Posts tagged as:

overzealous advocacy

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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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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Twelve ways lawyers try to gain (often unfair) advantage when interrogating captive opponents. [Maryland Bar Journal/SSRN via Legal Ethics Forum]

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Chris Fountain brings us a truly over-the-top California lawyer website: “For us, the other side is not merely an opponent—they’re the enemy! For us, litigation is war. We’ve given the term ‘scorched earth litigation’ new meaning … We carpet bomb the other side with discovery, and our deposition questions are like hellfire missiles.”

And the sequel he finds on Facebook is even funnier.

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According to Paul Secunda at Workplace Prof Blog, a monstrously overgrown employment discrimination dispute recently ruled on by a California appellate court helps explain “why people like Walter Olson rightly believe in some cases that litigation is just plain overlawyered“.

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John Steele at Legal Ethics Forum finds much to unpack in a lawyer’s statement defending his zealous advocacy in a California discovery dispute.

Noted by Terry Teachout in his “Almanac” feature:

“He recognized that common, much litigated type of human disagreement in which each party to it insists on reducing his opponent’s position or contention to its bare essentials–yes or no; did he, or did he not, still beat his wife?–while asserting the right to state his own position or contention with every circumstantial distinction preserved. High indignation and conflicting strong senses of righteousness resulted.”

James Gould Cozzens, Guard of Honor

To “neutralize”, “eliminate”, “destroy” or “kill” a hostile witness. [NYLJ, Gothamist] More on Robert Simels trial: NY Post, NYDN, Greenfield.

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The amount of money at stake is not always a good predictor of the lengths to which parties will go to make the other side unhappy [Dave Hoffman, Concurring Opinions]

“A trial judge had an obligation to hold a plenary hearing on disputed issues in a suit between two former law firm partners, even if he thought the matter petty and unworthy of the lawyers involved, an appeals court ruled last week. The panel reversed Monmouth County, N.J., Superior Court Judge Alexander Lehrer, who decided motions to enforce litigants’ rights based on conflicting certifications, after calling the dispute ‘the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen’ and questioning whether the amount at issue justified the cost of a hearing.” At one point the judge said, of a requested evidentiary hearing, “Let’s spend $60,000 in legal fees for me to determine whether or not one lawyer owes another lawyer $24,000.” (Mary Pat Gallagher, New Jersey Law Journal, Sept. 9).

As Michael Krauss notes, an AP story today rehashes the details of last week’s Flax v. Chrysler case, though it falsely treats Paul Sheridan as a credible witness and doesn’t acknowledge most of Chrysler’s arguments.

It’s worth noting the Jim Butler firm’s description of the case:

The evidence showed the impact was minor. Though Stockell was speeding at the time, the minivan was also moving forward and the change in velocity (Delta V) was only 17 to 20 mph.

To repeat: the plaintiffs’ attorney said that a Delta-V of 17-20 mph is “minor.” I suppose in the astronomical sense that a Delta-V of 17-20 mph wouldn’t escape earth orbit, but it seems fairly major for someone in a heavy minivan. For those of you at home who want to experience what a “minor” Delta-V collision of “only” 17-20 mph feels like, drive into a reinforced brick wall at 17-20 mph with your airbag turned off, but be sure to wear your seat-belt to reduce the chance that you go through your windshield. Another way you can have a Delta-V of 20 mph is if you are dropped about 12-15 feet onto a concrete surface. I sure hope that the trial judge didn’t let Butler lie about physics to the jury like that, but I fear I know the answer.

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July 3 roundup

by Walter Olson on July 3, 2008

  • Texas probate and estate lawyers seldom prosecuted when they steal funds, clients told they should just sue to get it back [Austin American-Statesman investigation]
  • About a third of the way down the center strip, then just a bit to the right, you’ll find us on this much-linked map of the campaign season’s most influential websites [Presidential Watch '08]
  • Given the enormous liability exposure, would a doctor rationally want a major celebrity as a client? [Scalpel or Sword via KevinMD]
  • The loser-pays difference: Canadian franchisees pursue failed class-action claim against sandwich shop Quiznos, judge orders them to pay costs of more than C$200,000 [BizOp via ClassActionBlawg]
  • Annals of extreme incivility: judge condemns “heartless attack” at deposition on opposing lawyer’s pin honoring son killed in Iraq [Fulton County Daily Report]
  • You keep an open wi-fi connection at home and your neighbor uses it to download music improperly. Are you an infringer too? [Doctorow via Coleman]
  • As you’ve probably heard if you read blogs (but maybe not otherwise), one Canadian “human rights” tribunal has dropped action against Mark Steyn and Maclean’s; another still pursuing case [SteynOnline]
  • Prison-overcrowding lawsuit could lead to early release of 27,000 California inmates [TalkLeft]
  • “He absolutely would’ve gotten this DOJ job but for the anti-liberal bias … and he can’t land any other jobs?” [commenter KenVee on lawsuit over politicized Department of Justice Honors/Intern programs, Kerr @ Volokh, background]

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(Update, June 6, 10:50 AM: According to a commenter, the “filing” is not actually a filing, but a doctored inside joke. Which is pretty funny.)

(Or, in the alternative, why you always check that you’ve printed the correct draft before you file.)

One strongly suspects the “signing” attorney in the defendants’ answer to the complaint in the Harris County, Texas case of Henry v. Maersk Line Limited did not actually authorize the tone of this filing (NSFW language). (A strong tip of the Overlawyered hat to long-time reader D.W.C., who once was a ground-breaking plaintiff of his own.)

