Warning Label: “Lawyers Who Take This Case Risk Being Mocked And Ridiculed For The Rest Of Their Lives, As Well As Being Investigated By Their Bar Associations” [Corrected]

In Louisiana, African-American Tessica Brown ran out of her usual hair spray styling product last month, so she thought and thought about what to use instead (I’m just speculating here). Tapioca? Laundry detergent pods? Kerosene? Battery acid? The ashes of her beloved cat? No, no, none of that seemed right. “Eureka!” Tessica suddenly exclaimed. Of course! It’s obvious! Gorilla Glue adhesive spray!”

And so she did.

Guess what happened. Yes, yes, I know it’s hard, but just for fun. Guess.

As she revealed in a now viral video she posted on social media, the glue stuck to her hair and scalp! Who could have predicted that! A local hospital tried to remove the clue using acetatee, but that just burned her scalp.

On Wednesday, Tessica went to Los Angeles to meet with Dr. Michael Obeng, a plastic surgeon, who has offered his services for free because it will great marketing for all of the other women disfigured from putting Gorilla Glue on their hair. I’m sure there must be..well, there might be another one. Maybe.

Since the video is being viewed by so many, the makers of Gorilla Glue felt it was prudent to put out this statement:

Continue reading

Ethics Observations On The Financial Massacre Of The Aurora Massacre Plaintiffs

James Holmes’s 2012 attack on the Century Aurora 16 movie theater showing “The Dark Knight Rises” killed 12 people and wounded 70 others. Many of the survivors and relatives of those killed sued Cinemark, the theater’s owner, in state and federal court, arguing that lax security was the cause of the attack. Cinemark’s defense was that the shooting was unforeseeable. Two suits went forward, one in state court and one in federal court, with different plaintiffs. Cinemark prevailed in both. After the recent jury verdict for Cinemark in the state court case this summer, the company had sought nearly $700,000 from the victims under the “loser pays” Colorado law, which directs that the winning side in a civil case is entitled to recover its legal costs from the losing side. This is the predominant system in England and Europe. The litigation costs of Cinemark in the federal case are likely to be more than $700,000, maybe a lot more.

What’s going on here (the best question to begin any ethics inquiry)? Well…

1. The law suits were a terrible idea. This was the result, in part, of the increasingly popular ideological virus in our society that is slowly reprogramming previously functioning brains to believe that nobody should have to pay for their misfortunes, and that somebody with deeper pocket and more resources should always be obligated to pay instead. This is increasingly a staple of leftist thought: the government, insurance companies, corporations, people with more money, all of them should be potentially on the hook when misfortune strikes others, because that’s fair.

2. It’s not fair, though.  It is profoundly un-American and unethical.

If those parties have caused the damage, or had the power and responsibility to mitigate it, or promised to pay for it, then there are ethical arguments to support them paying some or all of the expenses. But if something terrible happens to you, those people should have no more obligation to be accountable for your harm than you should have responsibility for taking care of them. That’s not the message sent by the culture though. Lawyers love the message that if you are harmed, somebody else can be found to ease your pain. They love it, because they can share in the bounty if a lawsuit seeking damages prevails, and this attitude guarantees more lawsuits. Continue reading

The Wall Street Journal Steals From A Blogging Lawyer…Luckily For Them, A Nice One

A lawyer asks: Will Google Cars put me out of business? The Wall Street Journal  asks: Why shouldn't we make money off your answer?

A lawyer asks: Will Google Cars put me out of business? The Wall Street Journal asks: Why shouldn’t we make money off your answer?

I always do a double-take when I see that someone has “re-blogged” a piece from Ethics Alarms. Unless there is something in my WordPress agreement that allows other bloggers to lift my work and publish it as their content without my permission—oh, who knows, there probably is—this is a copyright violation, but worse than that, it’s wrong. Apparently they think that if they give attribution, that makes everything fine. Why would they think that? I’m writing for my blog, not anyone else’s. If a blogger wants to reprint all, most or some of my commentary in order to critique it, that’s fine ( WindyPundit is doing this right now). But lifting all or most of my work to fill space on your website, without my permission? Not fair, and not ethical.

This just happened to personal injury lawyer and estimable blogger Eric Turkewitz, but the culprit wasn’t a blogger, it was the Wall Street Journal. It took his post about Google Cars and just slapped it into the print and online editions of the paper. “Lawyer Eric Turkewitz writes that self-driving cars will hurt the business of many personal-injury attorneys,” said the sub-head under “Notable and Quotable.” Hmmm. Usually a writer gets paid to write features for a newspaper. I guess just lifting copy without permission is “Fair Use.”

No, First Amendment expert Marc Randazza points out in his typically irreverent way, it isn’t:

In this case, the Wall Street Journal used 44% of Turkewitz’ post, with no additional commentary, criticism, or discussion.  The WSJ could have called Turkewitz a moron for his views, and quoted the whole thing (theoretically).  Or, the WSJ could have given approval, more discussion, or turned the article into piece of art, with spray painted Che Guevaras and stencils of Paris Hilton, as a commentary on Turkewitz, tomato soup, and golf, or whatever.  But, they didn’t do any of that.  

So lets look at the §107 [Fair Use]factors

(1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
(2) the nature of the copyrighted work;
(3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
(4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

The purpose and character of the use is certainly commercial and for profit. The WSJ sold its newspaper with Turkewitz’ work in it, and even put it behind its paywall online. Same exact use, except WSJ took what Turkewitz distributes for free, gathered it, and sold it.

The nature of the copyrighted work was Turkewitz’ original opinions and thoughts.

