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Iowa

Election open thread

by Walter Olson on November 5, 2014

Trial lawyer and inveterate Litigation Lobby booster Bruce Braley lost his Iowa senate bid (“He comes across as arrogant, and I think it’s because he is,” said an unnamed Democratic official.) Sen. Mark Pryor, chief Senate handler of the awful CPSIA law, lost big.

Massachusetts voters again rejected Martha Coakley, whose prosecutorial decisions we have found so hard to square with the interests of justice. The Wisconsin Blue Fist school of thought, which sees organized government employees as the natural and truly legitimate governing class, met with a rebuff from voters not only in Wisconsin itself but in neighboring Illinois (where Gov. Quinn, of Harris v. Quinn fame, went down to defeat) and elsewhere. Colorado voters rejected GMO labeling, while a similar Oregon bill was trailing narrowly this morning but not with enough votes to call.

California voters rejected Prop 46, to raise MICRA medical liability limits, require database use and impose drug testing of doctors, by a 67-33 margin, and also rejected Prop 45, intensifying insurance regulation, by a 60-40 margin (earlier).

I’ve written a lot at my Free State Notes blog about the governor’s race in my own state of Maryland, and unlike most others was not surprised at Larry Hogan’s stunning upset victory. The politics category there includes my letter to Washington Post-reading independents and moderates about why they should feel comfortable electing Hogan as a balance to the state’s heavily Democratic legislature, as well as my parody song about what I thought a revealing gaffe by Hogan’s opponent, Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown.

Jacob Sullum traces how a gambling jackpot magically became a forfeiture jackpot (also from him, a history of how forfeiture law got so bad). The Washington Post followed up last month on its multi-part, front-page exposure of forfeiture law (Tim Lynch and Scott Shackford summarize some of its findings) with an op-ed from two former DoJ officials calling for abolition of the program they once helped run; Scott Greenfield has commentary on that as well as more generally on the costs of defense in forfeiture cases and on Nassau County, N.Y.’s resumption of the seizure of cars being driven by persons arrested for drunk driving, whether or not owned by those persons.

From today’s Washington Post: “Activists and Hill staffers meet to discuss curbs to asset-forfeiture laws”. And George Leef writes in Forbes: “Time For Civil Asset Forfeiture Laws To Meet The Same Fate As Jim Crow.”

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October 3 roundup

by Walter Olson on October 3, 2014

  • Posner smacks lawyers, vindicates objectors in Radio Shack coupon settlement [CCAF, Fisher, more]
  • “Germany To Consider Ban On Late-Night Work Emails” [Alexander Kaufman, Huffington Post]
  • 7th Circuit overturns Wisconsin John Doe ruling, sends back to state judges [Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, ruling; more, Vox] John Doe case prosecutor John Chisholm, via columnist Dan Bice, strikes back against source in office who talked to Stuart Taylor, Jr. [Taylor, Althouse]
  • Trial lawyer/massive Democratic donor Steve Mostyn also dabbles in Texas Republican primaries [Robert T. Garrett, Dallas Morning News; Mostyn's national spending from Florida and Arizona to New Hampshire and Minnesota]
  • Sad: immigration lawyer known for Iraqi Christian advocacy faces asylum fraud charges [Chicago Tribune]
  • Might have been entertaining had Bruce Braley opponent Joni Ernst in Iowa argued in favor of nullification, but that’s not what evidence shows [Ramesh Ponnuru]
  • California hobbles insurers with diverse-procurement regulations [Ian Adams, Insurance Journal]

Politics roundup

by Walter Olson on July 21, 2014

  • Bruce Braley’s “farmer” gaffe might hurt long-term because it fits into a wider pattern about the would-be Iowa senator [John Tabin/Rare, earlier]
  • Disbarred ex-D.A. and longtime Overlawyered favorite Andrew Thomas running for GOP Arizona governor nomination [Phoenix New Times]
  • Did Wisconsin John Doe probe include email dragnet? Yahoo billed DA for “costs associated with subpoena compliance” [M.D. Kittle/Wisconsin Reporter, more]
  • “We need a Democratic sweep. Stay focused.” — work-hours tweet by former Federal Election Commission enforcement lawyer whose hard drive, like that of her former FEC boss Lois Lerner, now tragically missing [House Oversight report, Daily Caller]
  • Texas hurricane claims: megadonor Steve Mostyn “successfully drags state senator into TWIA lawsuit” [Legal NewsLine, TLR]
  • No more pay to play? Two Ohio lawmakers seek to curb campaign giving by law firms hired by state’s attorney general [Aurora Advocate]
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s research on medical bankruptcy may be shaky, but it’s hard to fault her taste in English sports cars [Ira Stoll, American Spectator]

