Posts tagged as:

Mikal Watts

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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December 23 roundup

by Walter Olson on December 23, 2013

  • Metro-North train crash spurs calls for mandatory crash-prevention devices. Think twice [Steve Chapman]
  • BP sues attorney Mikal Watts [Insurance Journal] Exaggerated Gulf-spill claims as a business ethics issue [Legal NewsLine]
  • Pot-war fan: “Freedom also means the right not to be subjected to a product I consider immoral” [one of several Baltimore Sun letters to the editor in reaction to my piece on marijuana legalization, and Gregory Kline's response]
  • Aaron Powell, The Humble Case for Liberty [Libertarianism.org]
  • Allegation: lawprof borrowed a lot of his expert witness report from Wikipedia [Above the Law]
  • Frivolous “sovereign citizen” lawsuits on rise in southern Jersey [New Jersey Law Journal, earlier]
  • Star of Hitchcock avian thriller had filed legal malpractice action: “Tippi Hedren wins $1.5 million in bird-related law suit” [Telegraph]

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Lawyers roundup

by Walter Olson on March 4, 2013

  • Feds investigating prominent Texas attorney and many-time Overlawyered mentionee Mikal Watts [MySanAntonio via PoL]
  • Florida high court: lawyers not privileged to defame parties during informal witness questioning [Delmonico v. Traynor]
  • Client’s story: not only did attorney try to kill me, he also gave me bad advice [Lowering the Bar]
  • Some lawyers for city of Cleveland seek union representation, following municipal attorneys in S.F., D.C. and Houston [Cleveland Plain Dealer]
  • Watch what you say about lawyers, part CLXXVI [NYLJ, "shakedown"]
  • Former ATLA president Barry Nace fights disciplinary proceeding in W.V. [Chamber-backed WV Record]
  • Minnesota lawyer who billed client for time he spent having sex with her won’t be allowed to practice for more than a year [TheLawNet, earlier on this candidate for "ultimate Overlawyered story"]
  • Should she take the job offer from an apparently unethical attorney? If she has to ask… [Elie Mystal, Above the Law]

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November 14 roundup

by Walter Olson on November 14, 2011

Campbell Robertson and John Schwartz of the New York Times find that many Vietnamese-Americans who are listed as law firm clients in the BP Transocean spill proceedings would rather not be law firm clients. “Like [Tim] Nguyen, some maintain that they never signed up with lawyers, but found that claims had been filed on their behalf (about 50 people have made formal complaints to the claims facility along these lines).” Nguyen found himself a client of lawyer Mikal Watts, “and to his further surprise, as a Louisiana shrimper rather than a Mississippi shipyard worker.” Watts, a big-league Texas tort lawyer, has reported having 43,000 spill clients, many mass-recruited from minority and poorer communities; he says he has a “signed contingency-fee contract with every client,” and that he has released clients who changed their mind about representation. “People familiar with the claims process [of one 26,000-claimant subgroup] said nearly every submission was listed as a deckhand with identical earnings.” Watts says the claims fund, administered by Kenneth Feinberg, has kept changing the documentation it asks for.

December 11 roundup

by Walter Olson on December 11, 2008

  • Nastygrams fly at Christmas time over display and festival use of “Jingle Bells”, Grinch, etc. [Elefant]
  • Claims that smoking ban led to instantaneous plunge in cardiac deaths in Scotland turns out to be as fishy as similar claims elsewhere [Siegel on tobacco via Sullum, Reason "Hit and Run"]
  • Myths about the costs and consequences of an automaker Chapter 11 filing [Andrew Grossman, Heritage; Boudreaux, WSJ] Drowning in mandates and Congress throws them an anchor [Jenkins, WSJ]
  • Mikal Watts may be the most generous of the trial lawyers bankrolling the Texas Democratic Party’s recent comeback [Texas Watchdog via Pero]
  • Disney settles ADA suit demanding Segway access at Florida theme parks “by agreeing to provide disabled guests with at least 15 newly-designed four-wheeled vehicles.” [OnPoint News, earlier]
  • Update on Scientology efforts to prevent resale of its “e-meter” devices on eBay [Coleman]
  • Scary: business-bashing lawprof Frank Pasquale wants the federal government to regulate Google’s search algorithm [Concurring Opinions, SSRN]
  • Kind of an endowment all by itself: “Princeton is providing $40 million to pay the legal fees of the Robertson family” (after charges of endowment misuse) [MindingTheCampus]

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February 5 roundup

by Ted Frank on February 5, 2008

The San Antonio trial lawyer and Democratic donor says he’s realized he’d like to spend more time with his family. Surely it couldn’t have had anything to do with controversies like the ones covered here or here or here. (Peggy Fikac, “Watts ends bid for Democratic Senate nomination”, Houston Chronicle, Oct. 23).