The amount and substantiality of the portion used? 44%. Pretty substantial. Remember, this is not dispositive, but if you used almost half of an original work, you better have a good reason.

The effect of the use on the potential market for the value of the copyrighted work? That’s sorta iffy. It isn’t as if Turkewitz sells his work. But, that is not a requirement. Turkewitz’ blog currency is readership. If you do some quick online searches for some of the content, sometimes the WSJ version comes up above Turkewtiz’ version. Not cool. Ultimately, the WSJ blew it here because they didn’t add anything to the original — they just lifted it and reposted it….

So the verdict? The Wall Street Journal is definitely guilty of copyright infringement for lifting a bloggers’ work without any justification.

It’s worse than that, however. Continue reading

A Reminder: Why “User Pays” Is Unethical

The View

[Back in 2007, a ridiculous lawsuit spawned an even more ridiculous pronouncement from “The View’s” Rosie O’Donnell, which prompted the following post (originally titled “The Pants, the Judge, and Rosie’s Mouth”)  on this blog’s predecessor,  The Ethics Scoreboard.The two law-related issues that the public has the most difficult time grasping are why lawyers defend guilty people, and this one: the contingent fee system for civil plaintiffs.  While I was pre-occupied the last couple of days by two challenging ethics programs and 10 hours of driving back and forth into West Virginia to deliver one of them, I missed the outbreak of another “loser pays” discussion in one of the comment threads. It’s clearly time to run this one again (I last put it on Ethics Alarms in 2010), with a few tweaks.]

The tale of Roy Pearson, the infamous Washington, DC administrative law judge who is suing his dry cleaner for damages of $65.5 million for a lost pair of pants, would normally warrant scant comment beyond this obvious one: Pierson is a bully, his lawsuit is unreasonable and unethical, and he deserves whatever sanctions the legal system can devise. A Washington Post editorial suggested that the lawsuit, which Pierson says is justified by his inconvenience, court costs, and the mental anguish caused by the loss of his beloved pants, is proof enough of bad character and terrible judgement that he should not be reappointed to another ten-year term.  [ Update: He wasn’t.] That would normally end the issue, freeing me to move on to more important matters, like global warming and American Idol.

And then Rosie O’Donnell opened her big mouth. Continue reading

Ethics Hero Emeritus: Harry Philo (1925-2012)

Harry Philo: Champion, Lawyer, Inspiration

A great man died last week, and yet unless you are member of his family or law firm, a trial lawyer, or one of the many people he helped over his long career, you probably never heard of him. There is barely a trace of Harry Philo on the Internet; Wikipedia has no page devoted to him, and a Google search turns up next to nothing. (It shows over 22 million links for a search on Kendall Jenner, who is Kim Kardashian’s little sister). Yet Harry Philo was a great man, and one of the things that was great about him was that he didn’t waste a lot of time seeking glory for himself. Continue reading

The Messy Case of the Courageous/ Zealous /Inept/ Dedicated/ Venal/ Lying/ Unethical/ Ethical Lawyer

The courtroom chaos of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Trial By Jury” was nothing compared to this!

One thing we do know for sure: the lawyer was rushed. And therein lies much of the problem.

This mind-blowing scenario, that could have easily been an episode on “Boston Legal” or “Ally McBeal,” occurred in California.  After a week long trial in a personal injury case where the brain-damaged plaintiff’s lawyer had asked for millions in damages, jurors  deliberated only four hours and announced they’d reached a decision. Both lawyers were certain a defense verdict, against the disabled man, was coming. Plaintiffs attorney C. Michael Alder pulled defense counsel  into the hallway for last-minute settlement negotiations, hoping that the defense would agree to some damages as insurance against a surprise plaintiff’s verdict. With his developmentally disabled client (who had suffered brain injuries in a fall from an ambulance) and his mother by his side, Alder exchanged figures and rejections with   defense lawyer James Siepler, who had an insurance claims adjuster on his cellphone.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Michael Johnson was impatient, for the jury was ready to give its verdict. Literally at the last second,  Alder and Siepler agreed to a  $350,000 settlement, and returned to the courtroom. “The parties have advised me that they have reached a settlement of the case,” the judge informed the jurors, adding, “They will be happy to talk with you out in the hallway to get your views.”

They got the jurors’ views, all right. The jurors told the attorneys that they were going to award the plaintiff 9 million dollars. Continue reading

FLASHBACK: What’s Wrong With “Loser Pays” (and Rosie O’Donnell)

[Back in 2007, a ridiculous lawsuit spawned an even more ridiculous pronouncement from Rosie O’Donnell, which prompted the following post (originally titled “The Pants, the Judge, and Rosie’s Mouth”)  on The Ethics Scoreboard. I had forgotten about it, but the issue of “loser pays” still comes up, and Rosie (and Joy Behar) continue to require periodic slapdowns, so here it is again—Jack]

The tale of Roy Pearson, the infamous Washington, DC administrative law judge who is suing his dry cleaner for damages of $65.5 million for a lost pair of pants, would normally warrant scant comment beyond this obvious one: Pierson is a bully, his lawsuit is unreasonable and unethical, and he deserves whatever sanctions the legal system can devise. A Washington Post editorial suggested that the lawsuit, which Pierson says is justified by his inconvenience, court costs, and the mental anguish caused by the loss of his beloved pants, is proof enough of bad character and terrible judgement that he should not be reappointed to another ten-year term.  [ Update: He wasn’t.] That would normally end the issue, freeing me to move on to more important matters, like global warming and American Idol.

And then Rosie O’Donnell opened her big mouth. Continue reading