- Latest Yank expatriate to get caught in IRS’s overseas tax/FATCA trap? None other than London mayor Boris Johnson [Robert Wood, Forbes]
- “He washes any hint of influence-peddling through the purifying font of his law firm, just as other Albany leaders do.” [Mark Cunningham, New York Post]
- Now why would Texas trial lawyer Steve Mostyn spend $1.2 million trying to get Charlie Crist elected governor of Florida, a different state? [Nancy Smith/Sunshine State News, earlier on Mostyn]
- Yes, that opinion-TweetWatch project at Indiana U. funded with federal NSF dollars was intensely if covertly political [Charlotte Allen, Minding the Campus]
- Qui tam/whistleblower plaintiff bar finds bright spot in election with elevation of Iowa Sen. Grassley who has so often been helpful to them in past [WSJ Law Blog, earlier]
- Considerable turnover in election results for state attorneys general (due to open seats, of course; you thought incumbent AGs get defeated?) [NAAG, Bingham McCutchen/Lexology]
- “John Doe froze conservative speech, targets say” [M.D. Kittle/Wisconsin Reporter, earlier]
Don’t take my word for it, take New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s:
Mr. Cuomo conceded that the scaffold law was among the “infuriating” things about doing business in New York, but couldn’t be changed because of the strength of its supporters, particularly the state trial lawyers association.
“The trial lawyers are the single most powerful political force in Albany,” he said. “That’s the short answer. It’s also the long answer.”
As Andrew Hawkins explains at Crain’s New York Business, which interviewed Cuomo, the scaffold law is New York’s alone-in-the-country legal regime ascribing 100% liability for gravity-related workplace injuries to businesses found to have contributed any fault, even if the predominant cause was a worker’s drunkenness or decision to violate safety rules. Because awards are high, some estimate that the law will contribute $200 million to construction costs at the Tappan Zee Bridge rebuilding project alone compared with a law more typical of what is found in other states. The law has been under vigorous attack for some time by a New York business coalition, to no avail.
Attorneys for the state, which has a record of zealously guarding its “I [Heart] NY” promotional logo, have sent a threat to a model train company over a discontinued replica model of a real-life train that used the logo [Joe Patrice, Above the Law] [Corrected: state, not city]
Last year New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s income from prominent personal injury firm Weitz & Luxenberg, where he is of counsel, was between $350,000 and $450,000, a disclosure eagerly awaited by some Gotham reporters since details about Silver’s financial arrangement with the firm have previously been kept under wraps. Silver also has a relationship with Counsel Financial, which lends money for the furtherance of lawsuits. “Critics have suggested that the two-year gap between the old and new reporting requirements gave Silver enough time to front-load his salary from Weitz & Luxenberg before the new rules went into effect, thus making it appear he has a smaller salary when he had to finally publicly disclose it. Those close to Silver have dismissed such speculation.” Silver’s Assembly salary is $122,500. [New York Daily News; Ira Stoll]
A bill passed by the New York Senate would make it a felony to “subject” any police officer to “physical contact” with the intent to “harass, annoy, threaten or alarm” such officer. Under current law, only contact that results in injury rises to the status of a felony. Sen. Joe Griffo (R-Rome), sponsor of the bill, cites “shocking incidents” of “disrespect.” [Gothamist, Scott Greenfield; Gannett LoHud (Sen. Griffo complains his intent was misunderstood, says bill is doomed in Assembly)]
- Texas whups Administration in court on cross-state air pollution rule and coal-fired power: “It is unfortunate that EPA continues to misuse the Clean Air Act.” [TCEQ press release, WSJ editorial]
- As upstate New York hopes for Greek-yogurt boom, enviros defend extra-strict factory-farm (“CAFO”) regs [Abby Wisse Schachter, NY Post]
- Land-use control and economic inequality in America [Virginia Postrel, Bloomberg; Randal O’Toole, Cato]
- House Oversight report confirms EPA lead-paint renovation rule continues to frustrate Main Street [Angela Logomasini; earlier here, etc.]
