The conventional narrative of the GM ignition switch fiasco – and, for that matter, most coverups of automotive defects – casts victims’ lawyers as heroes, exposing the corporate cynicism that puts profits before safety. Defective ignition switches came to light because plaintiffs’ lawyers prosecuted products liability cases against GM, just as they did in previous automotive scandals that proved the hazards of Ford Pinto fuel lines, Dodge Caravan door latches, and GM pickup truck and Chevy Malibu gas tanks. It’s intuitive to assume that these cases make the marketplace safer. That’s the point, after all, of tort litigation – and especially of the gigantic punitive damages awards that notorious car-defect cases have provoked. Companies are supposed to be so afraid of ending up on the wrong side of a jury verdict that they are more likely to evaluate safety risks.
Onetime Texas billionaire Sam Wyly and the estate of his late brother Charles just can’t seem to outsmart the Securities and Exchange Commission. Their latest attempt to evade the consequences of their allegedly fraudulent offshore trust scheme failed Monday, when U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin of Manhattan, in a ruling of first impression in the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, said that the SEC is entitled to freeze the Wylys’ assets, even though both Sam and Charles’ estate declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy in late October, after the SEC began to take steps to collect the nearly $200 million (plus interest) Scheindlin awarded the agency in September.
Nov 3 (Reuters) – As we close out the election cycle, the nonprofit Brennan Center is reporting a surge in last-minute spending by special interest groups hoping to influence elections for state Supreme Court justices. Last week alone, according to the center, outside groups spent nearly $1 million to air television ads in judicial races in Illinois, Michigan, Montana, North Carolina and Ohio. Overall, contributions from groups not tied directly to judicial candidates have dramatically increased since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, according to a new study by researchers at Emory University School of Law with support from the American Constitutional Society. In the last federal election cycle, outside groups contributed $24.1 million to judicial elections, more than 40 percent of the total spent on campaigns for judgeships.
On Thursday, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided that the court needs to convene en banc to decide whether California’s Resale Royalties Act — which grants California fine artists a small percentage of the revenue from resales of their work — runs afoul of the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Resale royalties for artists, who otherwise receive no reward from works that have skyrocketed in value since their original sale, is an interesting question in and of itself: Though nearly 80 countries around the world grant artists a piece of the proceeds from such sales, California is the only state in the United States with a resale royalties law. But there’s much more at stake in this appeal than money for artists. The 9th Circuit took the case en banc to resolve a conflict in its previous rulings on California laws that affected out-of-state businesses. The court’s decision in the resale royalties case will shape California’s ability to extend its regulations beyond state lines.
On Monday, just days before jurors in federal court in Cleveland concluded that Whirlpool was not negligent in the design of front-loading washing machines with a supposed propensity to develop a moldy smell, Whirlpool’s lawyers asked U.S. District Judge Christopher Boyko to overturn his decision to permit Ohio buyers of the machines to litigate as a class. Whirlpool argued that the three-week trial to determine whether 20 washing machine models were poorly designed hadn’t established a common question to bind the purchasers’ class together. Judge Boyko quickly denied the motion, ruling Tuesday that the design of the machines is a common issue for all purchasers in the class.
You certainly can’t accuse Sean McKessy, who heads the whistleblower office at the Securities and Exchange Commission, of ignoring employers’ attempts to silence would-be whistleblowers. McKessy has repeatedly warned corporations – most recently in an interview with Stephanie Russell-Kraft at Law360 – that if they try to stop employees from coming to the SEC with claims of wrongdoing or if they retaliate against those who have spoken out, the agency can bring an enforcement action against them for violating the Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Act.
New York’s highest court did a big favor for international banks last week in its decision in Motorola v. Standard Chartered. But they’re not the only beneficiaries of the ruling, at least as the banks tell the story. According to amicus briefs in the case from the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA) and the city bar’s banking law committee (among others), New York’s position as a center of international finance would have been endangered had the Court of Appeals gone against Standard Chartered.
Earlier this week, I told you about new filings by the Canadian pharmaceutical company Valeant and the hedge fund Pershing Capital that suggested their target Allergan had disregarded advice from its financial adviser Goldman Sachs. The Pershing and Valeant briefs were heavily redacted and the underlying exhibits were sealed, but the implication from unredacted snippets was that Goldman had suggested Allergan request accounting information from Valeant and Allergan rejected the recommendation. Then, according to Pershing and Valeant, after Goldman refused to go along with attacks on Valeant’s business model, Allergan hired additional experts with no such reservations.
On Wednesday, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers announced a major new grant to fund training for lawyers who represent indigent defendants. That’s no surprise. Providing good lawyers for defendants who can’t afford counsel is a core mission for NACDL. But the source of the funding caused a bit of a stir: Koch Industries, the Kansas-based, privately held manufacturing conglomerate that is the source of the boundless wealth of Charles and David Koch. The Koch brothers, as you surely know, contribute so lavishly to Republican candidates and conservative causes that the Senate’s Democratic majority leader, Harry Reid, has tagged them (via Talking Points Memo) “‘un-American’ plutocrats who ‘have no conscience and are willing to lie’ in order to ‘rig the system’ against the middle class.”
When the bond market went crazy last week, bankers had an explanation: too much regulation. Sure, why not? If you’re looking for a scapegoat, you can’t go wrong with overregulation. It’s like Starbucks, ubiquitous and convenient.