June 5th, 2013

John Edwards to Open New Plaintiff’s Firm in Raleigh?

Former Senator and V.P candidate John Edwards is, it seems, returning to the law. As per CNN:

Former Sen. John Edwards is looking to open a new law firm this September, a source told CNN’s Chris Cuomo.

The firm will be based in Raleigh, North Carolina, and will focus on plaintiff work, the source said. Before entering politics, Edwards was a nationally known attorney who specialized in representing plaintiffs in medical malpractice, personal injury and product liability lawsuits, earning millions.

On the one hand, he would return to a field he knows best. He was obviously comfortable earning his bread in the courtroom well.  The knee jerk reaction of many is likely to be that this is the job he should have.

But when someone writes “On the one hand” then you know another hand is about to throw the opposing view. And that will come from me.

If his job is to stick his name on the firm and make the rain and manage the firm, I see no problem. But if he wants to actually appear in front of a jury again, I think he brings too much baggage to do it well.

Trial lawyers, whether we like it or not, are perceived by many jurors as almost the same as a witness. Of course we aren’t and of course the judge tells jurors that “what the lawyers say isn’t evidence,” but what happens when the person standing in front of the jury doesn’t have credibility? We do, after all, have to make arguments that we hope to be persuasive, and human nature is to more readily accept arguments from people that we like.

On the criminal defense side, a lawyer can, perhaps, be a bit outspoken and a bit bombastic if s/he wants, the way William Kunstler was and his protege Ron Kuby is. But criminal defense lawyers don’t have the burden of proof and only need to convince one juror to save the client from the gray bar hotel. It gives them, in the eyes of some, a bit more elbow room to be a big personality.

Plaintiff lawyers in civil suits, however, have the burden of proof. We can’t afford quite as easily to have have a couple jurors dislike us. In New York, for example, we need five out of six jurors to persevere.

This is the reason many lawyers try so hard to ingratiate themselves to jurors during selection, trying to bond with them over similar ideas and likes. I think it looks horribly superficial and don’t do that, and keep things as straight and narrow as possible. I refuse to dumb things down. My one concession that I do make regarding the issue of being liked, is to wear boring suits so as not to offend.

Now we return to John Edwards. He brings with him tons of baggage. Many people don’t like him, for reasons that go beyond political differences. Like the kid he had with his mistress and lying to his dying wife. Or the circumstances that led to felony indictments over campaign contribution issues. It doesn’t matter that much that he was found not guilty of one and the jury hung on the others. People formed opinions.

There may be no shortage of people willing to say they can be fair that will look down their nose at anything he says. His credibility vanished years ago.

So as a rainmaker or law office manager, yeah, he can do that. But for the sake of the clients, he shouldn’t come near a jury.

(hat tip, Overlawyered)

 

February 15th, 2012

Van Halen, Brown M&Ms and Personal Injury

Well, you gotta be impressed. This is a linkage I never could have imagined.

The old story goes that, when Van Halen was touring big arenas in the ’80s, they banned brown M&Ms from their dressing rooms. The ban was part of a rider on the contract that gives the local arenas all the little quirks of the performers.

Those types of quirks of the rich and famous have always made for good reading. Jennifer Lopez, for instance, demanded as part of a charity video shoot, that her dressing room be white, with white flowers, white candles, white couches and white drapes. A contract by Mary J. Blige demanded new toilet seats.

And brown M&Ms was part of the Van Halen contract.

Why? It was for safety. As frontman Dave Lee Roth explains, getting ready for an upcoming tour and new album with the group, if there were brown M&Ms around backstage, it simply meant that the local arena had not read the contract. And because this band travelled much heavier than others — meaning more 18 wheelers hauling all kinds of gear from place to place — there was more room for injury and technical error.

So they slipped in the brown M&Ms as a safety check. Gotta love that.

 

September 28th, 2011

Happy New Year

I’ve been absent a bit from this blog as I gear up for the Paine to Pain Trail Half Marathon, which takes place this Sunday. I’m the founder and race director, so that eats up much of my non-lawyering time. This has turned into a major community event with over 600 people now registered to run, with over 100 volunteers helping.

But I’m not so busy as to ignore the fact that the Jewish High Holy Day of Rosh Hashanah starts this evening. For a review of how the law and Rosh Hashanah might intermingle, you can read Ron Coleman’s Likelihood of Confusion last year at this time when he hosted Blawg Review #280 with that theme.

And to those celebrating the New Year, L’ShanaTova Tikatevu.

 

August 30th, 2011

New York Judges Finally Get A Raise (Updated)

It only took 12 years. They will be getting a 27% raise, which sounds like a lot, until you consider. Twelve years. Yeesh.

Because the politicos who are supposed to make these decisions weren’t up to the task, the appointed a commission to make the decision for them. It’s worth noting that the 27% increase was a 4-3 decision, with the dissenters saying it wasn’t high enough.

The judges were getting $136,700. Now they will get raises in the following increments:

  • $160,000 as of April 1, 2012;
  • $167,000 as of April 1, 2013; and
  • $174,000 as of April 1, 2014.

I’ve covered the problem of our judicial salaries many times in the past, as well as the litigation that accompanies it. I’ve also lobbied the Legislature along with the New York State Trial Lawyers Association on the subject. So this post is really a short IT’S ABOUT TIME! finality to those other missives, one of which I once found hanging on the wall outside a courtroom along with editorials from local newspapers.

Update, 8/31/11, from the NYLJ:  Despite Outcome, Lippman Says Pay ‘Nightmare Is Over’ — from a webcast yesterday to the state’s judiciary, the Chief Judge said:

“While we cannot change the fact that by any standard we have not been treated fairly or respectfully over the last dozen years…the miserable situation that we have endured for so long will shortly be a thing of the past,” Judge Lippman said.

“We are all understandably disappointed that our judiciary was not made whole, not even close, for the long, torturous 12 year ordeal that we have experienced,” the chief judge told his colleagues.

A few of my prior postings on the subject as we put this issue to bed for awhile:

Kaye v. Silver, Judicial Pay Raise Suit (Today’s Argument)

New York’s Chief Judge Kaye Finally Brings Suit for Judicial Pay Raises

A Judicial Brawl in New York As Chief Judge Kaye Abandons Lawsuit Threat

New York Judge Grows Protest Beard Over Salary Issue

Where Are Our Judicial Pay Raises?

 

 

 

 

 

August 15th, 2011

Hosni Mubarak, O.J. Simpson, and Cameras in the Courtroom

Why am I not surprised? A judge killed the live televised trial feed of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Why? Because “after a chaotic session in which lawyers pushed, shoved and scuffled to get on television.”

We’ve seen this act before. The never-ending O.J. Simpson trial seemed to go on forever for similar reasons: the lure of the camera. And the chief culprit at that time seemed to be Judge Lance Ito, enjoying the fame of the trial, and being incapable of shutting down the circus when a cross-exam that should have gone on for an hour or two, went on for days.

From the article on the Mubarak trial:

Lawyers for the victims’ families bickered over their turns to address the judge and came close to exchanging blows with Mubarak supporters, all in front of the television cameras. Some among them just waved and smiled to the cameras.

“The decision is meant to stop the lust (that) people in the courtroom are showing for getting on television,” said lawyer Mukhtar Noah, who represents the families of more than 200 victims.

Here’s a suggestion: Get a judge that knows how to create a schedule for the courtroom, and when people don’t obey them, find them in contempt of court.  While there may be other problems with television cameras (such as the effect on witnesses), the effect on lawyers is far easier to control. Judges always have the tools to govern their courtroom at their disposal. They should use them.