CALIFORNIA LAWYERS - and other problems with justice

Reforming the California legal system requires implementing restrictions on the lawyers and on the courts.  The lawyers and courts have so much power that this may be impossible. However, nothing ventured, nothing gained. Below are a variety of comments on this subject. While we believe everything is true, we cannot guarantee the accuracy of the contents. Please e-mail your comments and suggestions. If you are interested in exchanging links with our site, please send an e-mail.     Click here to send E-mail now

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Link to Society and Politics - making sense from nonsense

THE FOXES ARE GUARDING THE HEN HOUSE
FAMILY LAW FOLLY
FRIVOLOUS LAWSUITS
PRO PER
MEDICAL BENEFITS RENEGED
$10,000 PER HOUR
LAWYER JOKE
TOO MANY LAWYERS
ARBITRATION DECEPTION
SOCIAL SECURITY NIGHTMARE  
$8,800 PER HOUR
LIAR LIAR NOSE ON FIRE

$11.3 BILLION FEES
MORE PAY FOR JUDGES
TELL YOUR LAWYER WHERE TO GO
CURSED SPEECHLESS

INCOMPETENT, ATTORNEY OR CLIENT?
COURTROOM TACTICS
NULLIFICATION
OUTRAGEOUS PUNITIVE AWARDS
SOVEREIGN IMMUNITY

CLASS ACTION

FREE COURT FORMS KIOSKS

PRIVATE INVESTIGATORS

RECOMMENDATIONS
LAWS NEEDING CHANGES
LINKS

1. THE FOXES ARE GUARDING THE HEN HOUSE: All (180 different) professions (physicians, contractors, beauticians, etc.), except lawyers, are regulated by the California Consumer Affairs Department. You easily can find out if there are complaints against a contractor, and the details of those complaints. The lawyers are "regulated" by CA Bar Assn. (CBA), a non-governmental group, supported by CA lawyers. The CBA will not tell you about complaints filed against lawyers. They will only tell you if a lawyer has been disciplined, which is not very often and only for the most outrageous offenses. Thus, it is very difficult to know the character and ability of an lawyer before you hire him.  Now it is even is worse, because the CBA wants more money and the lawyers refuse. The CBA has stopped processing new complaints, so the lawyers are essentially no longer monitored. CBA disbarred or suspended 481 lawyers in 1987 (that number will decrease in 1998). CBA gets about 21,000 complaints a year. Thus, only about 2.2% of the complaints in 1997 resulted in some discipline, for only 0.3% of the 150,000 lawyers. We estimate three to five times as many complaints would be filed if people felt it would result in some meaningful actions. Based on our personal knowledge of the incompetence, outrageous billing, and bad character of lawyers, the procedure for disciplining them is grossly deficient.

Former CA Gov. Wilson said the CBA was bloated, arrogant, and too involved in politics, and he vetoed state funding. Recently, the CA Supreme Court (the ultimate authority over the legal profession) ordered the 160,000+ practicing lawyers (the number keeps increasing) to pay $173 each for the CBA to process public complaints, which the CBA said will operate at only 65% of the previous level. Still, the CBA retains the same non-governmental status. ..... A CA bill would increase CBA dues  $10 annually to establish a rehabilitation program for lawyers afflicted with drug and alcohol addictions or mental illness. 30% to 40% of the bar's discipline cases involve substance abuse. (LAT, 6/22/01, B8)

Lawyers are regulated by by state bar associations, each with its own disciplinary rules, limited resources, and weak oversight. 39 state bar associations received below a C grade, 2 failed , and none got an A. Most discipline amounted to concealed scoldings. 3% of investigations resulted in public sanctions, and 1% disbarment. Most complaints in many states go unchecked. Lawyers often are involved in securities fraud. (USN&WR, 12/9/02, 26)


Lawyers and the lawmakers they love

Influence of the personal-injury bar blocks reforms of lawsuit abuses

With the passage of yet another legislative deadline and no meaningful litigation reform enacted, one local group is placing blame on a "Bermuda Triangle" within California's Legislature. "At one point of the triangle is the Senate Judiciary Committee, at another is the Assembly Judiciary Committee, and at the apex is the wealthy personal-injury lawyers lobby," Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (CALA) chairman John Merchant says. Any common-sense legal reform that wanders into the triangle vanishes without a trace. Several promising bills were introduced, killed in committee and granted reconsideration. These bills had until Jan. 31 to be reconsidered, but they were never heard of again. In case you missed them:
AB173 by Assemblyman Guy Houston would have brought California in line with the rest of the nation by prohibiting so-called "cheeseburger" lawsuits against food makers and restaurants. Plaintiffs claim companies are somehow responsible for a weight or health problem.
SB915 by Sen. Abel Maldonado would have modestly required that lawyers provide a copy of the contract that discloses their negotiated contingency fee to their clients.
AB431 by Assemblyman Greg Aghazarian would have clarified the statute of limitations on asbestos lawsuits, the single largest mass tort in U.S. history and the subject of ongoing abuses.
SB855 by Sen. Charles Poochigian would have allowed reasonable time for businesses to repair violations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA); a law which has been flagrantly abused by individuals, looking for quick cash settlements and who file hundreds of lawsuits simultaneously. Language similar to SB855 is likely to be the subject of an initiative in 2006.

The issue of abusive ADA lawsuits is very similar to circumstances in 2004, in which friends of the personal-injury bar disregarded abuses of the state's unfair-competition law. That forced the people of California to do what the majority of legislators would not. By an overwhelming margin, they passed Proposition 64, which ended the worst of the abuses. CALA, a merchants group, has compiled donation lists on members of the Assembly and state Senate and reports that personal-injury lawyers have spent tens of millions of dollars in the past few election cycles, putting their friends in office. That means a special-interest group of less than 3,000 people is dictating the laws for more than 30 million Californians. "Personal-injury lawyers are spending millions of dollars wining and dining the legislators they love," says Maryann Maloney, executive director of OCCALA. "In return, trial lawyers expect support for laws that would make it easier to file lawsuits against small businesses and employers in California."

Below are the top five recipients in the Assembly and  in the Senate of trial-lawyer money since the 2001-2002 election cycle, according to the Civil Justice Association of California.
Assembly
Tom Umberg, D-Santa Ana: $424,899
Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa: $225,150
Lloyd Levine, D-Van Nuys: $166,800
Fabian Nuñez, D-Los Angeles: $159,000
Rudy Bermudez, D-Norwalk: $138,700
Senate
Joe Dunn, D-Santa Ana: $509,050
Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough: $92,192
Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica: $82,700
Don Perata, D-Oakland: $69,600
Dean Florez, D-Shafter: $53,600
Our out-of-control legal system is leading to less access to the courts for legitimate reasons (because of increased abusive lawsuits), a lower quality of health care and higher costs for things we use every day. This love affair needs to end so we can kiss the lawsuit lottery good-bye. (OCR, 2/14/06, Local 10) http://www.ocregister.com/ocregister/opinion/columns/article_997380.php


2. FAMILY LAW FOLLY:  There was a custody battle that lasted more than two years and cost a total of $100,000. That money could have been better used for the children's education, instead of the lawyers' BMWs. The issues were clear, but all the lawyers seemed incompetent enough to prolong the case. The lawyers sat at the Orange County courthouse for hours, waiting to see if there was a courtroom available. It is incredible that we can schedule everything in our lives, but the courts were unable to schedule their courtrooms without having lawyers sitting there for hours. The lawyers were "earning" $300+ per hour doing nothing. The whole system is a costly inefficient nightmare. The lawyers lied and were wrong many times. The judge refused to follow the law, but did as he pleased. A 1998 movie, "An Unexpected Life", showed how a custody dispute should be handled. The judge in the movie said he was tired of hearing lawyers and wanted to hear those involved. He first spoke to the two adults, giving each one minute to plead her case. He then met with the two young children alone and asked what they wanted. The case was settled in less than one hour, by a reasonable and compassionate judge. Of course, if this approach were used, the lawyers would have to find a way to "earn" a living.

Tim Harmon has legal custody of his two boys, but has not seen them for a year. The Orange County judge incorrectly transferred the case to Iowa (later reversed by a higher court). Harmon has been to court more than 30 times since 1995. He said that he keeps coming back to court, but nothing ever is resolved. The case can go before a different judge each time. Recently, a judge called 33 cases in 45 minutes. Only one case was resolved, partially. (OCR, 7/8/01, News 1)

The courts are seeing an increase in the number of custodial parents wanting to move. This was frequently denied to protect the visitation rights of the noncustodial parent. Some courts now allow the move, with videoconferencing used for the the noncustodial parent to maintain contact with the children. This may work with older children and when the divorced parents cooperate. (Denver Post, 5/21/01, C1) ..... The IL Supreme Court ruled for the second time that parents have full control over how much time grandparents can spend with their grandchildren, unless a child's health or safety is in danger. (OCR, 6/8/02, News 30) 

Donald Schweitzer (42) went to his estranged wife's house to pick up his three young children for the weekend. His wife had taken the kids to Disneyland. Schweitzer entered the house and found the wife's boyfriend asleep on a futon. Schweitzer beat the boyfriend while yelling, "I should have had my kids for the weekend." Schweitzer is a former prosecutor and police officer, and probably will  receive a probation sentence. Schweitzer now is a family law attorney in Orange County, CA.  (OCR, 1/26/02, Local 7) [If Schweitzer has visitation problems, imagine the problems encountered by non-attorneys.]

"Hide in Plain Sight" (1980, James Caan starring and directing) is a movie based on a true story that took place in Buffalo, New York in 1967. A newly-divorced blue collar worker is faced with the disappearance of his children who are moved, along with his ex-wife and her new husband, protected under the witness relocation program after the new husband informs on the mob for the Justice Department. This film is a statement of one man's fight against an oppressive government. A father's efforts to find his missing children are blocked by both the Mafia and the government, after his ex-wife's new husband turns state's evidence. [Imagine how you would react if you did nothing wrong and your children were taken  so you could no longer see them, and nobody was willing to help.] ..... "The Whereabouts of Jenny" (1991, Ed O'neill) is another movie about a man losing his daughter to the witness-protection program.

