Posts tagged as:

Sheldon Silver

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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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]

June 8 roundup

by Walter Olson on June 8, 2013

  • “They want us to run government more like a business? OK then, we’ll start dropping $10K fees each on ludicrous motivational speakers.” [me on Twitter, background on IRS]
  • Responding to scurrilous attacks on Fifth Circuit Judge Edith Jones [Ann Althouse and more, Tamara Tabo, Gerard Bradley, Bart Torvik]
  • As Hasan cites Taliban, Obama Administration’s claim that Fort Hood attack was “workplace violence” is looking brittle [Christian Science Monitor]
  • “The Good Wife’s bad politics and awful law” [Bainbridge]
  • Hey, it worked for Sheldon Silver: “Giving Albany bosses the power to block probes of themself in secret is laughably unworkable” [Bill Hammond, New York Daily News]
  • Per Mickey Kaus, immigration bill would allow retroactive EITC refunds for past years of unlawful residence [Daily Caller]
  • Someone’s getting rich off the federal cellphone program, but it’s not Mrs. Hale of Bethalto [KMOV]
  • “Goodnight stars. Goodnight moon. Goodnight spooks on iChat, peeking into my room. Goodnight PRISM. Goodnight cell. Goodnight Verizon. Goodnight, Orwell.” [Radley Balko]

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The New York Post has been doing some investigative journalism on the Ground Zero workers respiratory compensation settlement (more on expense filings).

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New at Point of Law

by Walter Olson on January 12, 2010

Things you’re missing if you’re not reading my other site:

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May 2 roundup

by Walter Olson on May 2, 2008

  • Contriving to give Sheldon Silver the moral high ground: NY judges steamed at lack of raises are retaliating against Albany lawmakers’ law firms [NY Post and editorial. More: Turkewitz.]
  • When strong laws prove weak: Britain’s many layers of land use control seem futile against determined builders of gypsy encampments [Telegraph]
  • “U.S. patent chief: applications up, quality down” [EETimes]
  • Plenty of willing takers for those 4,703 new cars that survived the listing-ship near-disaster, but Mazda destroyed them instead [WSJ]
  • “Prof. Dohrn [for] Attorney General and Rev. Wright [for] Secretary of State”? So hard to tell when left-leaning lawprof Brian Leiter is kidding and when he’s not [Leiter Reports]
  • Yet another hard-disk-capacity class action settlement, $900K to Strange & Carpenter [Creative HDD MP3 Player; earlier. More: Sullum, Reason "Hit and Run".]
  • Filipino ship whistleblowers’ case: judge slashes Texas attorney’s fee, “calling the lawyer’s attempt to bill his clients nearly $300,000 ‘unethically excessive.’” [Boston Globe, earlier]
  • RFK Jr. Watch: America’s Most Irresponsible Public Figure® endorses Oklahoma poultry litigation [Legal NewsLine]
  • Just what the budget-strapped state needs: NY lawmakers earmark funds for three (3) new law schools [NY Post editorial; PoL first, second posts, Greenfield]
  • In Indiana, IUPUI administrators back off: it wasn’t racial harassment after all for student-employee to read a historical book on fight against Klan [FIRE; earlier]
  • Fiesta Cornyation in San Antonio just isn’t the same without the flying tortillas [two years ago on Overlawyered]

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I’ve got an op-ed in today’s New York Post about the rising tide of liability lawsuits against New York City and its taxpayers (cross-posted from Point of Law). For more on how Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s office disposes of reform legislation in Albany, see Henry Stern’s NYCivic, Jun. 14.

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New York: “The leadership of the State Assembly has agreed to pay $500,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by a former legislative aide who said she had been raped by the chief counsel to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver….[former counsel J. Michael Boxley] will make a small payment toward the settlement, but most of the money will be taxpayers’ funds.” (Jennifer Medina, “Assembly Settles Suit on Sexual Misconduct”, New York Times, Jan. 28). See our coverage of Jun. 15, 2004. In a Summer 2004 City Journal piece, Stefan Kanfer sketches out a couple of the background aspects that make the whole episode piquant for Albany-watchers, if not for the parties involved:

Up in Albany, Sheldon Silver is speaker of the Democrat-controlled assembly — just the sort of guy a hard-line feminist could love, ever eager to promote laws punishing cads who take advantage of women. …Furthering the irony, Silver in his spare time is counsel to Weitz and Luxenberg, one of New York’s most influential law firms, known to prosecute torts like the one confronting the speaker.

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Despite the enactment of the federal pre-emption bill, some politicians, like New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, are still pushing the idea:

Gun dealers could be held liable if they sell weapons that are later used to commit a crime under an Assembly proposal that’s under fire by gun-rights proponents.

The measure’s chances for passage are considered remote, though. (Heather Yakin and John Milgrim, “Gun dealers balk at proposal to hold them liable”, Middletown, N.Y. Times Herald-Record, Dec. 20).

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In a surprising stroke, Congress has included in its new transportation bill a provision that would abolish New York’s “vicarious liability” law, which places auto manufacturers and independent leasing firms on the hook for unlimited vicarious liability when cars they lease are later involved in accidents, regardless of whether the lessors have been negligent or behaved wrongfully (see my N.Y. Post op-ed of Jun. 9, 2003 as well as many posts on this site including Feb. 2, Sept. 5, etc.) The law, stoutly defended by New York’s trial lawyers and certain of their allied “consumer groups”, has driven most of the largest automakers out of the leasing business in New York and led to a steep hike in lease charges for those that remain. The bill is headed to the desk of President Bush, who is expected to sign it. (Tom Incantalupo, “Auto leasing may return to NY”, Newsday, Aug. 2; Joe Mahoney, “New law may cut car lease cost”, New York Daily News, Aug. 3; Ian Bishop, “Boost for NY Car Leasers”, New York Post, Aug. 3; Michael Cooper, “Congress Passes Bill Nullifying a State Law, and Making It Easier to Lease Cars in New York”, New York Times, Aug. 4)(many links via Henry Stern’s NYCivic.org).

The provision is found as sec. 1409 at p. 219 of the 1075-page bill, and is reprinted below in the post’s extended entry (definitions omitted). Among the bill’s notable features: it will take effect immediately to block newly filed vicarious suits, including those over accidents before the law’s effective date; it apparently applies to short-term car rentals of the Hertz and Avis kind, which have also been much discouraged in New York by the vicarious liability law; and (from a casual reading, at least) it also appears to pre-empt the laws of other states which impose some degree of vicarious liability after a crash on lessors (up to a capped figure of damages, that is; only New York imposes unlimited liability).

“All it will do is enrich leasing companies and automobile companies,” charged Shoshana Bookson of the New York State Trial Lawyers Association — a prediction whose accuracy should be testable soon enough. (Alan Wechsler, “Congress paves way for cheaper vehicle leases”, Albany Times-Union, Aug. 3). And according to the Staten Island Advance, Charles Carrier, a spokesman for Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, “said the law change would be unfortunate because it ‘means that companies can rent to anyone — even someone drunk — and not incur a liability.’” (Robert Gavin, “Bill would scrap N.Y. law allowing crash victims to sue leasing firms”, Aug. 3). In point of fact, sec. (a)(2) of the bill specifically preserves liability in cases of “negligence or criminal wrongdoing” by the owner or its affiliate.

P.S. Well, it didn’t take long to falsify Ms. Bookson’s prediction. An Aug. 4 editorial in the New York Daily News (“Congress repeals the Shelly Tax”) says: “Expecting the President’s signature, a number of car companies that fled the New York market years ago are now planning their return. And several others announced immediate $600 price reductions, proof positive that [assembly speaker and trial lawyer Sheldon] Silver was the sole reason New Yorkers have unfairly paid extra for leasing a car. Call it the Shelly Tax, and thank heaven, or Washington, that it is finally gone.”

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New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is still dug in to protect the state’s ultra-harsh law holding auto lessors liable for accidents involving the cars they lease, although it’s had a devastating effect on car leasing in the Empire State (Jun. 9, 2003 and links from there). Here’s the New York Daily News blasting him in a recent editorial:

The Senate wants to abolish vicarious liability, bringing New York into line with 49 other states, but Silver’s Assembly wants to have car companies pay hundreds of millions of dollars into an insurance pool that would cover accidents in leased cars. The trial lawyers are all for it because the pool would give them lots of money to grab, cash that would come from drivers in the form of higher leasing fees. And who are the trial lawyers? Arthur Luxenberg is the group’s second vice president, while Perry Weitz serves on the board of directors. And who are they? They’re the name partners of Weitz & Luxenberg, the law firm that lists Silver as of counsel.

The law “costs consumers more than $130 million a year and has led to a 36 percent decline in the number of vehicles leased in New York each year, according to the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (Alliance) and the Greater New York Automobile Dealers Association (GNYADA).” (“Vicarious liability costs New York consumers and businesses millions”, Business Council of New York State, Jun.). “More than 19 automakers and every major retail bank in New York have stopped or curtailed car leasing. …In addition, [according to trade groups], vicarious liability has contributed to the closing of 70 leasing companies since September 2000.” (“N.Y.’s Vicarious Liability Costly for Consumers and Auto Dealers”, Insurance Journal, Jul. 19). For more, see the New York State Auto Dealers Association website.