Looks as if the legal tactics of one politically ambitious Texas plaintiff’s lawyer may have blown up in his face:

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Mikal Watts of San Antonio once tried to pressure a legal opponent into a $60 million personal injury lawsuit settlement by claiming he would have an advantage on appeal because of his firm’s “heavy” campaign financial support to an appellate court’s justices, “all of whom are good Democrats.”

A “nine-page letter Watts wrote to opposing counsel in 2001 apparently was intended to make an out-of-state corporation think the donations could sway” the 13th Court of Appeals in Corpus Christi. The letter was sent to a defense lawyer representing American Electric Power in an auto-accident case. “Politely put, south Texas venue by itself makes this a very dangerous lawsuit,” Watts wrote.

What made the letter unusual was the linking of campaign contributions to sitting justices and the potential of an appeal.

The letter then noted that if the case went to appeal, it would go to the 13th Court of Appeals.

“This court is comprised of six justices, all of whom are good Democrats,” Watts wrote. “The Chief Justice, Hon. Rogelio Valdez, was recently elected with our firm’s heavy support, and is a man who believes in the sanctity of jury verdicts.”

The letter goes on to name Justices Errlinda Castillo, Nelda Rodriguez, J. Bonner Dorsey, Federico Hinojosa and Linda Yanez, and says his firm also has financially supported them. Hinojosa, Castillo and Dorsey are no longer on the court.

“Justice Bonner Dorsey, is more conservative than the others, but has been a friend of mine and the sanctity of jury verdicts for many years,” Watts wrote.

Watts and his law firm in 1999 donated $5,000 to Valdez and $2,500 to Rodriguez; in 2000, $15,000 to Hinojosa; and in January 2001, $10,000 to Castillo. The firm donated $50,000 to Yanez in 2002.

(R. G. Ratcliffe, “Senate candidate played up contributions to justices”, Houston Chronicle, Sept. 5; “Watts’ letter shows judicial reform need” (editorial), San Antonio Express-News, Sept. 15; PrairiePundit, Sept. 7 (quoting Houston Chronicle editorial that’s now offline)).

Blog reaction among both Texans and Democrats has been overwhelmingly negative. “This is bad,” writes the eponymous Kos at Daily Kos. Similarly: Burnt Orange Report, Urban Grounds, Eye on Williamson, Doing My Part for the Left, Capitol Annex. For links to some of our coverage of Watts’s colorful courtroom exploits over the years, see Jun. 9. As a matter of fact, Ted covered Watts’ eye-opening demand letter in a Point of Law post of Nov. 2, 2005.

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August 27 roundup

by Walter Olson on August 27, 2007

July 31 roundup

by Walter Olson on July 31, 2007

  • Can’t possibly be true: Tampa man sentenced to 25 years for possession of pills for which he had a legal prescription [Balko, Hit and Run]

  • Plaintiff’s lawyers “viewed [Sen. Fred Thompson] as someone we could work with” and gave to his campaigns, but they can’t be pleased by his kind words for Texas malpractice-suit curbs [Washington Post, Lattman; disclaimer]

  • Pace U. student arrested on hate crime charges after desecrating Koran stolen from college [Newsday; Volokh, more; Hitchens]

  • Little-used Rhode Island law allows married person to act as spouse’s attorney, which certainly has brought complications to the divorce of Daniel and Denise Chaput from Pawtucket [Providence Journal]

  • Lott v. Levitt defamation suit kinda-sorta settles, it looks like [Adler @ Volokh]

  • Trial lawyer Mikal Watts not bowling ‘em over yet in expected challenge to Texas Sen. Cornyn [Rothenberg, Roll Call, sub-only via Lopez @ NRO]

  • Frankly collusive: after Minnesota car crash, parents arrange to have their injured son sue them for negligence [OnPoint News]

  • Canadian bar hot and bothered over Maclean’s cover story slamming profession’s ethics [Macleans blog]

  • Five Democratic candidates (Clinton, Obama, Edwards, Biden, Richardson) auditioned at the trial lawyers’ convention earlier this month in Chicago [NYSun]

  • Donald Boudreaux’s theory as to why Prohibition ended when it did [Pittsburgh Trib-Rev via Murray @ NRO]

  • Speaker of Alaska house discusses recent strengthening of that state’s longstanding loser-pays law [new at Point of Law]

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The high-rolling Texas personal injury lawyer (Mar. 7, 2005; Feb. 16, 2006; May 13, 2005; Apr. 12-14, 2002; PoL Nov. 2, 2005 and various other posts) is considering challenging incumbent Republican John Cornyn for his seat in the U.S. Senate (Jaime Castillo, “Cornyn in for a fight in ’08, but Dems don’t have it sewn up”, San Antonio Express-News, Jun. 3).

