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WashExaminerCoverI wrote the cover story in this weekend’s Washington Examiner magazine, about why the Northeast continues to elect Republicans as governor (and not to many posts other than that). The cast of characters includes newly elected governors Larry Hogan of Maryland and Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, Thomas Dewey, Chris Christie, Rudy Giuliani, William Weld, George Pataki, Mitt Romney, and Christine Todd Whitman.

It’s a particular honor that political analyst Michael Barone wrote a piece riffing on my article and going into more detail about the reformist origins of the GOP tradition in states like New York, and its continued importance as a brake on both self-dealing and fiscal profusion:

Why have Northeastern electorates, so heavily Democratic in presidential and congressional elections, been willing to elect Republican governors so often? Because that’s the only way to prevent their heavily Democratic legislatures from taxing and spending their states onto the road to bankruptcy for the benefit of the public employee unions. That’s something that Thomas Dewey, a light spender unlike Rockefeller, would approve and understand.

Most of my essay is about politics and policy, but here’s a bit related to law:

Northwestern law professor and Federalist Society member John McGinnis says [New York Gov. George] Pataki’s “most impressive act” was one that was hardly noticed at the time and yielded no electoral benefits, namely his appointment to the state’s highest court of Robert Smith, who “became one of the great state court jurists of his time.”

More on that: Ira Stoll. I blogged a bit more about Gov. Larry Hogan’s victory in my election night post, and much more at my Maryland blog Free State Notes.

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I’ve got a new post at Cato about the perennial problem of poor governance at Washington, D.C.’s WMATA Metro subway system, which on Monday suffered a smoke-in-tunnel accident that cost the life of a passenger and sickened many more. Excerpt:

If the cream of the nation’s political class, living within a 50 mile radius in Virginia, Maryland, and D.C., cannot arrange to obtain competence from their elected local officials in delivering a public service that’s vital to their daily work lives, what does that tell us about their pretensions to improve through federal action the delivery of local government services – fire and police, water supply and schooling, road maintenance and, yes, transit itself – in the rest of the country?

Reactions from George Leef (“it tells us that we should ignore them”), @jasonkeisling (“If it had been Uber, the gov would ban their service. But no need to address any problems with metro.”), and Christine Sisto/National Review. The Washington Post succinctly summarizes local outrage about the service’s failure to live up to its boasts of a “culture of safety”, while Washington City Paper, Aaron Wiener reviews Metro’s sluggish response to a series of previous safety crises and breakdowns.

A lot of literature — like this recent study cited by the Regional Plan Association — tends to confirm the idea that transit operations work better when governance is arranged so as to provide clear lines of responsibility and accountability. WMATA, which has gone through many general managers over the years, suffers from a weak, too-many-cooks board structure in which two each of eight board seats are filled by Maryland, Virginia, the District, and the federal government, along with another two alternates for each of the four jurisdictions.

On Wednesday morning at 9:15 a.m. I’m scheduled to be on Fox 5 WTTG Morning News television to talk about these ideas.

More: Michael Brickman, Flypaper. @politicalmath recalls when Metro got $200 million from the stimulus program to “create a safety culture.” Another comment from @jasonkeisling: “No accountability. Imagine if a private company had an incident like this…”

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At Reason, Baylen Linnekin has a year-end survey asking “a handful of food law and policy cognoscenti” (thanks!) what they would pick as the story of the year in that area, and also the story to watch next year. (Others surveyed include Elizabeth Nolan Brown, Ron Bailey, and Jeff Stier.) As a significant story in the past year, I nominated the flare-up of social media resistance to changes to the federal school lunch program (“#ThanksMichelleObama“), noting that while purveyors of “food policy” could barely contain their disdain at the insolence of the students spreading the tag, the protest did make an impression in Washington: “of all the ways to irritate the political class, making fun of them is among their least favorite.”

So far as a sleeper issue to look for in 2015, my nomination was:

Have you heard of “Health in All Policies”? It’s a buzz-phrase for inserting public health dogma into everything from land use to taxation. Imagine if sticking up for your taste in milkshakes and margaritas meant you had to attend zoning meetings. It might come to that.

