Via Kirkendall, Carl Icahn talks about litigating in a judicial hellhole against Joe Jamail. NSFW, but a spectacular punchline.
More on Jamail.
The Houston Chronicle has more on Joe Jamail’s defeat of John O’Quinn in the expense-ethics battle earlier detailed in this space (Jul. 19, etc.). Several of the experts quoted seem at pains to minimize the seriousness of O’Quinn’s ethical lapse, but there’s a good quote at the end from Dallas legal-malpractice lawyer Randy Johnston: “When John O’Quinn goes up against Joe Jamail, I promise you, it isn’t all about the money.” Why? Because it’s about the ego too. (Mary Flood, “Legal trend of leveling suits against fellow litigators likened to cannibalism”, Houston Chronicle, Jul. 21)(via ShopFloor).
As we reported in April, trial lawyer John O’Quinn is subject to a potential contempt hearing for allegedly improperly withholding $18.9 million of settlement money from his breast implant clients. It turns out that this wasn’t the first mention of the scandal in Overlawyered. In August 1999, Walter reported:
As one of the wealthiest and most successful plaintiff’s lawyers ever, Houston’s John O’Quinn has been known to call press conferences at which he’s leveled charges highly damaging to his opponents’ reputations, accusing them (for example) of conspiring to “remain silent, conceal or suppress information” about problems with their products and operations. So what happened June 4 when O’Quinn was himself sued by a group of unhappy former breast-implant clients seeking class-action status against him? As Brenda Jeffreys reported in the June 14 Texas Lawyer, O’Quinn “didn’t hesitate before pummeling the class action lawyers with a libel suit” charging the lawyers with “encourag[ing] the news media to disseminate false, slanderous and libelous comments about Plaintiff” — said encouragement consisting of their press release about the lawsuit, and the press conference they were planning that would have explained it further.
Had the lawyers challenging O’Quinn succeeded in holding their press conference, interesting questions might have been aired. Their suit charges that a group of women numbering at least 2,000 were wrongfully overcharged tens of millions of dollars in claimed expenses, and that the firm of O’Quinn and Laminack breached its fiduciary duty to them; it sought a fee forfeiture totaling $580 million. But O’Quinn’s firm rushed to court to ask for a temporary restraining order to prevent the lawyers from holding a press event, and on June 7, while a judge was considering that motion, they agreed to a gag order and called off the conference they’d scheduled for that day. The whole process — from the first public notice of the suit to the gag order in hand — had taken only three days. “O’Quinn’s quick action may have prevented a firestorm of public attention to the class action suit,” writes the Texas Lawyer’s Jeffreys. It is not recorded whether any of the defendants O’Quinn has sued have ever tried, let alone succeeded in, such a tactic against him.
Here’s an entertaining wrinkle we haven’t reported: the case was sent to an arbitrator, because trial lawyer O’Quinn had required his clients to sign a binding arbitration agreement in the event of disputes! (The irony here is far greater than any Judge Bork personal injury suit.)
The Houston Chronicle reports that the three Houston attorneys on the arbitration panel determined in March that O’Quinn’s deduction was not authorized by his contracts with his clients, and that they are now deciding damages. The former clients, now represented by Joe Jamail, are asking for O’Quinn to completely disgorge all of his fees, a legitimate possibility under the Burrow v. Arce decision, which would be over half a billion dollars. Arbitration decisions are generally not appealable. It’s unclear what has happened to O’Quinn’s countersuit against his clients alleging libel. (Mary Flood, “O’Quinn’s law clients win round against him”, Houston Chronicle, Jun. 9 (h/t W.F.)).
Arbitration is generally quicker than litigation, but O’Quinn seems to have successfully stalled this case for over seven years, not to mention avoid any publicity from it. To date, we are the only media source that has even mentioned the contempt hearing.
The notorious Joe Jamail/Edward Carstarphen deposition video (Apr. 8, Apr. 27) has been getting another round of attention thanks to new links from Andrew Sullivan and Dale Carpenter. Among a number of interesting reader comments at the latter site is this from John Steele (excerpt):
…For years now, I’ve been having my students do dramatic readings of both the famous Jamail depos. The reaction is usually a mixture of laughter and disgust. If anyone wants the two transcripts, shoot me an email….
A belated viewing of the now infamous deposition video (see Apr. 8) stirs memories for Prof. Bainbridge of a few highlights from the suave and distinguished career of zillionaire Houston litigator Joe “You could gag a maggot off a meat wagon” Jamail (Apr. 20). In comments, “Thief” of “Thief’s Den” points out that famously civility-challenged lawprof Brian Leiter holds the “Joseph D. Jamail Centennial Chair in Law” at the University of Texas, Austin.