A divorced TX man was ordered to pay $1100/month child support for three children that DNA evidence showed were not his biological children. And he was denied visitation. The case was affirmed by the TX Supreme Court, and the US Supreme court declined to review it. The biological father of the three children is known. The TX judge refused to admit the DNA evidence or involve the biological father in the case. The case is based on 500-year old English Law that presumes the father of a child is the husband. (O'Reilly Factor, 2/25/02) [Gives real meaning to cuckold.] ..... GA passed a law allowing men to stop paying court-ordered child support if DNA tests prove they did not father the children in question. Similar bills are under consideration in CA, VT, MA, and MI. (OCR, 6/17/02, News 9)

3. FRIVOLOUS LAWSUITS:  This happens far too often, whereby the threat of litigation is used for extortion. After a relative died, someone claimed his estate. The plaintiff claimed that thirty years prior to the death, there was a verbal promise by the decedent that the claimant would get the estate. There were no witnesses. There are some other facts, too complex to cover here. A lawyer called to demand money, or litigation would be initiated. A prominent Los Angeles law firm was retained by us to handle the case. They made a mess defending against a case with no merit. Their time and miscellaneous billings were outrageous. (They charged about $250 to deliver a letter to the Court less than a mile away.) Finally, another lawyer got the case dismissed (Summary Judgment), and forced the Los Angeles firm to accept $3000 for the $10000 they claimed was owed. It cost $20000 total to fight the sham law suit, plus much emotional distress. That is why people pay the extortion, to avoid the cost and problems of the frivolous lawsuits. After the judge dismissed the case because it had no merit, he congratulated plaintiff's. counsel for doing a nice job. Something is very wrong with this "good old boy" legal system.
http://www.stopshakedownlawsuits.com/
  initiative to amend CA constitution for legal reform

http://www.cjac.org/
  CIVIL JUSTICE ASSOCIATION OF CALIFORNIA
http://iamlawsuitabuse.org/Default.asp
    http://instituteforlegalreform.com/   http://www.uschamber.com/default

A Florida country club sued the adjacent pig farmer because he used fans and music for his pig; the country club objected to the dreadful tunes and pig odor. A little league coach was sued after his practice ground ball knocked out a player's two front teeth. A Marlins fan sued after being hit in the eye by a rolled-up t-shirt. A vegetarian Blue Jays fan threatened to sue after being showered with hot dog pieces. A wife in a Michigan divorce case said her husband gave her a phony  diamond ring and spent the wedding money on hair transplants. A man sued McDonald's because his wife was burned by a pickle, and it impacted  his sex life. Parents have sued coaches over a child's lack of playing time, perceived excessive practice demands, and inability to make a team or cheer-leading squad. A season-ticket fan sued a ball player for holding out. A team is sued because a mascot was too rough with a fan. Prisoners have sued because the toilet seats were cold, and the wrong kind of peanut butter was served. (OCR, 7/12/01, Sports 2)

A woman claims she accidentally fired three shots in two different rooms, then accidentally fired a fourth shot that killed her baby son from a distance of about two feet. Investigators were quite suspicious. The legal question was did she intentionally kill her son. Last August, she was acquitted of murder charges by a jury. Her attorneys now have filed a $25 million federal lawsuit alleging that the investigators and prosecutors were prejudiced because the woman is Hispanic, and violated her civil rights. The lawyers claim they are doing it for justice, not the money. (OCR, 7/15/01, Local 1) ..... Free Wheelchair Mission builds wheelchairs for $41 each and distributes them free throughout the world. Not in the U.S., because liability insurance would cost more than $210,000 per year, in case someone got hurt and sued. (OCR, 12/21/04, News 1)

The Atlanta Braves are being sued by a woman claiming her face was injured by a ball tossed to the fans as a souvenir. The fans know the dangers from hit baseballs, and are reminded orally at the park and in writing on the tickets. The monetary and psychological costs of defense, with few judges throwing out illegitimate lawsuits, force the sued party to settle and pay the extortion money. This might be curtailed if the loser paid court costs of the defendant, as in Britain. (LAT, 8/9/01, B15)

"In San Francisco, U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker ordered Latrell Sprewell's lawyers to pay $153,000 for arguing a lawsuit, which the Judge deemed merit less, that challenged the basketball star's 68-game suspension for choking his coach."  (Orange County Register, 8/27/99, Sports 14)

In 1977, Maurice Thompson shot June Filice and her fiancé three times each, and left them for dead. June survived, testified, and Thompson was sentenced to death.  The Bird Court reduced his sentence to life, with possibility of parole. At each parole hearing, Filice testifies against Thompson, who has remained in jail. Thompson files a lawsuit against Filice, claiming her testimony causes him physical and mental pain, monetary loss, ridicule, and deprivation of liberty. A Superior Court judge quickly dismissed the case and awarded costs and attorney fees to Filice. To prevent this type of frivolous lawsuit, the Legislature can enact a statute prohibiting any person convicted of a crime from filing civil litigation against a victim of that crime. A Superior Court judge can pre-certify a case if it is meritorious. This now is required in suits against architects.  The general rule in American courts is each pays his own attorney. Britain has a loser pays rule. Perhaps that would inhibit the filing of frivolous lawsuits. (OCR, 1/28/02, Local 6)

Families of illegal immigrants who died trying to cross the desert from Mexico sue the U.S. for not providing water. A woman throws a soft drink at her boy friend in a restaurant, slips on the floor she wet, breaks her tailbone, and is awarded $100,000. A woman tries avoid paying $3.50 at a nightclub by sneaking in a restroom window, falls and knocks out two teeth; she is awarded $12,000. Reform will not come easily. Trial lawyers are the most powerful special interest group in American politics. (USN&WR, 6/16/03, 64) ..... Trial lawyers contributed more than $24M for the 2004 political campaigns, 90% to Democrats, to prevent tort reform. The President and Congress are attempting legislation to put limits on awards and restrictions on class-action suits. More than 4000 class-action asbestos cases have been filed since 2000, resulting in more than $54 billion in awards. More than half went to a small group of lawyers, while individual plaintiffs often ended up with less than $2000. (OCR, 1/16/05, Commentary 6)

CA Proposition 65 requires public notices in workplaces where chemicals known to cause cancer are present. Two Los Angeles lawyers sent threatened 4500 businesses with lawsuits and fines due to Prop. 65 violations. This was done December 2001, just before a change in the law made it more difficult to file frivolous Prop. 65 lawsuits. Ordinarily, about 2000 notices are sent annually. The two L.A. lawyers won nearly $650,000 in settlements from Prop. 65 lawsuits in 2000. They said their primary goal was to make California safer. State  officials say this appears to be a legal shakedown. Businesses often settle, with much of the money pocketed by the attorneys. (OCR, 1/30/02, News 1) ..... Two years ago, three lawyers from the Trevor Law Group (Beverly Hills, CA) made millions by forcing thousands of auto dealers, auto repair shops, and nail salons to settle costly law suits over minor violations of the law. The lawyers have resigned from the state bar and are being sued by the CA attorney general. CA is the only state that allows individuals and consumer groups, as well as prosecutors, to sue companies for unfair competition violations, per BPC 17200. Tort-reform advocates want to prevent individuals and consumer groups from suing unless they can prove financial loss. (OCR, 1/22/04, News 4) ..... John Sullivan, Civil Justice Assn. of CA, said California Watchdog is just one of many groups that act as fronts for individuals or private lawyers who make a business of filing frivolous law suits. These are legal shakedowns against small businesses and minority-owned businesses. (OCR, 11/15/02, News 1)

LINCOLN, NB (3/17/05, AP) - Businesses complain about `drive-by lawsuits' over disabled-access law. Gary Walker was horrified when legal documents arrived at his small restaurant notifying him that he was being sued for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act, the federal law that requires wheelchair ramps and other features for the disabled. The feeling turned to anger when Walker found out the man suing him, Shiloh Hobleman, had filed a series of practically carbon-copy lawsuits against more than a dozen small businesses in the area. "Hobleman is what can only be characterized as a `serial plaintiff,"' Walker's lawyer said in court papers. "Except for the named defendants, each of the ADA complaints is virtually, if not exactly, identical to the instant suit - right down to the typographical and grammatical errors." Around the country, business owners, judges and politicians are complaining that employers are being hit with a spray of "drive-by" ADA lawsuits that they say are little more than shakedown attempts by lawyers hoping for a quick cash settlement. Those who are covered under the ADA say the lawsuits are necessary to get business owners to make their buildings more accessible. Among other things, the 1990 federal law requires ramps, parking stalls and signs, and dictates the height of countertops, the placement of toilet grab bars and the width of doors. But some judges have suggested that a large number of ADA lawsuits are frivolous actions filed by a small number of disabled people and their lawyers. And a Florida congressman plans to reintroduce a bill to address what he sees as a serious problem. U.S. District Judge Gregory Presnell of Orlando, Fla., noted in a ruling last year that Jorge Luis Rodriguez, a paraplegic, had filed some 200 ADA lawsuits in just a few years, most of them using the same attorney. "The current ADA lawsuit binge is, therefore, essentially driven by economics - that is the economics of attorney's fees," Presnell wrote. He said Rodriguez's testimony left the impression that he is a "professional pawn in a scheme to bilk attorney's fees" from those being sued. In December, a federal judge in Los Angeles said a man who filed hundreds of lawsuits accusing businesses of violating the ADA was running an extortion scam. The judge barred the plaintiff, Jarek Molski, from bringing any more lawsuits without court permission. Molski, who has used a wheelchair since he was paralyzed in a motorcycle accident a decade ago, has filed 400 suits since 1998 against restaurants, wineries, bowling alleys, banks and other places. In most cases, the judge said, Molski demands $4,000 a day until the target of his suit is brought into compliance with ADA, then agrees to a cash settlement. James Lawson of Stillwater, Okla., who has multiple sclerosis and uses a wheelchair, said such lawsuits are needed. He said he has filed 26 of them after talking to business owners and complaining to the Justice Department without results. "Even though I'm in a wheelchair full time I still want to be independent and enjoy life to the best of my ability," he said. Lawson said he found his lawyer through an advocacy group for the disabled, and insisted: "I am in no way being used as a pawn by the law firm. I in no way profit from this. I'm an honorable person." Eric Holland of the Justice Department's Disability Rights Division said the government takes every ADA complaint seriously and resolved about 360 of them last year. In Oklahoma, the phenomenon has led the Oklahoma Restaurant Association to post a warning on its Web site about attorneys hiring disabled people to seek out ADA violations. Hobleman's attorney, Ted Vrana, dismissed suggestions that he filed Hobleman's ADA lawsuits simply to collect the legal fees. "I think the law is intended to assist the disabled people," Vrana said. "And if the business doesn't comply, as I read the law, there is a strict liability." Hobleman, who uses a wheelchair, charged that the the bathroom faucets in Walker's restaurant did not comply with the ADA, the "Handicapped Accessible" sign was in the wrong place, and a handicapped parking spot was not marked properly. Walker fixed the problems, and a federal judge refused to let Hobleman's lawyer recover money from Walker for legal fees. Many store owners, however, agree to fix the problems and pay the legal fees simply to avoid going to court. "You can't just ignore the lawsuit," Walker said. "The sad part of it is there's got to be thousands of small businesses, if not tens of thousands, that have already paid these attorneys just because they were horrified about having to go to federal court." For his part, Walker had to pay more than $2,200 defending himself against the lawsuit. Rep. Mark Foley, R-FL, is pressing for a law that would give businesses notified of ADA violations 90 days to comply before they could be sued. "Too many lawyers view ADA lawsuits as a quick way to become millionaires and too many small businesses have become their prey," the congressman said.
ADA Home Page:   http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/ada/adahom1.htm