Politics roundup

by Walter Olson on May 26, 2014

  • NY Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver hangs blame for a retrospectively unpopular position on the *other* Sheldon Silver. Credible? [NY Times via @jpodhoretz]
  • Julian Castro, slated as next HUD chief, did well from fee-splitting arrangement with top Texas tort lawyer [Byron York; earlier on Mikal Watts]
  • 10th Circuit: maybe Colorado allows too much plebiscitary democracy to qualify as a state with a “republican form of government” [Garrett Epps on a case one suspects will rest on a "this day and trip only" theory pertaining to tax limitations, as opposed to other referendum topics]
  • “Mostyn, other trial lawyers spending big on Crist’s campaign in Florida” [Chamber-backed Legal NewsLine; background on Crist and Litigation Lobby] “Texas trial lawyers open checkbooks for Braley’s Senate run” [Legal NewsLine; on Braley's IRS intervention, Watchdog]
  • Contributions from plaintiff’s bar, especially Orange County’s Robinson Calcagnie, enable California AG Kamala Harris to crush rivals [Washington Examiner]
  • Trial lawyers suing State Farm for $7 billion aim subpoena at member of Illinois Supreme Court [Madison-St. Clair Record, more, yet more]
  • Plaintiff-friendly California voting rights bill could mulct municipalities [Steven Greenhut]
  • John Edwards: he’s baaaaack… [on the law side; Byron York]
  • Also, I’ve started a blog (representing just myself, no institutional affiliation) on Maryland local matters including policy and politics: Free State Notes.

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Politics roundup

by Walter Olson on April 11, 2014

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Bruce Braley stumbles

by Walter Olson on March 26, 2014

Rep. Bruce Braley, a former head of the Iowa Trial Lawyers Association, has since his election been perhaps the most diligent advocate of Litigation Lobby interests in the House of Representatives. He had also been considered the front-runner for the Senate seat of departing Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, until a covert video leaked out of Braley apparently fund-raising at a trial lawyer gathering in Texas [Des Moines Register]:

To put this in stark contrast, if you help me win this race, you may have someone with your background, your experience, your voice, someone’s who’s been literally fighting tort reform for 30 years in a visible and public way on the Senate Judiciary Committee or you might have a farmer from Iowa who never went to law school, never practiced law, serving as the next chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Because if Democrats lose the majority, Chuck Grassley will be the next chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Almost nothing about the remarks — including the slighting tone toward Grassley, senior senator and a popular figure in the state — is likely to increase Braley’s appeal to Iowa voters. Dan McLaughlin writes:

As a lawyer myself, I like the idea that we should have some lawyers on the Senate Judiciary Committee and on its staff, but the whole point of democracy is that the common man gets a say in how he is governed, not just the experts. Relatedly, Braley’s stress on “your background, your experience, your voice” just emphasizes how he sees the voice and interests of trial lawyers as one that will be very different from that of farmers. …

he manages to sneak in the fact that he’s been a longstanding opponent of tort reform, and doesn’t even bother to come up with some focus-group-tested euphemism for reform. He’s bluntly telling the trial lawyers in the audience that he’s for their interests – not like those Iowa farmers.

A Grassley spokeswoman said that if it was somehow improper for a non-lawyer to lead a committee on legal matters, “a trial lawyer shouldn’t be involved in policy making about agriculture, or energy, or health care.” Per the Washington Post, “Over the course of his legislative career, Braley has raised $3.5 million from lawyers and law firms.”

And Twitter was kind of brutal:

More: James Taranto, WSJ (“So God made a lawyer”). And here’s a flashback clip where Braley badgers well-known health policy expert Sally Pipes over whether she has an advanced degree.