Dignity of the profession dept.: this YouTube video of the famed Texas lawyer and UT benefactor in action is making the rounds (warning: offensive everything). It’s discussed by BrainWidth, Froomkin, Childs, Hurt, Kirkendall, Caron, Metafilter, etc. One of those present
The man in the chair is named Edward Carstarphen. [note: a commenter says we erred in initially reporting that Carstarphen was the witness being deposed; see also David Stone, Apr. 11]. For more on Mr. Jamail’s record as a paladin of civility, see Apr. 19, 2000 (“gag a maggot off a meat wagon”). Update: link changed to working YouTube location, see Jan. 9, 2007.
Florida class action (Engle), 2003: “A $710 million loose end“, Jun. 24; ““Trial lawyers get spanked’“, May 24-26; “Court overturns $145 billion Engle award“, May 22-23. 2001: “Angles on Engle“, May 24. 2000: “‘Not even thinking about’ fees“, Aug. 11-13; “Smoking and responsibility: columnists weigh in“, Jul. 28-30; “‘Poll: majority disapprove of tobacco fine’“, Jul. 24-25; “Florida verdict: more editorial reaction“, Jul. 24-25; “Smoking and responsibility: columnists weigh in“, Jul. 28-30; Editorial roundup“, Jul. 19-20; “Florida tobacco verdict“, July 18; “Tobacco: why stop at net worth?” (punitive damage rulings by judge), Jul. 10; “Another Mr. Civility nominee” (Stanley Rosenblatt), Jun. 2-4. 1999: “$49 million lawyers’ fee okayed in case where clients got nothing” (secondhand smoke class action), Sept. 28; “Personal responsibility takes a vacation in Miami“, Jul. 8; “The Florida tobacco jurors: anything but typical“, Wall Street Journal, Jul. 12, 1999.
Tobacco fees reconsidered, 2003: “Senate panel nixes tobacco-fee clawback“, May 9-11; “Feds indict former Texas AG“, Mar. 8-9; “‘Not a pretty picture’“, Jan. 10-12. 2002: “Judge overturns $1.3 billion tobacco fee award” (Castano Group), Sept. 27-29; “Welcome Fox News viewers/ readers“, Aug. 2-4; “Tobacco fees: one brave judge” (New York), Jul. 30-31 (& Aug. 2-4, Jun. 21-23, Oct. 16-17, Oct. 25-27, 2002; Feb. 11 & Jun. 6-8, 2003; May 11, 2001).
“‘Lawyers who won $10 bil. verdict had donated to judge’“, Apr. 30, 2003; “A bond too far“, Apr. 4-6; “Appeals bonds, again“, Apr. 2-3; “Mad County pays out again” (“light” cigarette class action), Mar. 24, 2003.
“‘Nanny Bloomberg’” (NYC smoking ban), Oct. 22, 2002.
Tobacco fees, state by state, 2003: “‘Law firms in tobacco suit seek $1.2b more’” (Mass.), May 19 (& Jan. 2-3, 2002, Dec. 22, 1999); “Feds indict former Texas AG“, Mar. 8-9 (& May 22, Sept. 1-3, 2000; Jun. 21, Aug. 29-30, Nov. 12, 2001, Jul. 15, Jul. 30-31, 2002; Jan. 10-12, 2003). 2002: “Judge overturns $1.3 billion tobacco fee award” (Castano Group, California), Sept. 27-29; “Tobacco fees: one brave judge” (N.Y.), Jul. 30-31 (& Aug. 2-4, Jun. 21-23, 2002, Oct. 16-17, 2002, Feb. 11, 2003, May 11, 2001); “Dewey deserve that much?“, Mar. 6; “Mass., Ill., NYC tobacco fees“, Jan. 2-3. 2001: “Michigan tobacco fees“, Sept. 19-20; “Tobacco-fee tensions” (Fla. resumes investing in tobacco cos.), Jun. 21 (& letter to editor, Jul. 6); “Missouri’s tagalong tobacco fees“, Jun. 5 (& Sept. 21, 2000); “‘Lungren now a paid advocate for his former foes’” (Calif.), Apr. 5; “(Another) ‘Monster Fee Award for Tobacco Fighters’” (Calif. cities and counties), Mar. 21-22; “Reclaiming the tobacco loot“, Mar. 15; “Lawyers get tobacco fees early“, Mar. 5; “Tobacco arbitrator: they all know whose side I’m on“, Feb. 16-19. 2000: “Beehive of legal activity: Utah tobacco fees“, Nov. 6; “South Carolina tobacco fees: how to farm money“, Oct. 25; “Gore amid friendly crowd (again)” (Fla.), Apr. 12 (& “Dershowitz’s Florida frolic?“, Jul. 17; also see Dec. 8-10, 2000, Aug. 8-9, 2000, Dec. 27-28, 1999); “Sooner get rich” (Oklahoma), Jun. 7; “‘Lawyers’ tobacco-suit fees invite revolt’” (Ohio), May 23; “North Carolina (& Kentucky & Tennessee) tobacco fees“, May 2; “Connecticut AG has ‘no idea’ whether lawyers he hired are overcharging“, Feb. 3 (& update Feb. 16); “Pennsylvania tobacco fees: such a bargain!“, Jan. 10 (& Oct. 24, 2002). 1999: “Maryland’s kingmaker” (Peter Angelos), Oct. 19 (& Dec. 9, 1999, Oct. 16-17, 2000, June 21, 2001, Apr. 10, 2002); “Illinois tobacco fees“, Oct. 16-17; “My dear old tobacco-fee friends” (Kansas AG, like Connecticut’s, gave tobacco business to her old law firm), Oct. 11 (see also Sept. 21, 2000); “Boardwalk bonanza” (N.J.), Oct. 1-3; “News judgment“, Aug. 6; “Puff, the magic fees” (Wisc.), Jul. 13.