The New York assembly speaker, who’s done more than anyone in Albany to keep the right to sue on a continually expanding course, now faces a lawsuit charging him with tolerating an atmosphere of sexual harassment, following extremely ugly allegations of sexual assault against his chief counsel, Michael Boxley. (New York Post coverage: “Silver’s slippery slope” (editorial), Jun. 13; Frederic U. Dicker, “Victim to sue Silver”, Jun. 9; Frederic U. Dicker and Kenneth Lovett, “Silver ‘rape’ blame”, Jun. 10; Frederic U. Dicker, “Pretzel popper Silver dissed my rape claim”, Jun. 14. More on Silver: May 1, 2000; May 11-13, 2001; Dec. 13-15, 2002; Jun. 9, 2003. In other news, powerful Republican State Senator Guy Velella of the Bronx, whose law firm’s successful injury suits against New York City were mentioned in this space May 1, 2000, has fallen in a corruption scandal (“Guy Velella Pleads Guilty”, AP/WCBS, May 17).

Update Feb. 5, 2006: suit against Silver’s office settles for $500K, most of it taxpayer funds.

Archived entries before July 2003 can also be found here.

2003:To tame Madison County, pass the Class Action Fairness Act” ($250 million against U.S. Steel), Jun. 12-15; “‘Runaway asbestos litigation — why it’s a medical problem’“, Mar. 18; “Class action lawyer takes $20 million from defendant’s side“, Mar. 15-16; “ABA endorses asbestos litigation reform“, Feb. 13; “Asbestos: ‘better than the lottery’“, Feb. 10.  2002:‘Asbestos fraud’” (Robert Samuelson column), Dec. 18-19; “Gotham’s trial lawyer-legislators” (Sheldon Silver, Weitz & Luxenberg”, Dec. 13-15; “Asbestos opinions“, Nov. 8-10; “Notation on Scruggs’ court file: to be ‘kept away from the press’“, Nov. 6; “‘Federal authorities say judge offered illegal payoff’“, Sept. 3-4; “Saving the Crown jewels?“, Jun. 26-27; “‘The Tort Mess’” (Forbes, etc.), May 13; “Editorial-fest” (Time), Mar. 11; “‘The $200 Billion Miscarriage of Justice’” (Roger Parloff, Fortune), Feb. 18-19; “Kaiser Aluminum bankrupt“, Feb. 15-17.  2001:‘Firms Hit Hard As Asbestos Claims Rise’“, Dec. 20; “‘Halliburton shares plunge on verdict’“, Dec. 10; “Insurance market was in tailspin before 9/11“, Nov. 14; “How many lives would asbestos have saved?” (WCT), Sept. 17 (& Sept. 18, Sept. 25-26); “Warren Buffett was wrong” (USG, Crown Cork & Seal), June 27; “Columnist-fest“, June 22-24 (Amity Shlaes on tobacco synergy case); “Randomness of case assignments questioned” (S.F.), April 18; “Reparations: take a number“, Apr. 17 (& see Olson, Reason, Nov. 2000); “‘The last tycoon’” (Angelos), April 12; “Asbestos claims bankrupt W. R. Grace“, April 3-4; “GAF sues asbestos lawyers“, Feb. 12-13 (& see Dec. 10); “CBS among asbestos litigation targets“, Jan. 22-23.  2000:Asbestos litigation destroying more companies“, Nov. 27 (& Dec. 8-10: Armstrong World Industries bankrupt); “Owens Corning bankrupt“, Oct. 6-9; “Somebody to sue” (misc. defendants), Jun. 1.  See also Walter Olson, “Thanks for the memories“, Reason, June 1998.

More links:
Asbestos FAQ (Okla. DOL); Coalition for Asbestos Resolution (articles, edits); AsbestosLitigation.com; Asbestos Institute (Canada); British Asbestos Newsletter; “Asbestos Litigation 101” (attorney David Shaw).

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June 10-11 – New Orleans cleanup continues. “It was bad enough that New Orleans personal injury attorney Curtis Coney Jr. was illegally paying ‘runners’ to solicit accident victims, paying them $500 for each ambulance-chasing referral. When his secretary was subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury, Coney compounded his problems by urging her to lie about the payments, even though she was the one who usually doled them out. … In a plea agreement unveiled in federal court Wednesday, Coney, 58, pleaded guilty to 10 counts of ‘structuring’ referral payments to hide them from the state and federal governments, one count of conspiracy and one count of obstruction of justice for pressuring [the secretary] to lie. As part of the deal, lead prosecutor Irene Gonzalez recommended a 33-month jail sentence for Coney.” The lawyer’s guilty plea is among the fruits of “a 4-year federal investigation of personal injury attorneys, a quietly unfolding case that has resulted in more than 20 convictions”. Targeted along with attorneys and “runners” are “medical providers who exaggerated or falsified injury claims in order to secure lucrative insurance settlements.” (Michael Perlstein, “Lawyer guilty in referral scheme”, New Orleans Times-Picayune, May 16). (DURABLE LINK)

June 10-11 – Bounty-hunting in New Jersey. The administration of Gov. Jim McGreevey has retained a flamboyant private plaintiff’s lawyer to pursue claims seeking to hold businesses legally liable for wastes left over from the state’s industrial past. Although Allen Kanner is initially donating his services for free, it is expected that he will take a contingency stake in some or many of the state’s financial recoveries. Also being hired is a politically well-connected law firm named Lynch Martin Kroll, associated with one of the state’s Democratic power brokers. Together, Kanner and the Lynch firm “are scouring state files for possible ‘natural resource damage’ claims. Such claims — little used in the state’s past — require polluters to go far beyond simple cleanups by making them pay the public for things such as lost fishing time, lost tap water, injured wildlife and soiled scenery.” (Alexander Lane, “State retains enviro-lawyer who gets polluters’ attention”, Newark Star-Ledger, May 11). More: PointOfLaw.com, Sept. 5, 2004. (DURABLE LINK)

June 10-11 – The Rule of Lawyers reviewed. In the June Commentary, Washington attorney and Findlaw columnist Barton Aronson contributes a very generous appraisal of our editor’s latest book. (DURABLE LINK)

June 9 – “Silver’s wreck”. Our editor has an op-ed piece in today’s New York Post on the impending demise of auto leasing in New York state, wrecked by the state’s archaic “vicarious liability” law whose chief defenders include the state trial lawyers’ association and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (Walter Olson, New York Post, Jun. 9). Our earlier coverage of the issue is here. More: Sept. 5, 2004. (DURABLE LINK)

June 9 – “Families of teens killed in crash after rave sue U.S. government”. “Family members of five teens who died when their car careened off a cliff after an all-night rave party have filed a suit against the U.S. government for issuing the event’s permit. ‘If you knowingly allow use of your land for a drug party and people get killed, we allege you are partially responsible,’ said Andrew Spielberger, a West Hollywood-based attorney representing the families.” (AP/Sacramento Bee, Jun. 1). (DURABLE LINK)

June 9 – The intimidation tactics of Madison County. Four business groups held a press event in Madison County, Ill., last week to unveil the latest report depicting the county’s courts as a paradise for plaintiff’s lawyers (U.S. Chamber of Commerce, “The Rogue Courts of Madison County” (PDF)). What happened next? Local plaintiff’s attorney Bradley M. Lakin promptly slapped them with a subpoena demanding that their executives testify in a would-be class action case against Ford Motor on alleged paint defects. “Subpoenas are for witnesses who know something about the case,” said Victor E. Schwartz, general counsel of the American Tort Reform Association. “In this situation, ATRA knows nothing. It is clear the subpoena power is being used to squelch ATRA from speaking out about Madison County and its inequities as one of the leading ‘judicial hellholes’ in the United States.” Last year ATRA published a report entitled “Justice for Sale: The Judges of Madison County“. (“ATRA Says Subpoena Power Should Not Be Used To Squelch First Amendment Rights”, ATRA press release, Jun. 6; Illinois Civil Justice League, which was one of the subpoenaed groups along with ATRA and the national and Illinois Chambers of Commerce, has links). Updates Jul. 12: subpoenas dropped and Jul. 26: sanctions motions dropped.

And St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bill McClellan turns the spotlight on a recent Madison County class action settlement involving Sears tires: “If you have a receipt showing you purchased an AccuBalance from a Sears auto center between 1989 and 1994 and are willing to take the time to request a claims form and fill it out and send it in, you could get $2.50 for each tire, up to a total of $10. Of course, who keeps receipts from 1989? You still might be eligible for $1.25 a tire, up to a total of $5. If Sears does not have a record of your purchase, you will be eligible only for a $3 Sears coupon. Of course, there will be forms to fill out under threat of perjury. Things are a little better for the lawyers who ‘represented’ you. The settlement says that their legal fees cannot exceed $2.45 million.” McClellan is bold to tackle this subject, since when he criticized lawyers from the same class-action firm in 1999 they came after him with a lawsuit, later dropped (see Nov. 4, 1999)(Bill McClellan, “Just like your tires, wheels of justice may be out of balance”, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jun. 4). (DURABLE LINK)

June 6-8 – New legal ethics weblog. David Giacalone, formerly of PrairieLaw, has started a new weblog, ethicalEsq?, specializing in “client-centered legal ethics”. He’s already posted on several issues of interest, including Common Good’s early-offers proposal (May 30 and Jun. 3), the case for requiring lawyers to disclose more fully to clients the circumstances of their representation (Jun. 3), and (citing this website) the still-unfolding battle in a New York courtroom over whether Judge Charles Ramos has authority to review and correct outrageous tobacco fees (May 31; on tobacco fees, see Daniel Wise, “Judge’s Power to Review $625M Tobacco Fee Award Challenged”, New York Law Journal, May 28). (DURABLE LINK)

June 6-8 – Claims consciousness in Utah. To promote a contemplated April Fool’s Day festival, Mayor Gerald R. Sherratt of Cedar City, Utah, published in local papers a tall tale about how wandering Vikings had left precious ancient artifacts in a local cave. Most residents seem to have gotten the joke, but various readers in the nearby town of St. George stepped forward to lay claim to the supposed treasure found in the cave, several of them saying “their ancestors had been part of the settlement and had owned some of the artifacts. …When Sherratt explained the whole story was made up to promote the festival, the St. George residents accused him and other officials of a cover-up.” (Paul Rolly and JoAnn Jacobsen-Wells, “Ad Flap Is Stranger Than Fiction”, Salt Lake Tribune, May 26). (DURABLE LINK)