El Defenzor, a Corpus Christi paper of questionable credibility, claims to have uncovered e-mails among the plaintiffs’ bar in that town hand-picking judges for the bench at election time. Unfortunately, this germ of an interesting story is buried in bad punctuation and a deranged-sounding ungrammatical writing style that is consistent with what a commenter here calls “tinfoil hat-wearing.” But the quoted e-mails themselves have indicia of genuineness (including accurate e-mail addresses and corrections of typos in the title line in later iterations), and some of the other allegations in the story are consistent with stories that we have reported from the San Antonio Express-News and a newspaper-destruction scheme we documented in another Watts case. It’s also consistent with the reports filed with the Texas Ethics Commission; witness the disclosures by the front group “Good Government PAC,” which has the same address and office number as the Watts Law Firm.

Imagine what a credible journalist could do with this story! Sixty Minutes? Houston Press? Dallas Observer? Corpus Christi Caller-Times? Texas Monthly? Anyone out there?

Roger S. Braugh, Jr. responds

by Ted Frank on February 16, 2006

We frequently hear from plaintiffs’ attorneys that we don’t have the courage to print their side of the story; somehow, we always do. The latest challenge to our “moral fortitude” comes from Roger S. Braugh, who objects to our post on the Rose Marie Munoz case, where a woman who didn’t wear a seatbelt received a $29 million verdict in a failure-to-warn case where a recall notice had been issued. We’ve posted the full comment and my full response at the original post; a lengthy partial point-by-point rebuttal is after the jump here. In addition, Brough has offered to answer questions about the case; I’ve posted a preliminary list.

Brough’s complaint about those “spending millions of dollars” on tort reform is ironic; he is allegedly a member of what a community paper calls Mikal Watts’s “Millionaire Lawyers Club” that allegedly handpicks judges and influences elections on the 148th District Court in Corpus Christi. But given that a runaway plaintiffs’ bar is costing the American economy hundreds of billions of dollars a year, it’s unsurprising that some of the victims of that problem seek to fix it. But the plaintiffs’ bar outspends reformers by a 3-1 ratio.

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Belatedly following up on the Mar. 7 report about the $31 million verdict against Ford Motor in Zavala County, Tex., on attorney Mikal Watts’s theory (as we put it then) “that the [ejection] injuries were Ford’s fault because it should have used laminated instead of conventional glass in the side windows as a sort of substitute restraint system,” law student Shane Murphy (George Mason U.) had the following comment:

Laminated glass, which is two layers of plate glass with plastic laminate in between, is used on automotive windshields. It has been used for decades to keep objects from easily getting through the windshield and entering the vehicle, not the other way around. In fact, I have seen more than one hapless unbelted occupant of a vehicle propelled fully through a laminated windshield.

Safety glass, which is designed to shatter into very small pieces, is used on side windows in cars. This type of glass is easy to shatter should you need to make a hasty exit from the vehicle, and that’s a key reason it’s put there. It also shatters into small pieces with very little “sharding,” reducing the opportunity for serious injury from broken glass.

Laminated glass requires a special saw to get through. With 12 years of experience, it still takes me five minutes to saw through a car windshield. If your car is on fire you’d prefer safety glass for this reason alone. Laminated glass also causes serious head and facial injuries to those who do full face-plants against the windshield despite seat belt warnings. It will have the same effect in a side window if an occupant is unbelted.

Some automakers are putting laminated glass in the side windows of high-end cars, but this trend should be viewed with great caution. This type of glass does prevent people from “popping a window” to escape from a vehicle in an emergency situation. Two examples of emergencies of this type are vehicle crashes with resulting fires and accidents where a vehicle ends up partially submerged in a body of water. In both cases, the electrical system will likely short out and will prevent easy exit since nearly all cars now have power windows.

I really cannot believe this theory about auto glass even got past the laugh test, never mind into the jury room. Automotive glass should not be used to keep people in the vehicle. Using automotive glass as a backup safety feature would do more harm than good. Seat belts are to keep you in the vehicle, not windows. In fact, I much prefer glass that breaks easily.

