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Perry nomination would galvanize trial lawyers against him

Is a potential Rick Perry presidential victory trial lawyers’ worst nightmare?

Pretty close to it, according to a Politico piece that predicts a Perry GOP presidential nomination will send trial lawyers’ campaign donations flowing to oppose the Texas governor.

That’s because Perry is a staunch tort reform supporter, backing a number of Texas measures that cap damages and impose court costs on losing plaintiffs.

“If this guy emerges, if he’s a serious candidate, if he doesn’t blow up in the next couple weeks, it’s going to motivate many in the plaintiffs’ bar to dig deeper to support President Obama,” Sean Coffey, a former securities litigator, told Politico. “That will end up driving a lot of money to the Democratic side.”

Perry is reportedly ready for the fight. His spokesman said the campaign was fully prepared to fight trial attorneys on a national level, adding that plaintiffs’ lawyers “feed off the system” and inhibit job creation.

More here from Politico.

DC voted the best place for lawyers

The March Madness bracket results are in and Washington, DC is the big winner – of the Above The Law’s tournament to find the city lawyers love best. Washington soundly beat out San Francisco in the final vote tally. The other two Final Four cities were Dallas and Chicago.

Now the results may not be a surprise for lawyers who live inside the Beltway – a common saying around here is: “You can’t throw a rock in DC without hitting three lawyers.” The place has been crawling with them for years.

DCist breaks down all the likely reasons lawyers love Washington – the biggest being the fact that it’s a fairly recession-proof town. The federal government hires hordes of lawyers. The government industry gives some added security to private sector attorneys here as well, not the mention the lawyers-tuned-K-Street-lobbyists.

A large number of law schools in the area draw lawyers to their staffs, and other lawyers make the move to Washington to work at nonprofits or media organizations (including yours truly).

The fact that it’s pretty easy to waive into the DC bar doesn’t hurt matters either.

Oh yeah, and a whole bunch of elected officials on Capitol Hill – as well as the guy in the Oval Office (and his wife!) – are lawyers too.

Sotomayor’s first opinion rejects attorney-client privilege argument

The first full opinion handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court this term came from its newest jurist, Justice Sonia Sotomayor. The unanimous ruling in Mohawk Industries Inc. v. Carpenter held that litigants have no immediate right to appeal orders to compel documents based on a claim of attorney-client privilege under the collateral order doctrine.

In so ruling, Sotomayor stressed the importance of the attorney-client privilege to the judicial system, but said that importance was not outweighed by the interest of awaiting a final verdict before allowing appeals.

In addition, Sotomayor pointed out that there are other remedies for parties wishing to minimize the damage caused by disclosing privileged information, such as asking a court to certify an interlocutory appeal, asking for post-judgment review, or violating the disclosure order and being held in contempt and/or facing sanctions. “The party can then appeal directly from that ruling, at least when the contempt citation can be characterized as criminal punishment,” Sotomayor explained in the opinion.

More on that case later on Lawyers USA online.

The Court also handed down three other opinions, In Alvarez v. Smith the Court, as it hinted strongly that it would, vacated as moot a case asking whether the Chicago police department’s practice of seizing property related to drug activity without a probable cause hearing is unconstitutional.

In, Union Pacific Railroad Co. v. Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, the Court held that the National Railroad Adjustment Board had jurisdiction to hear employees’ arbitration claims under the Railroad Labor Act.

And in Beard v. Kindler the Court held that an escaped felon cannot later reinstate post-verdict motions he filed before escaping custody by claiming that the state grounds supporting the judgment were inadequate.

AAJ gives Senate goers some subway reading

As the Senate debates the health care bill this month, many commuters coming to and from Capitol Hill will know just where the country’s largest trial attorney group stands on the issue of medical malpractice tort reform.

The American Association for Justice has bought every inch of ad space inside the busy Union Station Metro station during the month of December. The ads, which are going up today, state that up to 98,000 patients die each year from medical errors, and urges commuters to contact members of the Senate to oppose tort reform measures in the health care bill.

“Tort law changes won’t fix health care,” states one of the bright blue, yellow and white ads that will be seen in the halls, on the platforms and on the light boxes of the Metro station all month. The ads also feature the website for AAJ’s campaign: 98000reasons.org.

Currently, the Senate version of the health care bill does not contain any federal-level medical malpractice reform, but it does call for federal funding for state-level tort reform test projects. Some opponents of the bill have called for tort reform measures to be included as a way to cut costs, but AAJ and other tort reform opponents say the savings will be negligible compared to the potential cost to patients.

Friday morning docket: Red Flag reprieve

Were you one of the many lawyers frantically drafting written anti-identity fraud policies for your law firm before the Federal Trade Commission begins enforcing its ‘Red Flags’ regulations this weekend? Well, you can step back and breathe a sigh of relief.