June 6-8 – Hiker cuts off use of his name. Equipped to Survive, a wilderness gear site, recommended a pocket-sized emergency beacon by referring to a recent survival story that received worldwide publicity: “Your survival should not require you to amputate your own arm, as Aron Ralston was recently forced to do in order to escape being trapped by an 800-lb. boulder.” Before long the site’s proprietor received this cease and desist letter (PDF format) dated June 5 from Ralston’s lawyer demanding that the reference be removed as in violation of the hiker’s “right of publicity” under state statutes. There followed this rude reply from the website proprietor, inviting the lawyer to “stick your ridiculous cease and desist demand where the sun don’t shine”. Now cut that out, boys, there’s no reason we can’t be polite. (DURABLE LINK)

June 4-5 – Blaming murder on flat tire. A 19-year-old woman, having stopped to change a flat tire at the side of the road, is taken away and murdered by a local man. According to a lawyer for her family, the Ford Motor Co. and tiremaker Bridgestone/Firestone should be made to pay for the murder. A court dismissed the case against the two companies on grounds that they could not have found harm of this sort foreseeable enough to trigger a legal duty of care, but the family’s lawyer, Richard Rensch, is appealing to the Nebraska Supreme Court. (AP/KETV, Jun. 3; “Murder victim’s parents say flat set off tragic events”, Fremont (Neb.) Tribune, Jun. 3). (DURABLE LINK)

June 4-5 – Fox News “The Big Story”. Our editor was interviewed on screen for a piece that Fox News’s “The Big Story” is preparing on the search for deep pockets in litigation. It’s tentatively scheduled to run Wednesday, but these things are always subject to change. Update: it did run Wednesday, Jun. 4. (DURABLE LINK)

June 4-5 – Malpractice: juggling the stats. In the course of an otherwise standard feature package on the medical malpractice crisis (Daniel Eisenberg and Maggie Sieger, “The Doctor is Out”, Time, Jun. 9, and sidebars) Time gives credence to a newly issued report asserting that doctors’ malpractice premiums are actually rising fastest in states without damage caps (Jyoti Thottam, “A Chastened Insurer”, Jun. 1). Very curiously, the new report (from Weiss Ratings, “an independent insurance-rating agency in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.”) is described as compiling figures for median premiums and payouts (the numbers compared with which half of the data points are higher and half lower) rather than averages, even though this is a field where the outliers (giant awards, unusually litigious specialties) drive the debate and the dollar figures. CalPundit (Jun. 2) spots this anomaly and opines: “this is so obviously the wrong statistic to use in this case that there must be some kind of axe to grind here” (via Jonathan Adler, NR Corner).

A table laying out the (very large) differences between malpractice premiums between Los Angeles (where doctors practice under California’s MICRA damages cap) and three litigious jurisdictions elsewhere in the country (Miami, Long Island, Detroit) indicates that MICRA confers its greatest benefit by far on the most litigation-prone specialties: for example, the average savings from MICRA for a neurosurgeon is $ 145,813 and for an ob/gyn $ 88,593, but it’s only $24,599 for an internist and $15,639 for a dermatologist (“2003 Malpractice Premium Comparison“, California Physician (California Medical Association)) (PDF format)(CMA’s MICRA Resource Center). For a more reliable reading of the crisis and its relation to damage caps and the insurance market, check out the report issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services this spring (“Addressing the New Health Care Crisis: Reforming the Medical Litigation System to Improve the Quality of Health Care”, Mar. 3; Senate testimony by Deputy Secretary Claude A. Allen, Mar. 13).

How big an impact do the “outlier” cases have, the small number of gigantic verdicts that almost vanish from the calculation when per-case outlays are calculated as a median? Among recent examples are the $78.5-million verdict against an Orlando hospital for failing to figure out that a woman visiting its emergency room was suffering from a bizarre undiagnosed tumor; thought to be the largest medical malpractice award in Florida history, it has “become the symbol of juries run amok” in the view of critics of the system. (William R. Levesque, “Tremors still felt from whopping jury award”, St. Petersburg Times, Jun. 2). And in a result vocally criticized by appeals judges even as they felt obliged to uphold it, a Manhattan jury’s $40 million malpractice award against one of the city’s premier hospitals, New York-Presbyterian, has been blown up to $140 million by a law mandating that annual interest of 4 percent be added to awards “even if the jury has already adjusted the annual amount for inflation. Critics say that means a double adjustment for inflation in some cases, like this one.” (Richard Perez-Pena, “New York Hospitals Fearing Malpractice Crisis”, New York Times, Jun. 3). (DURABLE LINK)

June 4-5 – “Rape defendant asks $20,000; found fly in mashed potatoes”. “If convicted later this year of raping a 16-year-old girl, [Kenneth] Williams could be sentenced to 112 years to life in prison. It would be his third, and last, trip to state prison, authorities say.” What has upset Williams recently, however, is the insect impurity he says he found in his prison dinner. He “is seeking $20,000 to ease the ‘mental stress and anguish’ he said finding the fly inflicted upon him. ‘It’s been almost a month since this occurred,’ Williams wrote last week in the claim, ‘and I still only pick at my food …. I’m losing weight and am unable to eat properly.’” The sum demanded was fair, according to his complaint, since public venting of the allegations “would cost the county ‘a great deal more both financially and in bad publicity.’” (J. Harry Jones, San Diego Union-Tribune, Jun. 3). (DURABLE LINK)

June 3 – An important litigation skill. From Gail Diane Cox’s “Voir Dire” column in the National Law Journal, Nov. 4, 2002 (scroll down to “Jargon Watch”): “Blamestorming: Variant of brainstorming. Sitting around in a group discussing a mistake and how to make someone responsible for it, preferably a deep-pocket defendant. Synonym: Litigation initiation.” Maybe a session of this sort was responsible for the naming of Shell Oil as a defendant in the Rhode Island nightclub fire (see May 30-Jun. 1). (DURABLE LINK)

June 3 – “Resumé spam saddles employers”. It’s common these days for employers to receive hundreds, thousands or even milllions of resumés via email from hopeful job-seekers. Federal regulations on the books since the 1970s, however, require most larger companies to preserve records of all job applications, the most important reason being to furnish evidence in case they are someday investigated for possible discrimination. Under the strictest interpretation of the rules, companies with more than fifteen employees must keep on file any resumé sent to them — even if “the applicant misspells the company’s name, applies for a job not listed or is simply not qualified.” The result: a large and ever-growing paperwork/compliance burden on American business. (Bill Atkinson, “Resume spam saddles employers”, Baltimore Sun, May 22; Michelle Martinez, “Who Really Is An Applicant When Recruiting Online?”, PeopleClick.com, undated). See Shirleen Holt, “Résumé spam is tiring those hiring”, Seattle Times, Jan. 19; Katherine Harding, “The new scourge: Résumé spam”, GlobeTechnology.com (Globe & Mail, Canada), Jan. 8 (“Companies that advertise jobs on-line are finding their e-mail boxes crammed with irrelevant responses”, some from applicants who blast out responses to every job listed on a posting board). (DURABLE LINK)

June 2 – Updates. Further developments in cases we’ve covered:

* Citing its recent jurisprudence bringing constitutional due process limits to bear on punitive damages, the U.S. Supreme Court has instructed lower courts to reduce a $290 million award against Ford Motor in the Romo case; the case arose from a Bronco rollover in central California, and we’ve had quite a bit to say about it over the four years since it went to trial (see Oct. 24, 2002 and links from there) (David Kravets, “High Court Reduces Damages in Car Crash”, AP/Yahoo, May 19; Bob Egelko, “Key ruling on punitive damages”, San Francisco Chronicle, May 19);

* The Los Angeles Zoo has transferred Ruby, its female African elephant, to a Tennessee zoo notwithstanding a pending lawsuit (see May 16-18) complaining that the move would disrupt Ruby’s bond with her elephant “best friend”; an attorney who had gone to court seeking a temporary restraining order against splitting the two elephants complained that zoo authorities had acted “like thieves in the middle of the night”. (Carla Hall, “Despite Protests, L.A. Zoo Sends Elephant to Tennessee”, Los Angeles Times, May 27) (via SoCalLaw, May 27);

* The Supreme Court of Hawaii has reversed a jury’s award of $2 million to an auto service manager fired over what his employer considered credible charges of sexual harassment (see Mar. 10-12, 2000) (Gonsalves v. Nissan Motor Corp. in Hawaii, Ltd., Supreme Court of Hawaii, Nov. 27, 2002; see Jeffrey Harris, “Law Watch: Preventing Harassment Trumps Keeping Promises”, Hawaii Business, Feb. 20);

* In a humiliating defeat for backers of anti-gun litigation, a federal “advisory” jury in Brooklyn has refused to hold manufacturers liable for inner-city gun crime in the much-publicized case brought by the NAACP before judge Jack Weinstein. “The panel of 12 jurors issued a finding of no liability for 45 of the defendants and was unable to reach a verdict for the remaining 23 manufacturers or gun dealers”. (Mark Hamblett, “Federal Advisory Jury Declines to Find Gun Industry Liable”, New York Law Journal, May 15; Katherine Mangu-Ward, “No Smoking Gun”, WeeklyStandard.com, May 8). Update Jul. 20: judge dismisses lawsuit entirely. (DURABLE LINK)


December 20-22 – Advance notice for The Rule of Lawyers. Our author’s new book still won’t reach most stores for a few weeks, but it’s garnering early notice in some prominent places. More than a month back Amity Shlaes of London’s Financial Times gave it a mention in a column profiling hyperactive New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer (Amity Shlaes, “Local enforcer who has changed national laws”, Financial Times/Jewish World Review, Oct. 31). Last month it got discussed in the New York Times arts section (Daphne Eviatar, “Is Litigation a Blight, or Built In?”, New York Times, Nov. 23, second page). Wall Street Journal editorialist John Fund, recounting highlights of the career of Sen. Trent Lott for the paper’s online OpinionJournal.com, quotes the book’s discussion of how the lawyers suing the tobacco industry tried to exploit Lott’s family connection to attorney Dickie Scruggs (“A Tale of Two Bubbas”, OpinionJournal.com, Dec. 19).

