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Virginia Tech

January 5 roundup

by Walter Olson on January 5, 2010

  • Other motorist in fatal crash should have been detained after earlier traffic stop, says widow in suit against Kane County, Ill. sheriff’s office [Chicago Tribune]
  • Now with flashing graphic: recap of Demi Moore skinny-thigh Photoshop nastygram flap [Xeni Jardin, BoingBoing, Kennerly]
  • Blawg Review #245 is hosted by Charon QC;
  • Expensive, unproven, and soon on your insurance bill? State lawmakers mull mandate for autism therapy coverage [KY3.com, Springfield, Missouri]
  • “NBC airs segment on Ford settlement: Lawyers get $25 million, plaintiffs get a coupon” [NJLRA]
  • “Drawing on emotion”: high-profile patent plaintiff’s lawyer Niro writes book on how to win trials [Legal Blog Watch]
  • “Virginia Tech faces lawsuit over student’s suicide” [AP/WaPo]
  • Maryland lawmaker’s Howard-Dean-style candor: “you take care of your base… It’s labor and trial lawyers that get Democrats in office” [Wood, ShopFloor]

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FERPA meets HIPAA

by Walter Olson on January 24, 2009

The feds have issued guidance on the interplay of two complicated laws enacted by Congress in the name of privacy, FERPA (college students) and HIPAA (medical information). The intersection between the two was the subject of considerable attention at the time of the Virginia Tech massacre, carried out by a mentally disturbed student whose deteriorating condition had been kept a secret from many interested parties because of the laws. [HIPAA Blog]

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April 11 roundup

by Walter Olson on April 11, 2008

  • Plenty of reaction to our Tuesday post questioning the NYT school-bullying story, including reader comments and discussion at other blogs; one lawprof passes along a response by the Wolfe family to the Northwest Arkansas Times’s reporting [updated post]
  • Geoffrey Fieger, of jury-swaying fame, says holding his forthcoming criminal trial in Detroit would be unfair because juries there hate his guts [Detroit News]
  • Another Borat suit down as Judge Preska says movie may be vulgar but has social value, and thus falls into “newsworthiness” exception to NY law barring commercial use of persons’ images [ABA Journal]
  • Employer found mostly responsible for accident that occurred after its functionaries overrode a safety device, but a heavy-equipment dealer also named as defendant will have to pay more than 90 percent of resulting $14.6 million award [Bloomington, Ill. Pantagraph]
  • New Mexico Human Rights Commission fines photographer $6600 for refusing a job photographing same-sex commitment ceremony [Volokh, Bader]
  • “Virginia reaches settlement with families of VA Tech shooting victims” [Jurist]
  • Roger Parloff on downfall of Dickie Scruggs [Fortune]
  • Judge in Spain fined heavily and disbarred for letting innocent man spend more than a year in jail [AP/IHT, Guardian]
  • Hard to know whether all those emergency airplane groundings actually improved safety, they might even have impaired it [Murray/NRO "Corner", WSJ edit]
  • “Freedom of speech is an American concept, so I don’t give it any value” — tracking down the context of that now-celebrated quote from a Canadian Human Rights Commission investigator [Volokh]
  • Who was it that said that lawyers “need to be held accountable for frivolous lawsuits that help drive up the cost of malpractice insurance”? Hint: initials are J.E. [three years ago on Overlawyered]

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Welcome WBAL listeners

by Walter Olson on March 25, 2008

I was a guest on Ron Smith’s Baltimore-based show, with Bruce Elliott hosting, this afternoon to discuss the possible settlement between the state of Virginia and families of slain Virginia Tech students (coverage: CNN, Washington Post, AP).

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More HIPAA madness? On Wednesday, in a crime that cast a chill through the mental health community, a Manhattan therapist was brutally slaughtered in her office by a man whose actions seemed consistent with those of a current or former patient with a grudge. The assailant escaped on foot, and although his image had been captured on surveillance tape, police were nowhere near beginning to know where to start looking for him: “Because of privacy laws, police hadn’t been able to access patient records as of late yesterday, sources said.” (New York Post, Feb. 14)(via Bader). On medical privacy laws and the Virginia Tech rampage of Seung Hui Cho, see Jun. 16, 2007.

More: Commenter Supremacy Claus says not to blame HIPAA, which has an exemption for police reports.

Friday morning sequel: This morning’s New York Post sticks with the original story and fleshes out the HIPAA role somewhat:

The hunt for the savage beast who butchered an Upper East Side therapist has hit a roadblock – because detectives can’t access her patients’ medical records under federal privacy laws, The Post has learned.

Police believe the meat-cleaver-wielding psycho who killed Kathryn Faughey on Tuesday night inside her office on East 79th Street could be the doctor’s patient – and need access to her records to identify him.

But police sources said because of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996, investigators are having a hard time gaining access to those records.

“A case like this gets complicated because of medical privacy protections,” a source close to the investigation told The Post yesterday.

The federal law states that doctors, hospitals and health-insurance companies must protect the privacy of patients – even in a murder investigation – and that only through the use of subpoenas can authorities hope to obtain such information.

Police sources said investigators have applied for a subpoena, but have yet to receive it. Even if the subpoena is issued, patients can sue to keep their records private. …

[D]etectives have tried to get around the law by tracking down patients through sign-in sheets at the building’s front desk and through surveillance cameras in the lobby, sources said.

(Murray Weiss, Jamie Schram and Clemente Lisi, “Vexed by ‘Slay File’ Madness”, New York Post, Feb. 15). My Times (U.K.) article on the problems posed by health privacy laws is here.

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November 20 roundup

by Walter Olson on November 20, 2007

  • Dickie Scruggs will host Dec. 15 Hillary fundraiser headlined by Bill [Clarion-Ledger via WSJ law blog]
  • Megabucks campaigns for state judicial office: Symptom? Illness? Both? [Justice O'Connor @ OpinionJournal.com, Adler @ Volokh; Pero]
  • U.K. kids’ author says publisher’s safety worries vetoed depiction of fire-breathing dragon in book [Daily Mail]
  • Roger Parloff describes the Judith Regan complaint as bizarre, and angry commenters are soon denouncing him as a Fox’s-paw [Fortune Legal Pad; Althouse; ritual disclaimer]
  • Wonder why booking a dance venue can get pricey? Here’s one reason [WV Record]
  • “Why should I take a dollar out of [my neighbor's] pocket?”: a Virginia Tech family wrestles with the temptation to sue [Mundy, WashPostMag]
  • Essential silliness of the “media diversity” scare [Welch, LAT]
  • Boston’s James Sokolove, known for his heavy rotation of personal-injury TV ads, is now chasing for … patent plaintiffs? [WSJ law blog; earlier]
  • Great big gobs of mutilated monkey meat could bring five years in slammer for NYC immigrant [IHT]
  • Recounting the tale of Miami’s one-time high-living “King of Torts” Louis Robles, who stole from around 4,500 clients [AJP "CEO Alert" series, PDF]

  • Campaign regulation laws spell incumbent protection in New Zealand too [Bainbridge]
  • Influence of newspaper lobby retards natural migration to the web of fine-print legal notices [Liptak, NYT]

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Perils of privacy laws, as discussed earlier here, here, here and here:

Fairfax County school officials determined that Seung Hui Cho suffered from an anxiety disorder so severe that they put him in special education and devised a plan to help, according to sources familiar with his history, but Virginia Tech was never told of the problem.