Tobacco-fee tycoons, 2003: “Class action lawyer takes $20 million from defendant’s side” (Joseph Rice), Mar. 15-16; “‘Not a pretty picture’“, Jan. 10-12; 2002: “Rumblings in Mississippi” (Scruggs, Minor), Oct. 9-10 (& Nov. 6); “Judge overturns $1.3 billion tobacco fee award” (Castano Group), Sept. 27-29. 2001: “Settle a dispute today” (O’Quinn vs. Jamail), Sept. 18; “Ness monster sighted in Narragansett Bay” (Rhode Island, Ness Motley), Jun. 7 (& see Oct. 6-9, 2000, July 17, 2000, Nov. 1, 1999). 2000: “Punch-outs, Florida style” (Robert Montgomery), Nov. 17-19 (& see Aug. 8, April 12, 2000; Aug. 21-22, 1999); “Friend to the famous” (Williams Bailey), Oct. 12; “Senator Lieberman: a sampler” (voted to curb tobacco fees), Aug. 8-9; “Trial lawyer candidates” (Minnesota’s Ciresi), Jul. 6 (& update Sept. 15-17; loses primary bid); “‘Lawyers’ tobacco-suit fees invite revolt’” (USA Today editorial), May 23. 1999: “Who’s afraid of Dickie Scruggs?“, Dec. 2; “Maryland’s kingmaker” (Peter Angelos), Oct. 19 (& Dec. 9, 1999, Oct. 16-17, 2000, June 21, 2001); “The Marie Antoinette school of public relations” (tobacco lawyers pose for photo shoot on their yachts, horse farms, etc.), Aug. 21-22; and see lawyers’ campaign contributions.
Humor: “Dave Barry on tobacco settlement, round III“, Sept. 16-17, 2002; “Dave Barry on tobacco suits, round II“, March 16, 2000; “Dave Barry on federal tobacco suit“, Oct. 26, 1999; “Cartoon that made us laugh” (“….We can’t take those off the market! Dangerous products are a gold mine for the government!”), Jan. 21-23, 2000.
Terms of state tobacco settlement, 2003: “Appeals bonds, again“, Apr. 2-3. 2002: “We did it all for the public health, cont’d” (Alabama devotes more proceeds to tobacco farmers than to smoking reduction), Aug. 22; “Tobacco settlement funds go to tobacco promotion” (N.C.), Jun. 28-30; “‘Bush budget surprise: $25M for tobacco suit’” (Martha Derthick, Up in Smoke), Feb. 20. 2001: “Tobacco-fee tensions” (Fla. resumes investing in tobacco cos.), Jun. 21 (& letter to editor, Jul. 6); “Reclaiming the tobacco loot“, Mar. 15; “Push him into a bedroom, hand him a script” (Bill Clinton testimonial for tobacco lawyers), Mar. 9-11; “Lawyers get tobacco fees early“, Mar. 5; “Tobacco arbitrator: they all know whose side I’m on“, Feb. 16-19; “Safer smokes vs. the settlement cartel“, Feb. 7-8. 2000: “Missouri tobacco fees“, Sept. 21, 2000; “Tobacco- and gun-suit reading” (Stuart Taylor, Jr.), Aug. 21-22, 2000; “Challenging the multistate settlement“, Jul. 17, 2000. 1999: “‘Few Settlement Dollars Used for Tobacco Control’“, Dec. 27-28; “Tobacco bankruptcies, and what comes after” (state gov’ts, trial lawyers would become cigarette producers), Dec. 13; “How the tobacco settlement works” (the more cigarettes sold, the more money states get), Nov. 2; “Addictive tobacco money” (states sued over alleged burden on their taxpayers — so are they using the proceeds to cut taxes?), Sept. 7; “Collusion: it’s an AG thing” (terms of settlement cartelize cigarette industry), Jul. 29. Also see Walter Olson, “Puff, the magic settlement“, Reason, Jan. 2000.
“‘Tough tobacco laws may not deter kids’“, Jun. 7-9, 2002; “Blind newsdealer charged with selling cigarettes to underage buyer“, Sept. 16, 1999.
“Sin-suit city” (Banzhaf), Jun. 10, 2002.
“Ad model sues tobacco company“, May 1-2, 2002.
