May It Please The Court: Weblog of legal news and observations, including a quote of the day and daily updates

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Career Manager Helps Celebrity Avoid Million-dollar Judgment In Hollywierd

In the first-year of law school, law students learn about service of process, which is the first step in informing the defendant that the plaintiff has filed a lawsuit.  The concept takes in notions of due process, notice and the opportunity to be heard.  Usually, a party is served when a copy of the Complaint (or if you're in another state, say like Pennsylvania, Illinois or Ohio, it can be called a Precipae) is physically handed to them.  Like all areas of law, there are innumerable exceptions and other ways to accomplish the task.  Here in California, Complaints are frequently served by the Marshall.

Most of the exceptions to the general rule that service has to be effected personally relate to how you serve business entities, such as corporations.  With an individual, there are several methods of subservice, but they're generally restricted to members of your household.  When you know a party is represented by a lawyer, that lawyer (with permission) can accept service of process.

But can service on a career manager (whatever that job title means) be effective?  Since so many of us have career managers ;-), it's a question we're dying to know the answer to - at least for those of us who live in that quintessential area of LA-LA land known more affectionately as Hollywierd

Yes, once again, Hollywood has sparked new law, this time in the dry-as-a-bone area of law called civil procedure.  With this new decision, Civ Pro law professors everywhere are wringing their hands with glee because they can now keep students from falling asleep by invoking celebrity names as part of their lectures.

TV and stage celebrity Rue McClanahan got sued by her former partner, apparent former boyfriend and another celebrity, Dirk Summers, for $10,000,000 (plus punitive damages, of course) arising out of a failed business partnership.  The lawyer who represented the Plaintiff in the suit elected to serve the Complaint on McClanahan's "career manager."  The career manager testified that she forwarded the Complaint to others, including McClanahan's lawyer who was defending McClanahan in another suit involving the same Plaintiff and same lawyer.  McClanahan's lawyer complained to the Plaintiff's lawyer that service was ineffective, but got no response.

Plaintiff's counsel then served a Notice of Default on the career manager and proceeded to get a sizable $3.75 million judgment against McClanahan, who promptly moved to set the default aside, and when that effort failed, appealed.

The appellate court saw it quite differently than the trial court.  In an opinion worthy of inclusion in a law school Civ Pro casebook, it called foul, reversing the default and judgment.  The Court ruled service on the "career manager" was ineffective, especially when the Plaintiff's lawyer knew that McClanahan was represented by counsel.

Apparently, a large judgment against you isn't a good career choice.

Printer friendly page Permalink Email to a friend Posted by J. Craig Williams on Thursday, June 15, 2006 at 12:23. Comments Closed (0) |

Today's Mensa Pop Quiz: How Do These Expenditures Relate?

(And Other Government Fables)

Here you go, Mensa-heads:  figure this one out.  How do following things relate?

"An all-inclusive, one-week Caribbean vacation in the Punta Cana resort in the Dominican Republic.

Five season tickets to New Orleans Saints professional football games.

Adult erotica products in Houston and "Girls Gone Wild" videos in Santa Monica, Calif.

Dom Perignon champagne and other alcoholic beverages in San Antonio," as related by this Associated Press article by Larray Maragask. (Don't click on that link just yet if you haven't solved the mystery.)  Here are a few more teasers:

A $1,000 payment to a Houston divorce lawyer. 

A sex change operation.

Prison inmates allegedly residing in a cemetery. 

A damaged Alabama post office box.

Are you stumped yet?  Don't feel bad.  The Federal Emergency Management Agency was, too.  It paid about $1.4 billion dollars to "help" Hurricane Katrina victims, except that the money didn't actually go for hurricane relief, as a quick recap of FEMA's bogus expenditures listed above shows.

The General Accounting Office, however, had no problem figuring out these abuses.  Here are the highlights and the full, 30-page report (both .pdf files) released by the GAO at 2:00 p.m. this afternoon (PDT).

Now where did I put that hurricane relief application I was working on?

Printer friendly page Permalink Email to a friend Posted by J. Craig Williams on Wednesday, June 14, 2006 at 20:09. Comments Closed (0) |

Modesto Contamination Punitive Verdict In: Big Numbers, But Not Likely To Last

MIPTC predicted more lawsuits, and it turned out to be true.  Now, a jury has given the City of Modesto a temporary receivable of $175 million in punitive damages for perchloroethlyene contamination in the City's groundwater.  The original jury award was just over $3.1 million to clean up the contamination.  They City had asked for $4 million against chemical manufacturers Dow and Vulcan

I say temporary because the punitive damages award is about 55 times higher than the compensatory damages.  Relatively recent Supreme Court rulings established a 9:1 limit for punitive damages, so it's likely that the trial court will reduce the punitive damage award. If not there, then on appeal, which is sure to follow a verdict of this sort. 

This first-of-its-kind verdict is unusual in that it appears that the jury disregarded Dow and Vulcan's arguments asserting state-of-the-art defenses for the level of knowledge that existed when the chemicals were being used and warnings provided by the manufacturers.  Predicting an appeal is a gimme, but MIPTC won't go out on a limb to predict the outcome.  I'll keep you posted, however.   