At “The Pulse”, a series on health based at Philadelphia’s public radio station WHYY, reporter Taunya English describes “Health in All Policies” at more length and quotes me providing a voice of skepticism about the idea.

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Part of a letter to the editor from Bert G. Osterberg of Costa Mesa, Calif. in the December 19 Wall Street Journal:

As a former Detroit resident and former city employee, I can attest to the odious role of overregulation in my hometown’s decline. When Detroit began to racially change, Mayor Coleman A. Young addressed the complaints of home buyers that they were being cheated with undisclosed defects of their home purchases by championing the passage of City Certification before any sale. This regulation not only required disclosure of defects but that all properties be brought up to current city code before the sale could be made. This, of course, led to mass abandonment of older homes as the cost of compliance was often more than the value of the house….

I’m in the early stages of a contemplated writing project on why my home city of Detroit failed, that is, why it has performed so much more poorly in recent decades than many other American cities that have faced serious economic challenge and social conflict. Feel free to send specific explanations, vignettes and suggested readings (not general rants about the city, please) to me at editor – at – overlawyered – dot – com or leave as comments if they are of general reader interest.

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A story from Frederick County, Maryland, where I live. I wrote it up briefly at my blog Free State Notes, and it’s making the rounds all over the web, with Eugene Volokh and Steve Hayward among the first to comment. The Frederick News-Post, whose reporter Bethany Rodgers was the target of Councilman Delauter’s threat, has a write-up as well as an editorial (read the first letter of each paragraph). More: Van Smith, Baltimore City Paper (& Ed Krayewski, Reason “Hit and Run”; Andy Knight, Community Newspaper Holdings publications).

Update: Delauter has apologized here.

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R.I.P. Mario Cuomo

by Walter Olson on January 4, 2015

The New York governor was a lawyer by training — Gideon Kanner recalls his start as an eminent domain compensation lawyer in Queens — and drew insight from the experience. Bill Hammond of the Daily News:

During his term in office I wrote two pieces for the Wall Street Journal about Cuomo, one an opinion piece on New York’s finances, another a review of an unsuitably hagiographic biography; neither is online so far as I know. My view was that despite his lion-of-the-Left reputation, Cuomo had governed in a cautious rather than radical way, and by the same token had in no way been a transformational figure for his state: New York had largely the same set of governance problems when he left office as when he entered.

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I’ve got a new post up at Cato at Liberty about the Second Circuit’s sharply worded dismissal of two insider trading convictions, which alas came too late to avoid massive damage to the enterprises and people concerned. Quoting NYT “DealBook”:

The dismissal of the case also raises questions about the November 2010 raids of Level Global and Diamondback Capital Management by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Soon after the raid on Level Global, the hedge fund, which was started by Mr. Chiasson and David Ganek, shut down, in part because of requests by investors to redeem their money after the raid. Mr. Ganek was never charged with any wrongdoing by federal authorities.

Diamondback, where Mr. Newman was a portfolio manager, continued to operate for another two years, but it decided to close its doors in December 2012 after receiving a wave of investor redemptions.

Mr. Ganek chided the government in a statement on Wednesday. “For the dozens of my high-integrity colleagues at Level Global who lost their jobs and their reputations because the F.B.I. improperly raided our firm in this now-discredited fishing expedition, today’s legal vindication is a reminder how prosecutorial recklessness has real impact on real people,” he said.

Raids, as opposed to subpoenas and other dull ways of obtaining information sought in an investigation, are irresistible to the press — and they greatly reinforce the public impression that there must have been serious wrongdoing at a target enterprise. That in turn can spell doom especially for financial undertakings, whose business will often be built on client and public trust. And if the case subsequently fails to stick by the evidence or the law, well, it’s on to the next prosecution, right?

More from Stephen Bainbridge and from Ira Stoll (more), who unlike many in the press gave skeptical attention to the case throughout its course.

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Three columns to read on the subject: Gene Healy, Glenn Reynolds (linking this site), and Nat Hentoff (like Healy, a Cato colleague) in his syndicated column (thanks for mention). I had a letter to the editor yesterday in the Frederick News-Post drawing connections with local lawmakers (as well as a blog post at Free State Notes with similar themes) and the Arizona Republic quoted me Tuesday on the federal subsidy programs that drive militarization, including transfers to the ever-controversial Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office of Joe Arpaio. Earlier here, here, here, here, here, etc.