The disorder made Cho unable to speak in social settings and was deemed an emotional disability, the sources said. When he stopped getting the help that Fairfax was providing, Cho became even more isolated and suffered severe ridicule during his four years at Virginia Tech, experts suggested. In his senior year, Cho killed 32 students and faculty members and himself in the deadliest shooting by an individual in U.S. history….

Professors and school administrators at Virginia Tech could not have known of Cho’s emotional disability — Fairfax officials were forbidden from telling them. Federal privacy and disability laws prohibit high schools from sharing with colleges private information such as a student’s special education coding or disability, according to high school and college guidance and admissions officials. Those laws also prohibit colleges from asking for such information.

The only way Virginia Tech officials would have known about Cho’s anxiety and selective mutism would have been if Cho or his parents told them about it and asked for accommodations to help him, as he had received in Fairfax….

Although the only way college officials could have known about Cho’s problem would have been from Cho, experts said that asking for help is an almost impossible task for someone with selective mutism.

(Brigid Schulte and Tim Craig, “Unknown to Va. Tech, Cho Had a Disorder”, Washington Post, Aug. 27). More: Hans Bader at CEI’s Open Market (Aug. 27).

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July 23 roundup

by Walter Olson on July 23, 2007

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Better late than never:

Virginia Tech has provided some of Seung Hui Cho’s medical records to a panel investigating the April 16 massacre, after negotiating with family members to waive their privacy rights….

The records were released after weeks of frustration among the eight panel members over not being able to analyze Cho’s mental health in the years leading to the massacre, the worst mass shooting by an individual in U.S. history….

…panel officials said Thursday that they will continue to press for additional records, which also are protected under state and federal privacy laws.

(Tim Craig, “Panel Given Some Medical Files on Cho”, Washington Post, Jun. 15). And from a Thursday news report, also in the Post:

Authorities’ abilities to identify potentially dangerous mentally ill people are crippled across the nation by the same kinds of conflicts in privacy laws that prevented state officials from being able to intervene before Seung Hui Cho went on his rampage at Virginia Tech, according to a federal report commissioned after the Blacksburg shootings that was presented to President Bush yesterday.

Because school administrators, doctors and police officials rarely share information about students and others who have mental illnesses, troubled people don’t get the counseling they need, and authorities are often unable to prevent them from buying handguns, the report says.

(Chris L. Jenkins, “Confusion Over Laws Impedes Aid For Mentally Ill”, Washington Post, Jun. 14). My writings on the topic from April are here, here and here.

Vienna, Va. attorney Thomas J. Fadoul, Jr., who represents twenty victim families, has threatened to sue unless a family representative is appointed to the panel investigating the massacre so as to help “steer” its proceedings; Virginia governor Tim Kaine has replied that the panel was chosen so as not to include parties involved, and noted that the panel does not include any representative of Virginia Tech itself.

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May 1 roundup

by Walter Olson on May 1, 2007

  • Jack Thompson, call your office: FBI search turns up no evidence Virginia Tech killer owned or played videogames [Monsters and Critics]

  • How many zeroes was that? Bank of America threatens ABN Amro with $220 billion suit if it reneges on deal to sell Chicago’s LaSalle Bank [Times (U.K.), Consumerist]

  • Chuck Colson will be disappointed, but the rule of law wins: Supreme Court declines to intervene in Miller-Jenkins (Vermont-Virginia lesbian custody) dispute [AP; see Mar. 2 and many earlier posts]

  • Oklahoma legislature passes, but governor vetoes, comprehensive liability-reform bill [Point of Law first, second, third posts]

  • Good primer on California’s much-abused Prop 65 right-to-know toxics law [CalBizLit via Ted @ PoL]

  • “Defensive psychiatry” and the pressure to hospitalize persons who talk of suicide [Intueri]

  • Among the many other reasons not to admire RFK Jr., there’s his wind-farm hypocrisy [Mac Johnson, Energy Tribune]

  • “Screed-O-Matic” simulates nastygrams dashed off by busy Hollywood lawyer Martin Singer [Portfolio]

  • “Liability, health issues” cited as Carmel, Ind. officials plan to eject companion dogs from special-needs program, though no parents have complained [Indpls. Star; similar 1999 story from Ohio]

  • First glimmerings of Sen. John Edwards’s national ambitions [five years ago on Overlawyered]
(Edited Tues. a.m. to cut an entry which was inadvertently repeated after appearing in an earlier roundup)

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Crime does pay

by David Nieporent on April 25, 2007

Over at That Other Website, there’s a link to a Findlaw column by Anthony Sebok, entitled, “Could Virginia Tech Be Held Liable for Cho Seung Hui’s Shootings, If An Investigation Were to Reveal It Had Been Negligent?” The subtitle of the column, which tells you all you need to know, is “The Unfortunate Answer.”

To be fair, Sebok is a law professor, and the question posed is a legitimate academic one: what, if any, legal liability does Virginia Tech face? And also to be fair, Sebok speaks the right words about how Cho bears the primary blame. But at the same time, the article illustrates that the trial lawyers of the sort Overlawyered complains about every day are not revolutionaries; they’re just doing what they’ve been taught in law school. Namely, find a legal theory under which one can blame third parties.

Sebok is careful not to declare the university liable, but at the same time, he doesn’t think there’s anything farfetched about considering that it might be. He doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with trying to assign blame to the school for the acts of a criminal. Ultimately, he’s disappointed because Virginia is “notoriously pro-defendant,” and so even if the victims’ families can blame the state, the “final indignity” is that they could likely “only” win a maximum of $100,000. For the actions of a criminal.

[click to continue…]

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My new column in the Times (U.K.) is on the many costs of HIPAA, the federal law which even now prevents institutions from releasing the Virginia Tech psychopath’s health records (privacy rights extend after death) and played a notable role (along with the Buckley Amendment/FERPA) in restricting the chances for relevant actors to compare notes on his symptoms of madness before it was too late (Walter Olson, “Could less rigid privacy laws have prevented the Virginia tragedy?”, Apr. 20).

More: Dr. Wes has some additional HIPAA thoughts, as does Jeff Drummond at HIPAA Blog.

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That didn’t take long: according to Prof. Childs in a post yesterday, at least one legal advertiser has bought Google AdSense words in quest of victim families. Those who click on the ad get redirected to personalinjuryattorney.com.

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WashingtonPost.com’s “Think Tank Town” feature has a symposium on the policy implications of the Virginia Tech massacre, including contributions from Ted on fear of litigation and from me on the legal constraints on universities faced with problem students, as well as from Jim Copland (Point of Law, Manhattan Institute) on gun control.

This morning’s New York Times (Apr. 19) includes a must-read article by Tamar Lewin spelling out in more detail the problems I refer to in my short commentary. Writes Lewin:

Federal privacy and antidiscrimination laws restrict how universities can deal with students who have mental health problems.

