Posts Tagged ‘Articles of Interest’

Judge: Rep. Reynolds can’t practice law while appealing barratry conviction

Via the Houston Chronicle

State Rep. Ron Reynolds will not be able to practice law while appealing his conviction for illegally soliciting clients, a Montgomery County judge ruled Tuesday.

County Court-at-Law Judge Mary Ann Turner also set Reynolds’ bond at $25,000. The Missouri City Democrat had not been released from the county jail as of Tuesday afternoon, officials said.

Reynolds, 42, was sentenced Monday by a six-member jury to up to 12 months in jail and a $20,000 fine following the attorney’s conviction last week on five counts of misdemeanor barratry, or illegally soliciting clients.

The sentence came as Reynolds, the first African-American since Reconstruction elected to the Texas House from Fort Bend County, was starting to campaign for a fourth term. The misdemeanor convictions don’t require him to give up his seat, but deal a blow to his political and legal careers.

Reynolds was among eight Houston-area attorneys charged in what prosecutors called an “ambulance chasing for profit” scheme to pay a convicted felon to scour Houston police records and recruit accident victims to be clients. The other attorneys accepted plea deals and did not face jail time. Reynolds represented himself in the trial last week.

Reynolds contended he did not know his clients were being illegally solicited. Attorneys for Reynolds couldn’t be reached Tuesday.

Reynolds represents House District 27, which covers parts of Houston, Missouri City, Sugar Land, Pearland, Stafford, Fresno and Arcola.

The Virtues of Arbitration

Via the New York Times

To the Editor:

Your three-part series on arbitration, beginning with “Arbitration Everywhere, Stacking the Deck of Justice” (front page, Nov. 1), is a one-sided view of arbitration and class-action lawsuits that parrots the plaintiffs’ lawyers’ talking points.

Does anyone in the year 2015 still honestly think that class-action lawsuits do a good job of compensating consumers for alleged corporate wrongdoing?

A recent report by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau shows that in 87 percent of class actions no class members get any money except (sometimes) the named plaintiff. When there is a monetary settlement, the bureau’s data shows on average that 41 percent of the money goes to the plaintiffs’ lawyers. On average, calculating from that data, lawyers get $1 million per case, while class members get $32.35.

Arbitration provides consumers with a fairer, simpler, cheaper and faster way of resolving disputes, and one with greater potential benefits to individual consumers.

The seven-million-member Kaiser Health plan in California uses arbitration to resolve its disputes with patients and employees; 90 percent of the claimants and their attorneys who participated in arbitration last year reported that it was better than or the same as going to court.

Arbitration clauses incentivize companies to settle disputes with their customers quickly in order to avoid litigating. Class actions discourage companies from trying to resolve disputes with individual consumers because the company knows that it will be sued anyway, even if it hasn’t done anything wrong.

Ironically, one of the American companies that includes mandatory arbitration clauses in its contracts with its Times Journeys customers is The New York Times.

LISA A. RICKARD

President, U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform

Washington

Louisiana Amusement Park Lets Chimpanzee Smoke Cigarettes: Lawsuit

Via New England Cable News

An animal rights group is suing to get a chimpanzee named Candy out of an amusement park where, it says, she smokes cigarettes and is given soft drinks instead of water.

Candy is isolated in an inadequate cage at the Baton Rouge park, and should be moved to a sanctuary, according to the federal suit filed in Baton Rouge on Tuesday by the Animal Legal Defense Fund.

“Defendants have for decades allowed members of the general public to throw items into Candy’s cage, including lit cigarettes that Candy smokes. Just as with humans, cigarette smoking is very harmful for chimpanzees,” and letting her smoke violates the Endangered Species Act, the suit states.

The lawsuit is the first filed under a new federal rule that requires captive chimps get the same protection as wild chimps, said Carter Dillard, the group’s attorney. That rule, which was made public in June and took effect Sept. 14, changes captive chimps’ classification from threatened to endangered, the same classification as wild chimpanzees.

She also cited a letter from a veterinarian stating that an attempt to retire Candy to the Baton Rouge Zoo failed.

“She was returned because she couldn’t adjust and couldn’t assimilate,” Treadway-Morris said. “It seems that if they want her to have company, she doesn’t want it.”

The animal rights group said it went to court for Cathy Breaux, 62, and Holly Reynolds, 96, who have campaigned for decades to get Candy moved from the Dixie Landin’ park and its predecessor.

“Cathy and Holly remain upset, distressed and concerned that Candy is isolated throughout the day, deprived of companionship with other chimpanzees, and insufficiently stimulated in her empty cage,” the lawsuit states.

