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Pennsylvania

Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania: “A jury in a Luzerne County civil case ruled that PennDOT was partially responsible for a deadly crash in 2011 that killed a 15-year-old girl, even though the driver of the SUV was driving at roughly twice the speed limit and did not have a driver’s license.” While the driver admitted he was going nearly 90 miles an hour when he lost control, the family’s lawyer “told jurors in closing arguments that PennDOT’s own manuals showed Suscon Road needed more so-called chevron signs that reflect light and warn of an upcoming sharp curve.” [WNEP]

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Both houses of the Pennsylvania legislature have passed and sent to Gov. Tom Corbett a bill “allowing judges to issue injunctions, or grant any other ‘appropriate relief’ if there is ‘conduct’ by a criminal ‘offender’ that ‘perpetuates the continuing effect of the crime on the victim.” Such an effect is specified to include, though it is not limited to, a “temporary or permanent state of mental anguish.” The “revictimization remedy” bill, S. 508, is apparently aimed at providing a way to go after a much-cooed-over convicted cop-killer for delivering recorded speeches at college campuses, to the distress of the family of the policeman he shot; Paul Alan Levy describes the bill’s use of the word “conduct” as a “fig leaf” for its intent to restrict speech. What Levy calls the “exceptional breadth” of the bill’s language could imperil or chill a wide range of other activity that might tread on victims’ feelings, such as campaigns to rally public opinion against a conviction or in favor of clemency. The bill, Levy says, “threatens to make Pennsylvania a national laughing stock.” [Consumer Law & Policy; Fox News; NBC Philadelphia; more, Joel Mathis, Philadelphia mag] More on the ever-popular “victims’ rights” cause from Steve Chapman and Roger Pilon.

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Former Utah Attorneys General John Swallow and Mark Shurtleff were arrested Thursday on a combined 23 counts arising from a series of episodes in which the two men are said to have accepted cash and favors from persons with business dealings with their offices; Swallow is also accused of destroying and falsifying evidence to cover up dealings with a now-deceased entrepreneur from whom he had allegedly accepted $17,000 in gold coins. The two men, both Republicans, say they are innocent and expect to be vindicated. The Salt Lake Tribune’s coverage saves the Harry Reid angle for paragraph 19; the Las Vegas Review Journal gives it more attention, emphasizing Reid’s strong denial of any wrongdoing. Unrelated but also depressing: a former New Mexico AG and a penny stock.

Also: Meanwhile in Pennsylvania, officials have placed plaques beneath portraits of four lawmakers in the state capitol with details of their eventual criminal convictions. I have more details in a Cato post.

Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on July 7, 2014

  • Why are PEN and Index on Censorship luminaries supporting Hacked Off press control campaign in UK? [Brendan O'Neill]
  • Religious offense, hate speech and blasphemy: meet India’s self-appointed “Ban Man” [WaPo]
  • “Like a free press? Thank corporate personhood.” [Dylan Matthews, Vox]
  • Participant’s memoir: “spontaneous” mob violence against Danish cartoons was anything but [Lars Hvidberg, Freedom House]
  • Floyd Abrams testifies at Senate hearing on proposed constitutional amendments to curtail First Amendment for purposes of limiting campaign speech [Volokh]
  • Ruling: Pennsylvania high court judge can proceed with libel suit against Philadelphia newspapers [Philadelphia mag, Inquirer]
  • Missouri gun activist ordered to remove material from internet about police encounter wins settlement [Volokh, earlier]

From her threat to sue the Philadelphia Inquirer over its reporting to her use of elected office to pursue quarrels with political foes, it’s a record that makes a case all by itself for demoting the office of Pennsylvania Attorney General to something appointive and lower-profile. [Joel Mathis, Philadelphia Magazine, earlier]

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Last week I did a Cato podcast about how nickel-and-dime fines and fees arising from low-level law enforcement can spiral to the point of overwhelming poor persons’ lives. Now take a look at this appalling AP story from Pennsylvania [via Brian Doherty, Reason]. “More than 1,600 people have been jailed in Berks County alone — where Reading is the county seat — over truancy fines since 2000.”

