“The builders of the world’s biggest particle collider are being sued in federal court over fears that the experiment might create globe-gobbling black holes or never-before-seen strains of matter that would destroy the planet. … The Large Hadron Collider, or LHC, is due for startup later this year at CERN’s headquarters on the French-Swiss border.” Among the concerns of critics who are suing in federal court in Hawaii: “Could quarks recombine into ‘strangelets’ that would turn the whole Earth into one big lump of exotic matter?” (Alan Boyle, CosmicLog, MSNBC, Mar. 27; Dennis Overbye, “Asking a Judge to Save the World, and Maybe a Whole Lot More”, New York Times, Mar. 29).
More: Sundries Shack (“For goodness sake, one of the plaintiffs calls himself an ‘author and researcher on time travel'”); Adler @ Volokh. The liberal site Lawyers, Guns & Money, perhaps serving in this instance as a Strange Attractor, attracts a commenter who seems to agree with the lawsuit-filers that it’s better to be safe than sorry — the Precautionary Principle lives! And from our comments, links to the complaint, Ted on jurisdiction, and thoughts on the effectiveness of litigation in obtaining free publicity.
Environmental groups keep suing the United States Navy (See: Oct. 2004, Jul. 2006, and Mar. 2006) over its use of sonar, on the speculative theory that sonar hurts whales. Now they’re at it again, filing a lawsuit yesterday in federal court in Hawaii. This time it’s Earthjustice, suing on behalf of the Ocean Mammal Institute, the Animal Welfare Institute, KAHEA, the Center for Biological Diversity, and the Surfrider Foundation, trying to stop naval exercises off the coast of Hawaii. (PDF copy of complaint.)
Regardless of what one thinks of the merits of using sonar or privileging whales over national security, it’s absurd that federal judges — experts, we think, neither in marine biology nor submarine warfare — should be the ones deciding these policy questions. But it’s more absurd that these issues get to be relitigated over and over and over again. Of course environmental groups are the ones filing these repeated lawsuits, but in the big picture, the blame for this situation should be laid at the feet of Congress, which passes vague environmental laws which create broad standing allowing infinite numbers of random bystanders to sue without having to suffer tangible personal harm. (“I like looking at whales.”) And, perhaps worse than the vagueness of the laws is the fact that so many of these laws simply exist to create a zillion procedural hoops to jump through. (To provide an idea of these hoops, this complaint alone alleges the following causes of action:
- Failure to provide public notice and an opportunity to comment in violation of Administrative Procedure Act and National Environmental Policy Act
- Failure to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement in violation of Administrative Procedure Act and National Environmental Policy Act
- Issuance of an inadequate Environmental Assessment in violation of Administrative Procedure Act and National Environmental Policy Act
- Issuance of an inadequate Biological Opinion in violation of Administrative Procedure Act and Endangered Species Act
- Failure to consult with the Hawaii State Coastal Zone Management Program For Undersea Warfare Exercises in violation of Administrative Procedure Act and Coastal Zone Management Act
Have your eyes glazed over yet?)
Whatever the appropriate policy balance to be struck here, it should probably be determined by Congress, and it should definitely be decided once and for all, rather than each and every time a submariner sneezes. If the Navy is to be required to use specific types of sonar or other equipment, or is to be denied permission to operate in certain locales, or whatever, then there ought to be a statute or regulation which spells these rules out explicitly, rather than allowing activist groups to rush to court on a weekly basis to get a judge to decide.
…we debunked a debunking of Bodine v. Enterprise High School, the most famous burglar that fell through the skylight lawsuit. (The promulgator of the original fake debunking promised a comprehensive response “in the next week”, though, 26 weeks later, we haven’t seen it.)
Now, Hawaii is considering legislation similar to California’s that would give immunity to property-owners sued by people injured in the course of committing particular felonies, though it’s not clear to me that it would apply to unarmed burglary, which seems to only be a “Class C” felony in Hawaii.
Oh well, at least it’s not as intrusive as driving around their neighborhoods and interviewing their acquaintances:
[Bob] Marx, a personal injury attorney at The Law Offices of Robert Marx in Hilo, Hawaii, regularly hires a handwriting expert to help him select a jury.
“I feel like it’s a significant competitive edge,” he said. “It’s not 100 percent accurate, but if you know some history or a little bit more about a potential juror together with this analysis, it helps a whole lot more.”
Since the mid-1990s, Marx has paid an expert to analyze jurors’ handwriting for all of his big trials. The findings help paint a picture of the jurors and point out characteristics such as whether they are likely to be leaders or followers, if they are analytical or visual, or toward which side they are likely to be sympathetic.
Marx’s last three juries awarded a total of $31 million, and he said handwriting analysis helped him.