More: reader Brian Poldrack of Houston, Texas writes in to say:

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The famously pro-plaintiff jurisdiction of Zavala County, Texas once again lived up to its reputation the other day when one of its juries returned a $31 million verdict against the Ford Motor Co. in the case of the rollover of a 2000 Explorer which killed two occupants and injured two others. Legal commentators around the web are abuzz about the most remarkable angle of the story, namely that until deep into the trial Ford did not learn that one of the jurors, Crystal City city manager Diana Palacios, was the girlfriend of Jesse Gamez, one of the lawyers on the team of plaintiff’s attorneys headed by Houston’s Mikal Watts. Ford also presented evidence that Palacios, incredibly, had actually solicited two of the crash victims for her boyfriend to represent. Nonetheless, Judge Amado Abascal refused to declare a mistrial, instead dismissing Palacios from the jury and issuing a supposedly curative instruction to the remaining jurors. David Bernstein, Tom Kirkendall and John Steele comment. (John MacCormack, “Juror’s relationship with lawyer stalls Ford trial”, San Antonio Express-News, Feb. 23). (Addendum: one of John Steele’s readers has drawn his attention to this 1997 Texas Supreme Court opinion which co-stars the very same Mr. Gamez and Ms. Palacios in a Norplant case — very curious stuff.)

The other issues raised by the verdict, however, deserve attention as well. The accident was caused by the speeding of the vehicle’s driver, and none of the four occupants was wearing a seat belt; all were ejected. Attorney Watts (Apr. 12-14, 2002) advanced the theory that the injuries were Ford’s fault because it should have used laminated instead of conventional glass in the side windows as a sort of substitute restraint system. (John MacCormack, “Zavala jurors hit Ford for $28 million”, San Antonio Express-News, Mar. 2). Notes the Detroit News:

Ford said laminated glass wouldn’t have kept the women from being ejected and was hardly ever used in side windows when the vehicle was made.

“At that time, 99.9 percent of all vehicles made by all manufacturers, through the 2000 model year, had the kind of tempered glass used in this vehicle,” Vokes said. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration doesn’t require laminated glass in side windows, she said.

(“Explorer suit costs Ford $31 million”, Detroit News, Mar. 3) AutoBlog has a short write-up with a good comments section; note in particular comment #22, on one possible safety advantage of not using laminated glass on cars’ sides. More: Mar. 22, May 13, May 16, May 29.

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April 19-21 – Pitcher hit by line drive sues maker of baseball bat. Hurling for the Pittsfield (Ill.) High School baseball team, Daniel Hannant put one over the plate to a batter from opponent Calhoun High School, who smacked the ball in a line drive straight at the pitcher’s mound where it hit Hannant on the head. Now Hannant is suing … guess who? The maker of the baseball bat, Hillerich & Bradsby, known for its trademark Louisville Slugger. (“Lawsuit comes out swinging”, Chicago Tribune, Apr. 18) (& see letter to the editor, Jun. 14; update, Dec. 30). (DURABLE LINK)

April 19-21 – No apologies from RFK Jr. As the uproar continues in Iowa over Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s assertion that large hog-raising operations are more of a threat to American democracy than Osama bin Laden, Kennedy’s office has sent word to the Des Moines Register not to expect an apology or retraction. (Mark Siebert, “Kennedy stands by hog-lot remark”, Apr. 18; J. R. Taylor, “To the Preening Born”, New York Press “Billboard”, Apr. 18; earlier reports on this site Apr. 15, Apr. 17). Far from being an unconsidered slip of the tongue, the comparison seems to have been a feature of Kennedy’s speeches for months, to judge from a report published back in January on another of his Midwestern swings: “This threat is greater than that in Afghanistan,” he was quoted as saying. “This is not only a threat to the environment, it is a threat to the American economy and democracy.” (Gretchen Schlosser, National Hog Farmer, Jan. 15, linked in WSJ OpinionJournal.com “Best of the Web” Jan. 21). And a staff attorney from Kennedy’s office has sent us a letter responding to our editor’s Wednesday New York Post op-ed on the affair, to which we append a fairly lengthy response — see our letters page.

