Posts tagged as:

pro bono

October 8 roundup

by Walter Olson on October 8, 2012

  • Karma in Carmichael: serial Sacramento-area filer of ADA suits Scott Johnson, often chronicled in this space, hit by sex-harass suit by four former female employees, with avert-your-eyes details [Sac Bee; News10, autoplays] One of Johnson’s suits, over a counter that was too high, recently helped close Ford’s Real Hamburgers, a 50-year-old establishment. [KTXL/The Blaze]
  • Fifth Circuit reverses decision holding Feds liable for Katrina flood damages [Reuters]
  • “Your right to resell your own stuff is in peril”: SCOTUS takes up first-sale doctrine in copyright law [Jennifer Waters, MarketWatch on Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons]
  • Rubber room redux: “New York Teacher Live-Streams $75,000 Do-Nothing Job” [Lachlan Markay, Heritage] Teacher charged with hiring hitman to kill colleague should have been fired decade ago [Mike Riggs]
  • “George Zimmerman sues NBC for editing 911 audio to make him sound racist” [Jim Treacher, Daily Caller]
  • Prof. Mark J. Perry has moved his indispensable Carpe Diem economics/policy blog in-house to AEI;
  • New York will require newly licensed lawyers to do pro bono [WSJ, Scott Greenfield, Legal Ethics Forum]


January 3 roundup

by Walter Olson on January 3, 2010

  • “A Patient Dies, and Then the Anguish of Litigation” [Joan Savitsky, NYT, more]
  • “Kern County’s Monstrous D.A.” [Radley Balko]
  • “Former N.Y. Judge Sentenced to 27 Months in Jail for Attempted Bribery” [NYLJ]
  • “ADA Online: Is a Website a ‘Place of Public Accommodation’?” [Eric Robinson, Citizen Media Law, background here and here]
  • “The New Climate Litigation: How about if we sue you for breathing?” [WSJ editorial]
  • Saratoga school district agrees to overregulate, rather than ban, students’ bikes [Free-Range Kids, earlier]
  • “Head of BigLaw pro bono department fails to pay income taxes for 10 years? How’s that happen?” [WSJ Law Blog]
  • Municipal subprime suits: “The Most ‘Evil’ Lenders Are Also, Conveniently, The Richest” [Kevin Funnell; more at Point of Law]

It’s a little-heralded gem, as I can confirm from personal experience [Somin, Volokh]

July 8, Washington DC

by Ted Frank on July 2, 2009

The Center for American Progress is hosting two panels on the topic “Legal Services for the Poor in an Economic Downturn,” this Wednesday, July 8. I’m on the first panel with Peter Edelman and Don Saunders from 12 to 1. A “light lunch” will be served at 11:30. I’ve spoken before on this topic in rooms where I was the only person on the center-right, but it’s always nice to see a friendly face.

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The founding dean of the ideologically charged new law school at the University of California, Irvine, is already taking a hand in Orange County public affairs by suing the town of Laguna Beach on behalf of homeless persons: he and his public-interest-law colleagues “want a federal judge to enjoin enforcement of Laguna’s anticamping ordinance until the city builds more no-strings-attached homeless housing.” [Heather Mac Donald, WSJ] More: Chemerinsky offers to debate Mac Donald.

Microblog 2008-10-24

by Walter Olson on October 24, 2008

  • Legal risks posed to employers by Web 2.0 [HR Exec Online h/t Nicole Black] #
  • Another take on pro bono and its discontents [Carolyn Elefant in '91] #
  • Stock market “capitulation” is another of those unhelpful concepts w/o real-world referent [Surowiecki] #
  • “In conference call, no one can hear you knit” [Connie Crosby] #
  • October Black Friday crash = “hedge fund going out of business sale” [Ray Lehmann] #
  • What’s the opposite of “peak oil” theory, anyway? Trough oil? #