In 1992, CA passed a law to protect people from being sued merely for speaking up on public issues. The law against SLAPPs (strategic lawsuits against public participation) lets judges quickly dismiss frivolous lawsuits that retaliate against free speech, with the losing plaintiff paying defendant's attorney's fees. The law was designed to stop the big guys from silencing the little guys. Unfortunately, Orange County (CA) is using the law to stifle debate on the El Toro airport issue, to smite the little guys who challenge government in court (losing plaintiff got a $45,000 attorney bill from the government). This is being appealed. (OCR, 2/7/02, Local 8)

Traffic accidents account for 59% of personal-injury claims. The median jury award in year 2000 was $20,000. Fender-bender back and neck strain complaints fetched about $8,600. The median wait from accident to trial was 38 months. (USN&WR, 5/27/02, 16) ..... Courts can only hear cases in which there is an injured party; there must be a controversy for the court to hear a case. (OCR, 7/12/02, News 5)

Robert Hirsch, 43, has been a party in 82 lawsuits since 1982, a staggering number even in Los Angeles. He has sued a single mother staining some wood for him, a floor-materials supplier, his stock broker, an 85-year-old restaurant owner for attacking him, his own synagogue, his own lawyers, his own clients. Some adversaries want Hirsch branded a vexatious litigant, and join 434 other people that cannot file a lawsuit without Court approval and posting a bond. They must prove Hirsch lost 5 cases representing himself in seven years. Hirsh claims he always hire an attorney to represent him. Probably the most prolific filer is Liang-Houh Shieh, 52, who filed dozens of lawsuits against dozens of defendants, most former law partners and employers. Shieh was disbarred 3 years ago for a "campaign of litigation terror." (LAT, 7/29/00, A1) ..... In Los Angeles, U.S. District Court Judge Edward Rafeedie ruled Jarek Moleski, 34, is a "vexatious litigant" who has been running a "scheme of systematic extortion." Moleski uses a wheelchair since being paralyzed by a motorcycle accident a decade ago. He has filed 400 lawsuits since 1998 against business establishments for allegedly violating the Americans With Disablities Act. He is barred from bringing such actions without court permission. (OCR, 12/12/04, News 25) 

WASHINGTON (10/27/05, AP) - The House passed a bill that would take away lawyers' licenses if they repeatedly file frivolous lawsuits, the latest in a Republican drive to crack down on what they consider costly abuses of the legal system. Supporters of the bill, which passed 228-184, said lawsuits deemed baseless by a judge for flimsy facts or faulty interpretations of the law are a waste of court time and often a bonanza for lawyers - rather than a chance to recoup legitimate damages for clients. No Senate vote is expected this year. 
Insurance premiums and health care costs have risen as a result of frivolous lawsuits, argued Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, the bill's sponsor. "All they want is for the defendant to settle," Smith said of the lawyers for such plaintiffs. "This is legalized extortion." People with legitimate complaints against big companies could be scared off by a provision that would require judges to order the plaintiffs in lawsuits found to be frivolous to pay "reasonable" attorney fees of the defendants. Smith's bill would reinstate a pre-1993 rule setting mandatory penalties against lawyers who file frivolous lawsuits. It would suspend for a year lawyers who file three baseless claims in any judicial circuit during their careers. Information on the bill, H.R. 420, can be found at   http://thomas.loc.gov

Doctors. Teachers. Coaches. Ministers. They all share a common fear: being sued on the job. Our litigation nation—and a plan to fix it. http://msnbc.msn.com/id/3660738/ (Newsweek, 12/15/03, 43)

ORANGE COUNTY, CA (California Newswire,  Sep 1, 2005) -- Brea Attorney Accused of Filing Hundreds of Frivolous Lawsuits. The Law Offices of Dilip Vithlani, a Norwalk, Calif.-based sole practitioner, today announced that he has agreed to defend at least thirty-one store owners throughout Orange County on a pro bono basis in a suit filed by Brea-based attorney Harpreet S. Brar (Case # 05CC08759, Superior Court of Orange County). Mr. Brar has sued hundreds of small businesses in Los Angeles County for allegedly collecting ATM transaction fees or "point-of-sale" device fees from his wife, plaintiff Satinder Brar, without proper disclosure signs. Mr. Brar has now filed an identical lawsuit in Orange County against more than 60 liquor store owners. Harpreet Brar is one of several attorneys who had previously filed numerous suits of a similar nature, three of which were against nail salons. The other suits involved small markets and retail stores. In 2003, the State Attorney General sued Harpreet Brar (among other attorneys) in an effort to put a stop to such tactics, and in October of 2004 Honorable Peter Polos, Orange County Superior Court Judge, permanently enjoined Mr. Brar and other attorneys from filing such suits unless he could show that all defendants acted in concert Judge Polos also Ordered Mr. Brar to pay $1.78 million to the State Attorney General in civil penalties and required him to pay restitution for monies he had collected from numerous salon owners who had settled the suits with Mr. Brar. Mr. Brar appealed the Order and oral arguments on his appeal were heard on August 19, 2005 in Santa Ana. A decision from the Court of Appeal is expected shortly. Despite the permanent injunction and while his appeal has been pending, Mr. Brar has filed at least three identical suits to date, two in Los Angeles County and one in Orange County. All three suits accuse liquor store owners of failing to disclose ATM charges to consumers. Immediately after each of the store owners were served with the complaint, they each received a settlement demand varying from $500 to $1,000 in exchange for a dismissal. In the Orange County suit, however, at least 31 store owners have decided to fight back by filing motions to dismiss as well as cross-complaints against Mr. Brar and the named plaintiff, Mrs. Brar, accusing them of abuse of process for the sole purpose of extorting monies from them. "Mr. Brar has a well-documented history of filing such lawsuits in the State of California and is again abusing the judicial system under the guise of doing 'public good' while collecting settlements from these hard-working business owners. The suits target minority owners, typically of Hispanic and Asian descent. In many instances, store owners have opted to 'settle' with Mr. Brar," said Dilip Vithlani, a Norwalk-based litigator and the attorney representing the Orange County business owners and two store owners in the Norwalk branch of the Los Angeles Superior Court. "It's basically a shakedown of small business owners who in most cases are unwilling to engage in an expensive legal fight and thus typically capitulate to Mr. Brar by settling with him in exchange for a dismissal."  Vithlani adds, "After learning of this egregious abuse of the legal process and groundless attacks on the 'mom-and-pop store owners,' I offered my services to defend these businesses pro bono. These lawsuits are unconscionable any way you look at them. Since being admitted to the California State Bar in 2000, Mr. Brar has consistently manipulated the judicial system by filing such suits under the guise of 'public benefit.' He's part of the problem and my clients and I are going to make every effort to put an end to his tactics once and for all." The 31 cross-complaints against Mr. Brar and Mrs. Brar by the Orange County store owners each seek at least $2,500.00 in general damages plus punitive damages. The cross-complaints were filed in Orange County Superior Court on August 24, 2005 along with motions to dismiss the case. The motions are scheduled for a hearing on September 19, 2005. Satinder Brar, the named plaintiff, has until September 23rd to respond to the cross-complaints against her. Efforts to serve the cross-complaints on Mr. Brar are ongoing, since he has failed to return numerous phone calls, the office address he has provided to the State Bar is merely a Travel Agency where he has a mail box, and his facsimile number is no longer valid. In addition to the cross-complaints, the matter is also being reported to the State Bar and the Office of the State Attorney General. http://california.send2press.com/Orange_County/CA2005-OC0901-Vithlani.shtml .....   A California lawyer has been ordered to pay almost $1.8 million for abusing the state’s unfair business practices law, popularly known as 17200, by filing frivolous lawsuits against small businesses. The Orange County Superior Court also decided that the lawyer, Harpreet Brar, will have to repay 11 businesses a total of $11,200 in connection with the "shakedowns." The case against Brar was filed by the California Attorney General, who alleged that Brar sued hundreds of small business in Southern California based on technical and even non-existent violations in order to force their owners to pay quick settlements. For instance, according to Kevin Nguyen of Francis Nails in Redlands, California, Brar threatened to sue the salon for using the same bottle of nail polish on more than one customer. Brar would offer to settle the matters almost immediately for $1,000, raising the cost of settlement with each new letter, the Attorney General claimed. Specifically, in one letter sent to a nail salon, Brar allegedly warned the price of settling the case could quickly rise to a figure as high as $10,000, the Attorney General noted. "The litigation brought by Brar was not only frivolous, it was abusive," the Attorney General said. "It’s only purpose was to line Brar’s pockets with unjust profits." While the court fined Brar, it dismissed allegations against his law firm. Brar may also face disciplinary action by the State Bar of California.  http://www.cfif.org/htdocs/legal_issues/legal_updates/jesters_courtroom/tales_08.html ..... Judge John M. Watson dismissed Harpreet Brar's lawsuit against 109 liquor stores, without the possibility of being amended or refiled, because Brar violated a 2004 Court injunction preventing him from filing lawsuits against multiple unrelated defendants. Brar may have to pay attorney costs and other fees. (OCR, 11/8/05, Business 3)


Frivolous lawsuits are everywhere.

