It’s A New Age For Trial/Witness Prep

What technology giveth (in terms of ease), technology taketh away.

Technology was supposed to make trials and presentations easier. And in many ways, it does. But it also has this nasty habit of causing problems. Big problems. Attorneys have already adjusted to MySpace and Facebook and the like. We not only use them to investigate defendants, but we have to make sure that our clients are diligent about not posting things that will hurt their cases. And I’ve previously posted about the problems that are occurring with jurors using Twitter or the internet to research or communicate about cases.

But this morning I read something that I had not yet considered. A Miami judge declared a mistrial after a witness was receiving text messages while on the witness stand. Not just any text messages — text messages clarifying what the witness’s testimony needed to be. While all of the attorneys were at the bench for a conference, the plaintiff’s COO took the opportunity to text the witness with suggested amendments to the witness’s testimony.

After someone in the courtroom passed a note to the defense lawyer, the deed was discovered. Needless to say, the judge was not happy.

Before that, Silverman had engaged in a heated exchange with Toledano.

“Let me be really frank about this,” the judge said. “I never had this happen before. This is completely outrageous, absolutely outrageous.”

Toledano responded, “It was on a break.”

Silverman shot back: “It doesn’t matter. You are communicating about the case and the subject matter of the case with a witness who is currently under oath and before the jury,”

Toledano said, “I’m sorry, after we took the break, it’s not in the middle.”

The judge explained himself again.

“It’s a problem on your communicating with the witness about his testimony whether it’s before the break, after the break and during the break while he’s testifying,” he said. “This is outrageous.”

I suppose the lesson for all of us is to be constantly mindful of the way technology can affect our jurors and our clients and to include instructions for those things that seem even basic.

To contact Austin Personal Injury Lawyer, Austin Personal Attorney, Austin Accident Lawyer, Austin Injury Lawyer Perlmutter & Schuelke, LLP or to learn more about Austin Personal Injury visit http://www.civtrial.com/.

A Discrimination Lawsuit Against The Olympics — with a twist

I heard an interesting story on NPR yesterday about a discrimination lawsuit against the Olympics.  Ten women from six countries are suing to seek the right to participate in ski jumping at the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Winter Games.  Ski jumping is the only sport that is open to men, but closed to women.  The ten women claim that the Vancouver Organizing Committee, a quasi-governmental entity, is violating the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms by staging an event for men that excludes women.  The story interviewed a Canadian law professor who says that the case is a real toss-up.

THE TWIST?  The Olympic ski jumping competition will be held at Vancouver’s K9 mountain.  24 year old American Lindsey Van, one of the plaintiffs in the suit, holds the distance record – men or women – for the mountain.  I think the women are qualified to participate.

To contact Austin Personal Injury Lawyer, Austin Personal Attorney, Austin Accident Lawyer, Austin Injury Lawyer Perlmutter & Schuelke, LLP or to learn more about Austin Personal Injury visit http://www.civtrial.com/.

Justice Medina’s Saga Continues, plus more Supreme Court drama

As we have previously reported and updated, Texas Supreme Court Justice David Medina and his wife were indicted in connection with an alleged arson event at their home.  At the District Attorney’s request, the indictments were dismissed.  But the story appears to be far from over.  Today, the grand jurors are stating that they will re-urge the investigation when a new grand jury convenes in February.

But Justice Medina isn’t the only Texas Supreme Court Justice feeling the heat.  Justice Paul Green is now the subject of a complaint with the Texas Ethics Commission for allegedly using campaign funds improperly.

It should make for interesting election year.

To contact Austin Personal Injury Lawyer, Austin Personal Attorney, Austin Accident Lawyer, Austin Injury Lawyer Perlmutter & Schuelke, LLP or to learn more about Austin Personal Injury visit http://www.civtrial.com/.

An Interesting New Website

The Robing Room — a new website that rates federal judges and some state court judges (Texas is not yet included). It will be interesting to see if this site gets any traction.

