f/k/a archives . . . real opinions & real haiku

May 4, 2004

Suspended Hammer

Filed under: pre-06-2006 — David Giacalone @ 9:38 pm

It’s a wee bit anticlimactic, but paper lion lawyer, Jim “The Hammer” Shapiro, has been suspended from practice in New York State for one year.  According to New York Lawyer, “Shapiro said from his Florida home that the ruling is ‘unfair and unconstitutional’ but has little effect. He sold his Rochester-based law firm six months ago, he said.” (AP/New York Lawyer, Lawyer Known for Ads Suspended, 05-03-04)


hammer  The Hammer’s braggadocio has been described here, and at Overlawyered. com.  This time, his transgressions involve a solicitation letter to a comatose hospital patient and a series of ads filled with swagger and the promise of more swagger.  As noted by New York’s 4th Department appellate division, in Matter of James J. Shapiro (April 30, 2004) (emphasis added):

“[W]e conclude that any reasonable attorney would know that a solicitation letter sent to a hospitalized comatose patient in the days immediately following a collision between her automobile and a train would reach the patient and her family at a time when they were unable to exercise reasonable judgment in retaining an attorney. Respondent, who had actual knowledge of the condition of the accident victim, will not be heard to argue that the disciplinary rule required him to be a “mind and body reader” in order to determine whether his solicitation letter could be sent.

“We also agree with the finding of the Referee that the television commercials aired by respondent contained false and misleading statements. The commercials depicted respondent as an experienced, aggressive personal injury lawyer who was prepared to take and had taken personal action on behalf of clients.”

  • mouse lawyer horiz  “[R]espondent has not been actively engaged in the practice of law in this State since 1995.”
  • “In contrast to the image of respondent depicted in the commercials, respondent has never tried a case to its conclusion and has conducted approximately 10 depositions.”
  • We reject the contention of respondent that his television commercials consist of constitutionally protected hyperbole. The statements in the television commercials aired by respondent are false; they do not consist of hyperbole.

As a mitigating factor, the Court did note that Shapiro “consulted counsel concerning the language in his solicitation letters.”  Wouldn’t you love to know the name of that legal ethics expert?


Small Claims Courts: Still Slackers

Filed under: pre-06-2006 — David Giacalone @ 2:30 pm

scales rich poor neg  It’s too bad we can’t ground state legislators until they significantly improve our small claims courts.   Yesterday, the legal reform group HALT issued its 2004 Small Claims Court Report Cards for each state.  As with its 2002 report cards, the results are disappointing.  


This time, Georgia and California were at the top of the class, while Kentucky and Missouri received the worst grades.  In describing the 2004 results, HALT notes:

The 2004 Small Claims Report Card graded states in six categories: dollar limit, self-help, convenience, mediation, expedited collection and injunctive relief. Grades varied from the “B” range for top-ranked Georgia and three other states, to failing marks for Delaware, Kentucky, Mississippi and Missouri.  No state received an “A” grade.

The 2004 report card emphasizes the urgent need to raise jurisdictional dollar limits on small claims courts-as low as $1,500 in some states, which makes these courts a venue where only conflicts of nominal value are resolved. The report card also reveals the necessity of implementing reforms to make these courts a more consumer-friendly, accessible alternative to traditional litigation.

The National Summary of Grades shows the overall grade of every state, plus the grade in each category.  A press release covering each state is available at the HALT site, along with the state’s Report Card.  The Report’s summary notes:

 “Small claims courts – which use simplified procedures, require plain English, provide consumer aids and often prohibit lawyers – have tremendous promise as a means of empowering ordinary people to take charge of their own routine legal needs. By reforming these courts to fulfill this promise, state lawmakers can show a commitment to opening up the legal system to all Americans.”

Here is a summary of the grades received:

“a Key”  none                  “b Key”  five states

“c Key”  23 states            “D key” 19 states       “f Key”  four states

  • check red the Ten Best List: 1) Georgia; 2) California; 3) Colorado; 4) Utah; 5) New Mexico; 6) Tennessee; 7) Wisconsin; 8) Minnesota; 9) (tie) Alaska; 9) (tie) New York

  • black check  the Ten Worst List: 1) Kentucky; 2) Missouri; 3) Wyoming; 4) Louisiana ; 5) (tie) Indiana; 5) (tie) Oklahoma; 7) Michigan; 8) North Carolina 9) Alabama; 10) (tie) Connecticut; 10) (tie) Kansas; 10) (tie) Massachusetts; 10) (tie) Rhode Island

Last-placed Kentucky allows claims only up $1500 in its small claims courts.  First-placed Georgia permits claims up to $15,000 (but gives little help collecting awards).  As a frequently-astute pundit noted back in 1999:

[O]ur lawmakers could give a big chunk of the civil justice system back to the people by simply increasing the dollar limits allowed in small claims courts. By permitting claims up to $20,000 in these user-friendly “people’s claims courts,” we could greatly increase access to justice, and greatly decrease the time and money spent to resolve the everyday disputes of consumers and small businesses.

Meanwhile, skepticalEsq keeps suggesting that it is the legal profession that is blocking efforts to reform small claims courts.

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