(Vesna Jaksic, “Looking for Clues in a Juror’s ‘John Hancock'”, National Law Journal, Feb. 27).
Readers who follow the phenomenon of ADA filing mills (Dec. 7, etc.) may recall the case of West Coast attorney Theodore Omholt, who has filed hundreds of legal complaints against businesses for violations (trivial or otherwise) of disabled-access laws, which he then settles for cash. In Honolulu, according to one news report, Omholt filed 574 lawsuits. (Carolyn Said, “Controversial disability rights lawyer”, San Francisco Chronicle, Apr. 21, 2002.) Omholt then refocused his practice on California where he sent out the following letter, quoted in my article three years ago in City Journal:
I am the attorney (age 48) who for the past three years has had the privilege to represent a small action group of six wonderful individuals who use wheelchairs age 37 to 66. . . . Their shopping at inaccessible stores in San Francisco and then filing lawsuits as clients of mine against those inaccessible stores nets them each an income which makes them financially independent. For each of them, the lack of funds which used to limit them to life’s bare necessities and which plagues so many disabled individuals today has become only an unpleasant memory from the past. As a reward for implementing the law and making stores more accessible for other disabled shoppers, group members now use their stream of income to eat out at good restaurants when they want to, buy new clothes and computers and televisions and gifts for family members, travel and take vacations wherever and whenever they want to go, and live a lifestyle they could only imagine prior to joining the group. . . . The group has room for a small number of additional members. Once that small number of additional members has been selected, the group will again close to new members.
Alas, even the most thoughtfully devised business plans sometimes meet with a hitch. Reader W.R. alerts us to this copy of Supreme Court minutes (PDF) from San Francisco, dated May 10 of last year, which at page 51 reports the following:
S143253 OMHOLT ON RESIGNATION — The voluntary resignation of TED OMHOLT, State Bar No. 92979, as a member of the State Bar of California is accepted without prejudice to further proceedings in any disciplinary proceeding pending against respondent should he hereafter seek reinstatement. It is ordered that he comply with rule 955 of the California Rules of Court and that he perform the acts specified in subdivisions (a) and (c) of that rule within 30 and 40 days, respectively, after the date this order is filed.* Costs are awarded to the State Bar. *(See Bus. and Prof. Code, §6126, subd. (c).)
It’s too bad the minutes aren’t more informative about the circumstances surrounding Mr. Omholt’s voluntary resignation from the California bar. Readers familiar with the details are welcome to illuminate matters.
UPDATE: Omholt writes to dispute the accuracy of certain details in the Honolulu account; seeing no reason to doubt his word, we have revised the post to omit those details.
From a New York Times article on the city of Los Angeles’s decision to curtail the planting of palm trees along public streets and parks, one reason being that the majestic plants have been known to drop bulky fronds on persons below:
“Hawaii has a lot of coconut tree liability problems because they fall on people’s heads,” he said. “But the people there have said, ‘That is something that we have to accept.’”
(Jennifer Steinhauer, “City Says Its Urban Jungle Has Little Room for Palms”, Nov. 26). See also Jun. 11 (similar, from Torquay, England). More on coconut liability, in both cases relating to the decorated Mardi Gras variety: Mar. 4, 2005 (thrown at parade spectators); Mar. 13-14, 2002 (copyright claim).
The American Bar Association, which is holding its annual meeting in Hawaii next week, has shied away from co-sponsoring the National Lawyers on Longboards Surfing Contest. “They were freaked out about the liability issue related to a surf contest, even though we had liability insurance and everything,” said Honolulu attorney Lea Hong, an organizer of the event. Instead, the Hawaii state bar and LexisNexis will be serving as sponsors. Hong says “participants have signed what she calls ‘a pretty serious liability waiver'” and the contest rules have been drafted with an eye to making them loophole-free given the nature of the contestants. The competition used to be called the Land Shark Contest, but Hong says “that seemed a little too negative”. (Stewart Yerton, “Liabilities scare lawyers’ group away from surf meet”, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Jul. 26).
