Lawyers and judges

Monday, April 14, 2008

Some of my best friends are lawyers. I have a son-in-law who's a lawyer. Etc., etc., etc.

But, like sloppy journalists and biased media people who hurt my profession, some class-action lawyers hurt the image of the legal profession and should be criticized by the bar, which generally remains silent.

John Grisham's new book "Appeal" is a discussion of the good and bad of the legal profession, pollution and big industry gone wrong.

In it he lays out the basic outline for the current Missouri debate about the selection of judges for higher courts. In Missouri most specially, the debate is over the election by popular vote or continuation of the Missouri court plan of voting on retention.

There is currently a petition drive to place the issue on a ballot this fall.

The following article, headlines "The Felony Bar" in a recent issue of The Wall Street Journal, is a reminder of some of the in-house ballgames such as the Missouri tobacco settlement involving selected lawyers (more on this later).

The Felony Bar: In an earlier day, Melvyn Weiss would have called it a "scandal" that revealed something deeply corrupt about an entire industry. But yesterday the 72-year-old godfather of the "strike suit" bar was himself the latest tort lawyer to cop a felony plea that could land him 33 months in prison and $10 million in penalties.

Weiss' law firm, Milberg Weiss, promptly renamed itself plain old Milberg and issued a statement expressing shock and dismay that Weiss's original claims of innocence weren't credible after all. The firm itself is still under indictment, while Weiss joins Steven Schulman, David Bershad and Bill Lerach in the pantheon of former Milberg partners who have admitted wrongdoing in the kickback case. At this rate, they may need their own prison wing.

Weiss himself expressed "regret" for his actions and apologized to "all those who have been affected," although he seemed to have in mind mostly his former colleagues at the firm. There are of course others "affected" by the firm's scheme to gin up shareholder class-action suits via kickbacks to professional plaintiffs -- the companies that Weiss sued, often for nothing more than a declining share price. Perhaps some shareholder should sue Weiss and his firm on behalf of all the losers from their fraudulent class-action wealth-redistribution scheme.

Meanwhile, the silence from the usual corporate scolds is telling. In the wake of the felony admissions of Weiss and Lerach and last week's bribery plea by Dickie Scruggs, where are the cries in Congress to crack down on these wealthy wrongdoers who abused their positions of legal trust? Weiss's corner of the tort bar has enriched itself for decades on the backs of shareholders who took home a pittance while the lawyers became megamillionaires.

This might be the biggest pay disparity in the country -- that between class members and the lawyers who purportedly represent them. But you won't hear that from Democrats who bray about executive pay and the "little guy." The tort lawyers have seen to that by sharing a percentage of their riches, almost like a service fee, with the politicians who prevent any meaningful legal reform. -- The Wall Street Journal

The Missouri Plan: The Federalist Society has released a study investigating the correlation between states with a merit selection judiciary (the so-called "Missouri plan" model) and school finance litigation.

The Missouri Plan amended the state constitution such that judicial nominations are selected -- at least in part -- through an independent nominating counsel (generally comprising state American Bar Association-appointed lawyers) instead of by popular election. Today, 26 states have adopted some form of the Missouri Plan for their judicial appointments.

The legal benefits of the Missouri Plan are debatable. Many studies have examined the impact of such plans on business-friendly litigation. According to data gathered by Columbia University, about two-thirds of adequacy decisions in Missouri Plan states strike down the legislatures' funding statutes. This means that courts have effectively commandeered the power of the purse -- something clearly within the proper domain of the legislatures.

In addition, in a joint study by the Institute for Justice and the American Legislative Exchange Council, analysts found that school voucher systems are constitutional in 77 percent of states with popularly elected judiciaries, versus 50 percent in Missouri Plan states. -- Show-Me Daily


Hurting us for nothing: All of which should make Congress pause before doing real economic damage in the name of saving us from Al Gore's hallucinations. One of the most damaging proposals is a cap-and-trade system to limit greenhouse gas emissions. The idea is that each year the government will mandate an overall amount of permissible emissions. This cap will gradually be reduced, which, in turn, will pressure businesses to reduce their output of greenhouse gases. A company, such as a utility plant, that cuts back its emissions could sell its credits to an outfit that wants to build a facility that would emit the gases.

Apart from the fact there's no proof carbon dioxide has any impact on global temperatures, a cap-and-trade system will create an economic disaster. The government -- i.e., politics -- will decide how quotas are allocated. Already a bevy of companies like DuPont and Duke Energy are proffering ideas on how to do this -- ideas that just happen to have particular benefits for them. The artificial scarcity cap-and-trade creates will increase the cost of energy and electricity, making U.S. companies less competitive at a time of intensifying global competition. The EU has had a cap-and-trade system since 2005, and it has already boosted power prices between 5 percent and 10 percent.

Fraud will become a fact of life. Plants in developing countries that claim they've reduced emissions are selling credits, but in many cases the reductions are fictions.

Moreover, a cap-and-trade program doesn't work. In 2006 emissions in EU countries participating in the cap-and-trade program went up while U.S. emissions went down. In other words, free-market pricing leads to fewer outputs of carbon. EU bureaucrats are busily revising their scheme. It turns out they set their cap too high. But revamping the project has raised a storm of protest from European industrialists-they fear the extra costs will force them to move facilities elsewhere.

Cap-and-trade is one European import we should do without. -- Steve Forbes, Forbes magazine

Don't pass this up because it looks weird. Believe it or not, you can read it.

I cdnuolt beveiee that I cluod aulacly uesdnatnrd what I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in what oredr the ltteers in a word are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is that the first and last ltteer be in th rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can still raed it wouthit a porbelm. This is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istleef, but the word as a wlohe.

Amazing, huh? -- From an e-mail

You know you lived in 2007 when:

1. You accidentally entered your PIN on the microwave.

2. You realized you hadn't played solitaire with real cards in years.

3. You had (and still do) a list of 15 phone numbers to reach your family of three.

4. You e-mailed the person who works at the desk next to you.

5. Your reason for not staying in touch with friends and family was that they don't have e-mail addresses.

6. You pulled up in your own driveway and used your cell phone to see if anyone was home to help you carry in the groceries.

7. Every commercial on television had a Web site at the bottom of the screen.

8. Leaving the house without your cell phone, which you didn't even have the first 20 or 30 (or 60) years of your life, became a cause for panic and you turned around to go and get it.

10. You got up in the morning and went online before getting your coffee.

11. You started tilting your head sideways to smile.

12. You're reading this and nodding and laughing.

13. Even worse, you know exactly to whom you are going to send this message.

14. You were too busy to notice there was no No. 9 on this list.

15. You actually look back to check that there isn't a No. 9 on this list.

And, finally, now you are laughing at yourself. -- From an e-mail

Gary Rust is chairman of Rust Communications.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: