Thursday, August 31, 2006

Judge: $51 Million Too Much in Vioxx Case

From The Washington Post:
U.S. District Judge Eldon E. Fallon in New Orleans ordered a new trial to assess damages owed to retired FBI agent Gerald Barnett but left intact a jury's finding two weeks ago that Merck was liable for his 2002 heart attack. Jurors awarded Barnett $50 million in compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive damages.
Easy come, easy go.

Seriously, did anyone really think that amount would stand? We bet the plaintiff's lawyers didn't go out and spend any of it.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Trial Lawyers Fighting Back

Long the whipping boys of conservatives throughout the land, trial lawyers are fighting back.
The Association of Trial Lawyers of America on Tuesday launched a $500,000 television and radio ad campaign in five congressional districts blaming GOP lawmakers for not seeking lower prices for the Medicare prescription drug program.

The ad campaign targets Republican House members from Pennsylvania, Indiana, New Mexico, Ohio and North Carolina. The ads accuse the lawmakers of blocking provisions that would have required Medicare to negotiate with drug companies for the best prescription cost.
Of course, Republicans are not taking this lying down.
Carl Forti, a spokesman for the National Republican Campaign Committee, scoffed at the trial lawyers association's ad campaign.

"I can't figure out what angle they're going to take that they can sue somebody over," he said.
My, but we love a good fight.

Top Lawmaker Breaks Law

Oops! It seems Sen. Bill Frist, Senate majority leader, lied to the Tennessee Health Department about completing the required continuing medical education requirements.
“As a result of a change in Tennessee’s regulations several years after Dr. Frist came to the Senate, he may be required to complete additional continuing medical education hours,” spokesman Matt Lehigh said in a statement. “A representative of the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners has been contacted, and Dr. Frist will meet every requirement of the Board.”
It may not be that easy for the retiring senator, who has ambitions to become president.
Tennessee law states that doctors who fail to do their continuing medical education “will be subject to disciplinary action.”

Dan Warlick, a Nashville lawyer who represents doctors in trouble with the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners, said a case such as Frist’s would likely be taken seriously.

“They have been routinely revoking licenses for physicians who have misrepresented to the board what they have done,” Warlick said.

“Medicine changes,” Warlick added. “If you’re telling them you’re keeping up, and you’re not, that would be a very significant problem for the board to have to deal with.”

We don't look for much to come of this, though. The Frist name still carries a lot of weight in the Volunteer State.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Pete Coors' Community Service

Pete Coors, described as a Colorado beer magnate and former Republican candidate of the U.S. Senate, pleaded gulity to a charge of driving while impaired last week. Coors was arrested for driving under the influence in July after a test showed his blood alcohol level at 0.088 percent. The legal limit in Colorado is 0.08 percent.

The judge sentenced Coors to 24 hours of community service and required to pay $495 in court fees. He will also have to attend a Mother's Against Drunk Driving panel discussion on victims of DWI. The $200 fine was waived because it was his first offense.

However, the real story was buried at the end of the news account published in the Rocky Mountain News:
[Coors' attorney Stephen] Higgins told the judge that Coors spends a lot of time doing volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America and other organizations and asked if that could count toward the community service requirement.

OK, let's see if we have this right. A wealthy man has to pay less than $500 in court costs, skates on the $200 fine, and his attorney has the cojones to have his normal volunteer work count as his community service?

What kind of message does this send?

Oh, yeah, there was also this tidbid:
... Coors said he wished police had been "looking for someone a little more dangerous to the community" when he was stopped.

Sorry, Pete, but anyone driving while legally drunk is a danger to the community.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Lawyers' Greed Damages Profession

Let's face it, lawyers as a group do not enjoy the best of reputations; and when we have a situation like the one in Kentucky where three lawyers were suspended by the State Supreme Court over a division of the spoils in a fen-phen diet drug cases involving $200 million dollars, all lawyers suffer to some extent.

Linda Gosnell, chief counsel for the Kentucky Bar Association, called it a "case of absolute, unbridled greed."

We are inclined to agree with her assessment when 440 clients get a share of about $45 million and the attorneys, consultants, and for all we know, relatives of the lawyers, split $155 million.

