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lawyers

New Jersey: Monmouth County Superior Court Judge Dennis O’Brien has granted summary judgment to the defendant law firm of Wolff, Helies, Duggan Spaeth and Lucas and dismissed Thomas Hickey’s suit over his injuries in falling off a reclining chair in its office during a deposition. Hickey’s lawyers had argued that the law firm as owner and maintainer of the chair was negligent not to check its settings for safety before each use. The court found that whatever hazards might inhere in the chair’s low-tension setting, Hickey had been sitting in it for 90 minutes which was “sufficient time for him to learn the chair was designed to tilt and to appreciate its tension setting.” [Ashley Peskoe, NJ.com]

More chronicles of office-chair falls here (law office, Palm Beach, Fla.), here (law office, New York, N.Y.), here (NYC police detective shot by self in tippy chair), and here (U.K. law firm ad).

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U.S. District Judge Mark Bennett of the Northern District of Iowa, presiding over a product liability case, has asked defense counsel “to show cause as to why he should not be sanctioned for the ‘serious pattern of obstructive conduct’ he displayed” in a client’s deposition, which seemed aimed both at interruption for its own sake and at coaching the witness as to how to answer. “The attorney objected so many times that his name was found, on average, three times per page of deposition transcript.” [Nick Farr, Abnormal Use]

Rather than fine the lawyer, Judge Nelson ordered him to create and write a training video explaining the basis of the sanctions and demonstrating how to comply with the rules during depositions in state and federal court.

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A successful whistleblower, he’s featured on the reality-TV show “Real Housewives of New Jersey” and one can only commend his pacific spirit, at least as regards physical combat:

I don’t fight. I think it’s stupid. I’m trained as an attorney. If I want to hurt you, I’m going to sue you. I’m going to leverage your house. I’m gonna give you three years of hell in a courtroom. I’m going to bleed you dry financially, and I’m going to humiliate you as I depose you for eight hours and make you my bitch.

[Newark Star-Ledger via Above the Law]

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It should realize the privilege of doing so is reserved for other societal institutions, like lawyers and the press. [National Journal]

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Next: Sanitary League of Canada protests that use as legal retainer brings good name of toilet paper into disrepute. [CBC]

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“I can say that because I’m a lawyer,” President Obama told the Tumblr crowd last week. [American Interest]

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Wait a minute. You took my profanity-laden, violence-suggestive tirade seriously? Attorney Hanson “said he had not meant to threaten the man, but simply convey that he would gather all relevant evidence to defend his client.” [ABA Journal]

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Ethics roundup

by Walter Olson on May 13, 2014

  • If you doubt lawyers can be heroes, consider Rashid Rehman, gunned down after defying death threats to represent university lecturer in Pakistan blasphemy case [BBC]
  • Some asbestos lawyers may have reason to be nervous as Garlock documents pave way for fraud-checking [Daniel Fisher/Forbes, Legal NewsLine, Rochester Democrat & Chronicle] Given consumer groups’ zeal for making litigation data public, they’ll support greater transparency in asbestos settlements, right? [WLF]
  • “Colloquium: The Legal Profession’s Monopoly on the Practice of Law” with John McGinnis and Russell Pearce, Benjamin Barton and others [Fordham Law Review]
  • “BP’s Billions Draw Scam Artists” [Amanda Bronstad, NLJ; NYTimes ("They told us we don't even need a lawyer"); Insurance Journal]
  • “South Carolina: LegalZoom is not the Unauthorized Practice of Law” [Legal Ethics Forum]
  • Black lung series with legal ethics angle wins Pulitzer [Chris Hamby/Center for Public Integrity, earlier]
  • Much more to come in Chevron saga as oil company seeks $32 million in attorneys’ fees from adversary Donziger [Roger Parloff] Ted Boutrous, who repped both defendants, on parallels between Chevron and Dole scandals [USA Today]

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The large law firm, which is also Washington, D.C.’s biggest lobbying firm, will pay $15 million, express regret and withdraw from representing Ecuadorian environmental complainants to settle the oil company’s charges that it had participated in a litigation scheme that Chevron has called fraudulent and extortionate. “It also agreed to assist Chevron with discovery against the Ecuadoran plaintiffs and their New York-based lawyer, Steven Donziger,” as well as hand over its five percent share of any moneys the plaintiffs happen to win when the whole thing is over. [Washington Post; Paul Barrett, Bloomberg Business Week; our coverage of the case over years]

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Extraordinary allegations by the Manhattan District Attorney, as summarized by Bloomberg:

Three former executives at Dewey & LeBoeuf LLP, once the No. 3 legal adviser to banks handling merger deals, were charged with a “blatant” $200 million fraud that spurred the largest law firm bankruptcy in history.

The three, including the chairman, executive director and chief financial officer, were accused of using accounting gimmicks similar to those that sent top executives at WorldCom Inc. and Tyco International Ltd. to prison a decade ago. Authorities cited e-mails in which the men referred to “fake income,” “cooking the books” and “accounting tricks.”