Deserving special notice is Roger Parloff’s piece in The American Lawyer and other Law.com publications (“Authors Throw the Book at Lawyers”, Dec. 12), which calls the book “a focused, healthy, provocative, enjoyable read. … that rare book that, should it ever burrow its way into the opposing camp’s conversational pipelines, could really gum up the works.” Among other blushworthy excerpts: “Olson’s wry, amusing, libertarian take on the increasingly preposterous role that mass tort lawyers have assumed in our society — and in the funding of the Democratic Party — may not only spur many Democrats to reshuffle their standard talking points on those issues, but may even afford them some guilty, cant-piercing pleasures along the way. Speaking as a Democrat, I’d say the burgeoning scandal of the mass tort bar is our Enron.” (DURABLE LINK)

December 20-22 – Trial lawyers vs. thimerosal. Glenn Reynolds at InstaPundit (Dec. 19, three posts: # 1, 2, 3) has the latest on the flap over new federal curbs on lawsuits that claim damage to children’s health from thimerosal, a mercury-containing compound long used to preserve vaccines. According to the Centers for Disease Control (“Thimerosal & Vaccines“), citing Food and Drug Administration research, “There is no evidence to suggest that thimerosal in vaccines causes any health problems in children and adults beyond local hypersensitivity reactions (like redness and swelling at the injection site.)” This has not kept trial lawyers from urging parents of autistic children to view the compound as responsible for their children’s plight: Derek Lowe checked out law firms’ websites and found lurid examples (Dec. various dates — scroll down for more good posts). “Dr. Manhattan” has much more on the controversy (Dec. 18) and see also MedPundit (Dec. 5). For more on the recent legislative move to ensure that claims against thimerosal are incorporated into the general federal vaccine compensation scheme, see Margaret Cronin Fisk, “Suits Over Mercury-Containing Vaccines May Be Down for the Count”, National Law Journal, Nov. 27; “The Truth About Thimerosal” (editorial), Wall Street Journal, Dec. 5. (DURABLE LINK)

December 20-22 – Putting fraud proceeds to use. John Deokaran, a former insurance manager from Hammond, La., has pleaded guilty to taking more than $530,000 from Allstate Insurance by routing checks for imaginary claims to fictitious plumbing contracting companies that he controlled. Deokaran must make restitution or face prison time. “Among other things, Deokaran spent some of the money to pay for law school,” said Louisiana Attorney General Richard Ieyoub. (“AG Ieyoub: Hammond Man Must Pay Back Fake Claims Money Laundering Sentence Stipulates Full Restitution”, Office of AG Ieyoub, Aug. 20). (DURABLE LINK)

December 18-19 – The right not to be looked at? “The Chicago Cubs are suing the owners of rooftop businesses that overlook Wrigley Field and sell tickets to watch games, saying the establishments are stealing from the team.” (“Cubs sue owners of rooftop businesses near Wrigley”, AP/Indianapolis Star, Dec. 17). Update May 9, 2004: dispute settled with payments from rooftop business owners to team. (DURABLE LINK)

December 18-19 – “Asbestos fraud”. Extremely scathing column on the case of asbestos litigation, in which “the thirst for profits has led a small group of trial lawyers to erode the rights of legitimate victims while driving dozens of companies into bankruptcy and — worst of all — corrupting the court system. If Congress does not fix this problem, shame on it.” (Robert J. Samuelson, Washington Post, Nov. 20). (DURABLE LINK)

December 18-19 – British free-speech case. Robin Page, a columnist for the London Daily Telegraph, “has been arrested on suspicion of stirring up racial hatred after making a speech at a pro-hunting rally,” according to that paper. How had he done that? “Mr Page … told his audience that Londoners had the right to run their own events, such as the Brixton carnival and gay pride marches, which celebrated black and gay culture. Why therefore, he asked, should country people not have the right to do what they liked in the countryside[?]” Page, who was released on bail, “denied having made any comment that could be construed as racist during the address. … Gloucestershire police confirmed that they had arrested Mr Page on suspicion of violating Section 18 (1) of the Public Order Act, referring to stirring up racial hatred.” (Daily Telegraph, Nov. 20) (via WSJ Best of the Web) (DURABLE LINK)

December 18-19 – Mass disasters belong in federal court. Most mass litigation resulting from transportation accidents or other single-site disasters which result in the deaths of 75 or more people will henceforth have to be filed in federal court, according to the provisions of a bill quietly enacted by Congress this fall with the support of the Bush administration. The bill is favored by defendants in part because it restricts the ability of plaintiff’s lawyers to shop around for state court venues that are hostile to defendants or that afford “home cooking”. (Julie Kay, “Disaster Plan”, Miami Daily Business Review, Nov. 21). (DURABLE LINK)

December 16-17 – By reader acclaim: “Ex-jurors file $6 billion suit against ’60 Minutes’”. “Two former Jefferson County, Mississippi, jurors have filed a $6 billion lawsuit against CBS’ ’60 Minutes’ and a newspaper owner over comments about the size of jury awards in the county. Anthony Berry and Johnny Anderson said the news program defamed them in a segment that called the county a haven for ‘jackpot justice.’ Berry was among jurors who made a $150 million verdict in an asbestos case, and Anderson sat on a jury that awarded a $150 million judgment in a diet drug case. Wyatt Emmerich, who owns Emmerich Newspapers Inc., is also being sued: “In the program, Emmerich described those on Jefferson County juries as disenfranchised residents who want to stick it to Yankee companies”. Emmerich called his inclusion in the suit an attack on free speech. (AP/CNN, Dec. 10; Jerry Mitchell, “TV show on Miss. justice stirs suit”, Jackson Clarion Ledger, Dec. 10). Update Mar. 6, 2005: federal appeals court affirms dismissal of suit. (DURABLE LINK)

December 16-17 – “Bogus Claims Discovered in Fen-Phen Class Action”. “In a strongly worded opinion that questioned the ethics of two law firms and two doctors, the federal judge who is overseeing the $3.75 billion fen-phen diet drug class action settlement has found that dozens of claims of heart-valve damage were ‘medically unreasonable’ and that the doctors and lawyers responsible for the bogus claims must now be watched more closely. U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle III said he was forced to issue an injunction because the settlement funds were set aside for ‘rightful claimants who suffered from fen-phen and not as a pot of gold for lawyers, physicians and non-qualifying claimants.’” Two New York law firms — Napoli Kaiser Bern & Associates and Hariton & D’Angelo — had submitted claims for their clients which included an unusually high rate of claimed serious heart valve abnormalities. Judge Bartle wrote that the practice of an expert employed by the Napoli and Hariton firms “resembled a mass production operation that would have been the envy of Henry Ford”. (Shannon P. Duffy, The Legal Intelligencer, Nov. 19)(see Sept. 27 and links from there). (DURABLE LINK)

December 16-17 – Ninth Circuit panel sniffs collusion in bias settlement fees. “The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upended a multimillion-dollar race discrimination settlement Tuesday, citing suspicions that the attorney fees were the product of collusion. The split three-judge panel described the injunctive relief won in the case against Boeing Co. as ‘relatively weak,’ and said it and the $7 million in damages didn’t appear to justify more than $4 million in fees and a broad release of liability.” The case, purportedly on behalf of 15,000 black Boeing employees, had resulted in the company’s promise to institute changes in employment practices. However, Judge Marsha Berzon called such curative measures an “inexact and easily manipulable value,” and said they should not be viewed as creating a common fund for purposes of fee calculation. “Harrell, Desper, Connell, Hunter & Gautschi, the Seattle-based firm representing the class, had supplied many declarations, including one from the Rev. Jesse Jackson, supporting the terms of the settlement.” (Jason Hoppin, “9th Circuit Scraps Race Bias Settlement, Cites Attorney Fees”, The Recorder, Nov. 27). (DURABLE LINK)

December 13-15 – Back from hiatus. Our editor’s hiatus to handle personal business met with the happiest possible outcome, but as a result he’s facing new family responsibilities that will keep posting slow at best. Better some posting than none at all, at least, right? (DURABLE LINK)

December 13-15 – Using his own name a legal risk. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution‘s Bill Wyman shares his name with a somewhat well-known musician who played bass with the Rolling Stones. He was nonetheless unprepared when he received a letter from the musician’s lawyer suggesting that he might be violating the other guy’s rights by … well, by going on using his own name (Bill Wyman, “Will the real Bill Wyman please tune up?”, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Nov. 14). (DURABLE LINK)

December 13-15 – Florida school shooting: the deep pockets did it. A Palm Beach County, Fla. jury has declared that a school board, an owner from whom a gun was stolen and the gun’s distributor should be liable for the classroom shooting of Lake Worth teacher Barry Grunow by 16-year-old student Nathaniel Brazill. “The jury didn’t find any liability for Brazill, who pulled the trigger. Brazill stole the unloaded gun and bullets from a cookie tin stashed away in a dresser drawer of family friend Elmore McCray.” (“Gun Company Must Pay Teacher’s Widow”, WPLG, Nov. 15). “Attorney Bob Montgomery, known for successfully spearheading the state’s efforts to sue Big Tobacco for $11.3 billion, said he hoped the gun case would achieve the same crippling results against the gun industry.” (“Gun distributor must pay in teacher’s death”, AP/Redding (Calif.) Record Searchlight, Nov. 15). Update Feb. 4-5: judge throws out case (DURABLE LINK)