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Well, at least some doctors are hoping to discern such a trend on the strength of two data points: the case Ted has covered in which the Ohio Supreme Court struck down a $30 million verdict because of the shenanigans of attorney Geoffrey Fieger, and a Michigan case from March in which an appeals court overturned a $500,000 verdict against a Flint doctor and ordered a new trial. In the latter case the appeals court “noted the trial judge ‘valiantly and repeatedly attempted’ to restrain Konheim [Southfield, Mich., plaintiff attorney Joseph Konheim]. ‘There is a point, however, when an attorney’s deliberate misbehavior becomes so repetitive and egregious that it necessarily impacts the jury, notwithstanding the judge’s efforts. That point was reached here,’ the unanimous opinion states. It also says that Konheim belittled witnesses on the stand and made ‘irrelevant’ and ‘disparaging’ statements that diverted the jury’s attention from the case’s merits. Konheim is asking the court to reconsider.” (Amy Lynn Sorrel, “Lawyers’ misconduct triggers new liability trials”, AMedNews (AMA), May 5).

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Our weekend post questioning defense attorney John Keker’s assertions of the innocence of client Dickie Scruggs (“prosecutors have concocted a ‘manufactured crime’ in which his client had no part”) drew a couple of comments from readers who saw Keker’s statements as no more than the zealous advocacy we should expect of a defense attorney. They’ve also been discussing the issue over at the WSJ law blog, where they quote defense attorney Benjamin Brafman’s rapidly disproved boast that his client Mel Weiss “will be fully exonerated,” as well as Monroe Freedman, the Hofstra legal ethicist and regular antipode of views expressed on this site, who

says that generally speaking, he doesn’t see problems with a lawyer making aggressive statements to the press in defense of his client. “We don’t know what the client told the lawyer when the lawyer made the statements,” he says. “We don’t know what Scruggs told his lawyer. We don’t know if Scruggs said I did it, but I want to fight it or something else entirely.”

George Sharswood’s Essay on Professional Responsibility, the standard American text on legal ethics before the modern period, contains the following assertion (pp. 99-100 of Google Books digitized version):

…no counsel can with propriety and good conscience express to court or jury his belief in the justice of his client’s cause, contrary to the fact. Indeed, the occasions are very rare in which he ought to throw the weight of his own private opinion into the scales in favor of the side he has espoused. If that opinion has been formed on a statement of facts not in evidence, it ought not to be heard — it would be illegal and improper in the tribunal to allow any force whatever to it; if on the evidence only, it is enough to show from that the legal and moral grounds on which such opinion rests.

[click to continue…]

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Letter to the editor, WSJ, Mar. 22 (via YallPolitics):

It’s bad enough and sad enough to read the sorry story of the greed of tort-king “Dickie” Scruggs. The evidence and the transcripts was, of course, damning.

It was really nauseating, however, to read the absurd assertion by John Keker, his lawyer, that Mr. Scruggs was innocent and that the “prosecutors have concocted a ‘manufactured crime’ in which his client had no part” (“A Lawyer’s Trials: Tort King’s Path to Bribery Charge,” page one, March 14). So, according to Mr. Keker, the prosecutors could freely be accused of trying to frame an innocent man.

All Mr. Keker should have said was that his client had pleaded not guilty and that the matter would proceed to trial.

One assumed that when Mr. Keker made factual assertions he was accurately reporting what Mr. Scruggs had told him, since he presumably knew Mr. Scruggs’s side of the story through lengthy interviews under the protection of the attorney-client privilege.

Then we learned, a few hours later, that Mr. Scruggs was guilty all along. Either Mr. Keker knew this or he was ignorant.

Why lawyers in criminal-defense cases feel compelled to make factual assertions about their clients’ innocence, facts which they couldn’t possibly know, is beyond me.

Every day these lawyers appear on television and in the papers repeating the ridiculous alibis of their clients, not as their clients’ legal positions but as facts, only to be ultimately made foolish by a plea or a trial.

Innocent or guilty, a lawyer should retain his dignity and that of his client, if possible.

Felix M. Phillips
Attorney at Law
Minneapolis

More: Discussion continues in this Tuesday post.

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It started as a joke, but Bozeman, Mont. attorney Christopher Gillette is going through with the ambitious aquarium installation, whose saltwater inhabitants will include venomous fish as well as sharks. [Bozeman Daily Chronicle; AP/El Paso Times] In the 1980s the now well-known law firm of Bickel & Brewer adopted the snake exhibit at the Dallas Zoo. (Mark Donald, “Rambo Justice”, Dallas Observer, Mar. 19, 1998).

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We’ve been on top of this outrage of a medical malpractice case since it was in trial—Aug. 2004, Oct. 2004, Nov. 2004, May 2006, Apr. 12—but Roger Parloff has such a comprehensive post about the Ohio Supreme Court’s 5-1 (corrected:) 6-1 decision to strike down an intermediate court’s reinstatement of a bogus $30 million verdict that we defer to him. Even the dissenter would have found Fieger’s shenanigans problematic, but would have merely reduced the award to $10 million. Still, on remand for a new trial, Justice Paul Pfeifer recommended that “it would be wise for the trial judge to deny any motion for admission pro hac vice filed on behalf of Mr. Fieger.”

NB that among the tactics condemned by the Ohio Supreme Court are the tactics that trial lawyer John Edwards used when he successfully tried a medical malpractice case—pretending to channel the baby in the womb to the jury.

Among the victorious attorneys: one of our favorite bloggers, Mark Herrmann.

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