Lawsuit Abuse Fortnightly #2-10

Published September 1, 2003

It Couldn’t Have Happened to a Nicer Bunch of Guys

We have chronicled the wrangling over money that led to the break-up last year of the powerful plaintiffs law firm Ness Motley. Now, in an affidavit filed this summer, a former partner claims because of the high-flying life styles of senior partners Ron Motley and Joe Rice – including their insistence on purchasing a $13 million airplane – the firm was barely breaking even despite the billions it had earned on the national tobacco settlement. When some partners urged selling the plane, Motley sent his bodyguard to protect it. Three days later the firm split up. To add to their woes, a former female partner sued the firm alleging it had a “culture or pattern and practice of sexual misconduct, sexual harassment, personal infighting and turf wars among the partners.” From the Charleston Post and Courier

What Were They Thinking?

Had you even heard of left-wing comedian Al Franken before Fox News decided to sue him for trademark infringement? In one of the dumbest moves in legal history, Fox decided to claim that the use of the words “fair and balanced” in the title of Franken’s new book – Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right – infringed on their advertising slogan. A New York federal judge rightly threw the suit out and Fox decided not to appeal, but not before national publicity carried the book to the top of the best-seller list. “In addition to thanking my own lawyers,” Franken said, “I’d like to thank Fox’s lawyers for filing one of the stupidest briefs I’ve ever seen in my life.” From numerous news sources

Lawyers’ Fuzzy Math

Plaintiffs lawyers who represented Wal-Mart, Sears, and thousands of other retailers in their class-action lawsuit against Visa and MasterCard over credit card processing charges are asking a New York judge to award them one of the highest legal fees in U.S. history. The consortium of 30 law firms is asking for $550 million out of the total settlement of $3 billion. The lead law firm in the suit defended its request by pointing out the $550 million represents only 2 percent of the estimated savings retailers will enjoy in the form of lower credit card costs over the next 10 years. The judge will hear the request in late September. From Reuters

Medical Monitoring for Smokers Rejected by New Orleans Jury

In a major victory for cigarette makers and any company that makes a product that could prove harmful to a customer’s health, a New Orleans jury rejected plaintiffs’ demands that the companies pay for the lifetime medical monitoring of approximately 1.5 million current and former Louisiana smokers. The jury said the companies should, however, pay for programs to help current smokers quit. Future trials will determine the nature of those cessation programs and how much the tobacco companies will have to contribute. A similar medical monitoring lawsuit was rejected by a West Virginia jury in 2001. Smoking cessation was not a part of that trial. From the New Orleans Times-Picayune

Final Score: Lawyers 7, Fishermen 3

Let’s see if we can untangle this one. In late May, an Anchorage jury unanimously acquitted dozens of U.S. and Japanese seafood companies of conspiring to cheat thousands of Alaskan commercial fishermen on dockside payments for their catch of salmon. However, a number of the seafood companies had settled out of court prior to the trial for $40 million. Now lawyers on both sides of the litigation are submitting bills for their efforts. The lawyers who lost the case but negotiated the settlement want $16.5 million. The lawyers who won the case want $11.2 million, based on a recently passed state law adopting a modified “loser pays” system. If you do the math, the lawyers end up with a combined $27.7 million, or nearly 70 percent of the settlement, and the 4,500 fishermen end up with about $2,740 apiece. From the Anchorage Daily News

Another Good Reason to Change Your Own Light Bulbs

There are too many of these cases to be funny anymore. In 1995, a habitual alcohol and drug abuser stabbed his sister-in-law to death, nearly decapitating her, hours after being released from a psychiatric hospital in Australia. He was acquitted of murder due to insanity and released from another psychiatric clinic two years later. He then sued the first hospital for releasing him and allowing him to commit the murder. In July he was awarded $300,000 by an Aussie judge. He reportedly has moved to another part of Australia and is working as an electrician. From the Sydney Morning Herald

Take Me to Your Lawyer

Aliens have joined the parade of people abusing the nation’s legal system, though not the kind of alien that might come from Mars. Unocal, a California-based oil company, is being sued by residents of Myanmar under the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA), a rarely used 190-year-old law. Unocol bought a minority stake in a pipeline a decade ago, and there is evidence that Myanmar’s military abused the local population in the course of “assisting” with the pipeline’s construction. Unable to sue their own government, Myanmarans are suing the nearest available deep pocket. According to The Economist, “if Unocal is found liable, many similar cases will follow. New York’s federal district court has cases pending under the ATCA against Fujitsu, Unisys, Citigroup, Credit Suisse, IBM, Deutsche Bank, Dresdner Bank, ExxonMobil, Ford and GM.” From The Economist

Are You Talking to Me??

People pay taxes to support their state attorneys general to defend the state’s interests in court, not to censor what appears in the movies they may choose to watch. Unfortunately, the position of AG has attracted a certain breed of politician who views it as a stepping stone for higher office, which causes them to do silly things. As in the recent case when state attorneys general in two dozen states sent a letter to the Motion Picture Association of America urging it to reduce smoking by characters in movies. It seems to us that such a letter might be appropriate coming from, say, the American Medical Association, but it sounds too much like a threat coming from the states’ top lawyers. After all, this is the same bunch of lawyers who recently settled lawsuits against the tobacco industry for hundreds of billions of dollars. From Reason magazine and

Lawsuit Abuse Fortnightly

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