To contact Austin Personal Injury Lawyer, Austin Personal Attorney, Austin Accident Lawyer, Austin Injury Lawyer Perlmutter & Schuelke, LLP or to learn more about Austin Personal Injury visit http://www.civtrial.com/.

Truth About Tort Reform Supporter Uncovered

The Houston Chronicle has a great story about Dr. Forney Fleming, a spokesman for Texans For Lawsuit Reform. Dr. Fleming was a key spokesperson for TLR and even prominently featured on its website. But, according to the Chronicle, TLR forgot to tell you that Dr. Fleming was reprimanded by the Texas Medical Board for substandard care and was accused by the Board of providing substandard care to at least six other patients (those claims were still pending when Dr. Fleming let his medical license lapse). The article reports that Dr. Fleming was also sued or threatened with malpractice suits three times.

Since the Chronicle started investigating its story, TLR has tried to distance itself from Dr. Fleming. But Texas Watch was able to document Dr. Fleming’s TLR bio, which is available here.

The sad thing is that this isn’t unusual. Author Stephanie Mencimer says that one of the things that prompted her to write her book Blocking the Courthouse Door: How the Republican Party and Its Corporate Allies Are Taking Away Your Right to Sue was the often unsavory background of the people that various tort reform groups chose to use as their “case studies” to prove why the system is broken.  For instance, Ms. Mencimer tells the story of Dr. Robert Zaleski.  In January 2003, doctors in Wheeling, West Virginia made national news by walking off the job to protest higher medical malpractice rates.  Dr. Zaleski was one of the key faces of the walkout, making the rounds of TV shows and news, including being featured on CNN and in the New York Times.   In fact, Dr. Zaleski was even personally invited by President Bush to attend a speech in Scranton, Pennsylvania, where Bush spoke about “out of control lawsuits.”

But again, the tort reform groups didn’t do their homework.  Ms. Mencimer writes that Dr. Zaleski had been sued over fourteen times by his patients and admitted in a deposition in one of the lawsuits that he had been addicted to prescription painkillers for a substantial part of the time that he was operating on patients in the early 1980s.  And, she continues, not only was he an addict, but to maintain his habit, he allegedly wrote prescriptions to other local addicts, who filled them and then kicked pills back to the doctor.  As Ms. Mencimer puts it, “Given this history, the real scandal may not be how high Zaleski’s insurance premiums are, but the fact that he can get insurance at all.”

Unfortunately, these are the sorts of lies and half-truths that tort reform groups are using to not only push for reform, but to poison potential juries against personal injury cases.

To contact Austin Personal Injury Lawyer, Austin Personal Attorney, Austin Accident Lawyer, Austin Injury Lawyer Perlmutter & Schuelke, LLP or to learn more about Austin Personal Injury visit http://www.civtrial.com/.

Small Businesses: Unwitting Victims of Tort Reform

We routinely represent small businesses, not only from Austin, but from all over Texas, in disputes and litigation. And it seems more common that small business owners are victims of improper conduct by larger corporations, and they are ending up in our office, seeking our advice on how to enforce their contracts or how to get relief from the other party’s fraud. We have consistently been warning our (often-Republican) clients that they are being used as pawns and that their ability to do business is being threatened by their continued support of tort-reform. Sometimes they listen, but sometimes our warnings fall on deaf ears.

But in the last ten days, two major business publications have included articles that may help in our warnings. On July 1, Jeffrey Pfeffer, a professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, wrote IN DEFENSE OF LAWYERS (No Joke), in Business2.0 Magazine. In the article, Professor Pfeffer argues that  attorneys and the tort system are necessary to help keep the economy humming. In the article, he writes:

The next time you want to complain about “frivolous” lawsuits, picture doing business in a world where promises can’t be relied on and you can only deal with people and organizations you already know well. There are undoubtedly abuses and problems in our current system, but the cost of punishing malfeasance is a necessary and small price to pay for running a modern economy.

