Deploring the general blackout on the story across large sectors of the media, she also has kind words for the “exemplary” coverage found in certain other places. (Thanks!) Read the whole thing.
  • “We stopped selling over 1,000 items today because of CPSIA. No other online Catholic stores appear to be aware of the law.” [proprietor of Aquinas and More; earlier]
  • Dilemma for overseas makers of children’s items: find tactful way to announce ban on sales to U.S. customers [Etsy thread]
  • Trust us, they said: per columnist Glenn Cook with the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Majority Leader Harry Reid’s staff assured constituent Molly Orr “that some sort of broader fix is forthcoming”. Oh, well, then we can all relax. In the mean time, Congress refused to consider the reform proposal by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) during the stimulus debate, and Public Citizen gloats.
  • State attorneys general and CPSIA: they’ve got wide powers.
  • To understand how we could wind up with a law as bad as this, it helps to keep an eye on the pronouncements of CPSC Commissioner Thomas Moore — you know, the one whose resignation Congressional leaders are not demanding. Rick Woldenberg nicely skewers some of the vacuities in Moore’s public statements, including an expression of irritation that compliance with the law by February 10 was proving unfeasible given that “certain Hill staffers were assured by various segments of the children’s product industry, that there would NOT BE A PROBLEM with meeting the 600ppm standard”. (For sure, that should have settled it! It’s not as if anyone deals in children’s products who didn’t have a lobbyist present.) And in the comments section on our vintage-books post, Valerie Jacobsen points to a Moore letter of Feb. 3 (PDF) in which he proposes that some undetermined proportion of children’s books printed before 1985 “should be sequestered” until more is learned about their possible health effects. Wow.
  • Where do reporters Jayne O’Donnell and Liz Szabo of USA Today get the idea that foes of CPSIA “have given up fighting the need for” the law and instead are now just begging exemptions? I agree with Deputy Headmistress, the newspaper seems just to be “pulling this claim out of thin air“.
  • Okay, so phthalates are going to be taken out of the mix for playthings and child care goods, just to be on the safe side. What’s going to replace them, and are those replacements going to be more or less safe than phthalates were? For more on the tendency to substitute one risk for another, Google “MTBE” or “Tris” “sleepwear” or “cyclamates” “saccharin” “comparative risk”;
  • Per Carrie Lundell, the new CPSC guidelines will permit crafters of kids’ clothing to pursue their dream freely so long as the garments have no closures or embellishments of any kind. Caftans all around! More comic relief, if you call it that: Jon Stewart “Daily Show” forum, “Fenrislorsrai” and commenters (“If your 12 year old is eating lightbulbs out of a microscope, you have more serious issues.”); Smothering Parents of America Association video, DollarMovies at YouTube;
  • Blog treatment includes more from John Holbo at Crooked Timber, several posts at Popehat, Wacky Hermit on Thoreau and unjust laws, Charles Kuffner/Off the Kuff, Scholars and Rogues, Executive Pagan, Scott Greenfield;
  • A reminder: if you’re just catching up with the story, our full archive of CPSIA coverage is here. If you’d rather listen — and don’t mind something a couple of weeks old, which therefore doesn’t take into account some newer developments like the last-minute stay on enforcement of testing — With Love Designs recommends a “great podcast about the CPSIA – explains it in terms I understand.” (Aw.)

Image courtesy ShopFloor.

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January 12 roundup

by Walter Olson on January 12, 2009

  • Airline off the hook: “Couple drops lawsuit claiming United is liable for beating by drunken husband” [ABA Journal, earlier]
  • Why is seemingly every bill that moves through Congress these days given a silly sonorous name? To put opponents on the defensive? Should it do so? [Massie]
  • With police payouts in the lead, Chicago lays out more money in lawsuits than Los Angeles, Houston, Phoenix, Philadelphia, Dallas put together (but NYC still #1 by far) [Chicago Reader]
  • Who’s behind the website Asbestos.com? Bill Childs does some digging [TortsProf]
  • When not busy carrying out a mortgage fraud scheme from behind bars at a federal prison, inmate Montgomery Carl Akers is also a prolific filer of lawsuits, appeals and grievances [Doyle/McClatchy]
  • Alcohol policy expert Philip Cook on Amethyst Initiative (reducing drinking age) [guestblogging at Volokh]
  • Must Los Angeles put career criminals on public payroll as part of “anti-gang” efforts? [Patterico]
  • Some “local food” advocates have their differences with food-poisoning lawyer Bill Marler [BarfBlog, which, yes, is a food-poisoning policy blog]; Marler for his part is not impressed by uninjured Vermont inmates’ “entrails in the chicken” pro se suit [his blog; more from Bill Childs and in comments; update: judge dismisses suit]

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November 18 roundup

by Walter Olson on November 18, 2008

  • Harvard’s Charles Nesson argues that Digital Theft Deterrence and Copyright Damages Improvement Act of 1999 violates Constitution by letting civil lawyers for RIAA enforce a criminal law [AP/MSNBC, Elefant]
  • In some circles, bitter disappointment at reports that Obama camp probably won’t pursue Bush predecessors as war criminals [Paul Campos, Horton/Harper's; earlier]
  • Latest on wrangle over “exorbitant” fee: Alice Lawrence’s deposition-skipping before her death could endanger her estate’s claim against Graubard Miller law firm [NYLJ, earlier]
  • One benefit of role as law school mega-donor, as Mark Lanier is with Texas Tech, is that you get to rub (hunting-jacket) elbows with visiting Supreme Court justices [WSJ law blog]
  • Lou Dobbs and Phyllis Schlafly were among those who pushed bizarre theory of secret conspiracy to merge U.S. into “North American Union” with Canada and Mexico [John Hawkins]
  • Senate Dems plan to abolish secret ballot for installing unions in everyone else’s workplace, so how come they insist on one for themselves in deciding how to handle Joe Lieberman? [Dan Riehl via McArdle]
  • Congrats to historian Rick Brookhiser and City Journal editor Myron Magnet, among recipients of 2008 National Humanities Medal [White House release, Brian Anderson, NRO]
  • Jarek Molski, California entrepreneur of disabled-access complaints, loses bid for Supreme Court review of his designation as vexatious litigant [AP, Bashman]

Amid deep and growing divisions among Senate Democrats, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) last night abruptly withdrew [the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that would have also] granted the nation’s telecommunications companies retroactive immunity from lawsuits charging they had violated privacy rights.

(Jonathan Weisman and Paul Kane, “Telecom Immunity Issue Derails Spy Law Overhaul”, Washington Post, Dec. 18). Reid had previously promised to pass the bill this month, but a handful of Democratic senators, most notably Dodd and Kennedy, threatened to block the bill because of the immunity provision. Reid had the votes to pass it (a filibuster attempt failed 76-10), but chose not to. Earlier: Nov. 5 and Oct. 31.

Update: Were the government’s actions were illegal? Maybe, though reasonable minds can differ. But the question is different from the one of the dynamic consequences of finding private liability here. If corporations are held liable every time they agree to cooperate with the government on a national-security issue that is potentially ambiguous, they just won’t cooperate at all without a court order. Perhaps that is the rule we want going forward. But if so, that policy choice should be the decision of Congress, not of unaccountable trial lawyers—and if it is the rule Congress wants, they should state it explicitly, so voters can hold them accountable for the consequences, rather than hiding behind trial-lawyer surrogates that later reward them for the earmarks to the trial bar. Should trial lawyers make terrorism policy?

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April 2 roundup

by Ted Frank on April 2, 2007

  • Illinois Justice Robert R. Thomas libel ruling award reduced to $4 million, but otherwise upheld by trial judge. “Essentially, the chief justice is still taking advantage of the system he dominates by trying to grab a personal windfall just because an opinion column in a newspaper speculated about politics on the bench.” (earlier) [Chicago Tribune; update from Lattman with opinion]
  • Alabama woman claims Starbucks coffee caused burns when she spilled on herself, sues. But I thought only Albuquerque McDonald’s coffee could cause burns? [Birmingham News (h/t P.E.)]
  • Update: Amway claims jurors in Utah case based $19.25 million award (Mar. 21) on number of P&G lawyers sitting at the table and engaged in improper averaging to reach nonunanimous result. [Salt Lake Tribune]

  • Copyright claimed in hedge-fund advertising brochure posted by blog [DealBreaker; Reuters]
  • N.D. Cal. federal judge: National Environmental Policy Act can be used to make speculative global-warming arguments against overseas government investment. [AP/Forbes]
  • Honor among thieves? Law firms turn on Milberg Weiss [press release]
  • Lawyer-to-the-stars Marty Singer (Dec. 9, Jan. 27, 2006) was also paid $25k from Senator Harry Reid’s campaign fund in failed attempt to squash AP coverage of fishy land deal. [WaPo]
  • Consumer World head has an idea that is so good, it must be mandated. [Kazman @ CEI Open Market]
  • This date in Overlawyered. 2001: NY legislature refuses to act on accident fraud. 2002: Roger Parloff on 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund. 2004: Reparations claims against the British over 19th century actions. 2006: $1M for the first fifteen minutes of unlawful detention, $1M/year thereafter.

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I’ve got an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal (also, conveniently, featured on the Journal’s mostly-free companion site OpinionJournal.com), pointing out that retiring Justice O’Connor was remarkably outspoken in criticizing the evils of excessive litigation, and suggesting that President Bush may wish to pick a successor who shares these concerns. I also discuss some very revealing comments made by the Senate minority leader last week: as OpinionJournal.com sums up the implications, “Harry Reid may be willing to give up Roe v. Wade to get a trial lawyer on the Supreme Court”. (Walter Olson, “The Next Sandra Day”, OpinionJournal.com, Jul. 7; same article at subscriber-only WSJ site).

[click to continue…]

I’ve got a review in Sunday’s New York Post of Ken Foskett’s new biography “Judging Thomas”. (“Thomas’s Trials and Triumph”, Dec. 19). In his more than readable book Foskett concentrates on the remarkable life story of Clarence Thomas and makes next to no effort to evaluate his jurisprudence; but (contra Sen. Harry Reid) it’s not hard these days to find legal analysts who, while disagreeing with much of what Thomas stands for, acknowledge that he represents that viewpoint with much skill on the Court. For a sampling of such views, see David J. Garrow, “Saving Thomas”, The New Republic, Oct. 19, and, among bloggers, Gabe (“Unlearned Hand”) (Dec. 6) and Dispatches from the Culture Wars (Dec. 7). Also see Stephen B. Presser, “Touting Thomas”, Legal Affairs, Jan.-Feb. (more generally favorable view).

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Supported by a Reid

by Walter Olson on December 1, 2004

New Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) is sounding conciliatory toward the Republican majority on some issues, but not on litigation reform, where he’s hinting at a Daschle-like line of hard-core resistance. Reid appears to have plenty of friends in the Litigation Lobby: OpenSecrets.org reports that of his top seven contributors, five are casino companies that operate in his home state of Nevada, while the other two are plaintiffs’ law firms SimmonsCooper (Madison County, Ill.) and Baron & Budd (Dallas) (more). The increasingly invaluable Madison County Record has more, quoting unnamed sources who tell it that Reid “has long been a regular on the SimmonsCooper corporate jet”. (“Follow the Leader: East Alton Clout”, Nov. 21). Update Dec. 7: more on Madison County Record.