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Labor roundup

by Walter Olson on June 13, 2014

  • “Coming to Your Workplace Soon? Union Organizing Efforts Via the Company’s Email System” [Daniel Kaplan, Foley & Lardner]
  • “Pennsylvania Unions Still Exempt from Harassment [Law], Continue Harassing with Impunity” [Trey Kovacs, Workplace Choice, earlier here, here, here]
  • Music production gravitates to right to work states attract in part because union musicians less afraid of discipline for taking gigs there [Variety on union's dispute with videogame-composer member]
  • New definition of “nationwide strike”: protesters show up at a few Wal-Marts, few workers pay attention [On Labor]
  • Presently constituted NLRB and U.S. Department of Labor are zealous union partisans, not impartial arbiters [Alex Bolt]
  • “Workers filing wage-and-hour lawsuits under Labor Act at record pace” [Crain's Detroit Business]
  • “Despite repeated failures, Card Check still top Big Labor priority” [Sean Higgins, Washington Examiner]

May 5 roundup

by Walter Olson on May 5, 2014

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April 30 roundup

by Walter Olson on April 30, 2014

  • “7 Reasons U.S. Infrastructure Projects Cost Way More Than They Should” [Scott Beyer, Atlantic Cities]
  • Gov. Jerry Brown’s appointments could reshape California Supreme Court [Mark Pulliam, City Journal]
  • Critics say hiring of outside counsel in Pennsylvania government is an insider’s game [WHTM]
  • Could “Bitcoin for contracts” replace legal drafters’ expertise? [Wired with futurist Karl Schroeder]
  • “Getting state out of marriage” makes for neat slogan but results would be messy in practice [Eugene Volokh]
  • Lobbying by auto body shops keeps Rhode Island car repair costs high [Providence Journal, PCIAA press release and report in PDF]
  • “Bipartisan, publicity-hungry members of Congress want the FTC to investigate Photoshopping in ads” [Virginia Postrel on this WaPo report; Daily Beast; earlier here, here, etc.]

Politics roundup

by Walter Olson on April 11, 2014

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  • If you imagine the primary goal of occupational licensure is to protect consumers, think again [Donald Boudreaux, Ramesh Ponnuru]
  • “U.S. Civil Rights Commissioners Take EEOC to Task on Background Checks” [Nick Fishman, Employee Screen; Seyfarth Shaw]
  • Pennsylvania lawmakers consider ending union exemption from stalking laws; Illinois, Nevada and California also shelter them from liability [Washington Examiner]
  • “How Disruptive Can an Aggressive NLRB Be in a Non-Union Setting? More Than You Might Think” [Michael Fox]
  • “A call for the DOL to fix what is wrong with our wage-and-hour laws” [Jon Hyman]
  • Restaurant Opportunities Center, known for staging employee protests, bars own employees from same privilege [Florida Watchdog via Sean Higgins]
  • Conference honoring assassinated professor Marco Biagi showcases classical liberal labor law scholarship (or so one would hope) [my comment at Workplace Prof, related call for papers, earlier]

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Pennsylvania attorney general Kathleen Kane dropped a longstanding corruption “sting” probe that had snagged several Philly officials. The Philadelphia Inquirer raised questions about her decision in its reporting, which contributed to a public outcry over the episode. Then Attorney General Kane brought a prominent libel litigator with her to a meeting with the Inquirer editors, and that lawyer announced that Kane was exploring her options of suing the paper and others that had reported on the matter, and that he was going to do the talking for her.

On Sunday the paper continued to cover the sting story here and here. Ed Krayewski comments at Reason. Longtime Overlawyered readers may recognize the name of Kane’s attorney Richard Sprague.