For the most part, universities cannot tell parents about their children’s problems without the student’s consent. They cannot release any information in a student’s medical record without consent. And they cannot put students on involuntary medical leave, just because they develop a serious mental illness….

Universities can find themselves in a double bind. On the one hand, they may be liable if they fail to prevent a suicide or murder. After the death in 2000 of Elizabeth H. Shin, a student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who had written several suicide notes and used the university counseling service before setting herself on fire, the Massachusetts Superior Court allowed her parents, who had not been told of her deterioration, to sue administrators for $27.7 million. The case was settled for an undisclosed amount.

On the other hand, universities may be held liable if they do take action to remove a potentially suicidal student. In August, the City University of New York agreed to pay $65,000 to a student who sued after being barred from her dormitory room at Hunter College because she was hospitalized after a suicide attempt.

Also last year, George Washington University reached a confidential settlement in a case charging that it had violated antidiscrimination laws by suspending Jordan Nott, a student who had sought hospitalization for depression….

Last month, Virginia passed a law, the first in the nation, prohibiting public colleges and universities from expelling or punishing students solely for attempting suicide or seeking mental-health treatment for suicidal thoughts.

The article also refers to the role of the Buckley Amendment (FERPA), the HIPAA medical-privacy law, and disabled-rights law, which prohibits universities from inquiring of applicants whether they suffer serious mental illness or have been prescribed psychotropic drugs. Incidentally, the Allegheny College case, in which a Pennsylvania college came under fire for not notifying parents about their son’s suicidal thoughts, was discussed in a W$J article last month: Elizabeth Bernstein, “After a Suicide, Privacy on Trial”, Mar. 24. And Mary Johnson suspects that HIPAA will turn out to have played a role in the calamitous dropping of the ball regarding Cho’s behavior (Apr. 18). More: Raja Mishra and Marcella Bombardieri, “School says its options were few despite his troubling behavior”, Boston Globe, Apr. 19; Ribstein.

And: How well did privacy laws/policies work? Why, just perfectly:

Ms. Norris, who taught Mr. Cho in a 10-student creative writing workshop last fall, was disturbed enough by his writings that she contacted the associate dean of students, Mary Ann Lewis. Ms. Norris said the faculty was instructed to report problem students to Ms. Lewis.

“You go to her to find out if there are any other complaints about a student,” Ms. Norris said, adding that Ms. Lewis had said she had no record of any problem with Mr. Cho despite his long and troubled history at the university.

“I do not know why she would not have that information,” she said. “I just know that she did not have it.”

(Shaila Dewan and Marc Santora, “University Says It Wasn’t Involved in Gunman’s Treatment”, New York Times, Apr. 19). And Barbara Oakley, a professor at Oakland University in Michigan, has an op-ed in today’s Times, recounting her experience with a disturbing student: “It must have seemed far more likely that Rick could sue for being thrown out of school, than that I — or anyone else — could ever be hurt.” (“The Killer in the Lecture Hall”, Apr. 19). The tease-quote from the Times’s editors: “Do universities fear lawsuits more than violent students?”

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“In the wake of Monday’s horrific shootings at Virginia Tech, video game scourge Jack Thompson went on Fox News and argued that violent video games were probably to blame. … he went on TV to make the claims before anyone really knew anything about the shooter or his reason for doing what he did.” (Daniel Terdiman, Gaming Blog, Apr. 17; video clip; Brian Crecente, “Dissecting Jack’s Lies”, Kotaku, Apr. 17). More: Mike Musgrove, Post I.T., Washington Post.com; Geek.com; Palgn.com.au (Australian); Wired.com Game/Life blog (TV’s “Dr. Phil” takes same line).

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Quote of the day

by Walter Olson on April 17, 2007

“She said she notified authorities about Cho, but said she was told that there would be too many legal hurdles to intervene.” — Lucinda Roy, a writing professor who’d noticed the disturbed personality of the Virginia Tech killer-to-be and tried to take an interest in his case, quoted in an ABC News report. (Ned Potter, David Schoetz, Richard Esposito, Pierre Thomas, and staff, “Killer’s Note: You Caused Me To Do This”, Apr. 17). More: Apr. 19.

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June 20-22 – Fast food: give me my million. From an interview aired in Australia with the plaintiff in the McDonald’s obesity lawsuit:

CAESAR BARBER: I’m saying that McDonald’s affected my health. Yes, I am saying that.

RICHARD CARLETON: So what do you want in return?

CAESAR BARBER: I want compensation for pain and suffering.

RICHARD CARLETON: But how much money do you want?

CAESAR BARBER: I don’t know … maybe $1 million. That’s not a lot of money now.

(Richard Carleton, “Food fight”, 60 Minutes (Australia), Sept. 25, 2002). Only three years ago the possibility of suits blaming food companies for obesity furnished The Onion with material for humor (Aug. 3, 2000). “The parody has become reality.” (James Glassman, “From parody to reality”, TechCentralStation, May 21; Michael I. Krauss, “Today’s Tort Suits Are Stranger Than Fiction”, Virginia Viewpoint (Virginia Institute), May). A House panel heard testimony yesterday on a bill that would stop such lawsuits in their tracks (Maggie Fox, “Is It Your Fault I’m Fat? Congress Hears Debate”, Reuters, Jun. 19; Bruce Horovitz, “Fast-food restaurants told to warn of addiction”, USA Today, Jun. 17). A CNBC poll, with 2000 votes as of midnight Friday morning, was running 92 to 8 percent against holding fast-food restaurants responsible for expanding waistlines. (DURABLE LINK)

June 20-22 – Investors’ Business Daily interviews our editor. Now at a stable URL, last Friday’s interview mostly concentrated on our editor’s new book The Rule of Lawyers (David Isaac (interviewer), “Frivolous Lawsuits Creating New Power Class — Lawyers”, Jun. 13, reprinted at Manhattan Institute site). (DURABLE LINK)

June 20-22 – Batch of reader letters. Special all-critical edition — nothing but letters taking issue with us. Topics include the MTV “Jack Ass” suit, Ann Arbor substitute teachers, the ADA, high verdicts as an inspiration to young lawyers, and medical malpractice. (DURABLE LINK)

June 18-19 – Keep playing in our conference or we’ll sue you. Five schools in the Big East football conference — Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Virginia Tech, Rutgers and Connecticut — have filed suit to stop Miami and Boston College from departing for the Atlantic Coast Conference. (Eddie Pells, “Big East accuses Miami, BC and ACC of conspiracy”, AP/Kansas City Star, Jun. 6; Sam Eifling, “Requiem for the Big East”, Slate, Jun. 12; Steve Wieberg, “Conference changes becoming more hostile than ever”, USA Today, Jun. 15). Politicians have gotten into the act in support of the suit, including (inevitably) Connecticut AG Richard Blumenthal as well as the state’s Gov. John Rowland (Andy Katz, “ACC lawyer: Lawsuit will not distract from expansion”, ESPN, Jun. 12). Virginia AG Jerry Kilgore, too (“Virginia Tech, the Big East and the ACC”, Roanoke Times, Jun. 17; see S.W.Va. Law Blog, Jun. 17). S.M.Oliva comments (Initium, Jun. 6) (via Dan Lewis). (DURABLE LINK)