October 24 roundup

by Walter Olson on October 24, 2008

  • Chemerinsky, other critics should apologize to Second Circuit chief judge Dennis Jacobs over bogus “he doesn’t believe in pro bono!” outcry [Point of Law and update]
  • New York high court skeptical of ultra-high contingency fee in Alice Lawrence v. Graubard Miller case [NYLJ; earlier here and here]
  • Panel of legal journalists: press let itself be used in attack on Judge Kozinski [Above the Law]
  • Unfree campaign speech, cont’d: South Dakota anti-abortion group sues to suppress opponents’ ads as “patently false and misleading” [Feral Child]
  • Even if you’re tired of reading about Roy Pearson’s pants, you might still enjoy Carter Wood’s headlines on the case at ShopFloor ["Pandora's Zipper", "Suit Alors!"]
  • Rare grant of fees in patent dispute, company had inflicted $2.5 million in cost on competitors and retailers by asserting rights over nursing mother garb [NJLJ]
  • Time to be afraid? Sen. Bingaman (D-N.M.) keen on reintroducing talk-radio-squelching Fairness Doctrine [Radio Equalizer]
  • “Yours, in litigious anticipation” — Frank McCourt as child in Angela’s Ashes drafted a nastygram with true literary flourish [Miriam Cherry, Concurring Opinions]

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In the latest Liability Outlook, I rebut the ABA’s resolution for guaranteed taxpayer funding of civil lawyers for the poor, expanding on my earlier ACS talk:

[The poor] will trade higher rents and higher taxes for the right to legal services that often will not help them.. . . [P]arties with meritorious cases will find it harder to signal to overwhelmed judges that their cases are distinguishable from the vast majority of meritless cases with appointed counsel that the courts will see every day.

Larry Ribstein approves: “The ABA resolution should be seen as what it is: a justification for rent-seeking by the organized bar.”

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Apparently not quite so pro bono as all that, reports the Washington Times: a Kuwait-based group backed by the government of that wealthy Arab state has kicked in nearly $4 million to the legal effort. Firms receiving Kuwaiti funds include Shearman & Sterling, Arnold & Porter and Pillsbury Winthrop. “The Kuwait-based group also has financed a public relations campaign run by Levick Strategic Communications in Washington” toward the goal of “due process for the detainees held at Guantanamo Bay”. (Jim McElhatton, “Kuwait helps pay detainees’ legal bills”, Jul. 25)(via Elefant).


Here are my prepared remarks for the June 14 panel at the ACS convention. My actual remarks differed from this somewhat, as I extemporized a bit and, by my watch, I didn’t get my full ten minutes before the moderator cut me off:

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Toldjah so: The Virginia Supreme Court has unanimously ruled against Lisa Miller of Winchester, who has been ignoring a duly issued Vermont court order providing her former lesbian partner Janet Jenkins with rights of visitation to the child they had been raising together. Miller’s defiance of the law had been backed by Liberty Counsel, the ironically named pro bono group headed by the dean of Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University School of Law, as well as other conservative religious figures such as Chuck Colson. Despite misreporting to the contrary in some quarters of the conservative press, the case had nothing to do with recognition of the former couple’s Vermont civil union, nor did it eventuate in an award of custody (as distinct from visitation) to Jenkins. (AP/Newport News Daily Press; Ed Brayton and more; our earlier coverage).

A customer complained to the staff that a man was in the women’s restroom in the Greenwich Village restaurant Caliente Cab Co. Given the risk of multi-million dollar liability of failing to act in the face of a warning if a customer were assaulted by a man in the women’s restroom, a restaurant bouncer ejected Khadijah Farmer, Khadijah’s girlfriend, and a third in their dinner party.

Unfortunately for the restaurant, Khadijah Farmer was not a man, but an extraordinarily masculine-looking lesbian (who says she is mistaken for a man on a “daily basis”).

Further unfortunately for the restaurant, New York City has an unusual law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of “sexual stereotyping.” Further further unfortunately, Ms. Farmer wasn’t satisfied when the restaurant offered her a free meal in response to her complaint, and went straight for the lawyers. Further further further unfortunately, a top-tier law firm agreed to work the case “pro bono,” assigned three attorneys to it, and ran to the courthouse, even after the restaurant agreed to sensitivity training for its employees.

Let’s agree: the bouncer made a mistake and should have taken the opportunity to look at Farmer’s ID. Women shouldn’t be thrown out of women’s restrooms for looking like men, though one who looks as masculine as Farmer has to reasonably expect questioning unless we’re going to go the unisex bathroom route.