P.S. Also quoted on NPR.

I’ve got an update on the fast-developing scandal of evidence destruction at the IRS in my new Cato post (earlier). If not for reading Kim Strassel and her colleagues at the Wall Street Journal, I might not have learned that Lois Lerner’s emails got wiped from her hard drive by forces unknown about 10 days after the letter arrived from House Ways & Means inquiring into targeting of political opponents.

Since the new round of disclosures in the IRS scandal broke a week ago, the WSJ has shown itself willing to dig in a way that many other prestige press institutions have not. “People used to ask how Watergate might have turned out if the press had sided with Nixon instead of against him. Thanks to the work of Strassel and her WSJ colleagues, let’s hope we never find out.”

The Economist covers the story in this commentary. Our tag on evidence spoliation and document retention — lawyers among our readers will be familiar with how very seriously these concepts are taken in the world of litigation — is here.

Welcome readers: Glenn Reynolds/Instapundit.

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“It is a truism that laws tend to be arranged for the benefit of the political class.” Even so, would you expect Connecticut law to provide that private employers must hold open the jobs of full-time elected officials for as much as eight years in case they decide to return? My new blog post at Cato has details.

The Chamber has been tracking this major engine of contingency-fee litigation as it jumps from federal practice to the realm of similar state laws vigorously lobbied for by the plaintiff’s bar. I have an opinion piece in the Baltimore Business Journal on the Maryland version, which 1) nearly passed this year, 2) would go further than the federal law in some vital respects, and 3) has become an issue in a closely watched primary contest.

There’s a lot of amusement about the pair of vultures (real ones) who’ve taken up residence on Washington, D.C.’s K Street. In a new Cato post, I explain what attracts them.

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I’ve got a longer write-up at Cato at Liberty (earlier) on the extraordinary outcome of a federal investigation into larcenous raids on bodegas by Philadelphia narcotics cops pursuant to sales of banned plastic zip-lock bags: U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger has closed the case without charges, the statute of limitations now having run.

This was a story that really got to me on many levels, as with this passage from the Philadelphia Daily News’s coverage: “Anh Ngo, like the Nams, said that she was never interviewed by investigators about what unfolded in her family grocery store in the Lower Northeast during a 2008 raid. Ngo, 30, said the officers smashed the [security surveillance] cameras with a sledgehammer and stole about $12,000, taking her mom’s diamond ring and emptying their wallets.” They took her mother’s ring! “‘To think that some light was shined on this by the Daily News and then the investigation just died, it’s really very frustrating,’ she said…. ‘[The cops] are living nice off of the money they stole from us.'” Notes one journalist: “The shop owners were all legal immigrants. None had criminal records. Nor had they ever met – they hailed from four corners of the city and spoke different languages.” Yet they told essentially the same stories.

The local press, specifically the Philadelphia Daily News, did everything one could reasonably wish to bring the story to light. In fact reporters Barbara Laker and Wendy Ruderman won a Pulitzer Prize for their investigation, “Tainted Justice,” and in March published a book on the scandal. The paper’s coverage of the dropping of charges has been likewise hard-hitting, including video of a bodega raid. In the end, none of it seemed to have worked in obtaining justice for the store owners.

I go on in the Cato piece to ask a few other questions about whether laws banning common items like mini-zip-lock bags are really a good idea given that they readily allow police to obtain search warrants against unsuspecting businesses; and whether we insist that store owners like these organize to defend their interests in the political process because the legal process will afford them no protection. Read it here.

And one other question: If we told these immigrant store owners that the American legal system works, would they believe us?

P.S. Internal police department discipline? The local Fraternal Order of Police union, according to its president, has been “standing behind the officers from the minute it happened.” Some don’t expect much:

“This is no big deal,” [the president of the police union lodge] said. “They’ll be handed some discipline and we’ll probably win in arbitration. . . . I don’t see anyone losing their jobs.”