June 18-19 – A judge bans a book. “A tax protester may not sell his book that contends paying income tax is voluntary, a federal judge ruled Monday. U.S. District Judge Lloyd D. George wrote in an order banning the book that Irwin Schiff is not protected by the First Amendment because he has encouraged people not to pay taxes. ‘There is no protection … for speech or advocacy that is directed toward producing imminent lawless action,’ George wrote in support of the preliminary injunction on the book, ‘The Federal Mafia: How It Illegally Imposes and Unlawfully Collects Income Taxes.'” (“Federal judge in Las Vegas bans anti-tax book”, Reno Gazette-Journal, Jun. 16). (DURABLE LINK)

June 18-19 – Texas’s giant legal reform. With the support of Gov. Rick Perry, the Texas legislature this month passed what looks to us to be the most serious and comprehensive package of litigation reforms achieved at one stroke anywhere in recent memory. Among other features, it: adopts an offer-of-settlement-driven variant of loser-pays; reforms class action certification and requires that lawyers’ fees be paid in coupon form to the extent that class relief is provided that way; tightens forum non conveniens safeguards against court-shopping; protects defendants from having to pay damages attributable to other responsible parties’ fault; establishes innocent-retailer and regulatory-compliance defenses in product liability law, along with a 15-year statute of repose; curbs artificially high interest on judgments; limits appeals bonds; restrains medical liability in a long list of ways including a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages; and much more. (“Ten-gallon tort reform” (editorial), Wall Street Journal, Jun. 6, reprinted at Texans for Lawsuit Reform site; summary of legislation at same site; John Williams, “Proponents cheer tort reform”, Houston Chronicle, Jun. 11). (DURABLE LINK)

June 18-19 – Around the blogs. Virginia Postrel (Jun. 5) has some comments from civil libertarian Harvey Silverglate criticizing 18 U.S.C. sec. 1001, which the feds are using to go after Martha Stewart. This law makes it unlawful to lie to a federal agent — even if you’re not under oath, and even though the agents may be free to lie to you. See also the comment from reader James Ingram. Mickey Kaus (Jun. 16) echoes speculation by “some media lawyers” quoted in the Washington Post (James V. Grimaldi, “Blair Analogy Reaches Courtroom Far From N.Y.”, Jun. 16) that the New York Times may have forced out top executives Howell Raines and Gerald Boyd in part because if it hadn’t done so, defamation plaintiffs might have been able to use its forbearance “to devastating effect” in future litigation. And MedPundit catches up at some length (Jun. 3) on the controversy over thimerosal, the mercury-containing vaccine preservative which has given rise to bitter litigation and legislative battles. (DURABLE LINK)

June 16-17 – Probate’s misplaced trust. Washington Post investigation into guardianship in the D.C. courts finds that the D.C. Superior Court’s probate division, “mandated to care for more than 2,000 elderly, mentally ill and mentally retarded residents, has repeatedly allowed its charges to be forgotten and victimized …. Chaotic record-keeping, lax oversight and low expectations in this division of the court have created a culture in which guardians are rarely held accountable. They are often handed new work even when they have ignored their charges or let them languish in unsafe conditions.” The Post “found hundreds of cases where court-appointed protectors violated court requirements. Since 1995, one of five guardians has gone years without reporting to the court. Some have not visited their ailing charges. In more than two dozen cases, guardians or conservators have taken or mishandled money. Neglectful caretakers are rarely disciplined, D.C. bar records show. Even when they have been caught stealing or cheating clients, attorneys can go as long as nine years before they are punished.”

Why have the courts gone on giving new work to lawyers charged with misconduct or incompetence in earlier cases? “[Senior Judge Eugene] Hamilton said he would hesitate to ban lawyers from future appointments simply because they’ve been removed from a case. ‘You have to be careful about barring someone from cases, said Hamilton, who oversaw the probate division from 1991 until 1993. ‘It may be the person’s only source of practice.'” (Carol D. Leonnig, Lena H. Sun and Sarah Cohen, “Under Court, Vulnerable Became Victims”, Washington Post, Jun. 15) (via David Bernstein)(& see Ethical Esq.). More: Second part of article: Sarah Cohen, Carol D. Leonnig and April Witt, “Rights and Funds Can Evaporate Quickly”, Jun. 16). (DURABLE LINK)

June 16-17 – He’s gotta have it. A Manhattan judge has granted a temporary injunction sought by filmmaker Spike Lee against the launch of Spike TV, a cable channel aiming to provide television programming of interest to men. (Samuel Maull, “Spike Lee wins temporary injunction”, AP/San Francisco Chronicle, Jun. 12). However, “State Supreme Court Justice Walter Tolub ordered Lee to post a $500,000 bond to cover Viacom’s losses in case the company wins.” (“Spike Lee outmans Spike TV”, Newsday, Jun. 13; Mark Perry, “Spike Lee Gains Upper Hand In Legal Battle With TNN”, Impact Wrestling, Jun. 13). At FindLaw, columnist Julie Hilden (“Spike Lee v. Spike TV”, Jun. 9) is nondismissive about Lee’s case, while conceding it raises questions about whether other well-known persons with the same nickname, such as director Spike Jonze, could also sue. Sentiment in the blog world, on the other hand, seems to be running heavily against Lee (né Shelton). Examples: Catbird.org, Idler Yet, Horrors of an Easily Distracted Mind, Doedermara.net, LedUntitled. (DURABLE LINK)

June 16-17 – A tangled Mississippi web. “A web of connections exists between the judges, lawyers, politicians and investigators involved in a Mississippi judicial-corruption probe, raising questions about the fairness and thoroughness of the investigation and about possible conflicts of interest.” Among prominent figures in the probe are “[plaintiff's attorney Dickie] Scruggs as a cooperating witness and [state Attorney General Michael] Moore as a co-investigator of some sort. And their friendship has raised eyebrows, most recently after The Sun Herald witnessed Moore giving Scruggs a lift to the courthouse before Scruggs testified before the grand jury. … Scruggs has said he does not have an immunity agreement with prosecutors and that he doesn’t need one.” A federal grand jury is expected to reconvene next month to consider the allegations. (Margaret Baker, Tom Wilemon and Beth Musgrave, “Web of connections”, Biloxi (Miss.) Sun-Herald, Jun. 8)(see May 7 and links from there).