In 2006 Enrique Chavez, 37, an off-duty Los Angeles police officer who lived in Anaheim, was driving in his Ford Ranger with his toddler son riding unrestrained in the back seat. The little boy somehow got hold of his father's Glock handgun and shot his father in the back, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down. Two years later, Chavez and his attorney have sued the Glock company and others for unspecified actual and punitive damages, saying they are to blame. It's sort of like leaving your toddler alone in your Ranger with the engine running and then suing Ford because the kid managed to knock the transmission into "Drive."

There was the Colorado jail inmate who earlier this year sued the local sheriff after he was injured in an escape attempt, on grounds that the jail was too easy to escape from. There was the Los Angeles woman who two years ago sued a guacamole dip manufacturer because the dip didn't taste sufficiently "avacadoey."

There was the guy in San Diego who sued the local sports stadium because impatient women were using the men's rooms, which he said caused him $5.4 million worth of emotional distress, and the guy in Tennessee who earlier this month sued his church for $2.5 million because he got so spiritually inspired during a service that he fell and hit his head. There was the $10 million lawsuit filed this month by a New York couple who got temporarily stuck on a cable car above the baboon enclosure at the Bronx Zoo. And then there was the granddaddy of bogus lawsuits – the Washington, D.C. judge who sued a mom-and-pop dry cleaners for $54 million because they lost his pants. (He eventually lost.)

The problem is that the case will probably never go before a jury of reasonable citizens. Plaintiff lawyers in such cases usually just want the defendants to settle out of court rather than spend the money to go to trial. But even when frivolous lawsuits are tossed out or settled, it still costs money. Orange County Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (OC CALA), part of a national network that supports lawsuit reform, cites studies estimating that lawsuits cost the national economy more than $260 billion annually. You can get more information on what to do about it at http://www.occala.org./   
(OCR, 7/27/08, Local 1)   http://www.ocregister.com/articles/lawsuit-lawsuits-sued-2105587-million-filed


4. PRO PER: The allows us to represent ourselves. I did this twice. One time my pleadings were reviewed by a lawyer, who said they were very good. Unfortunately, the court always seemed to find some technicality to reject the papers, thereby forcing me to settle without having the opportunity to present my case. Another time, I defended against a sham law suit. The judge tried to throw out my pleadings, claiming a defect. I pointed out that the first page contained the information he said was missing. He obviously did not read my pleadings, and assumed they would be wrong if filed by a non-lawyer. The judge took the case under submission and later ruled 100% in my favor. He even removed a lis pendens, which should have required additional hearings. He probably saw the law suit as a sham and decided to end it  immediately. Legally, we can represent ourselves. Practically, it is very difficult, mostly because the Courts do not want it.

Some other experiences:
A lawyer said he would take my auto accident case. After not hearing from him for some time, I called and was told he decided not to take the case. This was one week before the statute of limitations expired. I had to accept a poor settlement offer.
The judge in a custody case refused to talk to the children, despite the law saying he "shall" (not may) talk to them. The judge complained to our attorney that he did not like me because I took notes at each hearing.
We were sued in a  legal extortion law suit for a sham claim on an estate. There were no merits to the complaint, yet our lawyer kept extending the case and charging many hours. We finally switched to a family member  attorney, who had the case dismissed (summary judgment) and had the fees of the former law firm reduced about 80%. The judge, after dismissing the case because of no merits, congratulated the opposing attorney for doing a fine job.
As a possible juror in a gang activity case, I asked how the juror's identity was protected. The bailiff said the records are sealed. However, during voir dire your name was clearly stated to identify you.


Criminal misdemeanor

We needed an attorney to represent us for a criminal misdemeanor. We selected one of the top criminal defense attorneys in the area at $500 per hour. This attorney has been featured in many high profile cases that he invariably won. The case that we asked him to undertake was a rather low level simple case. To try to keep costs down, we analyzed all the available material and summarized the important points in several memos. At the trial the jury was confused because the incident being prosecuted was allowed to be misinterpreted by testimony about events occurring at a later time. We asked our attorney to request that only the incident being prosecuted be discussed at trial. He said that the judge probably would not limit the testimony to that incident, but he never made that request to the judge. The alleged victim never called the police and only agreed to sign a complaint after being coerced by the police who came for some later events. It is our contention that only testimony directly relating to the original incident incident should have been allowed for the trial. Testimony regarding subsequent events may have been suitable for a penalty phase hearing, but not to determine guilt or innocence for the incident being prosecuted. Because of the mishandling of the case, we were forced to accept a plea bargain. The important lesson here is that if our attorney were truly one of the best available criminal defense attorneys in the area, and he did such a poor job defending our case, what implications should be drawn about all the other criminal defense attorneys in the area? We can only conclude that not only are attorneys overpaid, but they also can be quite incompetent.

Family law

We selected a family law attorney, who transferred the case to another attorney before it even began. The second attorney never seemed to get anything done on time. We could see that we were losing the case, so we contacted a high priced high profile family law attorney and asked him to take the case. He took the case and within a short period of time he died of cancer, which he neglected to warn us about. We had to find a fourth attorney who did not seem very competent. In fact, just before an important hearing he informed us that he was collaborating with the opposing counsel on a case, and we could get another attorney. Because we were pressed for time, we stayed with this fourth attorney until we concluded that he was not working for our best interests. We had to find a fifth attorney in one day for the final hearing. In conclusion, none of the attorneys, nor the judges, seemed very competent. In fact, hearings were scheduled where our attorney was present, our witnesses were present, we were present and then the hearings were postponed because of no courtrooms available. Yet we had a pay for the attorneys’ time while they waited in the courthouse. The entire system seemed inefficient and possibly corrupt.

Tax court

The IRS challenged a prepaid interest deduction. The Tax Court sided with the IRS, but did not explain its decision. The federal appellate court sided with the IRS, but did not explain its decision. The tax code was not very clear and an explanation of the courts’ decisions seemed warranted.

 Real estate contract

A shady real estate developer attempted to purchase a property that we were selling. He attempted to double escrow the sale and keep the escrow open much beyond the stated expiration date. After we canceled the escrow, he sued us to force the sale and he put a lis pendens on the property. I attempted to handle the case pro per and wrote the answer. At the hearing, the judge rejected my pleadings because of an assumed defect. When I explained that the required information was on page 1 of my answer, the judge said he would take the case under submission. Shortly thereafter, the judge threw out the case, gave me everything I was requesting, and removed the lis pendens (which should have been handled in a separate hearing). Apparently, the judge saw that the case was a sham lawsuit and despite his negative feelings about a pro per defense, made a just and fair ruling.

Small Claims

There was a minor case where the judge clearly refused to follow the law and require that the owner of the business be present and that he had violated a clearly stated law. This, and other instances, seem to indicate that many judges follow their emotions rather than interpreting the law.


5. MEDICAL BENEFITS RENEGED: Rockwell, McDonnell-Douglas, Disney, and General Motors promised lifetime medical benefits to their employees. After retiring, employees were told that the companies changed their minds because the medical benefits were too expensive. At least two law suits were initiated, but the retirees thus far have failed to force the companies to keep their promises. Unfortunately, ERISA protects pensions, but not benefits. Perhaps this is a political, as well as a legal problem. We had tried to get pension-rights attorneys throughout the nation to initiate a class action suit on contingency, but were unsuccessful. We did get an e-mail from someone who was involved in setting up retirement benefits and tried to prevent the firm from reducing retiree medical benefits, also unsuccessfully. Please send an e-mail if you are interested in this problem, or have other information. ..... After promising free lifetime medical benefits, Rockwell (now Boeing) started in 2002 to charge a monthly fee. The fee discriminates against Medicare seniors, who cost the plan the least, but are charged the most. ..... The problem of employers reneging on promised health benefits after retirement finally is being addressed by Congress. HR 1322 (Rep. John Tierney, D-MA) and S 2904 (the late Paul Wellstone, D-MN) would prevent a company from making changes to its retiree health plan (resulting in lessor benefits) after an employee retires, and would restore all health benefits that previously were decreased or canceled.

"More than 1.5 million retirees from companies such as Verizon, GE, and General Motors have formed the National Retiree Legislative Network. First order of business: push for a bill prohibiting reduction or curtailment of health benefits after worker retires." (USN&WR, 5/14/01, 59) [Hopefully, it will be retroactive.]

"Rep. John F. Tierney, D-Mass., thinks he has an answer to retiree's worst nightmare. He plans to introduce a bill this month to keep companies from slashing medical benefits for former workers after they've retired." (AARP-NRTA Bulletin, 2/01, 2) ..... When LTV filed for bankruptcy, more than 60,000 former employees, mostly retirees, lost their medical benefits. (Business Week, 4/1/02, 70) [ERISA protects pensions, but not medical benefits.] ..... NRLN is mobilizing support for H.R. 1322, The Emergency Questions and Answers Retiree Health Benefits Protection Act of 2002.  It was introduced by Representative John F. Tierney (D. MA), along with 53 (now 90) original co-sponsors on May 29, 2001.  The bill was drafted at the initiative of NRLN Members and will plug a major loophole in the federal law governing private health plans.  It would prohibit a company from reducing or taking away health benefits promised and owed to their retirees.  It would also require a company restore health benefits that were previously reduced or taken away after retirement unless a company could demonstrate substantial business hardship. http://www.nrln.org/

Commission OKs Cuts to Retirees' Health Benefits  By EMILY GERSEMA, AP, 4/23/04
WASHINGTON (April 23) - Employers could reduce or eliminate their retirees' health benefits once the former workers qualify for Medicare under a proposal from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The decision, subject to further review before it becomes final, could affect millions of retirees who rely on employer-sponsored health plans to pay medical expenses not covered by Medicare. The commission voted 3 to 1 for the proposed rule, with three Republicans in favor and one Democrat opposing it. Employers are not legally required to offer retiree health benefits or any other coverage to any workers. But if they do provide benefits, they cannot discriminate based on age. As health care costs skyrocket, more companies are reducing or eliminating coverage. Employers have argued that if they must provide the same health benefits to all workers, they may not offer coverage at all. The proposed rule would let employers reduce or cut the health benefits for their older retirees eligible for Medicare. Supporters argue that would preserve benefits for younger retirees at risk of losing coverage if companies stopped offering benefits altogether. But AARP, which represents millions of retirees, was disappointed with the commission's decision. ''More than 12 million Medicare beneficiaries receive benefits from their former employers,'' Michael Naylor, the group's advocacy director, said in a statement. ''AARP is concerned that this rule may jeopardize those benefits.'' Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, said the change would preserve benefits. ''If this regulation is halted, more and more Americans will lose their employer-provided retiree medical benefits altogether,'' he said. ''The proposed EEOC regulation will ensure employers can preserve these important benefits so this doesn't happen.'' Before it becomes final, the proposed rule must go through further review by federal agencies and the White House Office of Management and Budget. ''Such benefits are provided on a voluntary basis at the discretion of each employer and the commission is acting to preserve these valuable benefits for retirees,'' commission chair Cari Dominguez, a Republican, said in a statement.