Damned if it does, damned if it doesn’t; up against a law firm using a bazooka to kill a mosquito; and in a neighborhood where being on good terms with the gay community is important for business relations, the restaurant, facing weekly pickets from the Queer Justice League, rolled over and settled for $35,000 + $15,000 in attorney’s fees, which will eventually be extracted from the restaurant’s clientele in the form of higher prices. (Jennifer 8. Lee, “Sexual Stereotypes, Civil Rights and a Suit About Both”, NY Times, Oct. 10; Jennifer 8. Lee, “Woman Wins a Settlement Over Her Bathroom Ouster“, NY Times, May 14; Andy Humm, “Calls to Boycott Caliente Cab Company”, Gay City News, Jul. 19).

I ate at the Caliente Cab Co. on Bleecker in the summer of 1988 when I lived on 12th and University; next time I’m inclined to eat there, I’ll let them throw me out of the restaurant for a fraction of what they paid Ms. Farmer. (Similarly: Gothamist commenters.)

The good news is that the legal problems of New York’s poor and non-profits have been so thoroughly resolved that a law firm can devote substantial pro bono resources to punitively harassing a small business over a bouncer’s not especially unreasonable misunderstanding, and has successfully trained a couple of young associates that they can file a lawsuit to extract tens of thousands of dollars over a $50 dispute. Do Morrison & Foerster’s clients know that this is the kind of litigation they’re subsidizing?

Previously on pro not-so-bono: October 2004.


Another instance of the decidedly Pickwickian sense in which some in the legal profession use the term pro bono:

Last year, a federal judge awarded nearly $1 million in attorney fees, costs and prejudgment interest to Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom in a case involving workers at a restaurant in New York’s Chinatown. Chan v. Triple 8 Palace, No. 1:03-cv-06048 (S.D.N.Y.). The New York firm took the case pro bono in an attempt to collect unpaid tips on behalf of the workers.

The firm succeeded. But its request for attorney fees turned heads, especially since the workers received about $700,000.

“And you also had a large law firm telling everybody that they’re doing the case pro bono,” said Daniel A. Hochheiser, a partner at New York’s Hochheiser Hochheiser & Inwood, which represented the restaurant.

“The general understanding of pro bono is that you’re volunteering your time and effort without compensation, or without expectation of compensation,” Hochheiser said.

The case is being compared in several quarters to the Seattle school-suit fee request discussed in this space Sept. 7 and Sept. 23. (Amanda Bronstad, National Law Journal, Feb. 8; Elefant; Cal Blog of Appeal (to whom we’re happy to send the traffic). We briefly noted the Skadden fee ruling last summer.

P.S. Commenters point out — and it’s appropriate to note here as well — that Skadden, unlike Davis Wright Tremaine, says it’s giving away the fee award.


October 10 roundup

by Walter Olson on October 10, 2007

  • She wore a wire: defense attorney says administrative assistant to one of the three lawyers in Kentucky fen-phen scandal worked as FBI mole, circumventing attorney-client privilege [AP, Courier-Journal, Lexington Herald-Leader, ABA Journal]
  • Suing a lawyer because his deposition questions inflicted emotional distress? No way we’re going to open those floodgates, says court [NJLJ]
  • Counsel Financial Services LLC, which stakes injury lawyers pending their paydays, says it’s “the largest provider of attorney loans in the United States and the only Law Firm Financing company endorsed by the AAJ (formerly ATLA)”; its friendly public face is a retired N.Y. judge while its founder is attorney Joseph DiNardo, suspended from practice in 2000 “after pleading guilty to filing a false federal tax return” and whose own lend-to-litigants operation, Plaintiff Support Services, shares an office suite with Counsel [Buffalo News] The firm’s current listing of executives includes no mention of DiNardo, though a Jul. 19 GoogleCached version has him listed as President;
  • Patent litigation over cardiac stents criticized as “a horrendous waste of money” [N.Y. Times]
  • More on the “pro bono road to riches”, this time from a California tenant case [Greg May, Cal Blog of Appeal]
  • Not a new problem, but still one worth worrying about: what lawyers can do with charitable trusts when no one’s looking over their shoulder [N.Y. Times via ABA Journal]
  • Has it suddenly turned legal to stage massive disruptions of rush-hour traffic, or are serial-lawbreaking cyclists “Critical Mass” just considered above the law? [Kersten @ Star-Tribune]
  • “Look whose head is on a plate now”: no tears shed for fallen Lerach by attorney who fought him in the celebrated Fischel case [ChicTrib, San Diego U-T]
  • “Jena Six” mythos obscures graver injustice to black defendants, namely criminal system’s imposition of long sentences for nonviolent offenses [Stuart Taylor, Jr. @ National Journal -- will rotate off site]
  • Economist David Henderson on restaurant smoking bans [Econ Journal Watch, PDF, via Sullum, Reason "Hit and Run"]
  • Technical note: we learned from reader Christian Southwick that our roundups were displaying poorly on Internet Explorer (Ted and I use other browsers) and we found a way to fix. So, IE users, please drop us a line when you encounter problems — we may not hear about them otherwise.