MORE ON INVESTIGATION: Thomas B. Edsall, “Mississippi Trial Lawyers Under Inquiry”, Washington Post, May 18; “FBI agent reassigned after questioning ties in judge-attorney probe”, AP/Grenada (Miss.) Star, May 29; Tom Wilemon, Margaret Baker and Beth Musgrave, “Lott, Moore deny influencing probe”, Biloxi Sun Herald/San Jose Mercury News, May 30; “Moore says he has no role in judges probe”, AP/Jackson Clarion Ledger, May 30; “Paper: Lott, judge probers talked”, Jackson Clarion Ledger, Jun. 3. (DURABLE LINK)

June 16-17 – “The rise of the fourth branch”. Our editor’s book The Rule of Lawyers is reviewed in Enter Stage Right by ESR editor Steven Martinovich (Jun. 9). And on Friday Investor’s Business Daily published correspondent David Isaac’s interview with our editor; when we get a stable URL, we’ll post it. (DURABLE LINK)

June 16-17 – “McDonald’s sues food critic”. “McDonald’s has sued one of Italy’s top food critics for raking its restaurants over the coals, but the critic says he has no intention of going back on saying its burgers taste of rubber and its fries of cardboard.” McDonald’s of Italy called the comments by Edoardo Raspelli, food critic of the newspaper La Stampa, “clearly defamatory and offensive”. (Reuters/CNN, Jun. 2; BBC, May 30; Guardian (UK), Jun. 4; “McDonald’s Turns to the Dark Side”, Center for Individual Freedom, Jun. 12). David Farrer at Freedom and Whisky suggests a better approach the company might take (“Shooting themselves in the foot”, May 31). (DURABLE LINK)

June 12-15 – Docs leaving their hometowns. As liability woes worsen, this genre of article is running in papers across the country. Philadelphia, of course: Michael Hinkelman, “Like older docs, young M.D.s fleeing Pa., too”, Philadelphia Daily News, May 28. An example from Corpus Christi, Tex.: Robert M. (Marty) Reynolds, “Why this doctor is leaving his hometown”, Corpus Christi Caller-Times, Apr. 23, reprinted at Texans for Lawsuit Reform site. From Independence, Mo., best known as Harry Truman’s hometown: M. Steele Brown, “Malpractice ‘crisis’ drives docs from Missouri”, Kansas City Business Journal, May 2. And neurosurgery in Seattle faces a crisis as ten local surgeons lose their coverage, forcing hospitals to send patients elsewhere; the ten say they have good records but the chief operating officer of the Doctor’s Company, an insurance provider, “said about half of all neurosurgeons nationwide are sued each year”, which makes it plain enough that plenty of good ones get sued. (Carol M. Ostrom, “A neurosurgeon ‘crisis': Insurer drops doctors’ group”, Seattle Times, Jun. 7). Meanwhile, the incoming head of the American Bar Association, North Carolinian Alfred P. Carlton Jr., a partner with Kilpatrick Stockton LLP, claims in an interview with The Hill — no fair laughing aloud, now — that “I don’t think there’s any credible evidence that connects anything going on in the justice system to the rise of malpractice insurance rates. My malpractice rates are going up. Everybody’s insurance rates are going up, for all kinds of insurance.” Now there’s a checkable proposition: have insurance rates for life, health, fire, storm, crop and marine risks jumped by 60 or 80 percent on renewal in the past couple of years, the way so many doctors’ liability rates have? (“‘There are abuses at the edges'” (interview), The Hill, Jun. 11). (DURABLE LINK)

June 12-15 – U.K. roundup. “George Blake, the KGB spy who fled to Moscow in 1966, has accused the Government of breaching his human rights by confiscating £90,000 he was expecting to make from his memoirs.” Blake, who escaped from Wormwood Scrubs prison after serving five years of a 42-year sentence for highly damaging work as a Soviet double agent, has petitioned the European Court of Human Rights for the right to the money from the autobiography. (Joshua Rozenberg, “Spy Blake tries to sue Britain for his lost £90,000″, Daily Telegraph, May 16). “Meet Britain’s most prolific race discrimination litigant. Omorotu Francis Ayovuare, a Nigerian-born surveyor, may not have held a steady job for five years: he has, however, earned a certain celebrity in the world of industrial relations after launching 72 employment tribunal cases alleging racial discrimination.” (Adam Lusher and David Bamber, “Give me a job – or I’ll sue”, Daily Telegraph, Jun. 8). (Update Dec. 13: at request of attorney general, court restrains him from further filings). “The Scottish Parliament, fresh from outlawing hunting with dogs, is to force fish-lovers to buy pet licences for exotic species in their garden ponds and aquaria. … Anyone who owns exotic fish without a licence will face fines of up to £2,500.” (Rajeev Syal, “Have you got a licence for that exotic minnow?”, Daily Telegraph, Apr. 6). Enthusiasm about lawsuits to recoup costs of global warming has reached Britain, although as one Oxford physicist told the BBC, “Some of it might be down to things you’d have trouble suing — like the Sun”. (“Suing over climate change”, BBC, Apr. 3). (DURABLE LINK)

June 12-15 – To tame Madison County, pass the Class Action Fairness Act. By ensuring that large nationwide class actions are heard in federal court, the bill would curb the influence of “magic jurisdictions” in which “the judiciary is elected with verdict money”, as one big-league trial lawyer has put it. (Jim Copland, “The tort tax”, Wall Street Journal, Jun. 11; Mr. Copland is associated with the Manhattan Institute’s Center for Legal Policy, as is this site’s editor.). The Madison County, Ill. courthouse “is on pace to have another record year for class-action lawsuits”, reports a local newspaper. (Brian Brueggemann, “Number of lawsuits is 39 and climbing”, Belleville News-Democrat, May 26). Two plaintiff’s law firms, St. Louis-based Carr Korein Tillery and the Wood River, Ill.-based Lakin Law Firm, dominate the filing of class actions in the county (Andrew Harris, “At the head of the class actions”, National Law Journal, Jun. 9). And Madison County personal injury lawyer John Simmons, 35, of Edwardsville, whose law firm in March obtained a $250 million jury verdict for a retired steelworker in an asbestos case against U.S. Steel, “has announced his intention to run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Republican Peter Fitzgerald”. (“Downstate lawyer to enter Democratic primary”, AP/Northwest Indiana Times, May 27). (DURABLE LINK)

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November 19-20 – New frontiers in discrimination law: Harleys among the cyclamens. Lawmakers in Ohio, South Carolina and several other states are pushing legislation that would prohibit businesses from turning away customers on motorcycles. Georgia state Sen. Joey Brush, who rides a Harley-Davidson, “introduced the legislation because of a long-running dispute with Calloway Gardens, a private, nonprofit horticultural garden that doesn’t allow bikers to drive onto the grounds. The ban, in place for the garden’s entire 49-year existence, is meant to protect the serenity and peace for which the grounds are known, said spokeswoman Rachel Crumbley. ‘We feel it’s not a civil right to ride a motorcycle wherever you please,’ Crumbley said.” An Ohio rider who supports such legislation “said a waitress at a restaurant near Cincinnati once placed him and his wife in a corner away from other patrons when the couple pulled up wearing leather boots, chaps and vests.” But the biker community, which in the past has often sided with libertarian causes such as opposition to mandatory helmet laws, is far from unanimous on this one: “As a business owner, they should have right to decide who they want,” says spokesman Steve Zimmer of Ohio’s pro-biker ABATE group — clearly someone who hasn’t forgotten that biking is supposed to be about freedom. (Andrew Welsh-Huggins, “Laws Seek to Protect U.S. Bikers”, AP/Yahoo, Nov. 14). (& letters to the editor, Feb. 28) (DURABLE LINK)

November 19-20 – Can’t find the arsonist? Sue the sofa-maker. “With the two-year statute of limitations almost up, lawyers representing victims of New Jersey’s Seton Hall University dormitory fire are working frantically to find parties to sue.