On the other hand

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Unpaid internships are standard practice at the White House, on Capitol Hill, and in political campaigns. Should they be banned for private-sector employers? I answer “no” in a new U.S. News “Debate Club” also featuring a contribution by Dan Rothschild of R Street Institute as well as contributions by three advocates of a ban. Excerpt of mine:

With eyes wide open, students with many options have long sought out voluntary unpaid internships because they’re an arrangement that can rationally benefit both sides.

In an Auburn University working paper last month (via), four economists reported on a study that found internship experience was associated with a 14 percent increase in the rate at which prospective employers request interviews of job seekers. As a predictor of the rate of callbacks, an internship on the resume actually worked much better than a business degree itself.

Yet class-action lawyers and labor activists now attack internships as — in the trendy, elastic new term — “wage theft.” These same lawyers and activists go to court demanding millions of dollars retrospectively over arrangements both sides understood perfectly well at the time to be unpaid — and think shakedowns like these should *not* be called “theft.” …

In modern America, it’s never more than a short jump from “this set-up isn’t for everyone” to “let’s ban it.”

I go on to discuss the sclerosis of the European job market, especially when it comes to youth employment, and observe that the “campaign against internships is part of a wider campaign against low-pay work options in general — call it a campaign to get rid of any stepping stones in the stream that aren’t sturdy enough to support a whole family.” And I note the curious contrast with higher education pointed out by my colleague Andrew Coulson: “Paying to Learn Nothing = Legal. Paying Nothing to Learn = Illegal.” Earlier coverage here. And adapted with additional material into a longer Cato version here.

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Last week the Department of Justice announced a deal with Toyota in which the Japanese automaker would fork over $1.2 billion and place itself under supervision for allegedly not being forthcoming enough with information at the height of the 2009-2010 panic over claims of unintended acceleration in its cars. The acceleration claims themselves had turned out to be almost entirely bogus, and were refuted in a report from the federal government’s own expert agency, NHTSA. Instead, the prosecution relied on a single count of wire fraud: Toyota had supposedly given regulators, Congress and the public an erroneously positive view of its safety efforts. It should therefore have to “forfeit” a huge sum supposedly related to the volume of business it did over a relevant period.

I’ve got an opinion piece in Monday’s Wall Street Journal (unpaywalled Cato version here, related Cato post here) about this whole appalling affair, which should frighten other businesses that might face draconian charges in future not just for compliance infractions, but more broadly for defending their products in the court of public opinion. Meanwhile, the Justice Department’s grandstanding and demagogic press release goes to some lengths to leave the impression “that unintended acceleration is some mysterious phenomenon of auto design unrelated to flooring the accelerator.” Someone here is irresponsibly misleading the motoring public and withholding vital safety information, but it’s not Toyota.

A few related links: NHTSA unintended acceleration report, Car & Driver’s coverage, and my 2010 opinion piece. And Holman Jenkins at the WSJ (paywalled) compares the still-unfolding story of ignition problems at GM, also discussed by Paul Barrett at Business Week.

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A bill introduced by three members of the New York Senate would require parents of schoolchildren to attend four workshops aimed at sharpening their “parenting skills,” as a condition for their kids’ advancing to the seventh grade. I’ve got details in a new post at Cato at Liberty (& Patheos’s Terry Firma).

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Super Bowl ads in review

by Walter Olson on February 3, 2014

A Georgia lawyer aired an ad bizarre enough that it’s made the rounds of the legal sites:

More from Lowering the Bar (“As Rolling Stone suggests, it is a little problematic that the ad depicts him desecrating a grave and smashing a grave marker, even if he does it with a flaming sledgehammer named after his dead brother and to a badass metal soundtrack.”)

Meanwhile, over at Cato at Liberty, I’ve got a commentary on the Coca-Cola ad with at least a tangential relation to language law, the legacy of Teddy Roosevelt’s Progressives, and the gracefulness of being good winners regarding the success of English assimilation.

Suing over a study

by Walter Olson on January 7, 2014

I’ve got a short piece in the January Reason on the story (covered earlier here and here) of the lawyer who decided to sue a scientific journal publisher and the authors of a clinical report because the findings in the article made it harder for him to win personal injury lawsuits.

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