Lawsuit Abuse Fortnightly #1-12

Published November 4, 2002

An Enormous Victory . . . for Consumers

On November 1, U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly upheld the settlement between Microsoft, the U.S. Department of Justice, and nine state attorneys general of antitrust charges brought against Microsoft in 1998. It was, as Associated Press reported, “an enormous victory for Microsoft and founder Bill Gates.” More importantly, it was a victory for consumers and the Rule of Law. Researchers at The Heartland Institute have contended since the beginning of the Microsoft trial that antitrust charges never should have been brought against the software manufacturer; there should not have been a guilty verdict in the trial that ended in 2000; and the settlement fully addresses the specific findings of the trial court, making additional penalties unnecessary and unjust.

Election Results Don’t Look Good from the Bench

We reported recently on rich trial lawyers who, no longer content with merely buying politicians with their campaign contributions, have decided to run for elected office themselves. The good news is it didn’t work. All three of the extremely rich trial lawyers who ran for U.S. House seats this election—two in Florida and one in West Virginia—lost, and by healthy margins. On the judicial front, the Mississippi Supreme Court Justice who helped earn his state its reputation as a “judicial hellhole” for American business came in a weak third in a three-person race with only 23 percent of the vote. Similarly, in Ohio two tort reform candidates handily won seats on the state’s highest court despite a nasty ad campaign waged against them by the plaintiffs’ bar. As summarized in

Your Time is Up, Mr. Motley

Three years ago this October famed plaintiffs’ attorney Ron Motley of tobacco infamy vowed to bring the lead paint industry “to its knees” within three years or he would give them his 156-foot yacht. On October 29 his time ran out when a six-person jury in Rhode Island could not reach a unanimous decision on a state lead paint lawsuit Motley had instigated, and a mistrial was declared. Four jurors – all women – could not buy the preposterous notion that even intact and well-maintained lead paint in their homes, schools, and churches posed an unreasonable hazard to children. On November 4, a New Jersey Superior Court judge threw out a Motley- orchestrated lead paint lawsuit by two dozen municipalities in that state. So, Mr. Motley, we promised we’d tell you where to send the keys to your yacht when you lost. Send them to the Dutch Boy, c/o Sherwin-Williams, Cleveland, Ohio. From The Providence Journal, wire service and other stories

Stealing Is Unethical, Even for Lawyers

A Manhattan Supreme Court Justice has frozen any further payments on a $625 million arbitration award to six law firms (including Ron Motley’s North Carolina-based Ness Motley firm) that represented New York State in its litigation against the tobacco industry. The judge estimated the award compensated the lawyers at the rate of $13,000 an hour. “A fee of this magnitude probes the limits of propriety,” said the Judge, and “on its face can only be considered excessive and therefore unethical as a violation of the (lawyers’) Code of Professional Responsibility.” The judge will continue to review the reasonableness of the award and, of course, the law firms promised an appeal if he attempts to lower their fees. From the New York Law Journal

Was the Tobacco Settlement Only About Money?

Alabama, following North Carolina’s lead, is spending a portion of its windfall from the national tobacco settlement to compensate state tobacco farmers for their expected losses due to rising cigarette prices. Alabama tobacco farmers have thus far received $500,000, even though there are only 300 acres of tobacco grown in the entire state. In comparison, the state is spending a mere $350,000 on anti-smoking programs, mostly aimed at young people. As The Birmingham News editorialized: “Let that sink in: More money from Alabama’s share of the national tobacco settlement goes to people who grow tobacco than to those who are trying to get people to kick their tobacco habits. Truth is stranger than fiction, especially in Alabama.”

Bloomberg in the Lion’s Den

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg took his tort reform crusade to an unusual forum in late October – a breakfast meeting of the American College of Trial Lawyers, a group of the nation’s top litigators. He cited examples of the “thousands of incomprehensible judgments” against the city every year, which he called a half-billion-dollar “tort tax” that deprives city residents of essential services. The president of the New York Trial Lawyers Association retorted that “it is regrettable that the mayor is seeking to eliminate the budget deficit by attacking those defenseless victims who have already been injured by abysmal medical care in city hospitals” and by “negligent operation of city vehicles and trains.” One supposes, however, that the Mayor was not objecting to the victims’ compensation. From the New York Law Journal

Bounty Hunter Saves California from Candles, Dentists

The Los Angeles Times recently profiled local attorney Morse Mehrban, who uses the “bounty hunter” provision of California’s notorious Proposition 65 to sue a variety of manufacturers over the alleged hazards of their products. He has filed 400 suits against candle makers and more than a dozen against fireplace log producers, claiming their products emit toxic fumes when burned. He also negotiated a successful settlement with local hardware stores, claiming that discarded metal filings from key duplicating machines posed a lead poisoning threat. He is currently in court alleging that mercury in dental fillings can cause birth defects and other diseases. As reported in

Which Part of “Experimental” Didn’t You Understand?

The widow of a Pennsylvania man whose experimental artificial heart implant made national headlines barely a year ago has sued the maker of the device, the hospital where it was implanted, and the patient advocate who helped her husband decide to have the surgery. The suit alleges, in essence, that he didn’t know what he was getting into when he agreed to the surgery and that he and his wife were led to believe it would save his life, which it didn’t. A Philadelphia hospital that provided surgeons for the operation but was not named in the suit said in a statement, “In these days when physicians are being driven out of their practices by this type of lawsuit, organizations like ours will find it difficult to participate in providing cutting-edge care to critically ill patients…” From The Philadelphia Inquirer

What If Every Kid Had a Father Like This?

A Canadian father filed a $300,000 lawsuit against the New Brunswick provincial amateur hockey league when his 16-year-old son failed to win the league’s most valuable player award. The father claims the boy has suffered severe psychological damage and demands the MVP trophy be taken away from the boy who won it and given to his son. He also wants the league’s “playmaker” award, which was also awarded to a different boy, and a guaranteed spot for his son on the New Brunswick Canada Winter Games roster. From the Toronto Globe and Mail

Published bi-weekly by The Heartland Institute, a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization founded in 1984. The full text of this two-page newsletter is also available in Adobe Acrobat’s PDF format; click here.
Publisher: Joseph L. Bast
Editors: Diane Carol Bast, Paul Fisher, Dan Hales

Information on lawsuit abuse can be found on these Web sites: