Posts Tagged ‘state high courts’

Sheldon Silver and lawyers in politics

Sheldon Silver’s arrest prompts Jeffrey Toobin to relate a war story regarding the now-defunct law firm known as Morris Eisen, P.C., “an outfit so extravagantly corrupt, so hilariously dishonest, and so creatively malign as almost to defy belief.” (I’ve written a number of times about the Eisen firm myself.) Eisen’s son-in-law, who had gotten his start with the firm, went on to found the firm of Weitz & Luxenberg, where Silver had his no-visible-duties job and to which he occasionally sent lucrative asbestos referrals from his friends at the Columbia clinic and elsewhere.

Weitz & Luxenberg (which has not been charged with any wrongdoing in the federal investigation, and says it has asked Silver to take a leave of absence) is also a big political player nationally, not just in New York. As Kim Strassel notes at the WSJ, “Then Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s top contributor from 2009 to 2014 was Weitz & Luxenberg. The firm played the same role for Bruce Braley, the trial-lawyer Democrat who just lost an Iowa Senate race.” The other large asbestos firm to receive lucrative patient referrals from Dr. Robert Taub’s now-discontinued Columbia University mesothelioma center is the Simmons firm of Illinois, another big political donor that Strassel says has been the single biggest backer of Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).

Previously on the Silver arrest here and here. More: “Tarnished Silver: Speaker’s arrest upends most everything in Albany” [Andrew Hawkins, Crain’s New York (“his support for the teachers’ union has kept education reformers at bay”); Henry Goldman, Bloomberg; Wayne Barrett on Silver’s “Friends of Shelly” network of pals, including Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman (“In his varied posts, Lippman has long overseen the very courts hearing the asbestos and other cases brought by Silver’s firm.”)

And this Joseph Nocera column from the weekend, which is particularly strong on Silver’s influence over the judiciary in New York, built up through methods all “perfectly legal.” But note this NYT correction stating that Nocera’s discussion of the judiciary in that column was “premised on several factual errors.” (More on that: New York Sun.) The New York Post believes the feds are sniffing around Manhattan trial courts.

Liability roundup

  • From the Manhattan Institute “Trial Lawyers Inc.” project, “Wheels of Fortune” (PDF), twin report on lawyers’ exploitation of SSDI (Social Security Disability) and ADA cases;
  • Theodore Dalrymple on the flaws of the US litigation system [Liberty and Law]
  • Testimony: “after he inquired about the 40 percent fee charged by [co-counsel] Chestnut, [Willie] Gary threatened to ‘tie up [client] Baker’s money in the courts for years so he would never live to see it.'” [Gainesville Sun]
  • ATRA takes aim at rise of asbestos litigation in NYC [“Judicial Hellholes” series, Chamber-backed Legal NewsLine, New York Daily News (“national scandal”)]
  • Another reminder that while plaintiff’s lawyers conventionally assail pre-dispute employment arbitration agreements, they routinely use them themselves [LNL]
  • New U.S. Chamber papers on litigation trends: “Lawsuit Ecosystem II“; state supreme courts review;
  • Changes ahead for class action rules? [Andrew Trask]

Illinois Supreme Court battles

Really, the headline is as good an introduction to this tangled web as any: “Clifford firm contributes $150K to unseat Justice on the same day he’s in court saying campaign money corrupted Supreme Court.” [Madison County Record, related post ten years ago] Also, Illinois election officials say the state may need to have a slow Election Night [The Southern Illinoisan]

Politics roundup

  • 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.

