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Long Island

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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  • Mayor de Blasio settles firefighter bias suit on terms sympathetic to plaintiffs [City Journal: Dennis Saffran and Seth Barron]
  • One way to dodge some Culture War fights: roll meaning of “public accommodation” back to travel, lodgings, places of public amusement, etc. [Andrew Kloster, Heritage] As original/creative expression goes, florists and cake-bakers sometimes outdo NYT’s Greenhouse [Ann Althouse] From Dixie Chicks to Hobby Lobby, few escape hypocrisy when commerce collides with convictions [Barton Hinkle]
  • Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights investigating Florida’s popular Bright Futures college scholarship program [Orlando Sentinel]
  • Do EEOC mediators overstate risk of legal action to extract big settlements from employers? [Bloomberg BNA, Merrily Archer on survey] New Colorado expansion of employment liability bad news for large and small employers alike [Archer]
  • “Religious exemptions — a guide for the confused” [Eugene Volokh]
  • Washington Post columnist repeats myth that Lilly Ledbetter “did not know she was being paid less than male counterparts” until after statute of limitations had run; Hans Bader corrects [letter to editor]
  • If helping out local people was one reason your town decided to back public housing, you might have been played for suckers [AP on DoJ suit against Long Island town over local preference]

Environmental roundup

by Walter Olson on January 31, 2014

  • Behind costly EPA crackdown on wood-burning stoves, a whiff of sweetheart lawsuits? [Larry Bell]
  • Reminder: California’s Prop 65 doesn’t actually improve public health, makes lawyers rich, and harasses business [Michael Marlow, WSJ]
  • “What I learned from six months of GMO research: None of it matters” [Nathanael Johnson, Grist]
  • Eminent domain threatens store owner in Fire Island’s Saltaire [NYP]
  • In case you haven’t seen this one: chemical content of all-natural foods [James Kennedy Monash]
  • “The court ordered that the county pay the turtles’ attorneys fees.” [Dan Lewis, Now I Know]
  • “On the government’s books, the switch [from steel to aluminum in Ford's new F-150 pickup] is a winner because MPG goes up.” [William Baldwin, Forbes]

Politics roundup

by Walter Olson on January 24, 2014

  • John Lott Jr. argues in new book that judicial-nominations system is broken; responses from Michael Teter, Clint Bolick, John McGinnis [Cato Unbound]
  • “Weaponized IRS” meets Administration’s political needs at cost of future public trust [Glenn Reynolds, USA Today]
  • “For some time, however, cause lawyers have moved in and out of government, thus complicating the traditional picture of lawyer-state opposition.” [Douglas Nejaime, "Cause Lawyers Inside the State," SSRN via Legal Ethics Forum]
  • Gun rights: public opinion has changed over the decades in a big way [Bryan Caplan, Steven Greenhut]
  • “Mostyn Law Firm donates $1 million to help Wendy Davis in Texas governor’s race” [Washington Examiner, New Republic] Plaintiff’s bar supporting GOP primary challenges to Texas Supreme Court incumbents Phil Johnson, Jeff Brown, and Chief Justice Nathan Hecht [TLR] More: Legal NewsLine (Mark Lanier Law Firm largely funding challengers)
  • Nassau’s Kathleen Rice: “Anti-Corruption Panel Co-Chair Receives Big Donations From Sheldon Silver’s Law Firm” [Ken Lovett, NYDN]
  • Rule of thumb: a political party leans libertarian in proportion to the number of years since it last held the White House [Orin Kerr]
  • Dept. of Justice indicts a prominent Obama critic on campaign finance charge [Ira Stoll; more above]

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Perhaps it was overreach for a prominent New York City plaintiff’s law firm to file asbestos litigation on behalf of Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, the famously fond-of-smoking Long Island Congresswoman now fighting lung cancer, against General Electric, Pfizer and more than 70 other companies. The high-profile case is focusing public attention on the legal fictions by which lawyers have been lassoing seemingly conventional lung cancer cases and bringing them into the asbestos litigation system [Joe Nocera, New York Times; Daniel Fisher; earlier]

P.S. Patterns of filing non-mesothelioma cancer cases reflect asbestos lawyers’ economic incentives [Daniel Fisher]

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Long Island: “The head of Suffolk’s new Traffic & Parking Violations Agency on Thursday defended the controversial policy of charging an administrative fee even on tickets that are dismissed.” [Newsday]

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“A mom found to be insane when she drowned her three young children can’t get money from the wrongful death settlements that followed their killings, a Nassau judge ruled [last week].” [Newsday, earlier]

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Paul Barrett at Business Week:

…even a politically moderate, law school-educated guy like me, someone who’s perfectly prepared to root for a suit against a dishonest insurance company or an exploitative landlord, finds himself increasingly dismayed by the uses to which our civil justice system is put.