“Australian party calls for banning smoking while driving“, Jun. 3-4, 2002; “‘Positive nicotine test to keep student from prom’” (over-18 student, off-premises consumption), Apr. 26-28, 2002 (& update May 10-12: school backs down); “Judge orders woman to stop smoking at home“, Mar. 27-28, 2002; “‘Smokers told to fetter their fumes’” (smoking in homes that bothers neighbors), Nov. 26, 2001; “Utah lawmakers: don’t smoke in your car” (when kids present), Oct. 5-7, 2001; “Apartment smoking targeted“, Jan. 3, 2000.
“Australian party calls for banning smoking while driving“, Jun. 3-4, 2002 (document retention case); “International tobacco suits: not quite such easy pickings“, Feb. 1-3, 2002; “‘Saudi Arabia finally gets tough on terrorism!’“, Dec. 10, 2001; “More from Judge Kent” (Bolivian suit), Aug. 3, 2001; “Smoker’s suit nixed in Norway“, Dec. 18-19, 2000; “They call it distributive justice” (government of Saudi Arabia sues tobacco cos.), Nov. 16, 2000; “Spreading to Australia?“, Dec. 29-30, 1999; “Israeli court rejects cigarette reimbursement suit“, Oct. 7, 1999.
“Veeps ATLA could love” (Durbin, D-Ill., as guardian of tobacco lawyers’ fees), July 7, 2000 (& see Apr. 25, 2002).
“Competing interests: none declared”. “The unconflicted Prof. Daynard“, April 21-23, 2000 (& update: letters, Jan. 2001, June 2001; Aug. 2, Dec. 17, 2001).
Federal tobacco suit: our views: “‘Bush budget surprise: $25M for tobacco suit’“, Feb. 20, 2002; “Judge throws out half of federal tobacco suit“, October 2, 2000; “Good news out of Washington…” (House votes to cut off funding for suit), June 21, 2000 (& update June 26: action reversed, funds approved); “Feds: dissent on smoking = racketeering“, Sept. 23, 1999; “Guest column in Forbes by Overlawyered.com‘s editor“, Oct. 25, 1999.
“Prison litigation: ‘Kittens and Rainbows Suites’” (cellmate’s smoking violates rights), Jan. 11-13, 2002.
Boeken v. Philip Morris: “Boeken record“, June 19, 2001; “$5,133.47 a cigarette“, Jun. 11, 2001; “Tobacco plunder in Los Angeles” ($3 billion damage award), Jun. 8-10, 2001.
Federal tobacco suit: others’ views: “Columnist-fest” (Jacob Sullum), Jun. 22-24, 2001; “Blatant end-runs around the democratic process” (former Labor Secretary Robert Reich), Jan. 15-16, 2000; “Dave Barry on federal tobacco suit” (plus novelist Tom Clancy’s critique), Oct. 26, 1999; “‘This wretched lawsuit’” (Jonathan Rauch in National Journal ), Oct. 13, 1999; “Feds’ tobacco shakedown: ‘A case of fraud’“, Sept. 29, 1999 (roundup of editorial pages); “Feds as tobacco pushers” (columnist Andrew Glass recalls encouragement of smoking in U.S. Army), Sept. 24, 1999; “Hurry up, before the spell breaks” (leading plaintiff’s lawyer wants feds to sue fast since public losing interest), Sept. 24, 1999.
Regulation by litigation: “Tobacco- and gun-suit reading” (law prof Michael Krauss), Aug. 21-22, 2000; “Convenient line at the time” (tobacco is unique, said state attorneys general — sure), May 15; “Stuart Taylor, Jr., on Smith & Wesson deal” (“Guns and Tobacco: Government by Litigation”), Apr. 11, 2000; “Arbitrary confiscation, from Pskov to Pascagoula” (Michael Barone in U.S. News on threat to rule of law), Jul. 24-25, 1999; “Guns, tobacco, and others to come” (Peter Huber in Commentary on the new mass-tort cases as “show trials”), Jul. 20; “‘A de facto fourth branch of government’” (prominent trial lawyer Wendell Gauthier’s view of plaintiff bar’s role), Jul. 4, 1999.
“Dewey deserve that much?“, Mar. 6, 2002; “Health plans rebuffed in bid to sue cigarette makers“, Jan. 11, 2000.
“Terrorists, American business execs compared“, Sept. 28-30, 2001.
“Columnist-fest“, Jun. 22-24, 2001 (Amity Shlaes on asbestos synergy case); “Best little forum-shopping in Texas” (state’s Medicaid suit got filed in Texarkana, contributing $6.1 million to local economy), Aug. 27, 1999.
“Updates” (baby Castano suit nixed in N.Y.), Dec. 26-29, 2000.
“Another billion, snuffed” (antitrust lawsuit between snuffmakers), May 10, 2000.
“Hollywood special: ‘The Insider’“, Mar. 30, 2000.
“Because they still had money” (Hausfeld’s price-fixing suit), Mar. 2, 2000.