“The fire, which authorities believe was intentionally started, broke out in the Boland Hall dormitory on Jan. 19, 2000, killing three students and injuring 58 others. Seton Hall, which enjoys charitable immunity from suit, has settled out of court with some of the plaintiffs. Still, lawyers contemplate suits against other people who may have contributed to the conflagration — the arsonists, the maker of the sofa that ignited and any other potentially responsible parties.” (Charles Toutant, “Seton Hall Fire Victims’ Lawyers Still Scrambling to Identify Defendants”, New Jersey Law Journal, Nov. 14) (see June 1, 2000). (DURABLE LINK)

November 19-20 – By reader acclaim: football’s substance abuse policy challenged. “New England wide receiver Terry Glenn has sued the NFL, claiming a disability makes it difficult for him to adhere to certain rules in the league’s substance abuse policy. … Glenn filed the complaint under the Americans with Disabilities Act, but it did not specify what disability Glenn suffers. Glenn claims he should not have been suspended by the NFL for the first four games of the season for violation of the substance abuse policy.” (“Glenn’s suit doesn’t specify disabilities”, AP/ESPN, Nov. 4). Plus: reader Rick Derer, outraged by the Casey Martin episode, has put up an ADA horror stories website to call attention to what he terms “the worst law ever foisted on the American people”.

November 19-20 – Municipal gun suits on the run. Cause for thanksgiving indeed: the lawless and extortionate municipal gun-suit campaign has been encountering one setback after another. “In a major victory for gun manufacturers, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on [Nov. 16] upheld the dismissal of a suit brought by Camden County, New Jersey, that accused gun makers of creating a ‘public nuisance’ and sought to recoup the governmental costs associated with gun-related crimes.” Arguing the losing side were radical law prof David Kairys and class-action firm Berger & Montague. The three-judge panel was unanimous. (Shannon P. Duffy, “3rd Circuit Shoots Down Gun Suit Theory”, The Legal Intelligencer, Nov. 19). The city of Atlanta is desperately trying to keep its anti-gun suit alive in the face of legislation enacted by its parent state of Georgia making it as explicit as humanly possible that the city has no authority to press such a suit (Richmond Eustis, “Atlanta Asks State Appeals Court to Keep Alive Suit Against Gun Makers”, Fulton County Daily Report, Nov. 15).

Yale law professor Peter Schuck describes the gun lawsuits as based on the “most tenuous” theories yet of government rights of recoupment (“subrogation”) and tort law as “one of the last places” we should look to resolve the policy issues of gun control (“Smoking Gun Lawsuits”, American Lawyer, Sept. 10). And Bridgeport, Conn. mayor Joseph Ganim, who had taken perhaps the highest profile among Northeastern mayors in support of the gun suits, is likely to be less heard from for a while given his indictment last month on two dozen felony counts including extortion, bribery and mail fraud. (He denies everything.) (John Christoffersen, “In Connecticut, a growing and unwelcome reputation for corruption”, AP/Charleston (W.V.) Gazette, Nov. 16; Chris Kanaracus et al, “Ganim on the Spot” (pre-indictment coverage), Fairfield County Weekly, undated). See also Kimberley A. Strassel, “Bummer for Sarah Brady”, OpinionJournal.com, Nov. 15 (expressing optimistic view that municipal gun suits have been contained). (DURABLE LINK)

November 16-18 – Profiling perfectly OK after all. “State highway safety officials said they have received a $700,000 federal grant to help them crack down on two groups of chronic violators of the state’s seat belt law: drivers and passengers of pick-up trucks, and all male drivers and passengers between 18 and 55. … [Louisiana Highway Safety Commission Executive Director James] Champagne said state and federal studies have consistently shown pickup drivers and all male drivers are less likely to buckle up than any other groups of drivers or front-seat passengers. State law requires both the driver and front-seat passengers of vans, sports utility vehicles, cars and trucks to use seat belts. … Asked if the targeting of males and pickup drivers and passengers is profiling of a certain group, Champagne said, ‘Absolutely.'” To recap, then: the federal government strictly bans giving extra attention to 25-year-old males from Saudi Arabia at airport check-in. While they’re driving to the airport, on the other hand, it positively encourages them to be profiled. Perhaps the explanation is that it’s willing to swallow its scruples in order to combat really antisocial behavior — like failing to wear seat belts, as opposed to hijacking planes into buildings. (Ed Anderson, “Police to harness seat belt scofflaws”, New Orleans Times-Picayune, Nov. 10 — via InstaPundit). Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union is soliciting racial-profiling plaintiffs in New Jersey. “The ACLU billboard, which went up last month, shows a photograph of two minority men and between them the words ‘Stopped or searched by the New Jersey State Police? They admit to racial profiling. You might win money damages,’ the sign reads. The ad includes the ACLU’s toll-free number.” (“Billboards in New Jersey Ask for Trooper Praise, Not Profiling Complaints”, FoxNews.com, Nov. 14).

November 16-18 – EEOC approves evacuation questions for disabled. To the relief of many in the business community, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has announced that it is not unlawful to ask workers about the state of their health for the purpose of formulating plans for emergency building evacuations. The September attacks called attention to the difficulty experienced in disaster situations by evacuees with such conditions as blindness, paraplegia, extreme obesity, and asthma. While employers may ask about problems that might impede evacuation, they should not insist on getting actual answers; EEOC officials recommend that they let each worker elect whether to disclose the information. The Americans with Disabilities Act has generally been interpreted as conferring on employees a broad legal right to conceal health problems from their employers. (Kirsten Downey Grimsley, “EEOC Approves Health Queries”, Washington Post, Nov. 1).

November 16-18 – Et tu, UT? Perhaps envying California its litigious reputation, the Supreme Court of Utah has ruled that it will not enforce releases in which parents agree to waive their children’s right to sue for negligence. The case involved a child thrown from a rented horse; the mother had signed a release before the accident, but then decided she wanted it invalidated so she could sue anyway. Attorney James Jensen, who represented defendant Navajo Trails, “listed many activities that now may be affected or curtailed, including school field trips, religious organization youth activities, scouting programs, amusement parks and ski resorts. ‘Anybody that provides recreational activities to minors,’ he said.” (Andrew Harris, “Utah High Court Says No Release of Liability to Children”, National Law Journal, Nov. 12).

November 15– “Poor work tolerated, employees say”. We keep hearing that if we were really serious about airport security we’d kick out those ill-paid Argenbright bag screeners and swear in a new 28,000-strong corps of federal employees to replace them. But a “new study concludes that federal workers themselves view many of their co-workers as poor performers who are rarely disciplined. The survey of 1,051 federal workers, conducted for the Brookings Institution’s Center for Public Service prior to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, found that on average federal employees believe 23.5 percent of their colleagues are ‘not up to par.’ Meanwhile, only 30 percent believe their organization does a very or somewhat good job of disciplining poor performers.” Those numbers are worse than the ones you get when you poll employees of private firms. At least when Argenbright botches things you can kick it out in favor of another contractor (Ben White, Washington Post, Oct. 30; Gregg Easterbrook, “Fighting the Wrong Fight”, The New Republic Online, Nov. 13).