On July 9, Business Week ran AFTER THE $54M DRY CLEANER LAWSUIT, which interviewed owners of small businesses and members of national small business organizations and asked about their concern of being sued. The article found that, for the most part, small business owners weren’t concerned about being sued. And, in fact, for many, the opposite was true. In discussing “tort reformers” use of small businesses to push tort reform, the article echoed our warnings to clients:

That may not reassure small-business owners who are being asked to get behind tort reform, particularly because they can find themselves at the plaintiff’s table. “Very often it’s small companies being harmed by larger corporations and needing to seek redress through the civil justice system,” says Jeff Milchen, cofounder of the American Independent Business Alliance.

While the US Chamber of Commerce continuously argues that one lawsuit could put many small businesses out of business, the opposite is also true. Many small businesses couldn’t survive being the victim of one large improper act (whether it’s the breach of a big contract or misrepresentations about a deal) without the aid of the tort system.  Unfortunately, many small business owners listen to the propoaganda and let themselves be used to try and change the system in ways that often come back to harm themselves.

To contact Austin Personal Injury Lawyer, Austin Personal Attorney, Austin Accident Lawyer, Austin Injury Lawyer Perlmutter & Schuelke, LLP or to learn more about Austin Personal Injury visit http://www.civtrial.com/.

Tort Reform – The False Choice

As the legislature reconvenes in Austin, Texas Watch released a new study called THE FALSE CHOICE: DOCTORS OR ACCOUNTABILITY. The main premise of the study is that Texans were provided a false choice between access to health care and protecting patient rights when presented with tort reform’s Prop 12 in 2003.  The study makes three main findings:

  1. Prop 12 hasn’t increased access to health care.  Prior to the passage of Prop 12, the rate of new doctors in the state was increasing.  Since 2003, the rate of growth (for actual practicing physicians) is slower than the increase in the pre-Prop 12 years.  In addition, every underserved region of Texas shows slower growth than the pre-Prop 12 years.
  2. Prop 12 hasn’t provided any meaningful relief in malpractice insurance rates.  Market-wide, premiums have fallen about 13.5%.  But when compared with the pre-Prop 12 run-up in rates of up to 147%, the decrease is not substantial.  This is particularly true when considering many of the largest insurers requested rate increases greater than the 13.5% decrease in the months immediately following the passage of Prop 12.
  3. Prop 12 hasn’t helped Texas consumers.  The cost of health care continues to skyrocket, and numerous Texans injured by egregious conduct of negligent medical providers are left without a way to recover for their injuries.

It is unlikely that Texas consumers will find any relief in this legislative session, but perhaps the Texas Watch findings can be a lesson to other states (and the federal government) considering additional tort reform litigation.

To contact Austin Personal Injury Lawyer, Austin Personal Attorney, Austin Accident Lawyer, Austin Injury Lawyer Perlmutter & Schuelke, LLP or to learn more about Austin Personal Injury visit http://www.civtrial.com/.

Presidential Hopefuls on Tort Reform

In the wake of the President’s State of the Union address, the Illinois Justice Project had a short rundown of the 2008 presidential candidates’ views on tort reform.  The post should be interesting to anyone interested in civil justice issues.

Thanks to the TortsProf blog for the link.

To contact Austin Personal Injury Lawyer, Austin Personal Attorney, Austin Accident Lawyer, Austin Injury Lawyer Perlmutter & Schuelke, LLP or to learn more about Austin Personal Injury visit http://www.civtrial.com/.

Perlmutter & Schuelke, LLP maintains offices in Austin, Texas. However, our attorneys and lawyers represent clients throughout the state of Texas, including Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Forth Worth, El Paso, New Braunfels, San Marcos, Kyle, Buda, Round Rock, Georgetown, Lockhart, Bastrop, Elgin, Manor, Brenham, Cedar Park, Burnet, Marble Falls, Temple and Killeen. By Brooks Schuelke

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