“Tobacco lawyers’ lien leverage“, Feb. 29, 2000.
“Feds’ tobacco hypocrisy, cont’d: Indian ‘smoke shops’“, Jan. 25, 2000; “Do as we say, please” (Indian tribes, after profiting immensely from tax-free smoke shops, turn around and sue suppliers), Jul. 14, 1999.
“The joy of tobacco fees“, Jan. 20, 2000.
“Calif. state funds used to compile ‘enemies list’“, Jan. 5, 2000.
“‘Trial lawyers on trial’” (Trevor Armbrister, Reader’s Digest), Dec. 23-26, 1999.
“Philadelphia Inquirer Tech.life: ‘Web Winners’” (this page is recommended), Dec. 15, 1999.
“Ohio tobacco-settlement booty“, Nov. 8, 1999.
“Public by 2-1 margin disapproves of tobacco suits“, Nov. 5-7, 1999.
“Not-so-Kool omen for NAACP suit“, Nov. 1, 1999.
“Minnesota to auction seized cigarettes“, Oct. 21, 1999.
“Reform stirrings on public contingency fees“, Oct. 15, 1999.
“Big guns” (tobacco example shaped gun litigation), Oct. 5-6, 1999.
“Plus extra damages for having argued with us” (“lesson of tobacco”: you can get punished for defending your product), Aug. 19, 1999.
“‘Settlement bonds’: are guns next?” (how Wall Street finances expropriation of industries), Aug. 5, 1999.
Do the tobacco wars that began in the mid-1990s represent an unprecedented triumph for public health? Are they an inevitable response to legislative gridlock on smoking policy? Or are they our legal system’s own updated version of the Gilded Age scandals that brought American government into disrepute a century ago, siphoning billions of dollars of publicly obtained money into the hands of politically connected attorneys? Commentaries on Overlawyered.com (above) may help you decide. In the mean time, the following links offer a way into the wider tobacco controversy:
Anti-tobacco groups, most of which are supportive of litigation as well as other coercive government actions aimed at curtailing tobacco sale and use, are well represented on the web. They include Tobacco.org, federally funded antitobacco activist Stanton Glantz’s Tobacco Control Archives, Americans for Non-Smokers’ Rights, Action on Smoking and Health, and the American Council on Science and Health. Tobacco.org’s links list is especially comprehensive. The empire associated with Prof. Richard Daynard, participant in tobacco suits, oft-quoted expert, and professor at Northeastern U., includes the Tobacco Products Liability Project and Tobacco Control Resource Center, as well as the State Tobacco Information Center. The Castano Group, a vast joint venture of trial lawyers cooperating to file tobacco class actions, maintains a website that is distinctly uninformative (unless you’re a lawyer/member or a cooperative pressie).
Relatively neutral sites include Yahoo Full Coverage.
Critics of the anti-tobacco crusade often note that it curtails individual liberty, freedom of contract and freedom of association. As part of its Breaking Issues series (“Fining Smokers“), Reason magazine includes a list of online articles skeptical of the government’s role in the tobacco field, while Reason senior editor Jacob Sullum is the author of 1998’s For Your Own Good : The Anti-Smoking Crusade and the Tyranny of Public Health. At the libertarian-oriented Cato Institute, Robert Levy has criticized “The Tobacco Wars“, written that “States Share Blame for Tobacco Lawyers’ Greed“, and called tobacco settlements “Dangerous to Your Liberty“; the state Medicaid suits, he argues, are “Snuffing Out the Rule of Law“. Cato’s Jerry Taylor describes the battle as “The Pickpocket State vs. Tobacco“. “The Anti-Tobacco Crusade” by Joseph Kellard, Capitalism magazine, March 1998, argues from a viewpoint supportive of Ayn Rand’s Objectivism. In Colorado, the Independence Institute maintains a Center for Personal Freedom run by Linda Gorman which draws the connection to other paternalist crusades on issues like drinking, seatbelt use and mandatory helmet laws. The Heritage Foundation’s Todd Gaziano makes the case that a proposed federal lawsuit against tobacco companies is “elevating politics over law” (July 30, 1999 Backgrounder). Overlawyered.com‘s editor has taken exception to the retroactivity of the crusade, to its manipulative treatment of children, and to the hardball or demagogic tactics used in the Castano and Engle cases. Rep. Chris Cox (R-Calif.) delivered a notable critique of the tobacco litigation at a Congressional hearing held Dec. 10, 1997 (no longer online).
An extensive site offering an aggressive defense of smoking and smokers, along with a large collection of links, is Forces International (“Fight Ordinances and Restrictions to Control and Eliminate Smoking”).