Now that litigators from the National Resources Defense Council have won a temporary restraining order from a federal judge under the terms of the National Environmental Policy Act, the U.S. Navy says it will employ less effective passive sonar, rather than active sonar, in exercises off Hawaii intended to simulate anti-submarine warfare. The NRDC complained that when the Department of Defense granted the Navy a temporary exemption from the Marine Mammals Protection Act for purposes of the exercises, it was trying to evade being sued. (” Whale lawsuit forces Navy to change sonar plan”, AP/CNN, Jul. 5). “The Navy, in a statement after the ruling, said sonar was ‘the only effective means we have to detect and quickly target hostile submarines and keep sea lanes open,’ and that sonar operators needed training at sea ‘to protect our nation’s ships, shores and allies.’…. The sonar use is meant to test whether quiet, diesel-powered submarines like those used by Iran, North Korea and China can be detected.” (Tony Perry, “Judge Temporarily Bars Navy From Using Sonar Said to Harm Whales”, Los Angeles Times, Jul. 4) “The Navy says it must practice hunting submarines near the Hawaiian islands because that’s the type of environment where it most likely will face an emerging threat of submarine warfare.” (AP/Houston Chronicle, Jul. 4)(& welcome readers from Michelle Malkin, who provides more background on the controversy).
Assumption of risk wins one in Hawaii: “A golfer may not be held liable for mistakenly hitting another golfer with an errant golf ball, the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled.” Ryan Yoneda sued after being hit in the left eye by Andrew Tom’s wayward ball at Mililani Golf Course, but “Chief Justice Ronald Moon wrote Yoneda assumed the risk of the injury when he played golf.” However, the court did allow a lawsuit to proceed against the course owner on grounds of negligent design. (AP/San Francisco Chronicle, May 16; Ken Kobayashi, “Golf at your own risk, court rules”, Honolulu Advertiser, May 15).
Over-riding the Governor’s veto, the Kansas legislature has enacted a “Shall Issue” law for issuing licenses to carry a concealed handgun for lawful protection. Before, Kansas was one of only four states without any provision for issuing concealed handgun licenses. One of the remaining three states, Nebraska, appears poised to enact a similar law, which the Governor has said he will sign.
Kansas is now among the 39 states which have a fair procedure to allow citizens to carry handguns for protection. Along with the three states (Nebraska, Wisconsin, IIllinois) that currently do not issue permits, eight other states issue permits according to the whim of a local official (Hawaii, California, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Delaware). A Shall Issue bill is moving through the legislature in Delaware. Rhode Island already has a Shall Issue law, although the law is nullified by administrative practice.
In Wisconsin, a Shall Iissue bill has been vetoed twice, with the vetos sustained by only one or two votes. In every state where Shall Issue proponents have gotten as close as they have in Wisconsin, the state has always eventually enacted a Shall Issue law–although sometimes the process can take a while.
So of the eleven remaining states that are not Shall Issue, two of them (Nebraska and Wisconsin) are nearly certain to change at some point in the future, and there is reasonable possiblity of change in Delaware. All that Rhode Island needs to change is the election of Attorney General who will not interfere with the state law that local goverments must issue carry permits to qualified applicants.
So the number of Shall Issue states could be 43 in the not too distant future. In the seven hold-out states, Shall Issue has passed one body of the legislature at least once in the three largest states: California, New York, and Illinois.
Every year, more and more Shall Issue states create “reciprocity” with each other, so that a person with a permit from her home state can carry her firearm lawfully in a other state while visiting. Currently, a carry permit issued by one state is valid in over half of all states. (See Packing.org for details.)
As the combined total of “no issue” or “whimsical issue” states declines into the single digits, and reciprocity continues to spread, it seems hard to deny that America is concluding that Shall Issue is sensible gun control — one that regulates firearms carrying but does not infringe the right to self-defense.
For more on the Kansas law, see this excellent article in the Wichita Eagle.
You’d think one advantage of electing a Texas oil guy as president would be that, when prices at the pump react to a genuinely massive supply disruption as supply and demand predict they will, he’d know better than to direct public anger toward the ill-defined offense of “price gouging”. Apparently you’d be wrong, though:
“I think there ought to be zero tolerance of people breaking the law during an emergency such as this -– whether it be looting, or price gouging at the gasoline pump, or taking advantage of charitable giving or insurance fraud,” Bush said. “And I’ve made that clear to our attorney general. The citizens ought to be working together.”
(Adam Nossiter, “More National Guardsmen are sent in”, AP/San Diego Union-Tribune, Sept. 1). More: Mark Kleiman got there first (Sept. 1)(via Julian Sanchez). See also Dan Mitchell of Heritage at C-Log (Aug. 31). And Don Boudreaux, after thanking Hawaiian pols, wonders (Aug. 29):
Would it make sense to haul before Congress a group of real-estate agents, or a few homeowners, or some home-builders to accuse them publicly of causing the recent surge in real-estate prices?
Yet more, this time from Jane Galt (Sept. 1): “Prices of everything rise after a disaster, and a good thing too, since that encourages people and material to flood into the damaged area, where they’re needed most.”
Gail Heriot continues on the case with new posts Aug. 29 and Aug. 30. See Jun. 23, Jul. 13.
Michelle Malkin has the latest (Jul. 12).