legal insights

My Summer Vacation, 800 Years in the Making

I recently traveled to Europe with my family for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to celebrate the 800th Anniversary of the Magna Carta at the same place where “The Great Charter” was signed in 1215.

The Texas Lawbook recently published an account of our trip, including photos from the celebration that was attended by such noteworthy dignitaries as U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, British Prime Minister David Cameron, Queen Elizabeth, and many others.

Please click here to read the article.

San Francisco files suit against credit card “arbitration” service

Evidence in Cowboy DUI Case a Bounty for Wrongful Death Claim

In a recent interview with Chuck Schechner of KRLD-AM radio, Fort Worth trucking accident lawyer Steven C. Laird says the same evidence presented in the criminal DUI case against former Dallas Cowboy lineman Josh Brent could be key in a civil wrongful death lawsuit. Mr. Brent recently was convicted of intoxication manslaughter in the single-car crash that killed a teammate. “You’ve got more than a normal amount of evidence coming out of the criminal trial,” Mr. Laird says. According to news accounts, prosecutors presented surveillance footage from Club Privae that showed Brent drinking straight from a bottle shortly before driving at least 110 mph in a 45 mph zone. “Texas dram shop laws hold bars civilly liable if they overserve customers. Criminal evidence, including surveillance footage and blood-alcohol reports, can be compelling to a jury or judge in a civil trial,” says Laird, whose experience in dram shop claims includes a major recovery for the family of a drunken-driving victim.

Though source of Arlington DUI hot spots remains a mystery, courts still hold businesses accountable for over-serving patrons

NBC5 (KXAS-TV) recently reported that a disproportionate number of drunken driving crashes have occurred near AT&T Stadium and the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, homes to the Dallas Cowboys and the Texas Rangers. See Scott Friedman’s report below.

The NBC5 investigative report was unable to identify any specific businesses, etc., that fueled the concentration of drunken-driving crashes there. As a source in the story, Steven C. Laird posed the question: “Is this a question that really doesn’t want to be asked because some people may be afraid of the answer?” Having represented victims of drunken driving accidents in the past, and having a thorough knowledge of Texas’ dram shop laws, Mr. Laird knows that the State of Texas makes establishments legally liable for over-serving patrons. In one DUI case, he helped obtain a major judgment for the family of a drunken driving victim.

While what’s driving the DUI crash “hot spots” near the stadiums in Arlington remains a mystery, it’s good to know that the legal system still holds businesses accountable for over-serving patrons.

Supreme Court saves Exxon $2 billion

The U.S. Supreme Court released its opinion on whether Exxon should pay $2.5 billion in punitive damages arising out of the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster. In a decision that comes as no surprise to anyone…except maybe those who expected that the court would throw out punitive damages in their entirety…the court reduced the punitive damages from $2.5 billion to roughly $504 million, which is about $46 dollars for every gallon of oil they spilled in Prince William Sound.

Several observations:

  1. Champagne corks are flying at the Exxon boardroom in Dallas. You can hear the popping sounds all the way over here in Fort Worth.
  2. Exxon is the most profitable corporation in the history of ever. It set an annual profit record by earning $40.61 billion last year – or nearly $1,300 per second in 2007. That eclipsed its previous record of $39.5 billion in 2006.
  3. Justice Samuel Alito did not participate in the decision because he owns Exxon stock. As if…

Whatever Happened to States’ Rights?

Good recent New York Times op/ed discussing preemption, the trumping of state law by federal law and a favorite tool of the current administration to further close the courthouse door on consumers. Among other observations (such as how the Bush Administration issued rules preempting state banking laws – over the objection of all 50 states’ banking superintendents – and thus helped pave the way for the subprime mortgage crisis):

[T]he federal rule should be a floor, not a ceiling. It should set a minimum level of rights, not stop states from doing more to protect their citizens.

For years, the federal government used pre-emption [to set a minimum level of rights]. Civil rights acts swept away discrimination at the state level, and workplace safety laws upgraded conditions in factories and mines. Conservatives opposed many of these federal laws on the principle that they were trampling on “states’ rights.”

Since the conservative ascendancy in Washington, many of these same people have stopped praising states’ rights and have begun burying them – not to protect citizens’ rights, but to take them away. The Bush administration and its Congressional allies have helped their friends in industry by enacting weak environmental, health and consumer regulations – and arguing that they wipe out more robust state protections.

Most Americans may not know about the supremacy clause, but they do seem to understand that they are increasingly vulnerable. Weeks before the 2006 elections shifted control of Congress from the Republicans to the Democrats, 79 percent of respondents in an Opinion Research poll said big business had too much influence over the Bush administration. As Democrats and Republicans contemplate what kind of “change” voters are looking for now, they can start with the idea that both the federal and state government need to do a better job of protecting their citizens.

Morris Dees on Injustice

I learned from a colleague in Dallas that Morris Dees, co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center, spoke today to the Dallas Bar Association, where he said:

“In my generation, our greatest injustice was racial prejudice, and I devoted much of my career to fighting it. Nowadays, our greatest injustice is corporate America, which has packed our courts and flooded our legislature with lobbyists — to deprive American’s of basic rights and to destroy our jury system. Why have we decided to lose our jury system? We must fight this injustice as passionately as we in the 1960s fought discrimination.”

Well said, Mr. Dees.

DNA evidence sets Dallas County man free 27 years later

James Lee Woodard, 55, of Dallas County, is free after serving 27 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Texas Wesleyan law student Alexis Hoff was instrumental in his release, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

How do you even begin to apologize to someone like Woodard? He’s spent half his life behind bars, his parents died while he was in prison, and now he has no place to go. And he said, “I don’t want to waste my time on negative energy. I don’t have any retaliatory or vindictive thoughts about it. I’m just glad it’s over.” Simply incredible.

Kudos to Ms. Hoff. She isn’t even a lawyer yet and she may have just won the biggest case of her career.

“Forget that Day in Court”

Excellent piece in yesterday’s Los Angeles Times describing how arbitration is supplanting jury trials. Here’s an excerpt:

“Tort reform is a game of bait-and-switch in which ordinary citizens have been snookered by carefully orchestrated and relentless propaganda into seeing a phantom boogeyman in the much-reviled “trial lawyer” who brings “frivolous lawsuits” to “runaway juries” that render “out of control verdicts” in “judicial hellholes,” making insurance rates and the costs of all goods and services go up. Well, none of those expenses have gone down, have they? All the while, the real target was the justice system set up by our founders to protect the average citizen, and now it is in serious peril.”

Well said, Ms. Garrity.

Texas Trial Judges Weigh In On “Tort Reform”

Some smart professors at Baylor Law School were skeptical of all the anecdotal “evidence” used by the business and insurance lobbies to push for more restrictions on the rights of injured plaintiffs, so they decided to poll Texas trial judges about “frivolous lawsuits” and “runaway juries.” Here is their conclusion, based on over 300 responses from judges across the state:

“The survey results confirm that most Texas trial judges do not see significant numbers of frivolous filings by people who have no business suing, and plaintiffs with legitimate suits are much more likely to be under compensated than to receive any windfall. Two primary goals for tort jurisprudence are for the victim to receive full compensation and to deter the tortfeasor, and when victims are not fully compensated and tortfeasors are not deterred, neither goal is met.”

Amen, brothers.