One of the lawyers (we're purposely not mentioning their names here) claimed the $23 million he pocketed was fair and well within his 30 percent.

He may be right, but perception and public opinion must account for something.

How fair is it when the clients who were harmed by the deadly drug mix receive a little more than $100,000 and an attorney walks away with $23 million?

That doesn't sound fair to us, and cases like this only further damages the public perception of an entire noble profession.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Should Merck Change It's Vioxx Strategy?

Although Merck & Co. is still winning more Vioxx cases than it loses, David Logan, dean of Roger Williams University School of Law in Bristol, Rhode Island, said the pharmaceutical company should rethink it's strategy because their losses are big ones.

"How long can Merck carry the cost of these verdicts?" Logan asked. "None of these cases are coming back small."

Last week, a New Orleans jury awarded $50 million in compensatory damages and an additional $1 million in punitive damages to a retired FBI agent.

After the verdict Merck shares fell 57 cents, or 1.4 percent, at $40.61 on the New York Stock Exchange.

Also last week, a state judge in New Jersey overturned a November verdict favorable to Merck, saying the company withheld information showing heart attacks could come with use of Vioxx for less than 18 months.

Although, Merck has a winning percentage in Vioxx cases, they may well be better off to start settling some of them.

Monday, August 21, 2006

The Asbestos Story

Anyone interested in asbestos and/or Mesothelioma should read The Asbestos Story: America’s Greatest Industrial Tragedy.

Subtitled "A Tale of Deceit, Design & Temerity," this article is an excellent overview of the history of asbestos litigation in the United States. It is written by attorney Christopher Placitella and is well-referenced.

The article is broken up into sections with titles such as "New Jersey Asbestos Lawsuit Filed", "Physician Dedicates Life to Asbestos Diseases", and "Asbestos Victims, Lawyers Blamed for Bankruptcies".

In 1981, Johns Manville is the first to implement a new strategy for avoiding claims by filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The Johns Manville bankruptcy plan establishes a Trust to pay for claims filed by asbestos-exposed people who develop disease. The Trust is segregated from the rest of the company. The company goes on doing business as usual while being shielded from all future asbestos liabilities.

Unfortunately, as time goes on, it becomes clear that the amount of money needed to pay claims estimated in the bankruptcy process is inadequate, and that the workers will not be as fully compensated as they thought they would be.

As part of the bankruptcy process, the Trustee for the now Johns Manville Trust turns over to the plaintiffs' attorneys all of the documents previously in Manville's possession for their examination. Many of these documents have never been produced and their very existence has been denied, including the records of the lawsuit filed by Mr. LeGrande, more than 20 years earlier.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

John Mark Karr: Defense Lawyer's Nightmare

It will probably be pretty hard to find a lawyer willing to take the case of John Mark Karr now that he's admitted involvement in the death of JonBenet Ramsey on international television.

But maybe not; everyone deserves his day in court.

As Boulder County District Attorney Mary Lacy said, "There have been no charges filed at this time. There is a presumption of innocence."

We're sure there are those out there that will want to give him a fair trial before they execute him, just as there are those who want to execute him before the trial.

Any bets on if he'll cop a plea?

Monday, August 14, 2006

Too much TV, or Too Much Info

It seems that lawyers for convicted wife-killer Justin Barber, as they should in the performance of their duties, are tying to cover all the bases.

First, they want to find out if the jurors watched Court TV and learned of inadmissable evidence concerning body armor. They are also challenging the judge's decision to allow testimony about his five affairs in the course of his three-year-marriage.

The body armor we can understand; the judge said no. If jurors watched the television show and used that knowledge in their deliberations against the instruction of the judge, then Barber should probably have a new trial.

On the other hand, his lawyers are barking up the wrong tree over the extra-marital affairs. In our mind, if someone is accused of killing his wife, and he has a history of straying, then that goes to motive.

As we said, his lawyers are just doing their job, but we're afraid they may be giving him false hope.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

UK May Allow Judges to Fire Defense Lawyers

How's this for a big can of worms:

From AFP:
LONDON (AFP) - Judges will be given the power to fire defence lawyers to shorten the length of trials and to save costs under government proposals, The Times reported.