December 13-15 – Law’s attraction for the bully. “[A] lot of hyper-glandular people are attracted to the legal profession because it looks like the perfect job for bullying other people. Plus, it pays well. Of course, the apologists for this sort of bad lawyering (mostly like-minded and acting lawyers) … argue that all that I am carping about is what is known as ‘zealous advocacy’ — which is next to godliness in the pantheon of ethical requirements. Of course, there is no ‘ethical requirement’ that justifies what some lawyers do in terms of name-calling, rules-flouting and frivolous motion-filing. It is simply a conceit that these lawyers rely on to transform their vices into supposed virtues.” (Jim McCormack, “Deconstructing Opposing Counsel”, Texas Lawyer, Oct. 25). (DURABLE LINK)

December 13-15 – Gotham’s trial lawyer-legislators. If it’s unusually hard for New Yorkers to obtain any legislative relief from their state’s lawsuit culture, our editor observes in an op-ed, maybe one reason is that numerous lawmakers are themselves trial lawyers, including Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver of Manhattan (who previously practiced with controversial tobacco-beneficiary law firm Schneider Kleinick, and recently joined controversial asbestos/product liability law firm Weitz & Luxenberg) along with New York City Council members Michael E. McMahon and Domenic M. Recchia. (Walter Olson, “Legal Payola”, New York Post, Nov. 21, reprinted at Manhattan Institute site). (DURABLE LINK)


May 18-20 – “Couple sues for doggie damages”. Claiming that their 4-year-old golden retriever Boomer was hurt by an “invisible fence” electronic collar device, Andrew and Alyce Pacher, of Vandalia, Ohio, want to name the dog itself as a plaintiff in the suit. “It’s my opinion that it’s clear dogs cannot sue under Ohio law,” says the fence company’s lawyer. But the Pachers’ attorney, Paul Leonard, a former lieutenant governor and ex-mayor of Dayton, says that’s exactly what he hopes to change: he’s “hoping to upgrade the legal status of dogs in Ohio.” (“Damages for Injuries Caused by Invisible Fence Sought for Dog”, AP/FoxNews.com, May 11).

May 18-20 – “Fortune Magazine Ranks ATLA 5th Most Powerful Lobby”. The business magazine finds that plaintiff’s lawyers have more clout in Washington than the U.S. Chamber of Commerce or the AFL-CIO; more than Hollywood or the doctors or the realtors or the teachers or the bankers. (Fortune, May 28; ATLA jubilates over its rise from 6th to 5th, May 15).

May 18-20 – Batch of reader letters. Our biggest sack of correspondence yet includes a note from a reader wondering if some open-minded attorney would like to help draft a loser-pays initiative for the ballot in Washington state; more about carbonless paper allergies, the effects of swallowing 9mm bullets, the Granicy trial in California, and “consumer columns” that promote lawyers’ services; a link between ergonomics and gun control controversies; and a reader’s dissent on the case of the boy ticketed for jaywalking after being hit by a truck.

May 17 – “Crash lawyers like Boeing move”. Attorneys who sue after midair mishaps are pleased that Boeing is planning to relocate its headquarters to Chicago. They say the courts of Cook County, Ill., hand out much higher verdicts than those of Seattle, the aircraft maker’s former hometown. Some lawyers in fact predict that domestic crashes, at least when the plane is Boeing-made, are apt to be sued in Cook County from now on regardless of where the flight originated or went down; under the liberal rules of forum-shopping that prevail in American courts, most big airlines may be susceptible to venue in the Windy City since they do at least some business there. (Blake Morrison, “Crash lawyers like Boeing move”, USA Today, May 16).

May 17 – Like a hole in the head. As if the nine private law schools in the state of Massachusetts weren’t enough, proponents now want to establish a public one by having the state take over the struggling Southern New England School of Law at North Dartmouth, near New Bedford. (Denise Magnell, “Crash Course”, Boston Law Tribune, May 1).

May 17 – Lessons of shrub-case jailing. The months-long contempt-of-court jailing of John Thoburn of Fairfax County, Va. for refusing to erect enough trees and shrubs around his golf driving range is a good example of the excesses of bureaucratic legalism, says Washington Post columnist Marc Fisher (“In Fairfax shrub fight, Both Sides Dig In Stubbornly”, April 26). Some of the county’s elected supervisors voice few misgivings about the widely publicized showdown, saying their constituents want them to be tougher in cracking down on zoning violations. (Peter Whoriskey and Michael D. Shear, “Fairfax Zoning Case Draws World Attention”, Washington Post, April 21) (freejohnthoburn.com).

May 16 – No baloney. “A suspected drug dealer who was served a bullet-and-bologna sandwich wants a side of lettuce — about $5 million worth. ” Louis Olivo says he was given an officially prepared lunch during a break in a Brooklyn Supreme Court hearing last week, and felt something “crunchy” which turned out to be a bullet. Surgery (not syrup of ipecac?) is expected to remove the 9mm bullet from Olivo’s stomach; his lawyer wants $5 million (Christopher Francescani, “$5M Lawsuit Over Bulletin in Bologna”, New York Post, May 15) (& letter to the editor, May 18)

May 16 – “Who’s afraid of principled judges?” More questions should be raised about a retreat held at Farmington, Pa. earlier this month in which 42 Democratic Senators were lectured on the need to apply ideological litmus tests to judicial nominees, writes Denver Post columnist Al Knight. (May 13). “Liberals rightly decried efforts a decade ago to turn membership in the American Civil Liberties Union into a disqualification for high office; current efforts to do the same thing to the Federalist Society are equally wrong. … In fact, they are the only group, liberal or conservative, that regularly sponsors debates throughout the nation’s law schools on important public-policy issues.” (Howard Shelansky, “Who’s Afraid of the Federalist Society?”, Wall Street Journal, May 15).

May 16 – Drawing pictures of weapons. In Oldsmar, Fla., an eleven-year-old “was taken from his elementary school in handcuffs after his classmates turned him in for drawing pictures of weapons.” (Ed Quioco and Julie Church, “Student removed from class because of drawings”, St. Petersburg Times, May 11; “Pinellas fifth grader cuffed, sent home after classmates turn him in for drawing weapons”, AP/Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, May 11). In Sunderland, England, police raided Roland Hopper’s 11th birthday party and arrested him as he cut the cake after he was seen playing with the new pellet gun his mother had bought him (“Armed Police Raid 11th Birthday”, Newcastle Journal, April 10). And the website ztnightmares.com, which developed out of a controversy at Lewis-Palmer High School in Monument, Colo., “publicizes the downside or evils of zero tolerance school discipline policies” and has a noteworthy list of outside links as well as horror stories.

May 15 – “Judges or priests?”. Why have judicial nomination fights taken on the intensity and bitterness once associated with religious disputes? “The only places left in this country that could be described as temples — for that is how we treat them — are the courts. … They are temples because the judges who sit in them now constitute a priesthood, an oracular class … we have abdicated to them our personal responsibility and, in many cases, even what used to be the smallest judgment call a citizen had to make for himself.” (Tunku Varadarajan, WSJ OpinionJournal.com, May 11).

May 15 – Techies fear Calif. anti-confidentiality bill. Trial lawyers have been pushing hard for the enactment of legislation granting them wide leeway to disseminate to anyone they please much of the confidential business information they dig up by compulsory process in lawsuits. (At present, judges are free to issue “protective orders” which restrain such dissemination.) Proponents say lawyers will use this new power to publicize serious safety hazards that now remain unaired; critics predict they will use it to stir up more lawsuits and for general leverage against defendants who have been found guilty of no wrong but who don’t want the inner details of their business to fall into the hands of competitors or others. A lawyer-backed bill had been hurtling toward enactment in California following the Firestone debacle, but now a counterforce has emerged in the person of high-tech execs who say the proposal “could expose confidential company information, stifle innovation and encourage frivolous litigation. … TechNet CEO Rick White called the bills ‘the most significant threat to California’s technology companies since Prop. 211.’ White was referring to the 1996 initiative that would have made company directors and high-ranking executives personally vulnerable to shareholder lawsuits.” (Scott Harris, “Old Foes Squabble Over Secrecy Bills”, Industry Standard/Law.com, May 10).

May 15 – Canadian court: divorce settlements never final. The Ontario Court of Appeal has ruled that courts may revisit and overturn former divorce settlements if a “material change of circumstances” has taken place since the original deal. “Tens of thousands of people who believed they had agreed to a ‘final’ divorce settlement could face more financial demands … Family law lawyers predict a surge of legal attacks on separation agreements and marriage contracts as a result of the ruling.” (Cristin Schmitz, “Divorce deals never final: court”, Southam News/National Post, April 28).

May 14 – Write a very clear will. Or else your estate could wind up being fought over endlessly in court like that of musician Jerry Garcia (Kevin Livingston, “Garcia Estate Fight Keeps On Truckin’”, The Recorder, April 25; Steve Silverman, “Online Fans Sing Blues About Garcia Estate Wrangling”, Wired News, Dec. 16, 1996; Don Knapp, “Garcia vs. Garcia in battle for Grateful wealth”, CNN, Dec. 14, 1996). Or actor James Mason (A Star is Born, North by Northwest) (“He would have been horrified by all this. … he hated litigation”) (Caroline Davies, “James Mason’s ashes finally laid to rest”, Daily Telegraph (London), Nov. 25, 2000). Or timber heir H.J. Lutcher Stark of Orange, Texas, who died in 1965 and whose estate, with that of his wives, has spawned several rounds of litigation which look as far back for their subject matter as 1939 and are still in progress (William P. Barrett, “How Lawyers Get Rich”, Forbes, April 2 (reg)).