“Patrick Coulton’s lawyers ripped him off to the tune of $275,000 and left him to rot in prison.” But few stories end this way: he’s living in one of the former lawyers’ houses. [Sun-Sentinel, auto-plays video]

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“The National Security Agency was involved in the surveillance of an American law firm while it represented a foreign government in trade disputes with the United States, The New York Times reported in a story based on a top-secret document obtained by former NSA systems analyst Edward Snowden.” [AP] This would be big news if true: the way it works is that lawyers are supposed to mess with your privacy, not the other way around. However, writes Orin Kerr, “the story ends up delivering considerably less than it promises.” [Volokh]

Last year we linked a report about a series of unfortunate events that kept happening to elected officials in Costa Mesa, Calif. after they resisted negotiating demands from the city’s police union. One saw his supporters’ businesses harassed by cops, while another was picked up on a bogus DUI charge phoned in by a private eye with ties to an Upland, Calif. law firm, Lackie, Dammeier, McGill, and Ethir, known for extremely aggressive representation of police unions around California.

Now the Lackie, Dammeier firm is in turmoil following a raid on its offices by the Orange County District Attorney’s office. Former Costa Mesa councilman Jim Righeimer, target of the bogus DUI report, and council colleague Steve Mensinger have also alleged in a lawsuit that the law firm’s private investigator attached a GPS device to Mensinger’s car. Lawyers for the two believe the device allowed the investigator to trace the pair’s whereabouts to the bar, allowing for the called-in DUI report which failed when Righeimer produced evidence he had consumed only a couple of Diet Cokes. Mensinger “said the device was affixed to his car during the entire 2012 election season and came to his attention only when he was alerted by the Orange County district attorney’s office.” [L.A. Times, more] The Orange County Register reported: “Mensinger and Righeimer are strong supporters of reforming public pensions and privatizing some city services. … Besides Mensinger, [investigator Chris] Lanzillo is also suspected of following former El Monte City Manager Rene Bobadilla to his home in June 2011, according to a police report obtained by the Orange County Register.” And more recently: “Though they made no admissions, lawyers for the law firm and Lanzillo argued in court papers that placing a tracking device on Mensinger’s truck wouldn’t be an invasion of privacy.” The Costa Mesa police union, also named as a defendant, says in a separate filing that it wasn’t involved with any GPS-tracking plan. [Daily Pilot]

That’s not the only trouble facing the firm: “A statewide police defense fund is no longer sending [it cases] after a forensic audit uncovered triple-billing, bogus travel expenses and ‘serious acts of misconduct.'” [Orange County Register] According to press reports, the firm is in the course of dissolving.

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“…than [against] almost any other group.” Can you guess which new federal agency is being referred to? [National Law Journal]

Seeking help with an auto accident claim, Robert Friedrich was in a meeting with an attorney at a personal injury law firm in 2003 when a chair collapsed under him. He won a $2.2 million jury verdict against the law firm of Fetterman & Associates and a retailer that sold the chair, but an appeals court directed a verdict against him, finding a lack of needed causation. Now the Florida Supreme Court has reinstated the verdict [Legal Profession Prof, ABA Journal, earlier]

Perhaps the most remarkable passage in the ABA Journal’s coverage:

An expert for Friedrich said an inspection should have revealed the “weak joint” in the chair blamed for the collapse and said it should be standard procedure for businesses to test chairs every six months, the court recounts. An expert for the law firm said the only test for defects in chairs is to sit in them, and no other test would have revealed the defect that caused the Friedrich accident. …

A dissenting judge would have upheld the directed verdict against Friedrich. Even if the jury agreed that businesses should inspect chairs every six months, the dissenting judge said, there was insufficient evidence to prove that an inspection would have revealed the defect in the chair at issue.

Commenter DKJA at the ABA Journal writes:

So every business in Florida now has to “inspect” every piece of furniture every six months in perpetuity?

Maybe we should just replace all furniture with beanbag chairs. Although I’m sure someone would figure out how to injure themselves on one of them as well.

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“Did the law firm [Ropes & Gray] retaliate against John Ray III by providing information about his Equal Employment Opportunity Commission race-discrimination complaint to the Above the Law blog?” That is among the questions a federal court in Boston will consider in a trial beginning next month. Specifically, the firm sent a copy of the EEOC’s determination letter in Ray’s case to the popular blog. Since no law bars “retaliation” by employees against employers, we might arrive at a situation in which an employee is free to try his case in the press, while an employer’s hands are tied against responding in kind. [ABA Journal; earlier]

The columnist has a priceless anecdote of a fact-checking query mistakenly left in a pre-publication book version sent out by Prof. Dershowitz’s publisher; also, why those who complain about being called celebrity lawyers should probably not call attention to lists of the famous people they’ve represented. [Boston Globe]

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“CEOs and lawyers are among the professions with the most psychopaths — evidence that psychopathic traits aren’t all bad, according to a new book by an Oxford research psychologist. … The [Washington] Post quotes one successful lawyer who spoke to [author Kevin] Dutton. ‘Deep inside me there’s a serial killer lurking somewhere,’ the lawyer says. ‘But I keep him amused with cocaine, Formula One, booty calls, and coruscating cross-examination.'” [ABA Journal, Smithsonian]

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