MORE: The food-industry-defense group Center for Consumer Freedom has been on the warpath against Kennedy and his band of lawyers for a while. It quotes Iowa Agriculture Secretary Patty Judge as saying: “The true agenda of this group is to sue farms and take the monetary rewards back to the East Coast.” (“Trashing Pork, Cashing In”, Apr. 11). Kennedy has estimated “damages” against the industry of $13 billion: “We have lawyers with the deepest pockets, and they’ve agreed to fight the industry to the end,” he has said. “We’re going to go after all of them.” (“Kennedy’s Pork Police Hit Iowa”, Apr. 2; “Waterkeepers, Farmers Weepers”, Dec. 12, 2001) “‘We’re starting with hogs. After the hogs, then we are going after the other ones,’ referring to the poultry and beef industries.” (“Warning”, Jan. 16, 2001, citing “Concerns that pork suit may be extended to other areas,” Des Moines Register, Jan. 8, 2001). (DURABLE LINK)

April 19-21 – Traffic-cams, cont’d. In the controversy (see Apr. 8-9) over the uses and abuses of automated traffic camera systems, a reader writes in (see letters page) to say we were wrong to describe Lockheed Martin as the current contractor on the systems; it actually sold the operation last August to another company. Our apologies. And Eugene Volokh reports on his blog (Apr. 17) that he found some inaccuracies in Matt Labash’s Weekly Standard investigative series on the cameras which Labash and the Standard have been happy to correct. See also “Hawaii scraps ‘Talivan’ traffic cameras”, AP/ABC News, Apr. 11. (DURABLE LINK)

April 19-21 – Clipboard-throwing manager = $30 million clipping for grocery chain. The Ralphs supermarket chain in California had a store manager who over the course of a decade “physically and verbally abused six female Ralphs employees by calling them vulgar names, manhandling them, and throwing items like telephones, clipboards and, in one instance, a 30- to 40-pound mailbag, at them.” So a San Diego jury awarded them $5 million each in damages. (Alexei Oreskovic, “$30M Awarded in Sex Harassment Suit Against Grocery Chain”, The Recorder, Apr. 9)(& update Jul. 26-28: judge cuts total award to $8 million). (DURABLE LINK)

April 19-21 – See you … at the Big Apple Blog Bash Friday night. (DURABLE LINK)

April 18 – “Tampa Taliban” mom blames acne drug. By reader acclaim: “The family of 15-year-old Charles Bishop has filed a $70-million lawsuit against the maker of acne medication Accutane, saying nothing else explains the teenager’s suicidal flight into a downtown Tampa high-rise.” Bishop, whose father bore an Arab surname, left a suicide note praising Osama bin Laden; the county medical examiner’s office found no trace of Accutane in his bloodstream, although it says that does not rule out the possibility that he might have been on the medication, for which he had been written a prescription. Although the maker of the widely used acne drug denies that it causes psychosis or suicidal impulses, its cautious consent form “required the Bishops to agree to tell their physician ‘if anyone in the family has ever had symptoms of depression, been psychotic, attempted suicide, or had any other serious mental problems.’ Julia Bishop, however, did not reveal that in 1984, she and Charles’ estranged father failed in a bloody suicide pact during which she stabbed him with a 12-inch butcher knife.” Mrs. Bishop’s lawyer, Michael Ryan of Fort Lauderdale, calls that earlier suicide pact incident “completely irrelevant”. (Robert Farley, “Suit: Drug behind suicide flight”, St. Petersburg Times, Apr. 17; Natashia Gregoire, “Teen Pilot’s Family Sues Drug Maker”, Tampa Tribune, Apr. 17; “Accutane acne drug maker sued over suicide”, USA Today/Reuters, Apr. 16; Broward Liston and Tim Padgett, “Despair Beneath His Wings”, Time, Jan. 13; Howard Feinberg, “Is Accutane to Blame?”, TechCentralStation.com, Apr. 18; see Feb. 1). Updates: manufacturer wins first jury trial (Margaret Cronin Fisk, “Suits Probe Acne Drug, Depression”, National Law Journal, Apr. 25; Michael Fumento, “The Accutane Blame Game”, National Review Online, May 9). (DURABLE LINK)

April 18 – Judge compares class action lawyers to “squeegee boys”. A Florida judge has rejected the tentative settlement of a shareholder lawsuit filed by Milberg Weiss Bershad Hynes & Lerach against power company Florida Progress Corp. over a 1999 merger, saying the evidence indicated that the suit did not leave class members in a better position than if it had never been filed. Added Pinellas County Judge W. Douglas Baird: “This action appears to be the class litigation equivalent of the ‘squeegee boys’ who used to frequent major urban intersections and who would run up to a stopped car, splash soapy water on its perfectly clean windshield and expect payment for the uninvited service of wiping it off.” (Jason Hoppin, The Recorder, Apr. 17). (DURABLE LINK)