It said the women have seen visitors throw lit cigarettes into Candy’s cage for the chimp to smoke.

City animal control officials cited the park in 2012 for not providing water for Candy, according to the suit.

“Defendants provide Candy exclusively with Coca-Cola instead, claiming that Candy does not like water. However, Candy has readily accepted and drunk water offered to her by visiting experts. Water, not Coca-Cola, is an essential requirement for chimpanzees,” according to the suit.

Texas Congressman says asbestos reform needed to protect veterans, first responders

Via SE Texas Record

A U.S. Congressman from Texas says reform is needed to stop trial lawyers from draining billions of dollars from asbestos trust funds – money set aside for veterans, firefighters, industrial workers and other Americans suffering from an asbestos-related illness.

In effort to combat asbestos double dipping, Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, introduced House Resolution 526, the Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency Act, earlier this year.

Double dipping in asbestos cases occurs when personal injury lawyers sue a company and claim its asbestos products harmed their clients while simultaneously filing claims with asbestos trusts blaming other products for the same exact harm.

On Oct. 2 Farenthold released a column, first published with The Hill, warning that without increased transparency, “asbestos trusts may be fleeced into nothingness.”

“The funds were supposed to provide fair compensation to past, present and future asbestos victims,” the representative writes. “Instead, 23 asbestos trusts have reduced their payments to victims since 2008. Some more than once.”

Farenthold says the decrease in trusts appear to be driven, at least in part, by fraud and abuse.

“A Wall Street Journal investigative report uncovered hundreds of inconsistencies between claims with trusts and in-court cases, as well as thousands of implausible claims that alleged children were exposed to asbestos while working in industrial settings,” he wrote.

“There’s also strong evidence of fraud and abuse in asbestos lawsuits. Last year, a federal judge in North Carolina found that plaintiffs’ lawyers regularly withhold and manipulate essential evidence in asbestos cases.

“Other judges agree. A Delaware judge explained that lying and non-disclosure ‘occurs a lot’ in asbestos litigation.”

Since 1994, bankrupt companies have been able to create trusts to compensate individuals suffering from an asbestos-related injury.

Farenthold says many trial lawyers involved in asbestos lawsuits are filing claims with asbestos trust funds, and some of those attorneys even sit on special advisory committees that influence trust payment decisions and audit procedures.

“Who makes sure that lawyers aren’t cheating the trusts? The Government Accountability Office studied the trusts and found they operate without meaningful federal oversight,” Farenthold wrote.

“It also asked the trusts if their audits uncovered fraud. Their response? Although they have received hundreds of thousands of claims and paid out more than $20 billion, they haven’t been able to find any fraud.

“That’s unbelievable.”

If passed, the FACT Act would require asbestos trusts to provide quarterly reports on their claims to bankruptcy courts.

“By shining a light on the trusts, the FACT Act will discourage abusive claims and protect the money owed to future asbestos victims,” Farenthold wrote.

The FACT Act was previously introduced in 2013, prompting a wave of criticism from trial lawyers across the nation.

For example, Jennifer Lucarelli, partner at the asbestos firm Early Lucarelli Sweeney Meisenkothen, posted a July 2013 column on mesothelioma.com, arguing the FACT Act was against the interest of asbestos victims.

“It (the FACT Act) would require private asbestos trusts to publicly release extensive individual information about victims and would slow down asbestos cases by allowing asbestos defendants to bury the trusts in information requests,” she wrote.

“The legislation is another attempt by Big Asbestos to delay payment to suffering victims.”

Conversely, Farenthold says plaintiffs’ lawyers who argue the act will make it harder for asbestos victims to receive compensation, are wrong, as trust claims are filed electronically and trusts could easily and inexpensively produce the reports required by the act.

“The bill’s opponents also claim that reporting will threaten asbestos victims’ privacy. This is absolutely false,” he added.

“Federal bankruptcy courts zealously guard asbestos victims’ personal information, and they will ensure that reports filed under the FACT Act are properly protected. The FACT Act also forbids any disclosure of confidential medical records.”

In the state of Texas, Farenthold says more than 600,000 veterans are supporting the act.

“Don’t our veterans and first responders deserve the same compensation as the asbestos victims who came before them? I believe they do,” he wrote. “To make this possible, Congress must pass the FACT Act to keep asbestos trusts from running dry due to fraud and abuse.”

The resolution was reported by committee on May 14.

In June, Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law Texas House Bill 1492 to end asbestos double dipping in the Lone Star State.

Since 2011, Farenthold has represented Texas’ 27th Congressional District.