6. $10,000 PER HOUR:  (AP, 12/12/98) Lawyers will receive $8.2 BILLION in three states (TX, FL, MS) for the tobacco case. "It sounds fair to me," said one involved lawyer. Gov. Bush (TX) said, "I will never understand and never agree that five private law firms should collect more than $3.3 billion for working less than two years on a case that was settled before it went to trial. The fees seem totally out of proportion for the work performed." Assuming about 200 lawyers worked full time for two years, each one would be getting about $4 million  (about $10,000 per hour).

(Orange County Register, 5/7/99, News 16): A Texas lawyer billed $500 million for the tobacco case, but agreed to accept only $1 million. Other private attorneys on the case said he did little or nothing; some said they never even heard of him. The FBI is investigating.

7. LAWYER JOKE:  There must be some basis for all the lawyer jokes. There too many to repeat here, but one seems particularly cute. What can a goose do, a duck can't, and a lawyer should?   Stick his bill up his ass. ..... Harvey Kash, 70, was telling lawyer jokes to his friend Carl Lanzisera, 65, as they waited to enter a Long Island (NY) courthouse. Some people giggled, but a lawyer in line reported them to court officers. They were arrested for causing a disturbance, but the grand jury dismissed the disorderly conduct charge. (OCR, 2/9/05, News 16)

Britons love hearing the LAX public address system say they are not required to give money to solicitors. Some have been billed 185 pounds because the lawyer's (solicitor's) secretary made a call, or they paid a larger sum in fees than they received in damages. (LAT, 5/26/01, B7)

8. TOO MANY LAWYERS: There are about 860,000 lawyers in the U.S., one for every 216 adults. There are 10,000 lawyers in Washington, D.C., three times more than in Japan. Some contingency fees are $30,000 per hour. The legal system costs an estimated $300 billion a year. Liability disputes are 14 times more frequent in the U.S. than abroad, and 8 times more costly. Liability insurance is 15 times higher here than Japan, and 20 times higher than Europe. A survey of 800 companies found that lawsuits and fear of lawsuits cause  50%  to raise prices, 61% to retain incompetent employees, 30% to scuttle new products, and 15% to discontinue successful products. A large problem is that more than half who write the laws and many who enforce the laws are lawyers. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has established the Institute For Legal Reform, aimed at reducing frivolous lawsuits, limiting excessive legal fees, and encouraging involvement in judicial selection and election. Also, Texans for Reasonable Legal Fees is supporting tort reform. ..... Lawyers per 10,000 population:  U.S. 31.1, Britain 14.9, Germany 8.3, France 4.1, Sweden 3.1, Japan 1.1.  The U.S. relatively has 31 times the number of lawyers as Japan. (USN&WR, 6/28/04, 41) [It is amazing Japan can function with so few lawyers!]..... Mary Pat Toups, 76, is a lawyer that has been instrumental in AB12, allowing CA beneficiary deeds, allowing homeowners to sign a one page contract that, after their death, deeds property directly to a beneficiary. This avoids costly probate for the real estate. CO, KS, MO, NV, NM, OH, and AZ have similar laws. (OCR, 2/17/05, News 1) ..... Kathleen Sullivan, 50, former Dean of Stanford Law School, was removed from a case by the California Supreme Court, because she failed the three-day bar exam to practice law in CA. (OCR, 1/20/06, News 12)

9. ARBITRATION DECEPTION:  The Orange County Bar Association (OCBA) will conduct arbitration for lawyer fee disputes. This is a sham. We witnessed this twice with the same results. If the lawyer bills for work, he gets paid. The reasonableness of the billings, the quality of the work, and the results, are not considered. Can you believe an honor system with lawyers? If he says he did any work, he gets paid. One lawyer billed several days for "research". He could not produce any report, or even notes, from his research. Another lawyer said he does not work weekends. Yet he billed many hours for weekend work, shortly after his Hawaiian vacation. Lawyers can bill for "thinking" about the case, even while cooking, driving, or going to the bathroom. The OCBA attitude is that a lawyer gets paid for simply claiming to do work. And this is supposed to protect the clients?

10. SOCIAL SECURITY NIGHTMARE: It is a nightmare to try and correct a problem with the Social Security Administration (SSA). They terminated retirement benefits without warning, without explanation, and without due process. They claim there is an appeals process, but after five months no progress has been made. The SSA has sent several threatening letters. Each has been incorrect, exhibiting their gross incompetence. The details are unimportant here. The implications are frightening. Many people rely on their monthly benefits to survive. Often, the choice is between  food or medicine or heat. Any interruption of benefits to these poor seniors will adversely affect their health and safety, sometimes resulting in serious illness and death. While these poor people are suffering, the SSA incompetent bureaucracy does little or nothing to solve serious problems. There is no clear procedure to get your problems solved, no ombudsman nor internal inspector general. The SSA has the audacity to suggest you get a lawyer. These confused elderly poor people are supposed to hire a lawyer to protect their money and rights?  Thus far, we have been very successful in creating a paper trail whereby the SSA is hanging itself. We hope to use these data to get congressional hearings to clean up the mess in the SSA. Please contact us if you have any data that may help, or you can possibly help initiate the hearings. We owe this to our less fortunate seniors.

2/20/01 - It now has been seven months, and no progress. I sent emails to all members of the Senate Finance Committee (which has a subcommittee on SSA), but only response is each senator only acts for his own constituents. My California senators respond by thanking me for my email. Web sites that answer legal questions have said: SSA has no requirement to act in timely manner (could take two years), there is no internal or external government agency that can help, SSA cannot be sued in CA small claims court, and I can get a lawyer expert in SSA law. A recent newspaper article (Register, News 13, 2/19/01) cited a government study of the SSA: 2/3 of SSA initial determinations are overturned when challenged, big backlog of claims and litigation, eligibility decisions are not made in a uniform or consistent manner, delays in payment of benefits, without fundamental changes it could get worse.

4/23/01 Nine months later, our personal problem has been solved. SSA will give us all benefits due. There was no clear explanation, no arithmetic worksheet, and no apology. Unfortunately, no one seems to care about correcting the outrageous behavior of SSA. 

11. $8,800 PER HOUR: Five law firms sued California over "smog impact" for out-of-state vehicles registered in California. The fee was found to be unconstitutional and four clients were awarded a total of $1200. Then, Gov. Davis decided to refund $665 million to the 1.7 million who had paid the fee. This was not  a class action judgment awarded by the Court.  The lawyer fees became a problem. One judge said $18M, the lawyers would accept $25M, the State Board of Equalization said $1M. The dispute went to binding arbitration, which awarded the attorneys $88.5M, all taxpayers' money. Some law firms involved were big contributors to Davis and other politicians. (Orange County Register, 1/21/01, Commentary 2) ..... A judge ruled 4/17/01 that the arbitration panel exceeded its legal authority, striking down the $88.5M award. The judge ruled that returning the money to the taxpayers was a result of political lobbying, not lawyering. (OCR, 4/20/01, Local 8) ..... Lawyers get paid first in a bankruptcy. Three firms are billing WorldCom at or above the once unheard of rate of $700 per hour. (Business Week, 8/12/02, 8)

12. LIAR LIAR NOSE ON FIRE: "Thirty law students are suspected of lying about midterm exam marks at Canada's leading law school and could face expulsion." (Orange County Register, 2/22/01, News 3) [Is the problem that a lawyer should not lie, or a good lawyer should not get caught lying?]

The dean of Trinity Law School, a small CA college that seeks to instill Christian ethics in its students, has been accused of plagiarizing material from an encyclopedia. "We are a Christian school, so honesty and integrity are core values we place very high in our lives." (OCR, 8/1/01, Local 1)  [Lawyers with honesty and integrity, a new concept?] ..... The school stripped the dean of his position after an investigation showed plagiarism. The school now is deciding whether to remove him as a tenured faculty member. (LAT, 8/18/01, B1)

A Los Angeles  County Superior Court Judge was kicked off the bench because he repeatedly lied about being a Caltech graduate,  a wounded war veteran, and a CIA operative in Laos. Another judge earlier this year was ousted for malingering, excessive absenteeism, and attending a Caribbean medical school while on the judicial payroll. (LAT, 8/16/01, B6)

An Orange (CA) lawyer was stripped of his license and sentenced to 8 months in jail in 1988 for stealing more than $250,000 from his law partner and his clients. Five years later he got his license reinstated. Now, he has pleaded guilty to 15 counts of felony grand theft, including cashing social security checks made out to a dead person, wiping out a young boy's college fund, and cashing settlement checks without informing his clients of the resolution. He admitted the crime after his wife agreed to testify against him. He faces up to 9 years in prison. (LAT, 8/17/01, B1) .....  Attorney Leonard Basinger was sentenced to eight years in state prison and ordered to repay more than $300,000 to his victims. Some victims can apply to CA State Bar's restitution fund for up to $50,000 each. Basinger's wife faces up to five years in prison. (LAT, 9/15/01, B3)

SANTA ANA, CA (3/17/05, AP) - A convicted bunko-artist who posed as a lawyer and represented hundreds of clients has been sentenced to 12 and a-half years in prison. Harold David Goldstein told the federal judge at his Santa Ana, California, sentencing hearing that he'd made sincere efforts to represent his clients despite his lack of a law license. He told the judge he'd won 25 cases in the eight months that he operated a busy law practice. He said other than lying about being a lawyer "everything else was totally legit." Goldstein represented hundreds of clients, including many immigrants at deportation hearings. Some of them have been deported. Goldstein had a Newport Beach (CA) law firm with 12 employees, including three attorneys. His criminal record sates back to the 1970s, including a gold-bullion scam, selling non-existent securities, kiting checks from West Indies bank, passing checks for fictional English bank. (OCR, 3/18/05, Local 5)

13. $11.3 BILLION FEES: "anti-tobacco attorneys around the country  now have been awarded $11.3 billion in fees."  (L. A. Times, 3/7/01, C1) ..... The total paid to anti-tobacco lawyers in 27 states is $13.06 billion (LAT, 10/24/01, C4)

Holocaust case lawyers awarded more than $52 million. Eleven lawyers received more than $1 million each. Holocaust victims will receive up to $7500 each. (San Diego Union-Tribune, 6/16/01, A7)

14. MORE PAY FOR JUDGES: "The average district court judge makes $145,000 a year, compared with salaries for partners at major law firms that can exceed $500,000 annually." That is making it difficult to get and keep good judges. (L. A. Times, 2/14/01, A5). [The obvious solution is to pay attorneys less, not judges more.]