That’s by way of introducing the lawsuit filed by 69-year-old Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.), known as a big-time smoker, attributing her lung cancer to asbestos products made by more than 40 companies. Did we mention that representing her is the politically well-connected New York firm of Weitz & Luxenberg?

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“Officials at Weber Middle School in Port Washington are worried that students are getting hurt during recess. Thus, they have instituted a ban on footballs, baseballs, lacrosse balls, or anything that might hurt someone on school grounds. … some parents said it is really about liability and lawsuits.” [CBS New York] More: Lowering the Bar.

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“… wants cut of wrongful death settlements.” “A mentally disturbed suburban New York woman who drowned her three young children in a bathtub in 2008 wants a cut of $350,000 in wrongful death settlements obtained by the children’s fathers, attorneys said Friday. Leatrice Brewer, 33, was found not guilty because of mental disease or defect in the deaths of her children, so her attorneys say she should not be subject to laws that bar convicts from profiting from their crimes.” [Associated Press/NY Daily News]

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Check-cashing businesses are perfectly legal, but the Long Island town of Hempstead doesn’t like them, so it’s used zoning to try to force them out of areas convenient to their clientele. New York’s highest court is considering the companies’ appeal. [Newsday]

“A woman who admitted to drowning her three young children in her bathtub in New Cassel nearly five years ago is telling a judge that she deserves some of the money from her children’s $250,000 estate. … [Innocent] Demesyeux [father of two of the three children] settled a lawsuit against [Nassau] county last year for $250,000, claiming that social services caseworkers could have done more to save his children.” A lawsuit on behalf of the third child is pending. [Newsday]

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To get your power turned back on in the Rockaways, according to a spokesman for the Long Island Power Authority, you’re going to need a pre-inspection for your house not just from a licensed electrician, but from one licensed in NYC — nearby Nassau County, or upstate, won’t do. If occupational licensure makes any sense at all — and Milton Friedman had a thing or two to say about that — it certainly needs to be reconsidered under conditions of public emergency and disaster recovery, or so I argue in my new post at Cato at Liberty.

For more background on the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) as a political football, by the way, check out Nicole Gelinas in the New York Post. Also on disaster recovery, why this might be a good time to rethink municipal ordinances barring property owners from removing old trees [Chris Fountain]. And: “Can customers sue power companies for outages? Yes, but it’s hard to win” [Alison Frankel, Reuters]

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“Four law firms that submitted a “grossly inflated” $2.7 million fee request after winning $12,500 for their client should go away empty-handed, a federal judge has ruled. Eastern District Judge Joanna Seybert, sitting in Central Islip, condemned the fee application submitted by real estate investor Robert Toussie’s attorneys, including $2.65 million for Chadbourne & Parke, as ‘outrageously excessive’ and done in ‘bad faith.'” [NYLJ]

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“A Massapequa woman who claims to have spent “over 100 nights” with an on-duty Nassau County police officer has filed legal notice that she intends to sue the county for $10 million. Tara Obenauer, 42, said in court papers that the county failed to supervise Officer Mike Tedesco, allowing him to visit her home regularly for about seven months until February, almost always during his shifts, in his uniform and while driving his patrol car.” [Newsday]

More, NY Post: local attorney “flabbergasted that officials are being blamed for not chaperoning the couple’s sex romps.”

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I’ve got a new essay up at The Atlantic, part of the “America the Fixable” series edited by Philip K. Howard. I have a bit of fun at the expense of the Harvard Law Review, raising the question of whether it should be held to lower standards than the Long Island tabloid Newsday, and cite such figures as Richard Posner, Elizabeth Warren, Ross Davies of George Mason, and the bloggers at Volokh Conspiracy and Balkinization.

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Gotta watch out for the suspect’s face, let your guard down and all of a sudden he’s using it to go after your knuckles [Scott Greenfield]

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Nassau County, N.Y., had let go 71-year-old veteran lifeguard Jay Lieberfarb after he failed a swim test. Charging that the county had not always dismissed younger guards who had failed the same test, the EEOC proceeded to negotiate a $65,000 back pay settlement, a three-year consent decree and other relief. [EEOC press release; h/t Roger Clegg] Earlier on superannuated lifeguards [Ocean City, N.J.] (& welcome Chris Fountain readers; he recommends this blog as a cure for low blood pressure)

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