April 18 – Welcome Humorix.org readers. The Linux-humor site started linking to us way back in 1999, if we remember correctly. Also sending us visitors lately: Auckland (N.Z.) District Law Society, Mar. 14 (“For a change of pace, spend some time with this digest of news stories … Most cases reported on are from the U.S., but there are quite a few examples from Europe, Australia, and elsewhere”); WTIC-AM Hartford, “Morning Links”, Apr. 7; American Civil Rights Union “ACLU Watch”, Nintendominion “Site Unseen”, Mar. 31; Dog Brothers Martial Arts (Hermosa Beach, Calif.), Mutual Reinsurance Bureau, Anne Klockenkemper (Univ. of Florida) Media Law Resources, Smith Freed & Eberhard P.C. (attorneys at law, Portland, Ore.), Univ. of Nevada-Reno Tau Kappa Epsilon, RKKA.org (Russian Red Army-themed wargaming); Fureyous.com, Mar. (“My dream site, a site where I can find the entire downfall of civilization due to frivolous and pathetic lawsuits and legal actions”), and many more. (DURABLE LINK)

April 17 – New York Post op-ed on RFK Jr. & hogs. Our editor has a piece today on the op-ed page of the New York Post about the furor that broke out in Iowa when celebrity environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. told a rally that large-scale hog farms are more of a threat to America than Osama bin Laden and his terrorists. For links to the local Iowa coverage, see our item here from Monday, of which the Post op-ed is an expansion. (Walter Olson, “Osama, the Pigs and the Kennedy”, New York Post, Apr. 17).

April 16-17 – Pharmaceutical roundup. The total cost of the settlement over the diet compound fen-phen has ballooned to more than $13 billion, swollen by mass recruitment by law firms of claimants who defendants believe have suffered no ill effects from the compound at all aside from possible worry. “Wyeth’s general counsel, Louis L. Hoynes Jr., said he believes that in a different legal climate his company might have been able to settle all serious claims for less than $1 billion. That would amount to an average of $1 million each for 1,000 cases.” (L. Stuart Ditzen, “Mass diet-pill litigation inflates settlement costs to $13.2 billion”, Philadelphia Inquirer, Apr. 9 — whole article well worth reading). Lawyers for a group of British women have filed what is believed to be the first injury suit over the “third-generation” birth control pill, which they say raises the risk of blood clots, and similar suits are expected to follow in the United States (Mary Vallis, “U.K. suit targets perils of The Pill”, National Post, Mar. 5). In one of the more recent applications of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Daubert doctrine, courts have dismissed several lawsuits seeking to blame Pfizer’s anti-impotency drug Viagra for users’ heart attacks, ruling that the expert testimony in the cases was not based on scientific principles that had gained “general acceptance.” (Tom Perrotta, “Viagra Cases Dismissed”, New York Law Journal, Jan. 22). The Nov. 9, 2001 installment of CBS’s “48 Hours” launched a one-sided attack on psychiatric drugs used to treat attention deficit and hyperactivity and told the stories of two parents who say their use of the ADHD drug Adderall caused them to behave irrationally, resulting in the death of their children; but Hudson Institute fellow Michael Fumento finds that much was misstated or left out in the network’s account, including the exact role of the trial lawyers hovering in the background (Michael Fumento, “Prescription for Bias“, “Dawn Marie Branson: A Sad Story Only Half Told“) And although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not chosen to give a green light for the reintroduction of silicone breast implants for American women following the litigation-fueled panic that drove them from the market, they have regained popularity among women in Canada, reports the CBC (“Silicone implants back in style”, Sept. 20, 2001). (DURABLE LINK)

April 16-17 – A DMCA run-in. Tom Veal’s Stromata site, which covers topics ranging from pension regulation to science fiction, had a run-in a few days ago with its hosting service, Tripod, which abruptly closed down access to the site and then took its sweet time about reopening it. The reason? Tripod had received a nastygram from a law firm charging that Stromata was in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, not because it had posted any copyrighted material itself, but because it had linked to another site which had (it said) posted an unauthorized translation of a widely discussed piece on terrorism by Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci. Unfortunately, as Veal notes, the incentives under DMCA are for hosts to muzzle speech in haste and un-muzzle at leisure. (“Et Cetera”, Apr. 9). (DURABLE LINK)