I went to CA Small Claims Court to sue a business owner for illegally towing my car from his parking lot. CVC 22658 (a) (1) states that a sign must be displayed in clear view at all entrances to the property. There were no signs at any entrance. The judge decided the law was just a technicality, and it was sufficient to have some obscure hard to see signs elsewhere on the property. If the legislature wanted such a law, they would have said that was sufficient. The judge clearly ignored the legislative intent. Further, she did not know that the owner was required to appear himself, not send an employee. The judge seemed more like a first year law student, rather than someone fully knowledgeable about the law.  We have seen other cases where judges do not follow the law, but follow there own beliefs what the law should be. The judiciary must interpret the law, not make law. (6/04)

LOS ANGELES (4/20/05, AP) - Juror Fined for Yawning in Court. A juror was cited for contempt and fined $1,000 by Superior Court Judge Craig Veals for yawning loudly while awaiting questioning in an attempted murder trial. The fine later was reduced to $100. The yawn came after the man, identified as Juror No. 2386 in an April 1 court transcript, had been sitting in a courtroom for two days as part of jury selection. The juror paid the fine after it was reduced to $100. Ultimately, he was questioned but not selected for the trial.

CANBERRA, Australia (8/4/05, AP) - Judge Accused of Dozing at Trials Retires. A judge under investigation for nodding off during trials has retired on medical grounds, a government minister said Friday. Judge Ian Dodd, 57 - dubbed Judge Nodd by jurors - has retired five months after a newspaper reported he had dozed off during at least nine cases in the New South Wales state District Court in Sydney. A rape victim had called for Dodd to be fired because she said he had snored as she testified during the trial of her assailant in November, 2003. He was dubbed Judge Nodd when he fell asleep every day of a seven-day trial in December 2003, The Daily Telegraph newspaper reported. Witnesses have reported that lawyers would cough or drop rulers to subtly wake the judge during hearings. State Attorney-General Bob Debus confirmed that Dodd had retired on health grounds after taking extended leave.

A Guatemalan judge ruled that "there was not enough evidence to hold two rape suspects who were handed over to police after being captured by hundreds of town residents." When the judge left the courthouse, more than 1000 people attacked him, hacked him to death with machetes, doused him with gasoline, and burned his body. The mob then stormed a building holding the two alleged rapists; the fate of the two rape suspects was unclear. (O. C. Register, 3/14/01, News 21) [Should judges get hazard pay?] ..... An enraged Ecuadorian mob of 1000 dragged a suspected child rapist from jail, doused him with gasoline, and set him on fire, killing him. (OCR, 1/16/03, News 16) 

"On the judicial front [in Guatemala], crime is soaring; judges, lawyers, and politicians have been lynched, bombed, and shot in recent months." (LAT, 6/11/01, A3)

15. TELL YOUR LAWYER WHERE TO GO: Japan is so desperate for lawyers that it is offering subsidies for certain geographic areas, and guaranteeing incomes up to $150,000 annually. (L. A. Times, 3/9/01, A1).  

A 33-year old San Francisco product liability lawyer despised her 18-hour days, conflict, and drudgery. She now loves her work as an Alcatraz tour guide, earning about $12 per hour. (LAT, 7/1/01, B1)   

16. CURSED SPEECHLESS: Curses were common in the ancient Mediterranean world, especially in the legal sphere. The largest body of Greek binding spells deals with litigation, with sixty-seven different defixiones invoking curses on legal opponents. The earliest of these date to the fifth century B.C. Eleven of them ask the gods to bind the tongue of a legal opponent so he would lose the lawsuit. Evidence suggests that occasionally these curses were apparently fulfilled. (E-mail source unverified) [Another tool for adversarial relationships.]

17. INCOMPETENT, ATTORNEY OR CLIENT?: An attorney in a conservatorship sent a request to the court to allow another attorney to replace him (substitution). The petition said the conservatee  was the party making the substitution and the conservatee and both attorneys accepted it. The conservatee supposedly signed the request, but the name was spelled wrong. Also, the conservatee was declared incompetent by the court, and both attorneys knew that the conservatee was unable to understand what was happening. 

A  jury ordered a Santa Ana (CA) lawyer to pay $21M. He was accused of negligently handling a lawsuit and recklessly handling investments. This was believed to be the largest legal malpractice award in Orange County, CA. A few years ago, a jury handed down a 45.6M malpractice verdict in Los Angeles County, CA. (LAT, 10/9/01), B3 R)

In the mid-1990s, the Supreme Court and Congress made changes to shield accountants and lawyers from having to pay investors for massive frauds perpetrated by their clients. This will make it harder for Enron victims to recoup their losses. (LAT, 1/28/02, C1) 

The U.S. Supreme Court overturned a TX murder conviction because court-appointed lawyer Joe Cannon slept up to 10 minutes at a time during the trial and sentencing phases. This could lead to a broader examination of the quality of legal help available to poor defendants facing the death penalty. (OCR, 6/4/02, News 10)

Judge Jacob Hart said attorney Brian Puricelli's courtroom work was okay, but his written work was careless, full of typos, and nearly unintelligible. The attorney fees of $300/hour for courtroom work was allowed, but reduced to $150/hour for the pleadings. Puricelli wrote the Easter District Court of PA, paragraphs and pages were missing, and the judge's name was misspelled. (OCR, 4/5/04, Business 4) 

18. COURTROOM TACTICS: Maureen Kallins, a 52 year old former NYC public defender, has represented some notorious defendants in Northern California for the past 20 years. She has been slapped with contempt sanctions repeatedly (rare punishment today), fined at least 6 times, and jailed 3 times by angry judges. "In our 97 years in the legal profession," the 3rd District Court of Appeal wrote in 1999, "we have seldom seen such unprofessional, offensive, and contemptuous conduct by an attorney in a court of law."  State bar records show that Kallins has never been  publicly disciplined. (LAT, 4/21/01, A1) [The CA State Bar is composed of lawyers supposedly monitoring lawyers.]    Kallins' web site: http://www.trialskills.com/main.html

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that a Texas death row inmate deserves a new trial because his lawyer dozed of frequently enough and for long enough stretches to deprive the defendant of his right to legal representation in the 1983 killing of his gay lover. (OCR, 8/14/01, News 12) [How much did the attorney bill for the time he was asleep?]

19. NULLIFICATION: The CA Supreme Court ruled that jurors must follow the law, not their consciences, even when they believe that the law will produce an unjust result. Historically, juror nullification has been used for runaway slaves, unpopular tax laws, harsh criminal laws, draft resister, and marijuana users. (LAT, 5/8/01, B1)


'3 Strikes' Convict Ordered Released by Calif. Judge

-- Gregory Taylor thanked the court for giving him another chance.

A judge has ordered the California man released more than a decade after he was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison under the state's "three strikes" law for breaking into a soup kitchen in search of food.

"I just want to thank you for giving me another chance," Taylor, 48, said during his Monday hearing.

In a forceful rejection of California's famously harsh three strikes sentencing laws, Judge Peter Espinoza amended Taylor's sentence to eight years, which he has already served, and said the state's three strikes law "produced inconsistent and disproportionate results."

From left, Stanford law school students Gabriel Martinez and Reiko Rogozen listen with Gregory Taylor as he wipes away tears during a hearing in Los Angeles Superior Court Monday. A judge ordered the release of Taylor, who had been serving a potential life sentence for stealing food from a Los Angeles church.
In an appeal, a state Supreme Court justice found Taylor's case so egregious that he said compared the prisoner to Jean Valjean of Victor Hugo's novel "Les Miserables," who was imprisoned for stealing bread.

Taylor was a homeless man living on the streets of Los Angeles in 1997 when he was arrested for breaking into the Catholic church where he volunteered and was often offered meals. Taylor told police he was hungry.

At his trial, the church's priest testified on his behalf. The Rev. Alan McCoy of St. Joseph's Church said it "would not be just or merciful" to sentence Taylor to live in prison. Taylor, he said, was a "peaceful man" and "a very good person who may have made mistakes," according to a report in the Los Angeles Times.

But Taylor had been in trouble before, in the 1980s, when he was addicted to crack cocaine and heroin. One time he stole a purse with $10 in it. Another time he attempted to rob a man on the street, according to The Associated Press. The crimes were not violent, but the break-in was Taylor's third felony offense. The then 35-year-old was sentenced to 25 years to life under the state's three strikes law, which was passed in 1994.

Students of the Stanford Law School's Three Strikes Project took up Taylor's case and said the man was suffering from mental illness and addiction when he broke into the church, factors a previous judge failed to consider appropriately.

"I thought I was going to cry, too," Reiko Rogozen, one of the law students working on the case told The Associated Press. "He was scared up until the last minute that it wasn't actually going to happen." The students are working on 20 other three strikes cases, according to The New York Times.

Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley described Taylor's release to the AP as "justice long overdue."

http://www.aolnews.com/crime/article/3-strikes-convict-gregory-taylor-ordered-released-by-calif-judge/19596636?icid=main|htmlws-main-n|dl1|link6|http%3A%2F
%2Fwww.aolnews.com%2Fcrime%2Farticle%2F3-strikes-convict-gregory-taylor-ordered-released-by-calif-judge%2F19596636

[During jury selection, I once told the judge that I would vote my conscience irrespective of the evidence and the law. The judge got me out of there before I could ruin the entire pool of potential jurors. The above case is a perfect example.]