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Pennsylvania: “According to police, Kyle Piper, then 17, lost control of his car on a wet Route 422 in Union Township and struck a steel pole.” His 15-year-old brother Stephen, a passenger, was catastrophically injured. “At the time of the accident, according to court documents, the family was insured through Erie Insurance Exchange and believed $200,000 in uninsured motorist benefits and another $100,000 in liability coverage was available for Stephen.” Several legal twists later, Erie has agreed to pay $18 million. [New Castle (Pa.) News]

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One would think the whole concept of the union-backed “correctional officers’ bill of rights” might have been thrown into disrepute by last year’s Maryland scandal, in which the statute was found to have entrenched problem guards even as the Baltimore jail descended into a scandalous state of gang-run corruption. But apparently not: the Pennsylvania House has unanimously (!) voted in favor of having that state adopt its own such “bill of rights,” weakening administrators’ power to investigate possible officer misconduct. Details of H.B. 976 here.

Product liability roundup

by Walter Olson on January 21, 2014

  • “Furniture company founder files federal chair-collapse suit against rival manufacturer” [ABA Journal]
  • Wrangling over Pennsylvania tobacco settlement aftermath “a never-ending buffet for attorneys” [Allentown Morning Call] Florida $27 million smoking award upheld [Daily Business Review]
  • Autonomous cars and tort liability [Kyle Colonna, Case Western RJLTI/SSRN]
  • Asbestos: Death of single fiber theory [Sean Wajert, Pa.] Radiologist Herron says he did nothing wrong [W.V. Record]
    Peculiar tale of Russian asbestos-mining town [Foreign Policy] More: Lester Brickman on smokers’ asbestos cases [Chamber-backed LNL]
  • From the defense side, Beck chooses favorite and least-favorite drug and medical-device decisions of 2013;
  • One can always hope: Will 3-D printing end product liability litigation as we know it? [Nora Freeman Engstrom, SSRN] “Philadelphia Becomes First City To Ban 3D-Printed Gun Manufacturing” [Zenon Evans] Once again on the vacuous but oft-repeated “NRA is a front for gunmakers” line [Tuccille]

“Two Northeastern Pennsylvania bars have settled for a combined $6.6 million with a man who became quadriplegic after driving drunk and crashing his car into a tree.” Jason Mercado sued two East Stroudsburg, Pa. bars on the theory that they had inexperienced bartenders and staff who should have known better than to serve him. Attorney Robert Sink, who represented Mercado, said the case was not without its difficulties: “if the jury found the drunk driver was more than 50 percent at fault, then he would have gotten nothing” under Pennsylvania law. The insurers defending the case decided that the risk of a verdict otherwise was worth $6.6 million. [Legal Intelligencer]

P.S. Redditors discuss.

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  • “Venue matters.” Enough to double value of med-mal case if filed in Baltimore city rather than suburbs? [Ron Miller] Mark Behrens and Cary Silverman on litigation tourism in Pennsylvania [TortsProf]
  • “Maybe [depositions] are like what some people say about war — vast periods of boredom interrupted by brief moments of terror.” [Steve McConnell, Drug and Device Law, also see Max Kennerly]
  • Centrality of procedure in American legal thinking dates back to Legal Realists and before [Paul McMahon, U.Penn. J. of Int'l Law/SSRN via Mass Tort Prof]
  • Company sues to challenge CPSC’s dissemination of unproven allegations about it in new public database: should judicial proceeding keep its name confidential? [Fair Warning]
  • Thesis of new Jerry Mashaw book: administrative state in U.S. long predated Progressive Era [Law and Liberty: Joseph Postell, Mike Rappaport] Relatedly, hallmark of administrative state said to be “prerogative,” i.e., power to make binding rules without new legislation [Michael Greve]
  • Lorax standing humor: even the Ninth Circuit might not have been able to help [Howard Wasserman, Prawfs]
  • “Formalism and Deference in Administrative Law” [panel at Federalist Society National Lawyers' Convention with Philip Hamburger, Kristin Hickman, Thomas Merrill, and Jide Okechuku Nzelibe, moderated by Jennifer Walker Elrod]

And has now been awarded $18 million on the theory that although there was some warning signage, there should have been more. The 23-year-old driver was traveling “admittedly 15-20 miles per hour over the speed limit” when he encountered a rough patch of roadway at a resurfacing project. The claimant’s attorney, Gerald A. McHugh Jr., “a current nominee for U.S. district judge on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, declined to comment on the case.” [Philadelphia, Legal Intelligencer]

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