May 14 – City gun suits: “extortion parading as law”. To curb the use of officially sponsored litigation as a regulatory bludgeon, as in the gun suits, the Cato Institute’s Robert Levy recommends “a ‘government pays’ rule for legal fees when a governmental unit is the losing plaintiff in a civil case”. (Robert A. Levy, “Pistol Whipped: Baseless Lawsuits, Foolish Laws”, Cato Policy Analysis #400 (executive summary links to full paper — PDF))

May 14 – Update: “Messiah” prisoner’s lawsuit dismissed. In a 22-page opinion, federal district judge David M. Lawson has dismissed the lawsuit filed by a Michigan prisoner claiming recognition as the Messiah (see April 30). The opinion contains much to reward the curious reader, such as the list on page 5 of the inmate’s demands (including “5 million breeding pairs of bison” and “25,000 mature breeding pairs of every creature that exists in the State of Michigan,” and the passage on page 18 citing as precedent for dismissal similar previous cases such as Grier v. Reagan (E.D. Pa. Apr. 1, 1986), “finding that plaintiff’s claim she was God of the Universe fantastic and delusional and dismissing as frivolous complaint which sought items ranging from a size sixteen mink coat and diamond jewelry to a three bedroom home in the suburbs and a catered party at the Spectrum in Philadelphia”). (opinion dated April 26 (PDF), Michigan Bar Association site) (DURABLE LINK)

May 11-13 – Welcome Aardvark Daily readers (NZ). “New Zealand’s leading source of Net-Industry news and commentary since 1995″ just referred us a whole bunch of antipodal visitors by featuring this website in its “Lighten Up” section. It says we offer “an aggregation of quirky and oddball legal actions which go to prove that the USA has far too many lawyers for its own good”. (Aardvark.co.nz). For NZ-related items on this site, check out July 26, Sept. 8 and Oct. 31, 2000, as well as “Look for the Kiwi Label”, Reason, July 2000, by our editor.

May 11-13 – New York tobacco fees. “An arbitration panel has awarded $625 million in attorneys’ fees to the six firms that were hired by New York state to sue the tobacco industry, say sources close to the arbitration report.” The well-connected city law firm of Schneider, Kleinick, Weitz, Damashek & Shoot (which last year was reported to be renting office space to New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver; see May 1, 2000) will receive $98.4 million. Three firms that took a major national role in the tobacco heist will share $343.8 million from the New York booty, to add to their rich haul from other states; they are Ness Motley, Richard Scruggs’ Mississippi firm, and Seattle’s Hagens & Berman. (Daniel Wise, “Six Firms Split $625 Million in Fees for New York’s Share of Big Tobacco Case,” New York Law Journal, April 24). Update Jun. 21-23, 2002: judge to review ethical questions raised by fee award.

May 11-13 – “Judges behaving badly”. The National Law Journal‘s fourth annual roundup of judicial injudiciousness includes vignettes of jurists pursuing personal vendettas, earning outside income in highly irregular ways, jailing people without findings of guilt, and getting in all sorts of trouble on matters of sex. Then there’s twice-elected Judge Ellis Willard of Sharkey County, Mississippi, who allegedly “fabricated evidence such as docket pages, arrest warrants, faxes [and] officers’ releases.” That was why he got in trouble, not just because he was fond of holding court in his Beaudron Pawn Shop and Tire Center, “a tire warehouse flanked by service bays on one side and a store that holds the judge’s collection of Coca-Cola memorabilia.” (Gail Diane Cox, National Law Journal, April 30).

May 11-13 – Update: Compaq beats glitch suit. In 1999, after Toshiba ponied up more than a billion dollars to settle a class action charging that its laptops had a glitch in their floppy drives, lawyers filed follow-on claims against other laptop makers whose machines they said displayed the same problem. But Compaq refused to settle, and now Beaumont, Tex. federal judge Thad Heartfield has felt constrained to dismiss the suit against it on the grounds that plaintiff’s lawyer Wayne Reaud had failed to show that any user suffered the requisite $5,000 in damages. (Daniel Fisher, “Billion-Dollar Bluff”, Forbes, April 16 (now requires registration)).

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May 10 – Another billion, snuffed. You don’t have to be a Microsoft shareholder to wonder whether antitrust law has become a destabilizing influence on the business world. In late March a Paducah, Ky. federal jury ordered U.S. Tobacco, the number one maker of snuff and chewing tobacco, to pay a staggering $1.05 billion to its smaller competitor Conwood in an antitrust dispute. UST, whose annual sales are $1.5 billion — meaning that the verdict equals the entire gross revenue it takes in over eight months of a year — makes such brands as Skoal and Copenhagen, while Conwood manufactures the Kodiak brand. The finding of $350 million in damages will be automatically trebled under antitrust law if not overturned. “Both companies accused each other of removing display racks from stores, making under-the-table cash rebates to win retailers and holding strategy sessions to plot out how to eliminate the other from the lucrative retail-checkout market.” (No! Not strategy sessions!) In addition, “Conwood attorneys accused U.S. Tobacco of spreading rumors that Conwood’s snuff contained stems and was stale.” (“U.S. Tobacco Co. Faces $1.05B Payout”, AP/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, March 29; Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson, “US tobacco group faces possible $1bn payout”, Financial Times, March 30)

May 10 – Court okays suit against “flagging” of test conditions. In San Francisco, federal judge William Orrick Jr. has rejected a motion to dismiss a case in which Oakland-based Disability Rights Advocates is suing the Educational Testing Service, charging that it’s discriminatory for ETS to “flag” test scores taken under special conditions. “Accommodations” such as extra or unlimited time, the right to have questions explained, and the right to use calculators have become common in recent years following the aggressive use of disabled-rights law by test-takers; in a majority of cases the operative diagnosis is not a traditional disability such as blindness or paraplegia, but one such as learning disability or attention deficit disorder. If the lawsuit succeeds in banishing the loathed asterisk, test-takers will win the right to conceal from downstream institutions, such as medical schools and employers, the fact that a particular result was achieved with extra time or other assistance. (Michael Breen, “ETS Discrimination Case Goes Forward”, The Recorder/CalLaw, April 14).

DRA director of litigation Sid Wolinsky is also representing parents in a challenge to the state of Oregon’s refusal to allow test-takers to use automatic spell-check on statewide exams. “I see an enormous amount of potential litigation” ahead on such issues, he says. In Woburn, Mass., some special-needs students are given the whole day to complete a writing exam normally administered in ninety minutes, another indication that “two national movements [are] on a collision course: disability rights and educational standards.” (Daniel Golden, “Meet Edith, 16; She Plans to Spell-Check Her State Writing Test”, Wall Street Journal, Jan. 21 (fee-based archive)).

May 10 – This side of parodies. Infant wins one-billionth-litigant prize as America adopts as new motto “It’s not my fault” (Paul Campos, “Everyone suits up for latest litigation”, Rocky Mountain News, May 2). Grim news you always feared about “gateway sodas”: (“Mountain Dew Users May Go On To Use Harder Beverages”, The Onion, April 26). And the colorless, odorless, tasteless industrial solvent and prominent component in acid rain that kills thousands of people each year, most through inhalation but also from withdrawal symptoms given its evident addictiveness. Contamination is reaching epidemic levels — the horror must be stopped! (“Ban dihydrogen monoxide!”, Donald Simanek site, undatedstored Google search).

May 9 – Mother’s Day special: Arizona unwanted-birth trial. At a trial under way in Phoenix, Ruth Ann Burns is suing her family physician and obstetrician for failing to diagnose her pregnancy as early as they should have. She says she’d have aborted her two-year-old toddler Nicholas had she known in time that he was on the way, though he is perfectly healthy and she claims to dote on him now. The doctors say Burns herself didn’t think she was pregnant when she first sought medical attention and say when the pregnancy was discovered she still had time to pursue an abortion, but chose not to. (Senta Scarborough, “Doctors sued for unwanted pregnancy”, Arizona Republic, May 4). A columnist for the Arizona Republic wonders what the boy will think when he grows up and learns that his mother swore out oaths as to his unwanted, impositional nature (E.J. Montini, “Unwanted boy blooms in the future”, May 7).

May 9 – Not with our lives you don’t. More evidence that rank-and-file police aren’t happy about Clintonites’ scheme to skew city gun procurement to punish manufacturers that don’t capitulate to lawsuits (see April 14-16). Many cities presently allow officers a choice of which gun to carry, and Smith & Wesson hasn’t been a popular choice in recent years. “Local officials acknowledge they are reluctant to risk hurting morale by ending officers’ ability to choose their weapon,” the news-side Wall Street Journal reports — “morale” being a bit of a dodge here, since the risks at issue go beyond the merely psychological. In Flint, Mich., the mayor has asked the police department to buy S&Ws, “but the chief’s firearm experts have rated the Sig Sauer as more durable and accurate, and the police rank-and-file prefer the better-known and easier-to-shoot Glock.” Miami-Dade is “considering offering a $100 rebate for selecting a Smith & Wesson”, in effect establishing the kind of experiment of which cost-benefit analysts are so fond, measuring people’s willingness to accept cash payment in exchange for giving up a degree of perceived personal safety. A second obstacle to the scheme is that most jurisdictions have open-bidding laws aimed precisely at keeping politicos from pitching public business to favored contractors on a basis other than price and quality, but Sen. Charles Schumer (Democrat, New York) helpfully plans to introduce legislation to allow bypass of such laws. (Vanessa O’Connell, “Plan to Pressure Gun Makers Hits Some Snags”, Wall Street Journal, April 11, subscription site).