Politics roundup

June 15 roundup

  • “The NYT revisits the Tawana Brawley rape hoax scandal — and Al Sharpton’s role.” [Ann Althouse]
  • Is there any hope of reforming or repealing FATCA, the crazy overseas banking regulation? [Frederic Alain Behrens, SSRN via TaxProf, earlier here, etc.]
  • Urbanophile is no fan of Toronto mayor Rob Ford, but also no fan of the campaign to drive him from office [Aaron Renn]
  • Landlords face legal risk taking on ex-offenders — so where are they supposed to live? [Volokh]
  • When does a strong central state advance individual liberty? Arnold Kling reviews Mark Weiner’s The Rule of the Clan [EconLib]
  • Unenforceability of contract holds back Indian tribes’ prosperity [Terry Anderson]
  • “Oklahoma High Court Nullifies State Tort Reform Law” [WLF, TortsProf, Tulsa World, Reuters, NewsOK, Beck (“the Oklahoma Supreme Court was plainly out of control in Ysbrand, and unfortunately it remains out of control to this day”), Douglas v. Cox]

May 18 roundup

October 25 roundup

  • And she’s a psychology professor too: “Pro se litigant of the day” [ATL]
  • “Access to justice” makes handy slogan, but has its limits re: appeal bonds [Ted at PoL]
  • New Federalist Society white papers on Michigan, Illinois, California and Alabama supreme courts;
  • Per her opponent this year, CPSIA proponent and perennial Overlawyered bete noire Jan Schakowsky ranks as most left-wing member of Congress []
  • Naming opportunity at Faulkner U.’s Jones School of Law falls to Greg Jones of Beasley Allen [BA press release]
  • Lockyer pushes divestment of firms for taking wrong stance on ballot controversy [Coyote]
  • “Patent marking” suits continue to proliferate as Reps. Latta, Issa propose measures to curb opportunistic filings [Gray on Claims]
  • “South Carolina tobacco fees: how to farm money” [ten years ago on Overlawyered]

Breaking: Tennessee Supreme Court reinstates punitive damages in Flax v. DaimlerChrysler

Perhaps we spoke too soon when we commended the Tennessee appellate court for getting it partially right. As we stated in November 2004:

In 2001, Louis Stockell, driving his pickup at 70 mph, twice the speed limit, rear-ended a Chrysler minivan. Physics being what they are, the front passenger seat in the van collapsed backwards and the passenger’s head struck and fatally injured 8-month old Joshua Flax. The rest of the family walked away from the horrific accident. Plaintiffs’ attorney Jim Butler argued that Chrysler, which already designed its seats above federal standards, should be punished for not making the seats stronger — never mind that a stronger and stiffer seat would result in more injuries from other kinds of crashes because it wouldn’t absorb any energy from the crash. (Rear-end collisions are responsible for only 3% of auto fatalities.) Apparently car companies are expected to anticipate which type of crash a particular vehicle will encounter, and design accordingly. The $105M verdict includes $98M in punitives.

We had more details of trial shenanigans in December 2004 and noted the reduction of the punitives by the trial court to a still unreasonable $20 million in June 2005. In December 2006, the intermediate appellate court threw out the punitive damages and the negligent infliction of emotional distress claim, leaving a $5 million compensatory damages verdict to be split between Chrysler and the driver responsible for the accident. An injustice, but at least a smaller injustice.

However, today, a 3-2 vote of the Tennessee Supreme Court made it a larger injustice again, reinstating $13,367,345 of punitive damages over a good-faith dispute over appropriate seatback design, giving no credit to evidence that the design in the Caravan was safer than the plaintiffs’ proposed design, and effectively disregarding Tennessee statutory law that compliance with federal standards creates a presumption against punitive damages. The Court did not mention Exxon Shipping‘s suggestion that punitive damages greater than a 1:1 ratio were possibly constitutionally inappropriate where compensatory damages were substantial and the defendant’s actions were not intentional or done for profit. The Court unanimously affirmed the elimination of the NIED claim; one justice would have thrown out the compensatory damages, as well, because of the volume of inadmissible and improperly prejudicial evidence admitted. (Flax v. Daimler Chrysler (Tenn. Jul. 24, 2008); id. (Wade, J., concurring); id. (Clark, J., partially dissenting); id. (Koch, J., partially dissenting); E. Thomas Wood, “High court upholds $18.4M damage award in DaimlerChrysler case”, Nashville Post, Jul. 24; Kristin M. Hall, AP/Chicago Tribune, Jul. 24). The majority decision relied heavily on the expert testimony of Paul Sheridan, an MBA non-engineer and professional anti-Chrysler witness whom a federal court called “wholly unqualified” to testify on seat back design.