A big win for plaintiff’s lawyers: “Rewriting decades of established law in Illinois, the [state’] high court — by a 4-3 margin — repealed the public-duty doctrine that holds local government entities, including fire and police departments, owe their duty to protect to the general public, not individual citizens. The lawsuit opens the way for individuals to sue governmental entities based on some claim of harm caused to them as a result of the public entity’s negligence.” [Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette, Cook County Record, Municipal Minute; some related issues of government duty-to-protect exposure from the state of Washington]
“The law firm Goodwin Procter, which laid off nearly 40 lawyers and staff last year, is asking the taxpayers of Worcester and Lowell, Mass., to pay the firm more than $1.75 million in legal fees for ‘pro bono’ work on behalf of aggressive beggars fighting city crackdowns.” [Ira Stoll, Future of Capitalism]
Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania: “A jury in a Luzerne County civil case ruled that PennDOT was partially responsible for a deadly crash in 2011 that killed a 15-year-old girl, even though the driver of the SUV was driving at roughly twice the speed limit and did not have a driver’s license.” While the driver admitted he was going nearly 90 miles an hour when he lost control, the family’s lawyer “told jurors in closing arguments that PennDOT’s own manuals showed Suscon Road needed more so-called chevron signs that reflect light and warn of an upcoming sharp curve.” [WNEP]
The “city of Los Angeles will pay $215,000 to end a free-speech lawsuit involving a man who was kicked out of a public meeting after showing up wearing a Ku Klux Klan hood. …[Michael] Hunt, who is black, attended the meeting while wearing both the KKK hood and a T-shirt that featured a profanity and a racial slur used to describe African Americans.” Hunt’s attorney, Stephen Rohde, denied a city report that his client had on being ejected “thanked the security officers for providing him with a ‘big payday’.” Hunt had “previously received a $264,286 jury award stemming from a 2009 lawsuit in which he challenged the city’s vending restrictions on the Venice Boardwalk. The city also paid Hunt’s lawyer $340,000 in legal fees for that case.” Rohde, meanwhile, had been the attorney suing the city in another recent case involving complainants repeatedly ejected from city council meetings; in that case jurors had awarded the complainants only $1 each, the city still had to pay the attorney about $600,000 in legal bills under a “one-way” fee shift entitlement for successful civil rights suits. [L.A. Times, ABA Journal]
Huge win for justice and good sense: facing a mounting public furor, “The Social Security Administration announced Monday that it will immediately cease efforts to collect on taxpayers’ debts to the government that are more than 10 years old.” [WaPo] Credit goes above all to the Washington Post and its reporter Marc Fisher for exposing the most outrageous features of the IRS’s refund-interception program last week, as recounted in this space; I like to think I helped as well by beating the drum early and repeatedly since then with Cato’s help. Overlawyered’s Facebook post on the subject has been seen by more than 60,000 people and shared more than 700 times in the past few days. (Have you liked us yet?)
The next step should be to establish for the public record how the provision in question got slipped into the farm bill, and at whose behest. Congress’s refusal to be forthcoming on this topic speaks volumes about its lack of a felt sense of responsibility toward the people it represents.
And a theme I’ve been repeating for almost as long as I’ve been writing about law: statutes of limitations developed in civilized legal systems for a reason. They protect us not only from cost, uncertainty, and the misery of legal process, but from injustice of a hundred other kinds, and they protect society itself from spiraling into a legal war of all against all. Stop trying to abolish them!
Many — most? — Des Moines taxpayers probably don’t care all that deeply whether the city extracts taxes via one broad-based method or another. But due to class-action procedure and the barriers it erects to opting out, they all get to be plaintiffs in the resulting suit, and the lawyers (self-) appointed to bring the case are expecting to pocket 37 percent, or $15 million, of the $40 million changing hands, a sum that could amount to $1,400 an hour. [Ryan Koopmans (On Brief blog), Des Moines Register, earlier]
“It was the craziest thing I have ever seen,” one former high-ranking department official said. “We had applications for kids who were 4 or 5 years old. We had cases where every single member of the family applied.” The official added, “You couldn’t have designed it worse if you had tried.” …
Accusations of unfair treatment could be checked against department files if claimants had previously received loans. But four-fifths of successful claimants had never done so. For them, “there was no way to refute what they said,” said Sandy Grammer, a former program analyst from Indiana who reviewed claims for three years. “Basically, it was a rip-off of the American taxpayers.” …
In 16 ZIP codes in Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi and North Carolina, the number of successful claimants exceeded the total number of farms operated by people of any race in 1997, the year the lawsuit was filed. Those applicants received nearly $100 million.
At Prawfsblawg, Paul Horwitz notes that legal scholars active in areas like reparations and discrimination law have up to now said little or nothing about the high quantum of fraud in the much-publicized Pigford settlements and asks (perhaps a bit rhetorically?) whether they will soon be taking note of the “public interest graft” revealed in the Times piece. And Hans Bader wonders whether the Obama administration might have avoided going down the embarrassing settlement route had it taken more seriously the Supreme Court’s 2001 decision in Alexander v. Sandoval. More: Ted Frank, Point of Law; Daniel Foster, NRO. Joel Pollak: “Even the Kinko’s guy knows about Pigford.” Earlier here, etc.