20.  OUTRAGEOUS PUNITIVE AWARDS: The Supreme Court ruled that appellate judges should skeptically review large punitive awards. Punitive damages are to punish the wrongdoer, not compensate the victim. An angry jury sometimes awards huge punitive damages when the victim suffered relatively little. (LAT, 5/15/01, C1)

"The Los Angeles County Superior Court jury ordered Philip Morris to pay $5.54 million in compensatory damages, and then tacked on $3 billion in exemplary damages to punish the company for fraud." The only plaintiff (not class action) was Richard Boeken, a Marlboro smoker with lung cancer.  (LAT, 7/29/01, C1) ...... A Los Angeles Judge ruled the $3 billion award was excessive. He will order a new trial if the plaintiff does not accept a record-breaking $100 million in punitive damages. (LAT, 8/10/01, B1)

21. SOVEREIGN IMMUNITY: A doctrine that protects the governments and its workers from being sued (there are exceptions). An appraiser held licenses in three states, and applied for a temporary CA license, as authorized by federal law. After being "jerked around" for 18 months, he filed suit. His license was quickly issued. The U.S. Court of Appeals judge ruled that the CA appraisal officials were not shielded by qualified immunity and can be held personally  liable for damages. 251 Fed.3d 844, Groton vs. State of California. (LAT, 9/23/01, K5)

22. CLASS ACTION: Class action suits allow a few plaintiffs to sue on behalf of a large number to deter corporate wrongdoing. However, the system often allows the plaintiffs' lawyers to earn astronomical fees, while victims receive pittances and defendants get off cheap. Typically, the attorneys identify a problem and search for clients, rather than the other way around. Big business are trying to move most class action suits from state to federal courts, where judges might better monitor lawyers. Madison County, IL, is known as a class action paradise venue. (USN&WR, 3/25/02, 24) ..... In a class-action for overcharges on cell phones, the customers got $15 coupons for future products, while the attorneys got more than $1 million in fees. In another case, the class members got coupons for Cheerios, while the attorneys got $2 million in fees. (OCR, 3/29/02, Local 9)

 The Senate last week approved a bill, expected to sail through the House, that would fundamentally alter the American way of seeking redress against big business and help fulfill one of President Bush's top domestic priorities. Proponents say the Class Action Fairness Act would curb lawyers' shopping for friendly courts as well as limit attorneys' fees in megacases that yield only pennies or worthless coupons for the injured or swindled. But critics say the measure would delay and, in many cases, prevent lawsuits by consumers harmed by dangerous drugs and other products or conned by corporate rip-offs. The new rules would require that many--if not most--cases involving more than 100 plaintiffs and $5 million be filed in federal rather than state courts. (The bill would not affect securities cases.) Supporters say it is more rational to have cases with nationwide implications heard by the federal bench, instead of by a few pro-plaintiff state courts around the country that have become magnets for litigation, such as Madison County, Ill., where a judge returned a $10.1 billion verdict in 2003 against Philip Morris in a lawsuit claiming its "light" cigarette label was deceptive. But trial lawyers and consumer, environmental, and civil rights groups all argue the changes will sound the death knell for most class action suits, as federal judges tend to move more slowly and are more skeptical of such cases. A federal court, for example, refused to certify a class action suit alleging Masonite sold defective siding to more than 4.3 million homeowners between 1980 and 1998. But after an Alabama court gave the go-ahead, Masonite agreed to a $2 billion settlement in 1998. Nearly 200,000 homeowners have collected $500 million so far. But class action critics point out that not one of those homeowners reaped quite as much as the plaintiffs' lawyers, who earned $47.5 million. Other examples of what critics call lopsided justice the bill would halt: Lawyers earned $22 million for suing Thomson Consumer Electronics over TV sets with snowy images, while consumers received $50 rebates on future purchases in a 2001 settlement. That same year, lawyers won $9.25 million for suing Blockbuster over its late-fee policy; class members received coupons for free or $1-off movie rentals. And in many cases, eligible consumers do not even claim a share of a settlement because they don't know about it, the forms are complicated, or they choose not to do business with the company anymore. Under the pending law, there would be tougher scrutiny of so-called coupon settlements, and attorneys' fees would be based on the value of coupons redeemed or the amount of time spent on the case. The bill also affects "mass torts," individual personal injury lawsuits against the same company that courts bundle together--often at a corporation's request--for efficiency's sake. That includes the litigation du jour: Vioxx, the blockbuster arthritis painkiller that Merck pulled off the market last year. Although the bill would not impinge on the 575 existing Vioxx cases, it certainly would apply to future lawsuits. Since 20 million consumers took the drug, that number could be substantial. "We haven't come close to filing the full amount of cases," says Andy Birchfield Jr., whose Montgomery, Ala., firm represents more than 100 Vioxx users who sued before the recall and is evaluating more than 10,000 inquiries from potential clients. Wall Street analysts estimate Merck's potential liability to be as high as $25 billion. Also on deck, although much more controversial, are bills to move asbestos claims out of the courts and into a $140 billion trust fund and to restrain medical malpractice cases.  And big-time lawsuits were already facing roadblocks, as a host of states like Michigan and Mississippi have passed laws in recent years limiting cases. Some 31 states have enacted caps on punitive damages, and 15 have provided immunity for manufacturers who can prove they didn't know a product was harmful. Eight states have made it harder to file class actions, for example, by requiring a higher court to review any judge's decision to certify a class action. (USN&WR, 2/21/05, 46)

23. FREE COURT FORMS KIOSKS: Orange County (CA) has kiosks in courthouses and other public buildings that give free help to fill out court forms for family law and other civil matters. For more information: www.legal-aid.com/I-CAN/i-can.html (OCR, 5/23/04, Local 6)

24.  PRIVATE INVESTIGATORS:  TV and movies give the impression that private investigators (PIs) are are an unsavory and disreputable group. One example is an ex-cop charged with 63 criminal counts. He allegedly did not have a PI license, posted false on-line reviews, misled clients, subcontracted work to licensed PIs without paying them, did little or no work on cases, and made criminal threats. (OCR, 6/27/10, Local 13) We had the unfortunate experience of needing a PI. He was recommended by a top criminal defense attorney, had an impressive list of references (which we did not check), with no negative references on the internet. We asked him to do three things, get a copy of a police report and interview two local witnesses. $3561.74 (34.45 hours plus $116.74 expenses) were expended without obtaining any  desired results. [Farzin Noohi, Southern California Private Investigators,   www.socalpi.com ]

They not only failed to accomplish what we had requested, but were exceedingly inefficient in their failures. They spent about nine hours wandering around in a futile attempt to find witnesses to interview, instead of calling ahead to arrange a time and place. They spent 13 hours reviewing materials, that took us less than 6 hours; we could have supplied them with our summary documents and briefed them in less than two hours. They charged us the same rate for assistant investigators as for the top man. They bundled all activities for a day into one charge, so it was impossible to determine how much time was spent (or not spent) for each item. They failed to keep us apprised of their activities in a timely manner.

We hope that we never again need a PI. If this is supposed to be a top-rated PI, imagine what the rest are like. Before you ever hire a PI, make absolutely sure he knows exactly what you want him to do, he explains to you exactly how he plans to do it, get a complete list of all fees for him and any associates, put a limit on all expenditures without clear approval to incur a specific new higher limit, you get a status report very frequently, you are quickly told of any significant problems, you are kept abreast of any results. Make sure you are in complete control of what is being done, how it is done, and all costs. Do not assume anything.

RECOMMENDATIONS:    (work in progress, your suggestions appreciated)

It is obvious that the lawyers and Courts are not going to reform a system that has been their gravy train. Our hope is that the state legislature will pass laws reforming the legal system so it becomes fair, affordable, and accessible to all. Hopefully, we can make a compelling case on this web page, and force the individual legislators to commit for or against meaningful legal reform. Then we can vote for candidates who claim to support it. Any help to contact all CA legislators will be greatly appreciated.

1. PRO PER: The Courts should make as easy as possible to represent yourself. Detailed instructions should be made available. Nolo Press does this now, but each County is different, so each County Court should publish simple easy instructions. The paper work should be simplified and the judges should make it easy for us to present our cases. (Unfortunate personal experiences indicate some judges try to discourage pro per cases.)

2. JURY DUTY:  Hundreds of people sit all day in case they are needed. There must be a better system. The Courts should devise a system whereby potential jurors are called only if there is a strong likelihood they will be needed.

3. COURT ROOM SCHEDULING:  The cases should be scheduled for court rooms without lawyers sitting (waiting) at the courthouse many hours at our expense. The lawyers should be able to give an estimate of the length of each case, and any extenuating circumstances. A computer should be able to efficiently schedule the available facilities. The lawyers then appear for trial, not to see if a court room may be available.

4. LAWYER FEES:  The outrageous lawyer fees are make it impossible for most people to access the Courts. Most professions (medical, contractors, mechanics, dentists, etc.) quote a price by the job. The lawyers demand a ($5000) retainer (sometimes not returnable) and an open-end per hour cost, where they determine the hours used. A simple affordable flat-fee per job system must be devised. Then there is no incentive for lawyers to prolong a case. Many details must be determined, but a simple fee schedule can be achieved.

5. LAWYER COMPLAINTS:  The CA Department of Consumer Affairs should process complaints against lawyers, not Cal Bar.  All complaints should be available to the public, as those against contractors. Disciplinary action should be swift and meaningful.  Unscrupulous and incompetent lawyers should be disbarred.

6. FRIVOLOUS SUITS:  Next to lawyer fees, this probably is our biggest problem.  A defendant/respondent should be allowed to request that a law suit be reviewed for potential merit, before having to hire a lawyer. An independent government agency should be established to provide this service for a very nominal fee. If judged merit less,  the suit would be designated potentially frivolous. The suit can continue. However, the plaintiff/petitioner (and the lawyer) must post a bond. If later the suit is found to be merit less, then plaintiff/petitioner (and the lawyer) must pay all legal fees (plus some damages) to defendant/respondent. Thus, you still can sue, but you are warned at the start that you could be liable if your suit is frivolous. Many details must be determined, but this could clear the courts of many frivolous suits.