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  • After criticism of heavy-handed Ankeny, Iowa police raid on persons suspected of credit card fraud, not actually reassuring to be told militarized methods needed because one house occupant had firearms carry permit [Radley Balko, more, more]
  • Advocates strain mightily to fit unpopular Dunn verdict into Stand Your Ground theme [David Kopel, Jacob Sullum] More: sorry, pundits, but Rasmussen poll shows public’s plurality SYG support unshaken [Althouse]
  • “‘Drop the Cabbage, Bullwinkle!': Alaskan Man Faces Prison for the Crime of Moose-Feeding” [Evan Bernick, Heritage] “Criminalizing America: How Big Government Makes A Criminal of Every American” [ALEC "State Factor"]
  • “We’ve also bred into dogs … an eagerness to please us.” Bad news for K-9 forensics [Balko]
  • “Has overcharging killed the criminal trial?” [Legal Ethics Forum] Is the “trial penalty” a myth? [David Abrams via Dan Markel, Scott Greenfield]
  • What if cops, as opposed to, say, gun owners, were obliged by law to purchase liability insurance? [Popehat]
  • That’s productivity: North Carolina grand jury managed to crank out roughly one indictment every 52 seconds [Tim Cushing, TechDirt]

“Shannon Renee McNeal was torn from her screaming children by police who were seeking a woman with a similar name — a woman who they should have known had been murdered seven months before.” [St. Louis Post-Dispatch via Radley Balko]

More of the week’s awful-police-happenings coverage: Atlantic City beating and canine attack [Tim Lynch, Cato]; Ames, Ia. police shoot and kill son after dad calls to report he’s taken truck without permission [Des Moines Register]; “Man Dies In Jail Cell After Misdemeanor Pot Offense” [Snohomish County, Wash., severe allergies; Radley Balko again]; New Mexico man’s lawsuit alleges “worst traffic stop ever” [Jalopnik, Popehat, Lowering the Bar and more, Orin Kerr, Michelle Meyer/Faculty Lounge]

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Many — most? — Des Moines taxpayers probably don’t care all that deeply whether the city extracts taxes via one broad-based method or another. But due to class-action procedure and the barriers it erects to opting out, they all get to be plaintiffs in the resulting suit, and the lawyers (self-) appointed to bring the case are expecting to pocket 37 percent, or $15 million, of the $40 million changing hands, a sum that could amount to $1,400 an hour. [Ryan Koopmans (On Brief blog), Des Moines Register, earlier]

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April 26 roundup

by Walter Olson on April 26, 2013

  • Police in city of Manchester, U.K. say they’ll record attacks on punks, Goths as hate crimes [AP]
  • If claiming severe permanent injuries from auto mishap, best not to place well in a marathon six months later [West Virginia Record]
  • “Altering or deleting a Facebook account during litigation may be … spoliation of evidence” [Paul Kostro, Brian Wassom, Jim Dedman]
  • Note to Trademark Office: “breastaurant” is not trademarkable [David Post; earlier here, here, and here]
  • Iowa Rep. Bruce Braley, a Litigation Lobby stalwart, seeks Senate seat of retiring Harkin [DMR, earlier]
  • Meta? Lawyer files suit over a suit [the Brooks Brothers kind] [Staci Zaretsky, Above the Law]
  • Judge Shadur: “the most egregious fraud on the court … encountered in [my] nearly 33 years on the bench.” [Courthouse News]
  • Do you enjoy reading Overlawyered? Check back later today, after 9 a.m. Eastern, for a major announcement about the site!

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Ryan Koopmans summarizes a baffling Iowa Supreme Court case in which a 4-3 majority of justices decided a bowling alley owner could be sued for having thrown a customer out for insulting a second customer, who — after reacting calmly at the time — then went out to the parking lot and committed violence on his provoker:

So what are the takeaways from the Hoyt decision? For bar and restaurant owners: It’s not enough to kick out an aggressive bar patron; unless you want to pay the cost of litigation and a full trial, your employees should call the police every time one patron taunts another, or, at the very least, they should personally escort every trash-talker to his car.

The takeaway for police departments: You’re going to need more officers.

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Teresa Wagner had sued the University of Iowa’s law school alleging bias against her as an ideological conservative, but a jury ruled against her on most counts, and now the judge in the case has denied her retrial motion and granted the university’s motion to dismiss the remaining count. [AP via Adler; court opinion; comments by lawprofs Herbert Hovenkamp of U of I and David Bernstein of George Mason; earlier on this case, on which I was quoted in the press a number of times.]

