Friday morning docket: Recess and recession

April 10, 2009

obamaeconThings are quiet on the Hill as both the U.S. Supreme Court and Congress sit in recess. Across town, President Barack Obama is spending today holed up with his economic team to try to find ways to pull the country out of its recession.

Clash of the right-ans: Religious groups fighting gay rights matters in courts are increasingly coming up on the losing end in the legal “clash between the right to be free from discrimination and the right to freedom of religion.” (WaPo)

Justice Department gets judged: The Judge who presided over the hearing dismissing the conviction of former Sen. Ted Stevens gave government prosecutors who handled the case a good tongue lashing. And it wasn’t the first time the Justice Department has felt his wrath. (WaPo)

Fools as clients? The recession has boosted the number of people representing themselves on court, raising questions about the fairness of the outcomes. (NYT)

Being e-conomical: With the recession taking its toll on the bottom lines of many businesses, attorneys who engage in electronic discovery are looking to cut costs for clients. (Lawyers USA)

Things aren’t going great, and they’re not getting better: The safety of the nation’s food supply has not improved over the past three years, and an overhaul of the food regulation system is needed, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (NYT)

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AAJ CEO stepping down

April 9, 2009

This week Jon Haber, CEO of the American Association for Justice, the country’s largest trial lawyers group, announced he is stepping down.

Haber, who has held the position for four years, said that the time was right for a change at the top, given the current “pro-civil justice President and Congress.”

“Because we are in such a strong position, I have decided this is the best time for me to step down to take on new challenges,” Haber said in a statement.  “The new pro-civil justice environment has put the organization in the strongest position it has been in a generation.  This time period also presents opportunities for those seeking the next challenge in their careers when it comes to fighting for justice and progressive values.  I am considering several very promising opportunities.”

Attorney bloggers on InjuryBoard.com had praise for Haber’s work. “He brought the AAJ into the current century by updating its use of technology and making it appreciate what needed to be done to better advocate the ‘People Over Profits’ philosophy of the organization,” wrote attorney Mike Schneider.

Mike Bryant added: “Jon was the leader in bringing the organization into the advanced technical world. As an organization of and for plaintiff lawyers it is a hard fought battle with insurance, pharmaceutical, and big business interests.”

No word yet on who Haber’s replacement will be.


Friday morning docket: Blossoms and buzz

April 3, 2009

cherryblossomsjeffersonWith the cherry blossoms in full bloom here, the members of the three branches of government are, fittingly, busy as bees.

After a busy week of decisions, non-decisions and oral arguments, the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court are back at work this morning, holding a private conference. That means orders – including possible new cert grants, could be forthcoming, and we’ll bring you newsworthy updates here.

Across the street from the Supremes, Congress has been hard at work tackling issues like the budget, health care and tobacco regulation.

And though President Barack Obama spent most the week in Europe meeting with world leaders, the multitasker also unveiled his first federal appellate judge nominations, naming picks for some vacancies on the 2nd and 4th Circuits.

Meanwhile,

Do over in Alaska? After federal prosecutors moved this week to toss a conviction handed down against former Sen. Ted Stevens, who lost his seat in November, Republicans want a new election. (NYT)

Credential check: After a convicted felon with no law degree managed to pose as an attorney and represent clients in 16 cases in 10 different federal courts, the Judicial Conference has set a new policy requiring courts to more carefully check attorneys’ credentials. (Lawyers USA)

Ice cold COLA: Federal judges, including the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, will get a 2.8 percent cost-of-living-adjustment for 2009 under the recently enacted Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009. (Lawyers USA)

Lending crackdown: A bill that would impose tougher standards governing mortgage lending in an effort to stamp out predatory practices was filed in the House.  (Lawyers USA)

Bad assist: Assisted living lawsuits are mounting, and plaintiffs’ lawyers say poorly trained staff and lax regulations are to blame for incidents of abuse and neglect of residents. (Lawyers USA)


Trial attorney group, tobacco company react to high court ruling

December 16, 2008

cigaretteAfter yesterday’s surprise Supreme Court decision in Altria Group v. Good, a 5-4 ruling that state law claims that tobacco companies deceptively market “light” or “low tar” cigarettes are not preempted by federal law, reaction was swift.