November 15 – Lawyers’ immunity confirmed. In a dispute arising out of a developer’s plan to buy Fisher Island, home to many celebrities and wealthy persons, a Florida court has ruled that the developer cannot pursue a countersuit for tortious interference against residents who filed lawsuits aimed at derailing the deal, even if it can show they knew the suits to be unmeritorious. The court relied on a 1994 case in which the Florida Supreme Court ruled that an attorney’s acts in the course of litigation are subject to an “absolute” privilege: “We find that absolute immunity must be afforded to any act occurring during the course of a judicial proceeding, regardless of whether the act involves a defamatory statement or other tortious behavior such as the alleged misconduct at issue, so long as the act has some relation to the proceeding.” Or, as the Miami legal paper puts it, “litigation itself is immune from litigation”. Put differently, people engaged in litigation boast an “absolute immunity” to engage in injurious behavior that would have a remedy at law if you or I tried it (Julie Kay, “Lawsuits of the Rich and Famous — and Their Two Dozen Law Firms”, Miami Daily Business Review, Nov. 1).

November 15 – Exxon Brockovich vs. Erin Valdez. The Ninth Circuit has struck down as excessive an Alaska jury’s $5 billion punitive award against Exxon over the Valdez oil spill, sending the case back for further litigation; compensatory damages are unaffected by the ruling (Henry Weinstein & Kim Murphy, “Court Overturns $5-Billion Judgment Against Exxon in ’89 Alaska Oil Spill”, L.A. Times, Nov. 8; Yahoo Full Coverage)(update Dec. 30, 2002: judge cuts award to $4 billion). Meanwhile, toxic-tort celebrity Erin Brockovich is helping spearhead a new effort to recruit plaintiffs from among the more than 15,000 workers who took part in the cleanup effort a dozen years ago, some of whom believe that it caused their health to take a turn for the worse. A Los Angeles Times account, after sympathetically relaying what would seem to be the most striking such cases the plaintiff’s team could come up with, concedes that “most health officials remain unconvinced that the cleanup left anyone sick”. (Nick Schulz, “Busy Bee Brockovich Looking to Sting Again”, TechCentralStation, Nov. 9; Kim Murphy, “Exxon Oil Spill’s Cleanup Crews Share Years of Illness”, L.A. Times, Nov. 5; Mary Pemberton, “Erin Brockovich probes Exxon complaints”, AP/ Anchorage Daily News, Nov. 6).

November 14 – “Rejoice, rejoice”. “[Y]esterday’s liberation of Kabul and much of the rest of Afghanistan is a great victory. … The moving scenes from the Afghan capital remind us … that most believing Muslims reject the rigorist insanity that bin Laden and the Taliban promote in their name, and are happy to worship God without having to wear a beard or a burqa. They can sing and dance again; women can work, and children can learn. The Taliban’s scorched-earth devastation of so many Afghan villages reveals their contempt for their own people, and their desertion of so many of their own Arab and Pakistani jihadis shows their capacity to betray. … Today, though, everyone who cast doubt on the possibilities of success and everyone who sneered at American ‘gung-ho’ should observe a period of silence. The rest of us should, to use a famous phrase from another war, ‘just rejoice rejoice'”. ((editorial), Daily Telegraph, Nov. 14; Paul Watson, “Taliban torturers on the run”, L.A. Times, Nov. 14; Christopher Hitchens, “Ha ha ha to the pacifists”, The Guardian, Nov. 14; Dexter Filkins, “In Fallen Taliban City, a Busy, Busy Barber”, New York Times, Nov. 13).

November 14 – Insurance market was in trouble before 9/11. With alarms being heard about an impending crisis in the availability of commercial insurance, it’s worth noting for the record that conditions were deteriorating rapidly in that market even before Sept. 11, mostly because insurers were pulling back from liability exposures: “Among the lines tightening the most are products liability, umbrella liability, contractor liability and nursing home liability, insurers and brokers say,” reported the July 2 issue of the trade publication Business Insurance. Also in scarce supply was coverage for “anything with an occupational disease exposure, like insulation and cell phones,” said one industry observer, Tom Nazar of Near North. “Generally, premiums for most liability lines are increasing anywhere from 25% to 60%,” with transportation risks seeing rate hikes of 100-200 percent and nursing homes 150 percent, said another insurance exec — all this well before the WTC attacks hit carriers with the largest losses from a single insured event in history. (Joanne Wojcik, “Transportation takes biggest hit in hardening market”, Business Insurance, July 2 (online subscribers only), and other contemporaneous coverage in the same publication). Directors’ and officers’ liability was another big problem area, especially for companies in fields such as high tech and telecom, financial services and health care. “The risks facing the steepest premium increases are pharmaceutical companies, nursing homes and contractors, especially organizations located in the litigious markets of California, Illinois and New York, insurance executives said.” In workers’ comp, “loss severity continues to deteriorate”.

And then there was asbestos: an August Standard & Poor’s report indicated that insurers were setting aside an additional $5-10 billion this year for asbestos claims, above earlier amounts reserved. “The implications to the insurance community are potentially devastating,” says the report. “Other analysts and ratings agencies recently have estimated that the insurance industry would need to put up as much as $20 billion to $40 billion more to cover their asbestos exposure. In May, ratings firm A.M. Best Co. calculated that insurers have set aside $10.3 billion to pay additional asbestos claims, having already paid out $21.6 billion.” A not-insubstantial portion of those sums, as we know, will go to compensate persons who are not sick from asbestos and never will be — raising once again the question of why we don’t try harder as a society to reserve the limited pool represented by insurance for situations where it’s really needed (Christopher Oster, “Insurers to Set Aside Additional Billions For Asbestos Claims”, Wall Street Journal, Aug. 1 (online subscribers only)). On proposals to bail out insurance markets since the attacks, see Scott Harrington and Tom Miller, “Insuring against terror”, National Review Online, Nov. 5. (DURABLE LINK)

November 14 – “Diabetic German judge sues Coca-Cola for his health condition”. Why should American lawyers have all the fun? In a trial that began Monday in Essen, Germany, Hans-Josef Brinkmann, 46, a judge in the east German town of Neubrandenburg, says the beverage company is partly responsible for his developing diabetes after drinking two bottles of Coca-Cola a day for years. He further “disputes the contention of the drinks company that Coca Cola is a ‘flawless foodstuff’ … Brinkmann plans to bring a similar case against Masterfoods, manufacturers of Mars Bars, Snickers and Milky Way chocolate candy, in January.” Whether Herr Brinkmann wins or loses these suits, we hope he’ll come to America — we bet he’d have no trouble landing a job at one of our law schools. (AFP/Times of India, Nov. 14) (more).