It’s sparking further discussion:

Hey, Davis Wright Tremaine, and your clients, the parents who sued the district: This is insane.

You argue this isn’t to enrich the firm, but to punish the district. The theory is that the fees, at $1.8 million and rising, are a lash to whip the district for its bad race-based deeds.

When I called the lawyers Tuesday, they compared it to, among other cases, their pro bono defense of a prisoner beaten by L.A. jail guards.

This makes no sense. Seattle’s policy wasn’t intended to hurt anyone, let alone beat them to a pulp.

(Danny Westneat, “The bill just keeps going up”, Seattle Times, Sept. 19; Emily Heffter, “Billing in ‘pro bono’ cases is fodder for ethics debate”, Seattle Times, Sept. 18; Above the Law, Sept. 18).

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Just so you’re totally clear on the meaning of the term pro bono when you read it from now on:

McMinimee [Seattle Public Schools attorney Shannon McMinimee] says it’s “disingenuous” for the law firm, Davis Wright Tremaine, to go after money when the firm took the case pro bono. But firm spokesman Mark Usellis said “pro bono” means their clients don’t have to pay.

“The thing that’s really important to us in a civil-rights case is that Congress specifically and explicitly wrote into the law that if the government is found to have violated citizens’ civil rights, then the prevailing party should seek fee recovery,” he said.

Most governments can argue, as Seattle Public Schools is, that they don’t have much money. But going after the fees helps deter other government bodies from violating civil rights, Usellis said….

If the firm wins, the fees likely wouldn’t be covered by the district’s insurance carrier, McMinimee said. So the money would have to come out of the district’s $490 million general-fund budget.

(Emily Heffter, “Law firm wants school district to pay $1.8M”, Seattle Times, Sept. 6).


Via Adam Liptak’s (TimesSelect) column, Judge Dennis Jacobs has given an important speech (published in the Fordham Law Review), describing a problem we have noted here before:

I am not—I repeat, I am not—speaking about a bias based upon politics or agenda, economic class, ethnicity, or para-ethnicity. When I refer to the secret life of judges, I am speaking of an inner turn of mind that favors, empowers, and enables our profession and our brothers and sisters at the bar. It is secret, because it is unobserved and therefore unrestrained—by the judges themselves or by the legal community that so closely surrounds and nurtures us. It is an ambient bias.

The result is the incremental preference for the lawyered solution, the fee-paid intervention or pro bono project, the lawyer-driven procedure, the appellate dispensation—and the confidence and faith that these things produce the best results. It is an insidious bias, because it is hard to make out, in the vast maze of judicial work and outcomes, the statutes, doctrines, and precedents that are woven together like an elaborate oriental rug in which the underlying image of the dragon emerges only after you stare for a while. I discern in this jumble a bias in favor of the bar and lawyers: what they do; how they do it; and how they prosper in goods and influence.

Earlier: Apr. 3; June 2006.


The Federalist Society has posted a podcast of their recent panel:

Recently there has been growing discussion concerning the appropriate role of state Attorneys General. Some argue that state AGs have overstepped their boundary by prosecuting cases and negotiating settlements that have had extraterritorial effects, and sometimes even national effects. Others argue that state AGs are simply filling a vacuum left by the failure of others (for example, federal agencies) to attend to these issues. In light of this debate, the Federalist Society hosted a panel in Washington, D.C. featuring several state Attorneys General who discussed the proper role of state AGs.

Panelists included:

* Hon. Bob McDonnell, Attorney General of Virginia
* Hon. Donald Stenberg, former Attorney General of Nebraska; Erickson & Sederstrom
* Hon. John Suthers, Attorney General of Colorado
* Hon. J. B. Van Hollen, Attorney General of Wisconsin
* Ms. Peggy Little, Little & Little; Director, Federalist Society Pro Bono Center, Moderator