April 16-17 – Unlikely critic of litigation. The Washington group Judicial Watch files lawsuits at a manic clip, but now its founder Larry Klayman is taking to the mails to decry our national problem of excessive litigiousness. “One may liken the overall effect of Klayman’s direct-mail sermon against frivolous lawsuits to that of a Weight Watchers commercial starring Marlon Brando or a temperance lecture given by Hunter S. Thompson.” (Tim Noah, “Larry Klayman Decries Evils of Litigation!”, Slate, Apr. 3). (DURABLE LINK)

April 15 – RFK Jr. blasted for hog farm remarks. Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the highest-profile spokesman for the developing alliance between trial lawyers and some environmentalist groups (see Dec. 7, 2000), “made an ass of himself” in remarks last weekend at a Clear Lake, Ia. rally, according to veteran Des Moines Register political columnist David Yepsen. Kennedy’s “statement that large-scale hog producers were a bigger threat to America than Osama bin Laden’s terrorists has to be one of the crudest things ever said in Iowa politics. … [Kennedy] brought his Waterkeeper’s Alliance for a rally [in Clear Lake]. It’s a group that is threatening lawsuits against livestock industries. … Rural America needs positive solutions to this problem, not the corrosive rhetoric of another out-of-state political operative or lawsuits from greedy trial lawyers. … What was one of the finest hours of this legislative session was marred by this fool from the East. … Kennedy looks to be cashing in on his family’s name. … If his name were Bob Fitzgerald, he’d be dismissed as another one of the kooks on the fringe of this debate.” Other reaction was not much more favorable: “‘You have to be a complete wandering idiot to make that statement,’ said [Luke] Kollasch [of Algona, Ia.], whose family owns several hog farms and feed and construction companies in northwest Iowa.” (Donnelle Elder, “Big hog lots called greater threat than bin Laden”, Des Moines Register, Apr. 10; “Kennedy’s outrageous rhetoric” (editorial), Apr. 11; David Yepsen, “Kennedy cashes in on family name while acting like a fool”, Apr. 14) (DURABLE LINK)

April 15 – Updates. Stories that seem to have a life of their own:

* Richard Espinosa, “who is suing the city of Escondido because his dog was attacked by a cat inside a city library, now says the attack was a hate crime.” (see Dec. 4, 2001) (“Cat attack now described as hate crime”, MSNBC, Apr. 5)

* “The Florida Legislature has partially undone a landmark Florida Supreme Court ruling issued in November that gave slip-and-fall injury victims the upper hand in lawsuits against supermarkets and other premises owners.” (see Jan. 7). The ruling had required businesses to prove they were not negligent when presented with slip-fall claims. However, trial lawyers extracted a compromise in which plaintiffs will not have to prove that a slippery material was on the floor for long enough for the store owner to have known about it. (Susan R. Miller, “Florida Legislature Passes Bill on Slip-and-Fall Cases”, Miami Daily Business Review, Mar. 27).

* “A Hays County judge has thrown out a default judgment that would have awarded $5 million to a local woman whose near-topless image was used in a national television ad for a ‘Wild Party Girls’ video without her permission. … Judge Charles Ramsay set aside the default judgment, ruling that the plaintiff had listed the wrong company in the lawsuit, and that the video’s makers were not either properly named or properly served.” (see Mar. 6-7) (Carol Coughlin, “Topless suit is groundless, judge rules”, San Marcos (Tex.) Daily Record, Mar. 30).

* More on the symbiotic relationship between state attorneys general and Microsoft competitors (see Apr. 3-4): “An April 2000 e-mail message from the Utah attorney general’s office to Novell, revealed in court, asked for ‘guidance … preferably without involving too many people seeing this language.’” (Declan McCullagh, “Report: MS Foes Bribed Attorneys”, Wired News, Apr. 6). (DURABLE LINK)

April 12-14 – Hey, no fair talking about the pot. During a 20-hour trip from California to Texas pulling a U-Haul trailer, three young women work their way through a bag of marijuana. Of course the ensuing rollover accident is, like, practically totally the fault of their Firestone tires and the U-Haul company, or at least so their lawyers argue in a suit against those companies, even though the tires did not suffer the “tread separation” that has heretofore been seen as the distinctive source of accident risk with the now-recalled Firestones. Now Matagorda County, Tex. Judge Craig Estlinbaum has declared a mistrial at the request of plaintiff’s lawyer Mikal Watts who complained that defense attorney Morgan Copeland “had breached a pretrial order by introducing detailed evidence of marijuana use” during the trip. If we read the AP story correctly, Judge Estlinbaum had ruled that the defense could mention only that portion of the marijuana it could prove the driver consumed, and attorney Copeland, who may now face sanctions in the famously pro-plaintiff county, had improperly let jurors know about the whole bag. The Ford Motor Co. was also named as a defendant but has already settled out of the case (“Texas judge declares mistrial in Firestone case”, Yahoo/ Reuters, Apr. 5; Pam Easton, “Judge declares Firestone mistrial”, AP/ MySanAntonio.com, Apr. 6). Update — additional coverage of ruling: Miriam Rozen, “Mistrial declared in Firestone case”, Texas Lawyer, Apr. 15).