Plus: The gun lawsuits have become an issue in the presidential contest, with Vice President Al Gore, one of their ardent supporters, assailing Texas Governor George W. Bush for not pledging to veto legislation that would curtail them (“Bush, Gore camp trade questions on guns, credibility”, AP/FindLaw, May 5). And: this weekend’s pro-gun-control “Million Mom March” in Washington, D.C. has picked up endorsements ranging from President Bill Clinton to plaintiff’s class-action firm Bernstein, Litowitz, Berger & Grossmann LLP and the Association of Trial Lawyers of America — if that’s much of a range, politically speaking (March sponsors list, link now dead; ATLA endorsement; Terence Hunt, “Clinton Endorses Million Mom March”, AP/Yahoo, May 8, no longer online).

May 9 – In Michigan, important judicial races. Eyes of knowledgeable litigation reformers this fall will be on Michigan where three Supreme Court justices appointed by Republican Gov. John Engler — Clifford Taylor, Robert Young and Stephen Markman — are up for election (see Jan. 31). The trio enjoy a growing reputation as thoughtful jurists who share a skepticism toward expansive new liability doctrines; the state’s trial bar is expected to pour almost limitless funds into its attempt to defeat them. “The head of the Michigan Trial Lawyers’ Association has said privately that individual law firms have pledged as much as $500,000 each for the effort”. (Abigail Thernstrom, “Rule of Law: Trial Lawyers Target Three Michigan Judges Up for Election”, Wall Street Journal, May 8, reprinted at MI site).

May 8 – No more Fenway peanut-throwing? For nineteen years Rob Barry has worked in the stands at Boston’s Fenway Park, tossing bags of peanuts to hungry Red Sox fans. Grown-ups gasp and children cheer at his sure aim in lobbing the bags across intervening rows of spectators, but now he’s in trouble with management: “Aramark, the company that provides remarkably mediocre hot dogs and $4.50 cups of beer, has a rule, and that rule prohibits vendors from throwing food in the stadium.” Although admittedly “there are no recorded cases of catastrophic injury caused by a bag of peanuts,” you can never be too safe: before long some other food vendor might follow his example, “and soon you’ll have a cotton candy spear sticking through some young fan’s eye and a cash settlement that could cost the Red Sox Nomar Garciaparra.” Barry says he’s thinking of just retiring if he can no longer practice the peanut-tosser’s art: his father worked at Fenway for 45 years, while two beer-serving sisters have put in a combined 44 years. (Brian McCrory, “Vendor tossed from the game”, Boston Globe, May 5, link now dead).

May 8 – “Lilly’s legal strategy disarmed Prozac lawyers”. Little-noted story of how drugmaker Eli Lilly & Co. has managed so far to fight off a wave of lawsuits over its antidepressant Prozac, quietly settling some stronger cases while maneuvering aggressively to win a favorable jury ruling in the relatively weak one arising from the Wesbecker (Standard Gravure) shooting-spree in Louisville. (Jeff Swiatek, Indianapolis Star, April 22).

May 8 – Trial lawyers’ political clout. “Invited Speaker: President William Jefferson Clinton” — highlight of the brochure in last week’s mail promoting the Association of Trial Lawyers of America’s 2000 annual convention in Chicago. (Does not currently appear in online version (PDF)). Among other scheduled speakers: Sens. Richard Durbin (D-Illinois) and Max Cleland (D-Georgia). “Who will be the most influential political player making independent expenditures in this year’s presidential election?” asks Wall Street Journal editorialist John Fund. The AFL-CIO, the religious right, the NRA? More likely lawyers flush with new tobacco fees: “a comprehensive study by Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse found that trial lawyers gave 78 percent of all contributions to the Texas Democratic Party in the 1998 election cycle, when Bush was running for re-election.” (“Invasion of the Party Snatchers”, MSNBC, May 2). Last year by a 4-3 majority, the Ohio Supreme Court tossed out a 3-year-old tort reform package. Per Ohio Citizens against Lawsuit Abuse, “since 1992 the four justices in the majority received $1,528,054 from personal injury attorneys”, compared with $70,704 for the three dissenting justices. Doug Bandow, “Buying Justice: Plaintiffs’ Lawyers Reap Huge Dividends by Investing in Judges and Politicians”, syndicated column, Dec. 16, 1999, reprinted in Cato Daily Commentary, Dec. 28, 1999.

May 8 – Atlantic City mulls bond issuance to finance lawsuit payouts. The New Jersey resort city is so frequently sued, especially in employment and police cases, that it’s considering issuing special bonds to cover a possible $12.3 million exposure from 23 lawsuits. (Henry Gottlieb, “Suit City, Here We Come”, New Jersey Law Journal, April 4).

May 5-7 – Pro malo publico. Elite law firms endlessly congratulate themselves on the pro bono publico work they perform, seeing it as the “penance they pay for serving a capitalist system”, in Judge Laurence Silberman’s words. Too bad so much supposedly public-interest litigation is in reality actively harmful to the public interest as well as to the persons and institutions on its receiving end, argues Heather Mac Donald. Despite its reputation for being done gratis, pro bono work often brings in very rich court-ordered fee awards from opposing parties, and it also helps shape the legal profession’s continuing impulse to use the courtrooms for feats of social engineering. Homeless advocate Robert Hayes, who has fought for a new right of shelter-on-demand for the homeless, was asked why he litigated rather than taking his case to the legislature. “Personally, I don’t like politics,” he replied. “It’s really hard.” (Heather Mac Donald, “What Good Is Pro Bono?”, City Journal, Spring).

May 5-7 – Lion’s share. Tangled class action litigation against commodities brokerage, now the subject of a petition for review before the Supreme Court, in which plaintiffs’ lawyers were accorded $13 million in fees, twice the $6.5 million that their clients wound up getting. “The system stinks,” says Paul Dodyk of Cravath Swaine and Moore. “The class gets screwed.” Also mentions this website (Bernard Condon, “Conspiracy of Silence”, Forbes, May 1).

May 5-7 – Comment of the day. Accepting an award for general excellence at the National Magazine Awards on Wednesday, William L. Allen, editor in chief of National Geographic, said: “I would hug my staff, but our legal department has advised me not to.” (Alex Kuczynski, “Levity Prevails as Awards Are Handed to Magazines”, New York Times, May 4, no longer online).

May 5-7 – Liked your car so much we kept it. Last year New York City seized Pavel Grinberg’s 1988 Acura, Joe Bonilla’s brand-new Ford Expedition, and Robert Morris’s 1989 Grand Prix, on suspicion of their owners’ drunken driving. However, all three men were cleared of the charges in a court of law. So of course the city gave them their cars back, right? Don’t be naive…. (Gersh Kuntzman, “Rudy Driven To Excess in His DWI Crackdown”, New York Post, Feb. 7).

May 4 – Sports lawsuits proliferate. “More and more, the sports section looks like the rest of the newspaper. First commerce swallowed chunks and now the law has come along to take a bite. In the last few days, we’ve read stories about coaches suing players, fans suing players and now another player preparing to sue his league.” Toronto coach Butch Carter has now dropped his suit against Knick forward Marcus Camby (see April 25-26), but it’s still “getting tougher by the minute for pro sports leagues to call their own shots…. The chain of command in sports is being yanked at every opportunity, from all sides, often with the aid of the court system.” (Jim Litke, AP/Excite, April 27; “Raptors’ coach doesn’t get apology”, AP/ESPN, undated).

May 4 – Splash of reality. A judge has imposed sanctions of $10,000 each against New Rochelle, N.Y. attorney Gordon Locke and client Kenneth Lariviere “for bringing a frivolous breach-of-contract action against members of a board that refused to authenticate a work the two men claimed was painted by Jackson Pollock. Justice Emily Jane Goodman dismissed the action as a ‘laughable and clumsy attempt at fraud, by an individual who, like everyone familiar with the artist’s work, wishes he owned a Jackson Pollock painting.’” Cerisse Anderson, “Lawyer Fined for Frivolous Suit Over Artwork”, New York Law Journal, April 12).

May 4 – Harassment-law roundup. “The Internet start-up community is going to be a major target for sexual harassment litigation,” says management-side attorney Gregory I. Rasin of Jackson Lewis Schnitzler & Krupman, though the progress of such legal action is for the moment impeded by a job market so robust that would-be plaintiffs are “getting six job offers on the way to their lawyers’ offices,” as his colleague Garry Mathiason puts it. (Melinda Ligos, “Harassment Suits Hit the Dot-Coms”, New York Times, April 12). The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has been filing enforcement actions to back up its position that employers violate the law if they fail to move quickly enough in cleaning up sexually and racially offensive graffiti in employee restrooms and preventing recurrence (“Chicago EEOC Makes Second Move Against On-the-Job Racist Graffiti”, Employment Law Weekly, Jan. 20). The case of Boston bar owner Tom English, subject to charges of “hostile public accommodations environment” by the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination for putting up allegedly insensitive seasonal bar decorations, calls attention to a troubling collision between bias law and free speech, writes UCLA First Amendment specialist Eugene Volokh (“Watch What You Say, Or Be Ready to Pay”, Jewish World Review, April 13; Federalist Society Free Speech and Election Law Newsletter, sixth March item). And a jury has awarded Staten Island cop Susan Techky $50,000 after she “testified that male officers wouldn’t talk to her, left pornographic magazines in the co-ed bathroom and watched sex videos in her presence in their quarters,” as well as keeping nude pin-ups in their locker area, which she had to walk through to get to hers. “Island cop wins discrimination suit”, Staten Island Advance, April 21).