November 13 – From the paint wars: a business’s demise, a school district’s hypocrisy. “Sherwin-Williams Co. acquired Mautz Paint Co. Thursday after the local company said it could no longer afford facing a costly lawsuit filed by the city of Milwaukee. Bernhard F. ‘Biff’ Mautz, the company’s chairman of the board, said negotiations to sell the [family-owned] firm intensified in April after the city of Milwaukee filed suit seeking more than $100 million in damages over the manufacture of lead-based paints decades ago.

“‘Although we believe the city’s case is meritless and Mautz will ultimately be absolved of any responsibility, for the first time in our history we were faced with years of litigation, which even if (the plaintiff was) unsuccessful, would destroy our small company,’ he said. …

“The sale price was not released, but Mautz President Dan Drury said it was discounted to reflect the costs of the lawsuit. Founded in 1892, Mautz employed 260 people at its 33 retail stores and manufacturing plant. It had sales of $32 million last year. …

“Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce said the sale of the one of Madison’s oldest businesses will make it more difficult for the state to attract new businesses. ‘This is a sad day in the state of Wisconsin,’ said James S. Haney, the organization’s president. ‘This is every business person’s worst nightmare. Mautz got in the gun sights of the contingency fee trial lawyers and the bureaucrats and now another homegrown locally owned business with strong ties to the community is gone.'” (“Mautz announces acquisition by Sherwin-Williams”, AP/Janesville (Wis.) Gazette, Nov. 9).

Meanwhile: In Houston, where contingency-fee lawyers have been recruiting local school districts to go after paint companies, the lawsuit filed by the Spring Branch School District claims that residual paint from decades past exposes students and teachers to “a substantial risk of lead poisoning” — a dramatic charge indeed. Which left Jon Opelt, executive director of Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse Houston and the parent of a child in the district, wondering why “the school district has never notified me, as a parent, of the presence of any health or safety risks related to lead. No cautionary notes have been sent home with my children. No alarming studies have been released discussing the severity of the problem in our schools.'”

Which naturally raises the question: is there a genuine lead hazard, which the district has been covering up from parents, or just a phony hazard, which their lawyers are conjuring up in an effort to squeeze money from manufacturers? Opelt: “Ron Scott, a lawyer for the school district, is quoted in a Houston Chronicle article as saying: ‘This isn’t a panic issue. People don’t need to feel their schools are unsafe.’ Duncan Klussmann, a district administrator, told me, ‘Your child is not at risk.’ These are the very same people who signed onto a lawsuit that says there is a ‘substantial risk of lead poisoning.’ What are we to believe? District officials are telling parents their schools are safe but their lawsuit demands millions of dollars for addressing a dangerous situation caused by lead paint. Both cannot be true.” (CALA Houston website, “Parent Urges School District To “Get The Lead Out“, “Contrary to Other Reports“, David Waddell, “Why Should Safety Be a Secret?“, Annette Baird, “District: Lead-paint concerns in check”, Houston Chronicle, Oct. 17). (DURABLE LINK)

November 13 – Update: ousted quartet member wins damages. “A Pennsylvania judge has ordered three members of the Audubon Quartet to pay their former colleague David Ehrlich more than $600,000 in damages, adding yet another dramatic twist to the legal battle that has largely silenced the internationally acclaimed quartet since February 2000 and cost the group its home at Virginia Tech.” (Kevin Miller, “Ousted quartet member should receive damages, judge rules”, Roanoke Times, Oct. 16; “In Support of the Audubon Quartet“; summary of court opinion) (see June 5, 2000, June 14, 2001). Update May 10-12, 2002: defendants could lose house.

November 13 – Women’s rights: British law, or Islamic? According to columnist Theodore Dalrymple of The Spectator, a misguided multiculturalism has led authorities in the United Kingdom to adopt a hands-off policy toward some British Muslim families’ trampling of their young daughters’ rights (“The abuse of women”, Oct. 27).

November 12 – “Morales trying to ‘clear the air’ before campaign”. Many assumed the political career of former Texas attorney general Dan Morales was dead, dead, dead after allegations began flying in the papers about the circumstances under which he’d hired outside lawyers to represent the state in the tobacco affair and share one of the largest fee windfalls in history (see Sept. 1-3, 2000). But now Morales wants to run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Phil Gramm and is insisting with new vehemence that he never acted improperly and that it’s all been a misunderstanding. Two of his lawyers have “asked a state district court in Austin to let Morales lay the groundwork for a possible defamation suit by taking the sworn testimony of four former associates. Morales wants to question John Eddie Williams Jr. of Houston — one of five trial lawyers who shared $3.3 billion in legal fees from the tobacco case — and three former assistants in the attorney general’s office — Harry Potter of Austin and Jorge Vega and Javier Aguilar of San Antonio. He indicated that Williams and Potter, who was actively involved in the tobacco suit, could be targets of any suit he may file.” Pull up a chair, this promises to be interesting (Clay Robison, Houston Chronicle, Nov. 7). Morales also continues to deny “allegations by Houston trial lawyer Joe Jamail that Morales improperly solicited $1 million from each of several lawyers he considered hiring for the tobacco suit.”

November 12 – Short-sellers had right to a drop in stock price. At least that’s the premise underlying this press release and lawsuit from a class action law firm seeking the right to sue on behalf of short-sellers who feel their speculative bets against the stock of Intelli-Check Inc. were stymied by the company’s allegedly over-sunny fiscal projections. (“Speziali, Greenwald & Hawkins, PC Announces the Filing of a Class Action Suit on Behalf of Short-Sellers of Intelli-Check, Inc. (Amex: IDN) Securities”, Yahoo/PR Newswire, Oct. 18).

November 12 – “U.S. Debates Info on Chemical Hazards”. “Separate hearings in the House and Senate [were] held this week to reassess the safety of chemical and industrial facilities in the light of recent terrorist attacks. A key policy at stake is the so-called ‘right to know’ law, which requires the federal government to publicly disclose sensitive information about facilities around the country that could be used by terrorists to target the most dangerous locations.” Jeremiah Baumann, a spokesman for the Nader-empire U.S. Public Interest Research Group, called for preserving public access to the sensitive information. “‘Let’s at least make the bad guys work for it,’ countered Amy E. Smithson, a chemical and biological weapons analyst for the Henry L. Stimson Center think tank.” Smithson said “[t]he Clinton EPA’s decision to post those plans for some 15,000 plants on the Internet in August 2000 ‘wasn’t just bad, it was colossally bad’.” (John Heilprin, AP/Yahoo, Nov. 8) (see Oct. 1). More: Carol D. Leonnig and Spencer S. Hsu, “Fearing Attack, Blue Plains Ceases Toxic Chemical Use”, Washington Post, Nov. 10 (chlorine use at Washington sewage treatment plant); Jonathan Adler, “How the EPA Helps Terrorists”, National Review Online, Sept. 27; “Environmental Danger”, Oct. 11; Angela Logomarsini, “Laws that Make Terror Easy”, New York Post, Oct. 12; “‘Right To Know’ Hearings – Taking Away Terrorist Tools”, Competitive Enterprise Institute press release, Nov. 7.