July 19-21 — Disabled lap dancing just the start. Our recent item (Jul. 16-17) on demands for accessibility in lap-dancing facilities reminded an alert Australian reader of a recent case from his country in which a disabled complainant filed charges against the proprietors of a “swinging house party”, which was found in unrelated proceedings to be operating as an unlicensed brothel, for excluding her because of her status as a wheelchair user. (Ball v Morgan & Anor  FMCA 127)(adult content warning, though it’s a court opinion). (DURABLE LINK)
July 19-21 — Stolen silence? Via WSJ OpinionJournal Best of the Web Today: “The London Sun reports that Nicholas Riddle, who heads a firm that owns the copyright to the late John Cage’s composition ‘4’ 33″ ‘–which consists of four minutes, 33 seconds of silence–is suing ‘pop guru’ Mike Batt, whose new band, the Plantes, has just released an album with a track called ‘A One Minute Silence.’ Riddle alleges that Batt violated Cage’s copyright. ‘John always said the duration of his piece may be changed, so the Planets’ piece doesn’t escape by virtue of its shorter length,’ Riddle tells the paper. ‘We want our royalties.'” Oh please, let this be a Monty Python skit and not an actual lawsuit (Thomas Whitaker, “Silence is old ‘un”, The Sun (London), Jul. 18). (DURABLE LINK)
July 19-21 — Enron’s other helpers. If Arthur Andersen & Co. is going to get run out of business for approving Enron’s dubious financial deals, why is its outside law firm, Vinson & Elkins, unlikely to face similarly devastating consequences for approving and helping structure the same deals? Well, one reason is that accountants are conceived of as having broad obligations to the general public, while lawyers mostly aren’t. Rather convenient for the lawyers, don’t you think? Julie Hilden makes a valiant effort to defend the double standard as a principled one (“Scummery Judgment”, Slate, Jun. 21). (& see letter to the editor, Oct. 23) (DURABLE LINK)
July 18 — “Family of boy injured by leopard may sue”. “In April, Eric River, 11, sneaked into the Rosamond Gifford Zoo at Burnet Park with friends, tried to feed and pet a snow leopard, got 10 deep lashes to his face, arm and back, and received 500 stitches. Now, three months later, his mother, Terry Wells, is threatening to sue the zoo’s owner, Onondaga County, for failing to properly secure and police the zoo after hours.” River and three friends managed to get into the zoo by scaling one 8-foot fence, squeezing through a gap in another, and scaling a 4-foot fence before finally approaching the leopard in its cage. (Teri Weaver, Syracuse Post-Standard, Jul. 17) (see Sept. 21, 1999). (DURABLE LINK)
July 18 — “Trauma center reopens doors”. The only trauma center in southern Nevada has reopened, “ten days after a state malpractice insurance crisis forced its closure”. (Las Vegas Review-Journal, Jul. 14; Joelle Babula, “University Medical Center: Trauma center closing”, Las Vegas Review-Journal, Jul. 2; Steve Kanigher, “Trauma cases to shift to nearest hospital”, Las Vegas Sun, Jul. 2; William Booth, “Las Vegas Trauma Center Closes as Doctors Quit”, Washington Post, Jul. 4; Las Vegas Review-Journal, coverage at a glance). Crisis continues in Mississippi: Reed Branson, “Doctors shutting practices amid epidemic of lawsuits”, GoMemphis.com, Jul. 11; John Porretto, “Exodus of doctors causing crisis for moms-to-be in Mississippi”, AP, Jul. 11. Texas: Mary Ann Roser, “Doctors at a crossroads”, Austin American-Statesman, Jun. 17. (DURABLE LINK)
July 18 — “Edwards’ fund raising a strong suit”. Why are we not surprised that he’s vaulted ahead of some better-known Democrats on the money-raising front? “Reports released Monday show that two fund-raising committees controlled by Edwards raised a combined $2.6 million in the second quarter of this year and that the North Carolina Democrat now has more than $4.4 million in the bank. … A News & Observer analysis of Edwards’ PAC money showed that more than 77 percent of it came from lawyers or law firms.” (John Wagner, Raleigh News & Observer, Jul. 16). All five of the top contributors to the Edwards campaign are plaintiff’s law firms, the list topped by Girardi & Keese of Los Angeles and Baron & Budd of Dallas, both familiar to longtime readers of this site. (David Brown, “The Candidate”, The Recorder, Jun. 14). (DURABLE LINK)
July 16-17 — By reader acclaim: quadriplegic sues strip club over wheelchair access. Edward Law of Orlando, Fla., who is quadriplegic, “has sued a strip club, charging that it violates the Americans with Disabilities Act because the lap dance room does not have wheelchair access.” In addition to suing the Wildside Adult Sports Cabaret of West Palm Beach, Law has also recently sued a second strip clup, “an Orlando restaurant and a Daytona Beach Harley-Davidson motorcycle shop”; we don’t know yet whether to assign his filing activities to this category. (“Orlando quadriplegic sues strip club over wheelchair access”, AP/Palm Beach Post, Jul. 15)(for more on lap-dance handicap accommodation, see Sept. 27-28, 2000). (DURABLE LINK)