7. LITIGIOUS: Some people engage in many law suits, often without merit. Supposedly, a jail inmate sued many companies for small amounts, and frequently got $50 just to end the nuisance suits. Sometimes the Courts will prohibit some people from continuing this practice. Unfortunately, this is after much damage has been done. We must make it more difficult to initiate these nuisance law suits. However, the legitimate right to sue must be protected.  

8. ARBITRARY JUDGES: Many times, judges make decisions arbitrarily, not based on law. Orange County family law judges mostly refuse to talk to older children in custody cases, even though the law clearly states they must (not should). Other rulings clearly are based on emotion, not prescribed by law. The judge acts as a god in his court room. This is partially due to sovereign immunity, whereby the judge is not liable for his actions. You hear of people being jailed for years without being convicted of a crime, but simply for contempt of court. Of course, you can appeal a judge's decision, but this is a costly and lengthy process.  A fast inexpensive system must be implemented to ensure judges follow the law, and curb their contempt of court abuses.

9. JUROR ANONYMITY: Supposedly, only the judge and clerk know the complete identities of jurors. However, some jurors are addressed by name in open courts. Plus, jurors are seated in open court. This is not sufficient protections for jurors in "dangerous" cases. We should consider complete anonymity for jurors in mob, gang, drug, murder, etc. cases. This may include one-way mirrors protecting the jurors' identities, if constitutional. The movie "The Juror" (with Demi Moore) illustrates the need to better protect jurors. ..... I asked the court bailiff how the identity of jurors was protected in a gang case. He said the records are sealed. However, during voir dire, the jurors are identified by name in open court in front of the gang members and their attorneys. (4/14/04, CA) ..... Many potential jurors do everything they can to be excused if there is no promise of anonymity. Jurors are vulnerable to media and private investigator scrutiny. Their whole lives are fair game, raising the question about who is on trial. (Newsweek, 4/19/04, 54) ..... TAMPA, FL (12/7/05, AP) Federal prosecutors had claimed that Sami Al-Arian and his co-defendants consorted with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. But a jury  acquitted Sami Al-Arian on nearly half the charges and deadlocked on the rest, dealing federal prosecutors a stinging defeat. Jurors names were kept secret by the court. Al-Arian, a Palestinian who was born in Kuwait, has lived in the United States since 1975. He was granted permanent-resident status in 1989 and denied U.S. citizenship in 1996. He was fired from the University of South Florida, where he was a computer engineering professor, shortly after being indicted, and USF President Judy Genshaft said  that the school would not rehire him even if he was cleared on all charges.

10. JUROR QUESTIONS: Jurors should be allowed to submit questions to the judge, to be asked of specific witnesses, before the witnesses are dismissed. The incompetence and/or deviousness of lawyers often fail to produce needed information for jurors to render a decision. The judge can determine which juror questions to ask.

Arizona now allows jurors to ask questions of witnesses. CA, SC, MA, and NJ also have tried it. The judges decide which questions to use and how they are asked. (LAT, 10/5/01, B2)


When jurors have a say (Chicago Tribune, 5/25/06)
 Some courts are letting them actively participate in trials

Jurors occupy an unusual position: They are expected to make vital decisions without being allowed to ask questions. While a trial is going on, courtroom spectators may hear from lawyers, judges, witnesses, aggrieved parties, defendants and even court stenographers. But the people in the jury box, who hold the final power over the outcome, are required to sit as mute as the furniture.

Lately, some courts have tried a novel idea: letting jurors actively participate instead of serving as courtroom ornamentation. Recently, the federal courts in the 7th Circuit, encompassing Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin, conducted an experiment in which members of the jury sitting in civil trials were allowed to submit questions for anyone testifying. From all the evidence, justice was well served.

With its formal rituals and solemn atmosphere, the trial system often gives the impression that it didn't evolve like other human institutions, but was handed down from heaven in unalterable form. Any fiddling with it raises fears we may be tugging a thread that will cause the whole carpet to unravel.

But even the best rug may need minor renovation every century or so. Anyway, allowing jurors to ask questions is a revival of an old practice that was eliminated only as lawyers became more important and the adversarial system became more rigid. As it happens, there is nothing about it that conflicts with the functioning or purpose of a trial.

Some states have already made the change. Arizona, for example, embraced it in criminal as well as civil trials as part of a 1995 package of reforms, which included such no-brainers as letting jurors take notes and consult them during deliberations. Indiana, Colorado and Florida are among the other pioneers. But this was the first time the innovation had been tried extensively in the federal system.

The presiding judge would typically inform the panelists of this option at the beginning of the trial and then invite questions when the lawyers were done with each witness. Every question had to be given in writing to the judge, who would then confer with the attorneys and decide if it was permissible. If so, the judge would read it to the witness. The lawyers could then ask follow-up questions.

The change held out the promise of making things better for the jurors--who, after all, make the greatest sacrifices but often get the least consideration. Letting them ask questions is a way of sustaining their interest and maximizing their comprehension. Denying them the option, by contrast, is an invitation to passivity and boredom.

Still, jurors exist for the benefit of the trial system, not the other way around. So the value of this innovation rests on whether it improves the processes of justice.

On that point, U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly has a strong opinion. "When I was in private practice, I was against it," he says. The initial reaction among lawyers is negative, in his view, because "you like to do things the way you've always done them." But his experience as a judge, he says, "has been completely positive. I intend to use it in every civil case that I have."

The benefit for jurors, he thinks, is that it lets them clarify points they didn't understand. But it also helps attorneys: "It gives them an insight into the jury that they wouldn't get." They can then tweak their presentations to address points they may have overlooked. It's a bit like letting theater directors have a glimpse of the reviews before the show opens.

Lawyers are paid to disagree with each other, but here, they have trouble rising to the challenge. A survey of participants in the 7th Circuit program found that two-thirds of attorneys said the practice improved jurors' understanding; 48 percent said it enhanced fairness, with only 8 percent disagreeing.

Half of the lawyers said it increased their own satisfaction with the trial, with only 17 percent dissatisfied. Among losing lawyers, for some reason, the level of approval was even higher. Judges were especially enthusiastic, with 94 percent concluding that the change helped jurors make sense of the issues before them.

Better understanding will yield more informed deliberations, which in turn should produce sounder verdicts. In daily life, we all know that if you want to arrive at the truth, you need to ask some questions along the way. Among all the purposes of a trial, establishing the truth is not the least important.


11. SOCIAL SECURITY: There is no clear procedure to get your problems solved. Establish an ombudsman or internal inspector general to contact for help to solve SSA problems. Do not allow any benefits to be terminated without careful review by a committee, not one clerk alone. All appeals must be resolved within two weeks, not six months. 

12. JUSTICE: Gerry Spence (WY) has been practicing law for 51 years and never lost a jury trial. He said that the average American cannot afford his own lawyer and cannot get justice, because prosecutors have many resources and public defenders are extremely overburdened. Spence says that the law keeps those with power in power. He suggests that judges should be chosen from practicing trial lawyers and rotated in and out of legal practice. The DA and PD departments should be  merged with the same budgets and caseloads. The government lawyers should be chosen by lot to prosecute or defend a case. The goal should be justice, not convictions or acquittals.  (OCR, 10/5/03, Commentary 6)

 

LAWS NEEDING CHANGES:    (work in progress, your suggestions appreciated)

1. MECHANIC'S LIENS: If a contractor does work on your property, and fails to pay his subcontractors, workers, or for materials, they can put a lien on your property, even if you have fully paid the contractor.  The customer (property owner) should not be responsible for a merchant (contractor) paying his debts. We should only be responsible for our own debts. ..... CA AB 568 (authored by John Dutra) would protect homeowners up to $25,000 if they paid the original contractor in good faith. (OCR, 6/15/02, Homefinder 1)

2. PHYSICIAN SUBCONTRACTING: I am not aware of any profession or trade that cannot subcontract work and then get paid for the entire project. However, physicians can no longer charge for lab work done in another lab. This seems discriminatory and  unconstitutional.

3. EYEGLASS PRESCRIPTIONS: The opticians cannot dispense glasses without a prescription. The optometrists limit their prescriptions to one or two years. My prescription has hardly changed in more than 10 years. Your eyes are not damaged with the wrong prescription; though, you may get a headache. The consumer should be able to determine when a new exam is needed, not the eye doctor lobby.

4. WELFARE:  The "poor house" should replace money to help the indigent. The people with a history of providing for themselves should get temporary (perhaps 6 to 12 months) monetary help. All others should be able to get free room and board, but no money (for drugs, alcohol, car, TV, tobacco, etc.). No one starves or freezes, and, hopefully,  no one wants to remain on welfare.

5. TAXES:  The purpose of taxes should be to finance the essential government services, not to control our behavior. The government now takes our money and then gives our money to those doing what the government wants. This was true in California when school districts were forced to unify or lose state (our) money. We lost local control of our schools or lost the state money. All the income tax deductions are simply ways to force us to do what the government wants, or lose money.

6. INCOME TAXES:  The IRS is a huge costly bullying unnecessary bureaucracy. We should finance the government with a value-added (sales) tax, instead of the income tax. This is easily implemented, less costly, less intrusive, and can be made fair to all.

LINKS:

California Bar Association
California state court system self-help
 
CA Laws (searchable) and Legislature

The people's lawyer - Maryland
Complaints against lawyers and judges - Canada

People before lawyers - nightmare in Missouri
What to do when you are mad at your lawyer - Nolo Press  
Martindale-Hubbell law directory, locate a lawyer
Recent legal news in California, callaw.com
Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse
Free legal advice and many legal links, freeadvice.com
HALT legal reform, many legal links
Consumer Action
Cornell Legal Information Institute
AOL Legal Web Center
The People's Lawyer-Judge Complaint Commission
ACLU: American Civil Liberties Union
The American Center for Law and Justice - ACLJ  
General legal information, variety of topics, overview rather than details, thelaw.com

General legal information, variety of topics, uslaw.com

General legal information and news, law.com

Extensive list of legal resources, seems to be more for legal profession

Judicial watch

Central California Legal Services - free legal assistance

Federal Courts Information
Divorce information
Unclaimed property - escheat

Variety of Legal Topics
Business Law
Legal News

Overlawyered

http://cgood.org/
   Common Good: Restoring Common Sense to American Law

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