  • California Supreme Court: fee shift in disabled-rights claim can go to winning defendant, not just plaintiff [Jankey v. Song Koo Lee, Bagenstos/Disability Law]
  • That’s Olsen with an “e”: “Lawmaker wants to protect cities from frivolous lawsuits over A.D.A.” [California Assemblywoman Kristen Olsen; L.A. Times] “Gas stations confront disabled-access lawsuits” [Orange County Register] Serial ADA filer hits New Orleans [Louisiana Record] ADA drive-by suits in Colorado and elsewhere [Kevin Funnell]
  • And this lawyer follows a see-no-evil policy regarding ADA filing mills: “I refuse to pass judgment on other attorneys here.” [Julia Campins]
  • Child care center could not turn away applicant with nut allergy because Iowa disabled-rights law said to have expanded its coverage of categories when the U.S. Congress expanded ADA, though Iowa lawmakers enacted no such expansion [Disability Law]
  • Feds join in LSAT accommodation suit [Recorder]
  • Official in San Francisco’s mayoral Office on Disability files disability-bias claim [KGO]
  • “Testing employees for legally prescribed medications must be done carefully” [Jon Hyman]

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Law schools roundup

by Walter Olson on November 28, 2012

  • Conservative-turned-away case: “Jurors say they saw hiring bias at U. of Iowa” [Des Moines Register, Caron, Adler/Volokh] Wagner will seek retrial [Daily Iowan]
  • David Lat on the GMU Law conference on law school and lawyer markets [Above the Law, earlier]
  • ABA accreditors defend, but tinker with, standards for minimum law school libraries [Caron]
  • “Comparative notes on German legal education” [Darryl Brown, Prawfs]
  • Spinoff of Miller-Jenkins case: Janet Jenkins sues Liberty U. School of Law charging assistance to custody-nappers, dean calls suit frivolous [ABA Journal]
  • “Law Schools Now 5-0 in Placement Data Fraud Lawsuits by Alums” [Caron] Charles E. Rounds, Jr. reviews Brian Tamanaha book [Pope Center]
  • Does Peoria, Ill. need a new law school? Surely you jest [Campos]

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Class action roundup

by Walter Olson on November 19, 2012

  • Ted Frank on Whirlpool front-loading washer class action [PoL] $1.5 million for attorneys, $41,510 for class? Judge balks at Amex gift card settlement [same] EasySaver coupon settlement “conservatively” values coupons at 85% of face value [same]
  • Cy pres: Roger Parloff on tech-defendant class-action cy pres [Fortune] Privacy groups nominated for cy pres windfall in Facebook settlement [Wired, PoL]
  • “Class-Action Lawyers Face Triple Threat At Supreme Court” [Daniel Fisher at Forbes; related, Michael Bobelian]
  • Georgia high court: company could be on hook for $456 million for sending junk faxes [UPI] Will unwanted text-message class actions be the sequel to junk-fax litigation? [Almeida, Sedgwick via WLF]
  • “Class action summer camp” series from Andrew Trask includes refreshers on key concepts such as typicality, adequacy, etc.
  • “Supreme Court Hears Arguments in Comcast” [Wajert, earlier]
  • City of Des Moines class action: we owe it to ourselves [Iowa Appeals] For another case where there was high overlap between plaintiff class members and those expected to pay damages, see Sept. 2, 1999 [Milwaukee tainted municipal water system]

Interviewed on Wagner case

by Walter Olson on November 1, 2012


Mary Reichard interviewed me about Teresa Wagner’s suit against the University of Iowa law school for the broadcast show “The World and Everything In It.” More on the Wagner case and its recent mistrial here, here, etc. Also on the politics of law faculties: is it believable that roughly 19 percent of law professors are going to vote for Romney, or is that number implausibly high? [Prof. Bainbridge; Tom Smith, Right Coast]

“A federal jury rejected Teresa Wagner’s First Amendment claim that the University of Iowa College of Law denied her a faculty position due to her conservative politics, but deadlocked over her Equal Protection claim that she was passed over in favor of less qualified candidates. The U.S. Magistrate Judge declared a mistrial on the 14th Amendment claim.” [Paul Caron, TaxProf, with many links; earlier here, etc.; Bainbridge, more, related on faculty political leanings]

I appeared in the press a fair bit commenting on the case, including Blaze TV (above) and Iowa Public Radio as well as stories in the Daily Iowan, AP, the New York Times and elsewhere.