July 16-17 — Mercury in dental fillings. For well over a century dentists have used a mixture of metals including mercury in standard tooth fillings, and both the U.S. Public Health Service and Consumers Union have declared that patients have no grounds for alarm that the fillings pose a risk to health. That hasn’t convinced a small if longstanding body of dissenters who hold that exposure to even trace amounts of the heavy metal must be having toxic effects on users’ bodies. The dispute has lately turned litigious, with Van Nuys, Calif. personal injury and environmental attorney Shawn Khorrami spearheading several suits which accuse the American Dental Association and dentists of wrongly promoting the material, and the ADA striking back with a defamation suit. (Doug Bandow, “Killer teeth?”, Cato Institute Dailies, Jun. 28; Raymond J. Keating, “Lawsuits and Legislation Causing Pain for Dentists”, Small Business Survival Committee, Jun. 7; AltCorp (anti-mercury testing firm); Stephen Barrett, “The Mercury Amalgam Scam”, QuackWatch.com, last revised Apr. 23; search QuackWatch on “amalgam”; American Dental Association on ADA v. Khorrami). (DURABLE LINK)
July 16-17 — Hizzoner’s divorce, settled at last. “Anyone who’s been appalled at the depths to which the parties stooped in this Hanover/Giuliani split just hasn’t been divorced from a millionaire often enough. As big splashy divorces go, this was no uglier than most.” (Dahlia Lithwick, “Hats Off to Rudy”, Slate, Jul. 12). (DURABLE LINK)
July 16-17 — “Spanking Client Not Legitimate Trial Prep Tactic”. Just plain bizarre: U.S. District Judge Robert N. Chatigny has ruled that an attorney’s malpractice insurer is not obliged to pay out in a case in which Derby, Ct. attorney Milo J. Altschuler allegedly took a client across his lap and spanked her before a court appearance. “The woman claimed Altschuler, before removing her panties and stockings, told her he needed to spank her so the judge didn’t think she was lying.” Judge Chatigny ruled that the spanking did not constitute the rendering of professional services, although Altschuler “acknowledged that he used [threats of spanking] in representing more than a dozen other clients to make them ‘more afraid of him than they would be of the prosecutor.'” (Scott Brede, Connecticut Law Tribune, Jul. 15). (DURABLE LINK)
July 15 — “Morales’ $1 Million Tobacco Fee Under Fire”. “Former Attorney General Dan Morales told lawyers that a $1 million contribution to his political campaign fund was a condition for joining his anti-tobacco legal team, a Houston lawyer testified in a newly released document.” In a 1999 interview that has only now been made public in court proceedings, an assistant to Texas Attorney General John Cornyn questioned Houston attorney Wayne Fisher, a former president of the State Bar and a former president of the Texas Trial Lawyers Association, under oath. Fisher “said Morales outlined two separate requirements during a meeting he had with the then-attorney general in 1995. Fisher said one condition of employment was to ‘front’ the legal expenses and a second was to ‘commit to contribute $1 million to (Morales’) political campaign — to (Morales’) political campaign fund, as I recall it.'” Fisher “chose not to join Morales’ legal team”; he also “recalled wondering later if the meeting was a ‘sting operation.'” Fisher’s account seems to buttress earlier recollections by noted plaintiff’s attorney Joe Jamail, who also did not join the state’s team (see Sept. 1-3, 2000, May 22, 2000, June 21, 2001, Aug. 29-30, 2001, Nov. 12, 2001).
The five law firms eventually hired by Morales are all “major contributors to Democratic candidates and causes”. Michael Tigar, attorney for the five, denies that any of their tobacco fees or expenses went to Morales but concedes that “some was paid to Austin political consultant George Shipley. Tigar said all the payments to Shipley were first reviewed by University of Texas law professor Charles Silver, who was retained by the lawyers as an ethics adviser.” (Clay Robison, Houston Chronicle, Jul. 12). (DURABLE LINK)
July 15 — Paper currency should accommodate blind, suit argues. “The American Council of the Blind, which seeks to improve conditions for the visually impaired, has sued the Treasury Department to force its way into the currency revamping process. …The group is not promoting a specific change that would help blind and sight-impaired Americans sift through their money, but hopes the government will study an array of options that would be helpful. A major step could be offering denominations in different colors or sizes with large-print features, like many other countries, [Ralph] Brunson said. Braille and textures also are possibilities, although the markings are prone to wearing off. ‘We did not specify a particular option because, primarily, at this point we’re trying to get the dialogue going,’ Brunson said.” (Mark Babineck, “Blind Group Sues U.S. over Currency”, AP/FindLaw, Jul. 1). (DURABLE LINK)