May 3 – Ministry of love-discouragement. Complete bans on dating among office-mates are “unrealistic and difficult to enforce,” according to an attorney’s advice column on how lawyers representing management can ward off possible harassment-law liability for their firms. “More practical is to prohibit dating between management and nonmanagement personnel and to discourage, but not completely prohibit, romantic relationships between co-workers. This may require co-workers to disclose immediately any relationship to their immediate supervisor.” To reduce the likelihood of later invasion-of-privacy claims against the employer, such policies “should put employees on notice that the company reserves the right to inquire into employees’ personal lives if necessary to determine whether a relationship exists…. [A]n employer may want to include in its nonfraternization policy a statement indicating that in the event of an office relationship, the company may request that employees execute an agreement attesting to the voluntary nature of their relationship” — this to forestall the pattern now becoming familiar in which “an employee may decide, after an unpleasant breakup, that the relationship was not consensual after all.” (Nicole C. Rivas, “Employment law: ‘love contracts’”, National Law Journal, Feb. 7, not online).

May 3 – eBay yanks e-meter auctions. “E-meters” are electrical devices employed by practitioners of the Church of Scientology in counseling church adherents. Although previously used devices have been resold by private owners for years and were apparently not the subject of licensing agreements that would limit resale, the Church now asserts a copyright interest in the objects that would allow it to legally restrict their distribution, and eBay has recently begun pulling auctions of e-meters to avoid a legal run-in with the church, known in the past for frequent court clashes with its opponents. Critics say it’s another example of how the Digital Millennium Copyright Act encourages online providers to err on the side of timidity when presented with copyright assertions. (“eBay E-Meter Auctions Yanked”, Slashdot, April 28).

May 3 – Fee shrinkage. The Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has upheld a federal court’s ruling that two class-action firms representing plaintiffs burned in the Drexel Burnham Lambert fiasco of the 1980s should receive $2.1 million in fees, less than 20 percent of the $13.5 million they sought. The two law firms — Milberg Weiss Bershad Hynes & Lerach and Abbey, Gardy & Squitieri — had argued that it was appropriate to apply a “multiplier” of six to the otherwise going rate for legal fees because a fee recovery of 25 percent was a “benchmark” in the practice of class action law (the recovery for the class was $54 million). However, the appeals panel upheld Judge Shirley Wohl Kram’s reasoning that the case was a promising one with almost certain prospects of a large recovery, so that enhancing rates “would likely result in [counsel's] overcompensation.” (Mark Hamblett, “Cut in Drexel Case Attorneys’ Fees OK’d”, New York Law Journal, March 31).

May 3 – Little League lawsuits. No, they’re not just figments of tort reformers’ imaginations. In Waynesboro, N.C., Nicolas and Alina Rothenberg are suing the national and local Little League, along with local game officials, over an incident where their son was hit in the mouth with a ball, losing two teeth and experiencing “extreme pain and suffering” and emotional distress. “It was an accident,” said Tammy Meissner, the wife of defendant Michael Meissner. “My husband was hitting the ball just like he’s been hitting the ball for years and years and years.” (“Accident prompts Little League lawsuit”, AP/Winston-Salem Journal, April 23, no longer online). Another clip from mid-1998, datelined Naugatuck, Ct., describes how two teammates, both 8 years old at the time of the incident, wound up in court after Michael Albert swung his bat in the dugout and hit Brittany Gauvin in the head. (“Little League lawsuit pits 10-year-olds against each other”, AP/Danbury News-Times, June 8, 1998).

May 2 – “Access excess”. Our editor’s May Reason column explores the dangers posed by the Americans with Disabilities Act to the freedom of the Net: countless private websites are currently considered “inaccessible” and will apparently be obliged to undergo systematic redesign, an expensive and cumbersome process that will go far to stifle creative freedom in HTML design (see earlier commentaries). This column has already drawn one of the biggest reader reactions of anything we’ve published in a long time — in future updates we’ll try to share highlights from some of the many thoughtful letters that have come in. (Walter Olson, “Access Excess”, Reason, May; also reprinted at Jim Glassman’s Tech Central Station).

May 2 – North Carolina (& Kentucky & Tennessee) tobacco fees. The three leaf-growing states were among the last of the fifty to sign onto the Medicaid reimbursement lawsuits against cigarette companies, and by necessity did little of the heavy lifting in developing the case. North Carolina attorney general Mike Easley picked private lawyer John McArthur to handle the state’s grower-advocacy role in the tobacco negotiations, a task McArthur also performed for the other two states; conveniently, he happened at the time to be coming off a stint as counsel to Easley himself. Now he’s rumored to be in line for $1.5 million in fees, concededly far lower than the take of lawyers who represented other states. Why aren’t more precise figures public? McArthur says it’s because of lawyer-client confidentiality. Easley is favored for the state’s gubernatorial nomination in today’s Democratic primary, and a spokesman for his primary rival, Lt. Gov. Dennis Wicker, has called for more light to be shed on the fee details: “Certainly the people have a right to know if the attorney general’s office is North Carolina’s version of ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire’”. Reporter David Rice of the Winston-Salem Journal writes that “Easley has repeatedly talked about his role in the tobacco settlement, but reporters and others always got the impression that the state hired no outside lawyers in the case”; now Easley says his earlier statements indicating that no outside lawyers had been hired were mischaracterized. (David Rice, “Wicker aide calls for the disclosure of attorney’s fee”, Winston-Salem Journal, April 25; Ben White, “Primary Season Resumes in N.C., Ind.”, Washington Post, May 1, links now dead).

May 2 – IRS drops penny-collection efforts. “The Internal Revenue Service has stopped collection procedures against a Roswell[, N.M.] businessman who inadvertently came up 1 penny short on his tax return. Ernest Spence, owner of Valley Glass Co., had been required to pay $286.50 in penalties and interest for the mistake.” Mr. Spence says the error was unintended and resulted from not carrying the fractional penny while doing the arithmetic on the return. (“IRS backs off man’s penalty for 1-cent mistake”, AP/Dallas Morning News, April 30).

May 2 – Columnist-fest. More to catch up on:

* “It’s not about money, most of the plaintiffs or their lawyers will say, it’s about the healing process. Baloney.” Anne Roiphe on the prospect of Columbine litigation (“Feeling Tired? Blue? Cranky? Just Sue!”, New York Observer, May 1, link now dead).

* George Will invokes the many sound arguments against the Victim’s Rights Amendment to the Constitution (“Tinkering Again”, Washington Post, April 23). Will has been on a roll recently with columns on death row innocents, campaign regulation and the First Amendment, the Boy Scouts case, and campaign regulation again.

* Jacob Sullum on S&W’s hapless attempt at a “clarification” of its HUD-brokered settlement: “Perhaps it is dawning on Smith & Wesson’s executives that it can be dangerous to show weakness in the face of statist demands. Too bad they didn’t pay closer attention to the fate of the tobacco companies, whose efforts at appeasement have only whetted their opponents’ appetites.” (syndicated column, April 19).

May 1 – Tort city, USA. Other cities face a handful of slip-fall cases each year, but New York City gets 3,500, paying out $57 million plus large legal defense costs. When all types of injury litigation are included, the total reaches a staggering $420 million plus defense costs. What makes the political climate in New York so hostile to the city’s interest as a lawsuit defendant? One reason is the number of powerful Gotham politicians with ties to tort practice, such as Bronx Republican state senator Guy Velella, whose law firm’s successful cases against New York City include two separate injury suits on behalf of his parents. Or Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who rents office space from well-connected tort firm Schneider, Kleinick, Weitz, Damashek & Shoot. Or Brooklyn Democrat Helene Weinstein, who chairs the state assembly’s Judiciary committee and “is of counsel to her father’s personal-injury firm … It’s rather like having a Microsoft lawyer in charge of the Congressional committee overseeing antitrust policy.” A jury recently took just an hour to reject a $10 million suit against the city by assemblyman John Brian Murtaugh, who had slipped on ice in a city park while walking his dog and broke his wrist. (John Tierney, “In Tort City, Falling Down Can Pay Off”, New York Times, April 15).

May 1 – “Jury flipped coin to convict man of murder”. You think this sort of thing doesn’t really happen, but it did happen last week in Louisville: “A jury unable to decide on a verdict tossed a coin last week to convict a man of murder, prompting a judge to declare a mistrial … The Jefferson County Circuit Court jury of five men and seven women deliberated about nine hours over two days last week before finding Phillip J. Givens II guilty of murder for killing his girlfriend, Monica Briggs, 29, last May.” Givens faced life in prison on the murder rap, but Judge Kenneth Conliffe declared a mistrial after word reached him of the method the jury had used to break its deadlock: one of the jurors told someone, who told a court employee, who told the judge. (Kim Wessel, Louisville Courier-Journal, April 25).

May 1 – Funny hats and creative drawing. As part of a discrimination settlement, employees of Detroit Edison now have been given an in-house “Learning Zone” where they can “map out their careers, create personal Web sites and even work on their resumes.” A reporter notes that the room “looks like a preschool for adults,” with “puzzles, funny hats, puppets and wall-mounted drawing boards.” One of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, who has now been installed as “facilitator” of the zone, says that it makes “people feel safe, warm and creative … It’s about the employees.” (Brenda Rios, “Building Careers”, Detroit Free Press, April 27).

May 1 – In praise of bugs. “[Computers] should just work, all the time”, opines one popular tech columnist, and many others (including advocates of more stringent bug liability) likewise promote the view that “defects are a moral failing, and a complete absence of defects must be assured, whatever achieving this goal does to the cost and the schedule. But is achieving bug-free software always in the customer’s best interest?” (Gene Callahan, “Those Damned Bugs!”, Dr. Dobb’s Journal, Dec. 3, 1999, adapted as “In Praise of Bugs”, Mises Institute, March 27).