If judges believed lawyers were unable to cope with the volume of work involved in handling a big case, at any point before or during the trial, they will be allowed to dismiss them, in proposals published six days ago that were not accompanied by any press notice.

The defendant would then have three weeks to find new representation, and would be barred from choosing a lawyer already involved in the case.
Critics maintain it strips a basic legal right of defendants under United Kingdom laws - to be able to choose their own lawyers.

We can only hope that kind of legal nonsense stays on that side of the Pond.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

A Drunk Lawyer in Court is Never a Good Thing

It seems a Las Vegas lawyer showed up in court "two hours late for trial smelling of tequila, and getting tangled in lie after lie trying to explain his tardiness" and caused a mistrial in his client's rape case.

As reported by The Associated Press:
The judge hearing the case rejected attorney Joe Caramagno's claims that a car accident that morning left him with a concussion and caused him to be late, slur his words and tell conflicting stories.

"I don't think you have a concussion," District Judge Michelle Leavitt said. "I think you are dazed and confused and can't tell a straight story because you are too intoxicated."
All professions have their miscreants, and it never reflects well on any group when a member behaves this way.

It's a good thing he was not a New Jersey DUI lawyer, a state with some of the stiffest (pun intended) laws about drinking.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Ken Starr says Americans Don't Undertand Judiciary

Ken Starr, the former special prosecutor who spent $40 million in taxpayers' money to prove President Bill Clinton lied about sexual relations, has said the majority of the American public has "a great misunderstanding" of how the judiciary works in the United States.
Starr, moderating a panel of judges from across the country, cited a poll by the bar association in which about half the respondents couldn't identify the three branches of government.

"Should Americans, should school students, have confidence as they look ahead to the integrity now of the judicial process?" asked Starr, dean of the Pepperdine University School of Law in California.
Makes one wonder how much his actions throughout his legal career have added to that misunderstanding.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Merck 5, Plaintiffs 3

Merck has expanded its lead over Plaintiffs in the Vioxx Lawsuit Marathon being run across the country.

The latest victory for Merck came in California as Chris Plaictella has reported in his Mass Tort Update blog.

"Everyone watching the trial, including hopeful plaintiffs lawyers, predicted the loss," Placitella wrote.

The jury evidently agreed.
"We didn't feel that a case was ever made that there is a connection between Vioxx and heart attacks," said jury foreman Charles Sullenger, 59. "In the end it simply boiled down to the burden of proof was not met in our opinion."

Jurors, however, agreed that there were potential risks for users taking Vioxx based on scientific studies.

"Keep the faith," Placitella said. "There will be many 100° days for Merck in the future."

Ohio Supreme Court Voids Woman's Death Sentence

Still Facing Death in Resentencing

The Ohio Supreme Court has decided that a judge stepped over the legal line when he got the prosecution involved in his sentencing opinion of a woman convicted in the 2001 killing of her ex-husband.

The court, however, did not nullify the conviction of Donna M. Roberts, who could still face the death penalty in resentencing.

According to news accounts of the ruling:
The majority opinion, by Justice Maureen O'Connor, said the trial court's delegation of any amount of responsibility in the sentencing opinion did not comply with state law.

"Nor does it comport with our firm belief that the consideration and imposition of death are the most solemn of all the duties that are imposed on a judge," O'Connor wrote. "The scales of justice may not be weighted even slightly by one with an interest in the ultimate outcome."
Roberts is the first woman sentenced to death in Ohio since that state resumed executions in 1999.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Free Speech or 'Vulgar and Crude' Remarks

It seems that calling appeals court justices jackasses on the radio in Michigan is grounds for a reprimand from the State Supreme Court. At least four of seven justices think so.

Oh, did we mention that attorney Geoffrey Fieger also likened them to Adolph Hitler and other Nazis?

Seems that Fieger was a bit upset that the Appeals Court overturned a $15 million Medical Malpractice lawsuit.

Do you think the Court's ruling could have been influenced in any way by Fieger's political ambitions? Surely not.