The trial lawyers’ group the American Association for Justice lauded the decision, saying it protected consumer’s rights.

“Today’s decision is a victory for consumers and affirms that cigarette manufacturers cannot claim immunity from consumer fraud when they claim their products have lowered tar and nicotine levels, even though they do not,” AAJ President Les Weisbrod said in a statement. “State laws have an important role to play in helping the federal government police false claims, and today’s decision supports that role.”

Weisbrod went on to say he hopes the Court will follow the same reasoning in future cases. Another closely-watched preemption case involving claims over FDA-approved drugs, Wyeth v. Levine, is still pending.

The tobacco company Altria expressed disappointment in the decision. But it also pointed out that the case has yet to be decided on the merits.

“While we had hoped for a dismissal based upon federal preemption, it is important to note that the Supreme Court made no finding of liability,” said Murray Garnick, Altria Client Services senior vice president and associate general counsel. “We continue to view these cases as manageable, and the company will assert many of the strong defenses used successfully in the past to defend against this very type of case.”


Chamber: Stop lawsuits – but not ours

December 11, 2008

commerceThe U.S. chamber of Commerce frequently backs efforts to curb lawsuits, something Chamber officials say is necessary to protect businesses.

“The last thing this country needs is more lawsuits sucking from the nation’s economy,” Chamber president and CEO Thomas J. Donohue said just days after the November election, warning that Democrats in the White House and congress could block tort reform efforts.

But in a recent letter from the Chamber’s chief lobbyist R. Bruce Josten to Congress, the group urged lawmakers to protect the right of its member companies to sue.

Josten sent a letter the Washington lawmakers voicing concern about a provision in the proposed rescue plan for U.S. auto companies that would restrict the right of the companies from “participating in, pursuing, funding, or supporting in any way, any legal challenge (existing or contemplated) to State laws concerning greenhouse gas emission standards.”

Leaving that provision in the legislation “would not only deny the manufacturers their basic constitutional right to use the federal courts to redress what they believe are unwise or unfair policy decisions, but it could conceivably also deny the automobile manufacturers the right to participate with trade associations (such as the U.S. Chamber), or environmental groups, in litigation for or against such policies.

“Not only would the terms of the bridge loan remove the automobile manufacturers’ constitutional rights,” Josten continues, “but the terms could force these unrelated third parties to forfeit their constitutional rights to sue as well, because they would be ‘supported in any way’ if the automobile manufacturers are part of their membership.”

Just this week, the Chamber’s Institute for Legal Reform launched a website and television ad campaign against excessive lawsuits.


Chamber, AAJ face off over frivolous lawsuit site

December 9, 2008

lawsuitsiteThe U.S. Chamber of Commerce has launched a new public awareness campaign aimed to show that frivolous lawsuits are not victimless crimes.

A new website called FacesOfLawsuitAbuse.org features videos of workers, business owners, and even a rollerblading child telling their stories of being named in lawsuits and the ensuing effect on their lives.

“Many people have the perception that lawsuits are primarily the concern of faceless, ‘deep-pocket’ corporations, yet small businesses and average families are also victims of these abusive suits,” Lisa Rickard, president of the Chamber’s Institute for Legal Reform said in announcing the new site.

But the American Association for Justice, the nation’s largest trial lawyers’ group, shot back, saying the campaign is bankrolled by negligent corporations.

When you are bankrolled by giant multi-billion dollar corporations, it’s laughable to claim you’re also protecting the interests of small businesses,” said American Association for Justice CEO Jon Haber, noting that companies including Wal-Mart, Citigroup, AIG, Bank of America sit on the ILR’s board.  “This campaign is just a new phase of their longstanding credo: negligent corporations should never be held accountable.”