The American Bar Association won an early victory in a D.C. federal court yesterday, where a judge granted the group’s motion for partial summary judgment in its lawsuit against the FTC challenging the agency’s authority to enforce the Red Flags rule against attorneys.

District Court Judge Reggie Walton granted the ABA’s motion from the bench, rejecting the FTC’s argument that Congress intended to include lawyers in the definition of “creditors.” The FTC is set to begin enforcing the rule Sunday.

But as any good lawyer knows, this was just Round One. Expect the FTC to appeal.

Meanwhile, over at the U.S. Supreme Court, the justices will return from a brief recess for a private conference today to consider certiorari requests. As always, SCOTUSBlog has a list of petitions they think are likely to get the nod from the justices.

Monday oral arguments continue at the High Court in a number of cases, including one asking whether state lawmakers may bar federal courts from considering state statutory recovery claims in class action litigation (Shady Grove Orthopedic Assoc. v. Allstate Insurance Co, set for argument Monday); whether a prosecutor can face civil liability for allegedly introducing false testimony against a defendant at trial (Pottawattamie County v. McGhee, set for Wednesday); and whether a defense attorney’s failure to present evidence of the defendant’s impaired mental functioning in a capital case constituted ineffective assistance of counsel (Wood v. Allen, also set for Wednesday).

And as you prepare to buy mounds of candy for all your neighborhood trick-or-treaters, here’s a look at the legal news:

Chamber pushes tort reform: As lawmakers prepare to vote on a plan to overhaul the nation’s health care system, the legal reform advocacy arm of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce called for stronger medical malpractice reform efforts at its annual summit. (Lawyers USA)

Iqbal and Twombly on the Hill: House lawmakers discussed the impact on the judicial system of two recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions that toughened federal civil pleading standards. (Lawyers USA)

Signs of discrimination: The EEOC has revised posters employers are required to post in the workplace to reflect new federal employment discrimination laws. (Lawyers USA)

Hate law expanded: President Obama signed a bill expanding hate crimes protection by the end of that year to include attacks based on sexual orientation. (Washington Post)

Friday morning docket: More med-mal debate

Lawmakers and White House officials are once again squarely focused on health care reform, and the debate over what, if any, medical malpractice reform measure will be included continues in Washington.

Next week at a Health and Human Services hearing, proponents of reform plan that would allow victims of malpractice to go before a local panel of experts appointed by state authorities will make the case to Obama administration officials.

At the Supreme Court, all will be quiet until the justices conference again one week from today.


(Anti)trust issues: A bill that would end the antitrust exemption for health insurance and medical malpractice insurance companies was advanced by a House panel Wednesday. (Lawyers USA)

Greg Craig watch: Is White House counsel Greg Craig on the way out? And if so, why? (The New York Times)

Red flags waived: The House passed a bill that would exempt attorneys in small firms and other professionals from the Federal Trade Commission’s “red flags” rule, which is set to go into effect Nov. 1. (Lawyers USA)

Hate crimes bill passes: The Senate passed a hate crimes bill that would extend protection to gays and lesbians, (The Washington Post)

A tragic tale

The ABA Journal’s cover story this month examines the tragic story of Mark Levy, the well known Supreme Court litigator who in April took his own life in his Washington, D.C. Kilpatrick Stockton office.

Levy’s death shocked the legal community, and the Journal’s piece examines the factors that could have contributed to it: the bad economy coupled with the increasing pressure on lawyers to not only perform well, but also bring in business.

According to the article, Levy was an excellent practitioner (he is described as one of the nation’s best appellate attorneys) and loved the advocacy work that came with his position as chair of the firm’s Supreme Court practice. (The last case he argued before the Court, Kennedy v. Plan Administrator for DuPont Savings and Investment Plan, resulted in a unanimous win). But what the former law school classmate of Justice Samuel Alito, Jr. and Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton did not enjoy was the other requirement of a big firm department head: rainmaking.

“He was a superb lawyer but he wasn’t a business-getter,” says Stephen Bokat, former general counsel of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Levy often wrote amicus briefs on the Chamber’s behalf in business cases – work that was interesting, but not profitable. “No­body gets rich” working for the chamber, Bokat adds.

The full story, a very interesting read, can be found here.

Plaintiffs’ lawyers: Chrysler sale stiffs owners

Lawyers USA‘s Nora Lockwood Tooher reports that product liability plaintiffs’ lawyers are irate over the bankruptcy sale of Chrysler – a move that leaves owners unable to pursue product liability claims involving about 10 million vehicles currently on the road.

A provision in the Chrysler bankruptcy sale wipes out tort claims by Chrysler owners who purchased a vehicle prior to when Fiat assumes control of the company.

Yesterday the Supreme Court declined to hear petitions seeking to block the sale.

Read more here on Lawyers USA.

Friday morning docket: Recess and recession

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)

AAJ CEO stepping down

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.