- Illegal in some Western states to collect rainwater for one’s own use [Fox, Oregon; N.Y. Times, 2009]
- GAO releases report on attorney fee awards for environmental citizen suits [Michael Tremoglie, LNL] “Mandate Madness: When Sue and Settle Just Isn’t Enough” [House Oversight hearing]
- “EPA exonerates fracking in Pennsylvania” [Ken Green, AEIdeas; Dimock, Pa., of “Gasland” fame]
“Localities in the state spend at least $1 billion a year on judgments and other costs of lawsuits, according to preliminary data from Rockefeller College.” [Albany Times-Union]
The uproar continues, and quite properly so (earlier here and here), over the threats of Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and Chicago alderman Proco (“Joe”) Moreno to exclude the Chick-Fil-A fast-food chain because they disagree (as do I) with some of the views of its owner. Among the latest commentary, the impeccably liberal Boston Globe has sided with the company in an editorial (“which part of the First Amendment does Menino not understand?…A city in which business owners must pass a political litmus test is the antithesis of what the Freedom Trail represents”), as has my libertarian colleague Tom Palmer at Cato (“Mayor Menino is no friend of human rights.”)
The spectacle of a national business being threatened with denial of local licenses because of its views on a national controversy is bad enough. But “don’t offend well-organized groups” is only Rule #2 for a business that regularly needs licenses, approvals and permissions. Rule #1 is “don’t criticize the officials in charge of granting the permissions.” Can you imagine if Mr. Dan Cathy had been quoted in an interview as saying “Boston has a mediocre if not incompetent Mayor, and the Chicago Board of Aldermen is an ethics scandal in continuous session.” How long do you think it would take for his construction permits to get approved then?
Thus it is that relatively few businesses are willing to criticize the agencies that regulate them in any outspoken way (see, e.g.: FDA and pharmaceutical industry, the), or to side with pro-business groups that seriously antagonize many wielders of political power (see, e.g., the recent exodus of corporate members from the American Legislative Exchange Council).
A few weeks ago I noted the case of Maryland’s South Mountain Creamery, which contends through an attorney (though the U.S. Attorney for Maryland denies it) that it was offered less favorable terms in a plea deal because it had talked to the press in statements that wound up garnering bad publicity for the prosecutors. After that item, reader Robert V. wrote in as follows:
Your recent article about the [U.S. Attorney for Maryland] going after the dairy farmers reminded me a case in New York state where the Health Department closed down a nursing home in Rochester. They claim is was because of poor care, the owner claims it was because he spoke out against the DOH.
The state just lost a lawsuit where the jury found the DOH targeted the nursing home operator because he spoke out against them.
According to Democrat and Chronicle reporters Gary Craig and Steve Orr, the jury found state health officials had engaged in a “vendetta” against the nursing home owner:
Beechwood attorneys maintained that an email and document trail showed that Department of Health officials singled out Chambery for retribution because he had sparred with them in the past over regulatory issues. The lawsuit hinged on a Constitutional argument — namely that the state violated Chambery’s First Amendment rights by targeting him for his challenges to their operation.
The Second Circuit panel opinion in 2006 permitting Chambery/ Beechwood’s retaliation claim to go forward is here. It took an extremely long time for the nursing home operators to get their case to a jury; the state closed them down in 1999 and the facility was sold at public auction in 2002.
More than two dozen members of the New York state assembly, including nearly half its GOP members, have signed on to a flagrantly unconstitutional bill that would empower complainants to force the takedown of anonymous online speech by claiming to have been victimized by it. To avoid takedown, the website sponsor would have to disclose information about the authorship of the supposedly offensive post including the writer’s name and home address. Eugene Volokh:
Nor would this be limited to comments that allegedly libel someone, or even insult someone (though that would be bad enough), despite all the talk of preventing cyber-bullying by the bill’s backers. Rather, the law would apply any time anyone makes a “request” that a comment be removed, even if the comment doesn’t mention anyone by name but is simply religiously or politically offensive to the “request[er].” The same would apply to anonymous material added to Wikipedia, if Wikipedia were found to be subject to New York jurisdiction, anonymous videos posted to YouTube, and so on.
The sponsors of the bill claim that it is part of a legislative effort against “cyber-bullying.” Scott Greenfield’s post has the best headline: “New York to Publius: You’re Done, Bully-Boy.” Related on “cyber-bullying” here (& welcome Above the Law readers).
“In non-Western countries, demons and witchcraft are still sometimes blamed for outbreaks of fainting and fits [PDF]. Pollution, poisoning, chemical weapons, and other environmental concerns are dominant in the West (a fact that makes Brockovich something of a mass hysteria machine). Some bloggers are now claiming that the upstate New York girls fell ill because of the HPV vaccine or fracking.” [Ruth Graham, Slate]