Suit Charges Lawyers with Using Fake Clients 

Mississippi: "Civil lawsuits filed in Jefferson County allege that lawyers signed up fake clients for a 1999 lawsuit that resulted in a $150 million jury verdict against the makers of a diet drug," reported the Biloxi Sun-Herald.

According to the allegations, also reported by the Associted Press, lawyers knew that some clients being recruited into the action had never actually taken the diet drug but "looked the other way." Defendant lawyers called the allegations "ridiculous" and "preposterous." Federal law enforcers will not disclose details of their investigation of Jefferson County product liability litigation (see Jun. 29, May 7 and links from there), but it is known that the FBI has subpoenaed prescription records from Fayette's Bankston Drug Store, which is frequently named in suits (see May 4-6, 2001 ).

Bilking Poor Clients

"A prominent San Francisco attorney who represented the young, sick and poor was arrested Tuesday on federal charges of stealing $2 million of his clients' settlement money to support a lavish lifestyle that included a six-bedroom mansion and a 73-foot yacht," reported the San Francisco Chronicle. At its website, the successful San Francisco law firm of Tehin & Partners boasts of having "achieved an exceptional record of performance in litigation and trial through our 20 years + experience as a contingency fee-based plaintiff's law firm," not to mention "A Legal Philosophy That Sets Us Apart." Today's Chronicle has a full helping of grotesque details

It bears repeating that of all the institutions to which the temporal wealth of poor people is entrusted, law firms are among the least regulated; when outside authorities finally step in to clean up the mess, as here, it is typically after the fact, rather than in a preventive way through the sorts of regular disclosure and auditing requirements that banks or pension funds must meet. Nikolai Tehin lists among his affiliations Board of Directors, San Francisco Trial Lawyers Association.

Trio Arrested Over U.K. Seaweed Theft

"Three men spent seven hours in police cells after being arrested for 'stealing' seaweed from a Sussex beach to feed their pet tortoises," reports Brighton & Hove. Two police cars and an officer on motorcycle swooped down on friends Simon Braisby, Tony Sims and Deon Marshall who "were gathering sea kale on Eastbourne beach for Mr. Sims' five tortoises ... The men were arrested, handcuffed and put in the back of different police cars, then locked up in separate cells while Mr. Braisby's home was searched. After six hours in custody the men were interviewed and eventually released without charge."

Authorities told BBC reporters the seaweed was considered protected flora.

Fast Food Updates

"I think food is the tobacco of the 21st century" says an aspiring plaintiffs' lawyer attending a secret strategy conference at Northeastern University, the LA Times reports. Other papers have reported on the conference. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce released a study yesterday arguing that fast food is not the culprit for the nation's obesity.

You can never have too much information about fast food lawsuits department: The Center for Consumer Freedom is running humorous ads on news channels showing a lawyer cross-examining a Girl Scout for selling Girl Scout cookies, the Washington Times reports. The thing is, plaintiffs' lawyers are immune to parody; as reported in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer John Banzhaf threatens to sue the Seattle school district if it agrees to renew a $400,000 contract with Coca-Cola for vending machines.

Infinite Punitive Damages Ratio

A jury found that a plaintiff was not damaged by false promises a former Texaco salesman made against corporate policy in selling franchises, but decided that the fact of the promise entitled the plaintiff to $33.8 million in punitive damages, reports the Miami Daily Business Review.

Why $33.8 million? Because it was a percentage of the size of the defendant's net value. Strikes me as a punishment for being a successful business, rather than for wrongdoing. If Texaco had taken half of its net value and invested it in a failed fiber optics business, should punitive damages be half as much?

The coverage doesn't indicate if the promise was written or part of an oral sales pitch, but it does note that the plaintiff did not sue the salesman, who was fired after it was discovered he made such promises.

Overlawyered.com chronicles the high cost of our legal system. It is edited by Manhattan Institute fellow Walter Olson, author of The Rule of Lawyers and The Litigation Explosion.

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