Printer friendly page Permalink Email to a friend Posted by J. Craig Williams on Tuesday, June 13, 2006 at 19:40. Comments Closed (0) |

Businesses Battle Over Southwest Airlines' Cattle Call

Hereís one for the books:  You come up with a great business idea to provide a service to customers and start up the business in your home.  All you need is a computer, credit card machine and a website and youíre up and running. 


This business idea allows Southwest Airlines customers to get an ďAĒ boarding pass, guaranteeing a good seat and coveted space in the overhead bins while avoiding the cattle call, all for $5.00.  Although the idea is a good one, MIPTC chooses to fly other airlines that provide a guaranteed seat for the price of the ticket, at no extra charge thank you very much. 


The idea, however, has its benefits and turned into quite a business for Kate Bell, the creator of  At first, even the head executive from Southwest praised her idea.  She started making money and many Southwest customers were more than willing to pay the fee in return for an ďAĒ boarding card. 


Then, Southwest sued BoardFirst and tried to shut Kate Bellís site down.  It seems to me that an easier way for Southwest to prevent someone else from making money at its expense would be to offer the service itself, instead of instituting a lawsuit.


But thatís just me.  I donít own an airline, so Iím not in much of a position to comment.  Or am I?


P.S and update:  you might be able to win a free Southwest Airlines ticket by registering (at no cost) for the giveaway at Startup Nation, a small business blog with advice for entrepreneurs.

Printer friendly page Permalink Email to a friend Posted by J. Craig Willliams on Saturday, June 10, 2006 at 13:20. Comments Closed (0) |

Businesses Required To Inform Consumers When Identity Data Stolen

Indiana is just now catching up to California.  The Midwestern state just passed a law requiring businesses to notify their customers in the event personal identity data has been stolen.  California has had such a law in place since 2002.  In Indiana, a company that waited four months to inform consumers that their personal data was stolen was the impetus for the new law. 


While servers and networks are one place hackers get the data, recently cell phones and laptops have been the target of criminals who want consumer identity data such as credit card numbers, pass codes needed for use of personal accounts, Social Security numbers or driver's license numbers.  MIPTC recently pointed out an easy way to protect these devices.  Not everyone has the picture, though.  The Energy Department got hacked, and 1,.500 names and social security numbers were stolen (subscription required) from the nuclear regulatory agency.


Itís a felony to steal consumer information here, but according to the Attorney Generalís website, statistics show that out of 100,000 California residents, 122 will be victimized by identity theft.  Whether your business is in Indiana or California, informing consumers is key.  If youíre a consumer, take steps to protect your identifying information.

Printer friendly page Permalink Email to a friend Posted by J. Craig Williams on Friday, June 09, 2006 at 13:14. Comments Closed (0) |

Coast to Coast Internet Radio Takes A Funny View From the Bench

The courtroom is a very serious place, but once in a while, it becomes a theatre for human comedy as the search for justice unfolds. On this Coast to Coast show, you'll hear the classic humor of real-life courtroom stories from special guest, Judge Jerry Buchmeyer, a senior District Court Judge in Dallas. Judge Buchmeyer has documented funny legal moments since 1980 in his "Say What!?" column on the State Bar of Texas website. Join me and my co-host and fellow blogger Bob Ambrogi as we listen for a few laughs.


Printer friendly page Permalink Email to a friend Posted by J. Craig Williams on Thursday, June 08, 2006 at 11:34. Comments Closed (0) |

Judge Issues Erudite Decision Resolving Discovery Dispute By Rock, Paper & Scissors

Although some claim the tried-and-true dispute resolution method of rock, paper & scissors has been marred by steroid use, at least one federal court judge, the Honorable Gregory Presnell, still relies on it. 

With a hat tip to my good friend, Jamie Duarte, here's his June 6, 2006 chambers opinion, in all its glory, providing a quick means of resolving a discovery dispute between two lawyers. 

Printer friendly page Permalink Email to a friend Posted by J. Craig Williams on Wednesday, June 07, 2006 at 12:21. Comments Closed (0) |

It Comes Down To This: Kelo Gets Evicted

Last February, the City of New London voted to condemn Suzanne Kelo's house, along with seven others, and redevelop the entire run-down area on the Thames River.  The rub is in the result:  the City wants to hand the redevelopment over to a private developer.  From private homeowners to private commercial developers, with minimal government involvement. 

The case went up to the U.S. Supreme Court and was one of the most widely-reported Supreme Court cases in recent history.  The decision fell in favor of the City, in large part because it interpreted "public benefit" to fall within the Fifth Amendment's public use requirement.  The 5-4 decision split the court, and also split much of the country. 

Today, the deal is done.

The City of New London City Council voted to evict Ms. Kelo from her home, along with another holdout homeowner, Michael Cristofaro, and the matter is virtually over.  She and Mr. Cristofaro may appeal, but I'm guessing the fight is just about gone in both of them.  But she's had a huge effect on states, cities and counties across the country, many of which have enacted statutes to prevent future Kelo-takings, where land moves from private owner to private owner, and the City consequently increases its tax base. 

I wonder whether King George would say, "I told you so."

June 6, 2006 Update:  In MIPTC"s home, Orange County, residents voted 3 to 1 to prohibit New London-style eminent domain, soundly approving (scroll to bottom) Measure A.

Printer friendly page Permalink Email to a friend Posted by J. Craig Williams on Tuesday, June 06, 2006 at 21:39. Comments Closed (0) |

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