July 15 — New civil rights target: “linguistic profiling”. With assistance from a Ford Foundation grant, the National Fair Housing Alliance and Stanford education and linguistics professor Dr. John Baugh have launched a project “to study the impact of linguistic profiling on housing discrimination. This summer, Baugh will track the instances of bias that the housing markets show toward speakers of non-standard English over the telephone. Baugh says speakers who do not ‘sound white’ often are discriminated against over the telephone. ‘Even though the courts are reasonably well equipped to prosecute cases of face-to-face discrimination,’ says Dr. Baugh, ‘they have a hard time understanding and applying the law to linguistic profiling, and that’s where this research will help.'” “National Study on Linguistic Profiling in Housing Announced”, Jun. 26)(via Scott Norvell, FoxNews.com, Jul. 1). (DURABLE LINK)
July 12-14 — Welcome Salon.com readers, Bill O’Reilly listeners. We’re cited in Janelle Brown’s excellent article on parental lawsuits against teachers (“L is for Lawsuit”, Jul. 12) which mentions our subpage on overlawyered schools. And our editor is appearing today (Fri.) on Bill O’Reilly’s popular radio show to discuss the case of a New York City jury’s award to a woman who lay down on the subway tracks (see Jun. 26-27), along with other cases featured on our personal- responsibility subpage. Update: and welcome BBC-5 listeners, for whom our editor taped an interview arising from the Salon piece (DURABLE LINK)
July 12-14 — Credibility up in smoke? Environmentalist groups have strenuously denied that their use of litigation to stall road building, logging and the construction of firebreaks worsened this year’s raging wildfires out West (see Jul. 1-2). But it turns out that a recent General Accounting Office report, much cited by the enviro groups to show that they don’t sue often, actually may show nothing of the sort. “Environmental appeals delayed 48 percent of the [Forest Service]’s fire-suppression projects in fiscal 2001 and 2002, thereby stalling efforts to clear the brush and small trees that fuel the catastrophic wildfires plaguing the West, according to an internal Forest Service report obtained by The Washington Times. The report, slated for release [Thursday], found that 155 of the agency’s 326 plans to log overgrown, high-risk national forests were stymied by appeals. In Arizona and New Mexico, sites of some of this summer’s worst wildfires, that figure rose to 73 percent, and climbed to 100 percent in the Pacific Northwest”. (Valeria Richardson, “Forest Service Says Activists Played Role in Fires,” Washington Times, Jul. 11; Kimberley A. Strassel, “Truth Under Fire “, Wall Street Journal/ OpinionJournal.com, Jul. 11). (& see letter to the editor, Oct. 23) (DURABLE LINK)
July 12-14 — Read the label, then ignore it if you like. “Two carpet installers who admit they read the label of an adhesive they used, admit they understood the adhesive was flammable and should not be used inside, used it inside anyway, caused an explosion, were burned badly, sued, and won $8 million dollars.” (Phil Trexler, “2 installers get millions in blast suit”, Akron Beacon Journal, Jul. 10) (link and description via MedPundit, Jul. 10). (DURABLE LINK)
July 12-14 — Financial scandals: legislate in haste. The “chief sponsor of the House [financial-reform] legislation, Republican Michael G. Oxley of Ohio … complained that some aspects of the Sarbanes bill appeared to be turning into ‘a gravy train’ for trial lawyers.” (Richard A. Oppel Jr., “Senate Backs Tough Measures to Punish Corporate Misdeeds”, New York Times, Jul. 11). House Republicans are particularly critical of provisions which, in line with a long-term goal of the plaintiff’s bar, increase the time permitted to bring securities fraud lawsuits. The Mobile Register editorially warns that a number of ideas emanating from the Senate “would be a huge boon to voracious plaintiffs’ attorneys. And the last thing the nervous stock market needs, now or ever, is to worry about companies being ruined by ever-more creative lawsuits whose practical effect would do far more to enrich the lawyers than to protect the interests of individual investors.” (“Bush right, Shelby not, on business reform” (editorial), Mobile Register, Jul. 10). “Robert Musil” has some thoughts on the newly popular idea of requiring CEOs to certify their company’s financial filings on penalty of perjury (Jul. 7). And before assuming that it was management malfeasance alone that destroyed the market value of such companies as WorldCom and Adelphia, it would be wise to note that Europe, without benefit of major scandal, has managed to see most of the value of its telecom stocks evaporate since the sectoral bubble burst, with historic enterprises like Deutsche Telekom, France Télécom and Royal KPN of the Netherlands losing 80 or 90 percent of their value, and Britain’s BT doing not much better (Edmund L. Andrews, “Europe Shares Pain of the Fall in Phone Stocks”, New York Times, Jul. 11). And see Steve Chapman, “Real and phony fixes for corporate corruption”, Chicago Tribune, Jul. 11). (DURABLE LINK)
July 12-14 — “Court Tosses ‘Sopranos’ Suit”. Following an appellate court’s ruling against them, the Italian-American Defense Association has dropped its suit against HBO charging that “The Sopranos” offends the dignity of Italian Americans in supposed violation of the Illinois Constitution’s “individual dignity” clause. Score one for free speech (N.Y. Daily News, Jul. 2)(see Apr. 6-8, 2001). (DURABLE LINK)