April 12-14 – In the line of fire. Post-Enron, many companies feel the need to seek out savvier and more experienced executives to sit on boards and audit committees, but with escalating fears of personal liability “attracting talent may become nearly impossible. ‘Recruiting directors for the audit committee is like calling them on deck for a kamikaze attack,’ quips [corporate finance officer Bob] Williamson.” (Marie Leone, “Audit Committee? Thanks, But No Thanks”, CFO Magazine, Apr. 5).

April 12-14 – L.A. police sued, and sued. The family of the late James Allen Beck, who died in a fiery shootout with L.A. sheriff’s deputies last August after barricading himself in his home, has filed a wrongful death claim against the sheriff’s department. During the standoff Beck, an ex-police officer with a history of stockpiling weapons at his home, shot and killed Deputy Hagop Kuredjian. (“Mother of gunman who died in shootout files claim”, Sacramento Bee, Apr. 10)(& see Feb. 23, 2000). And: “Heirs of the late rap star Notorious B.I.G. have filed a wrongful death and federal civil rights lawsuit against Los Angeles Police Chief Bernard Parks, two former chiefs and the city of Los Angeles, claiming they did not do enough to prevent the rapper’s death five years ago in a drive-by shooting.” (“Notorious B.I.G. heirs sue LAPD, officials, city”, CNN, Apr. 11).

April 11 – Don’t ban therapeutic cloning. Though not usually the petition-signing types, we (our editor) have signed a petition being circulated by Virginia Postrel’s just-launched Franklin Society opposing the current stampede in Congress to ban all scientific use of cloned human cells including “therapeutic” (non-reproductive) uses, and even the use of imported pharmaceuticals developed via such methods (see “Criminalizing Science” (symposium), Reason, Nov.). If you agree with us that this proposed law is a bad idea, you can sign the petition here and view the list of distinguished signers: despite efforts in some conservative quarters to hand down a party line opposing this potentially life-saving branch of biomedical research, support for it in fact cuts across the political spectrum. For information on contacting elected representatives, see InstaPundit, Apr. 10. (DURABLE LINK)

April 11 – Texas doctors’ work stoppage. Monday’s one-day work stoppage by South Texas doctors outraged at spiraling malpractice costs (see Mar. 15-17) drew national attention (“Texas docs protest malpractice claims”, AP/CNN, Apr. 8; see also Dean Reynolds, “Crushing Cost of Insurance”, ABCNews.com, Mar. 5 (Nev., Pa.)). And a Florida physician has launched an insurance policy for doctors “that aims to provide them with the legal resources they would need to countersue lawyers or expert witnesses filing frivolous lawsuits”. (Tanya Albert, “Frivolous suits feel wrath of Medical Justice”, American Medical News, Feb. 11). (DURABLE LINK)

April 11 – Batch of reader letters. Topics include the “pedal-extender” suit against Ford; OxyContin; suing food companies for waistline problems; police getting ticketed while responding to calls; laws mandating handicap accessibility in private homes; and why schools would send kids home when they have a slight sniffle. One writer upbraids blogger Natalie Solent for thinking it crazy to impose strict product liability on British blood suppliers that currently offer their services free of charge to patients; he thinks she (and by extension we) must not have stopped to consider that blood transfusions can transmit lethal diseases like AIDS and hepatitis.

Best of all, we hear from attorney Jack Thompson, the anti-videogame crusader who has just filed a lawsuit claiming that Sony’s EverQuest game is responsible for the suicide of a user, and he turns out to be every bit as suave and ingratiating as we dared hope (“go to Afghanistan where your anarchist, pro-drug views will be greatly rewarded”), though we wonder whether he caught the phrase “as if” in our original Apr. 3 posting. Mr. Thompson will probably not appreciate Eugene Volokh’s new satirical piece for TechCentralStation.com (“Worse than Internet Addiction”, Apr. 10). (DURABLE LINK)

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