Lawsuit Abuse Fortnightly #4-2

Published February 28, 2005

“The Jury Pool from Hell”

That’s what defense attorney Leslie Ballin called it, according to an Associated Press report from a state court in Memphis, Tennessee.

Ballin’s client was charged with striking another woman in the face with a brick. As jury selection began, one potential juror left, saying: “I’m on morphine and I’m higher than a kite.”

The prosecutor asked if any of the prospective jurors had ever been convicted of a crime. One man said he had problems with alcohol and had been arrested for soliciting sex from a prostitute who turned out to be an undercover cop. “I should have known something was up,” he said. “She had all her teeth.”

Another juror was rejected after he stated: “In my neighborhood, everyone knows that if you get Mr. Ballin (as your lawyer), you’re probably guilty.” The defendant was acquitted. From Associated Press

Back to School

All 80 lawyers in the seven California offices of the law firm of Lozano Smith were ordered to attend ethics classes by a federal district court judge who found they had engaged in “mischaracterization of facts” and “misstatements of the applicable law” and had presented “untruths and half-truths” to the court.

The case had been brought against the Bret Harte Union High School District, southeast of Sacramento, California, on behalf of a student who alleged the need for special education services. The school board spent four years and $500,000 in legal fees opposing the lawsuit. The judge ultimately awarded the student, now 23, vocational counseling to cost approximately $23,000.

After a 32-page rant about the unscrupulous lawyers, the judge ordered the school district, its lead attorney, and the law firm to pay $5,000 each toward the plaintiff’s legal fees. The judge further ordered the lead attorney to attend 20 hours of ethics training; the other 79 lawyers in the firm were ordered to attend six hours of ethics training. From the National Law Journal and Moser v. Bret Harte Union High School District, 2005 U.S. Dist. Lexis 1057 (E.D. Cal. 2005)

Lawyer Joke Redux

Lawsuit Abuse Fortnightly reported last month that two Long Island men had been arrested on charges of disturbing the peace for telling lawyer jokes outside the Nassau County state court building in Hempstead, New York.

Charges were dropped in late January against one of the men, but the other was subpoenaed to appear before the county grand jury on February 7. The jury declined to return charges.

The charge would have been a misdemeanor carrying a maximum sentence of 15 days in jail. “Crime must be at a record low in Nassau County so that now the grand jury can ponder the fate of a jokester,” said the man’s lawyer. “I’ve been a lawyer for 20 years in big courts and small ones, clean ones and dirty ones, and I’ve never seen a disorderly conduct case presented to a grand jury.” From Newsday and the Orlando Sun-Sentinel

Not Always the Lawyers’ Fault

Not all frivolous litigation can be blamed on unscrupulous lawyers.

Peer Larson, 17, of Hales Corners, Wisconsin, and his father, representing themselves, have filed suit against a high school math teacher and the local school board, alleging they assigned the student too much homework. Sixteen law firms had refused to take the case.

An honors pre-calculus teacher at the school had assigned homework to students over the summer, but the two Larsons allege he lacked the authority to do so. They allege that while the state can require homework during the regular school year, it has no jurisdiction over students during their summer vacation.

“These students are still children, yet they are subjected to increasing pressure to perform to ever-higher standards in numerous theaters. Come summer, they need a break,” the suit alleges.

But lawyer Philip K. Howard, author of The Death of Common Sense, disagrees. “If I were a judge, I would not only dismiss the lawsuit, I’d levy a fine against the father for misusing the courts,” he said. From the Milwaukee Journal On-Line

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

On January 1, 2006, a new federal law will go into effect requiring foodmakers to disclose the amount of trans fats in their products.

The law will not apply to restaurants. But in the fall of 2002, McDonald’s Corporation volunteered to reduce the trans fats in its cooking oil by February 2003.

McDonald’s followed up in February 2003 with a news release announcing it would not be able to meet the self-imposed deadline. So activist Stephen Joseph, a lawyer who founded the Web site BanTransFats, filed suit in California state court alleging the news release was not sufficient public notice that trans fats had not yet been reduced.

McDonald’s recently settled the litigation by agreeing to donate $7 million to the American Heart Association to fund two public education campaigns. McDonald’s pledged to spend another $1.5 million keeping the public informed of its trans-fat plans. Attorney Joseph will receive $7,500 for his Web site. From the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, and

“The Ozzman Cometh”–To Court, That Is

In 2002, Sony Entertainment and Epic Records re-released two Ozzy Osbourne albums, “Blizzard of Ozz” (1980) and “Diary of a Madman” (1981). The record companies described the albums as merely re-mastered versions of the originals.

But it turns out the original drummer and bassist, engaged in a royalty dispute with Sony and Epic, were replaced on the re-releases by two newcomers.

Now a lawsuit has been filed in state court in Chicago, alleging the albums are deceptive. Attorney Ben Barnow, representing a fan from downstate Illinois, is seeking class-action status and damages for all listeners who felt deceived.

“Consumers are supposed to get what they paid for. … For a product as treasured as these albums, to change an ingredient is to change the product,” said Barnow. From the Chicago Sun-Times

Lawsuit Abuse Fortnightly

Published by The Heartland Institute (312/377-4000), a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization founded in 1984. The full text of this newsletter is also available in Adobe Acrobat’s PDF format; click here
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