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February 19, 2004

Mommies, Meanies, Mud and Manure in Madison County

Filed under: pre-06-2006 — David Giacalone @ 9:57 pm

   Two newspaper articles and two weblog posts have roused skepticalEsq from retirement (again) this week. According to the Alton (OH) Telegraph, a group called Victims and Families United held a pro-lawyer, pro-tort-suit rally on Tuesday, at the Madison County, Ohio, courthouse. (See Rally supports rights of plaintiffs, 02-17-04, Victims say suits justified, 2-18-04, by Sanford J. Schmidt) (with pointers from Evan Schaeffer, here and there)

  The Feb. 17 article quotes a VFU spokesman as saying: Their mission is to bring balance and fairness to the debate and protect access to the courts for victims and their families.” The Feb. 18 Telegraph article notes that one of the organizers, Judy Buckles, is the widow of an asbestos-related cancer victim, and states:

The speakers addressed about 60 people gathered in the foyer of the Madison County Administration Building in downtown Edwardsville. The crowd included victims and their families and people who work at some of the plaintiffs’ law firms.
Buckles said it is hard to pick up a newspaper or listen to television or radio these days without hearing criticism of the local courts. The publicity is generated by “tort reform” groups funded by big business, she said.

“They want to make it more difficult for families to find justice,” she said.


scales rich poor The ralliers are reacting to a spate of bad publicity about Madison County being the forum of choice for class action suits, and having more of them per capita than any county in the nation. ( See e.g., this and this and that from Overlawyered.com, and Evan’s response.) I strongly support continued access for bona fide tort victims, while bemoaning both damage awards and contingent fees that are unreasonably high. I also support two of the goals mentioned by Buckles (and I know Overlawyered’s Walter Olsen does, too):

  1. Pushing for reforms aimed at driving bad doctors out while keeping good doctors in practice.
  2. Weeding out bad lawyers and bar them from filing bad lawsuits.

I also think the “Sorry Works” program supported by VFU (in which hospitals that make mistakes would apologize for them and provide a settlement offer upfront) is worth a try, so long as the lawyer’s fee is significantly reduced when there is such a quick settlement.


But, I think you can understand why skepticalEsq might be a little, well, skeptical of the “grassroots” nature of the group. The group and rally might indeed be “grassroots” in the narrow sense of being at a local level, but it’s hard to believe that they came into existence spontaneously or sua sponte under the auspices of the victims and their families. More likely, the grass got fed some fertilzer. Note the newspaper account that the rather small crowd of about 60 “included victims and their families and people who work at some of the plaintiffs’ law firms.” (emphasis added) No break-down given.

  • The idea of a pro-lawyer rally reminds me of one of my favorite Wiley Miller Non Sequitur cartoons. In the panel, from 9-10-93, we see an enormous horde of lawyers marching behind a banner reading “Lawyer Appreciation Day Parade.” Sadly, there are no people at all lining the street to show their appreciation, and one of the parade leaders wants to send out subpoenas.
  • As for mud: If you want to be totally dispirited about the level of public discourse on the issue of tort reform and victims’ rights, please take a look at the reader opnions at the Telegraph website. No matter what one’s take on the issues, it would be difficult for reasonable persons to acknowledge having such allies.

Now, as for Evan [see hyperbole alert below]. At his entertaining (if occasionally propagandistic) notes from the [legal] underground weblog, he noted wryly “There are frequent demonstrations at the courthouse, but this is the first time I’ve heard about a group demonstrating in support of lawsuits.” But, at his Illinois Personal Injury Blog, p/i lawyer Evan gives the rally a lot more coverage, quoting at length from the 2/17 Telegraph article and, without the slightest note of irony, calls VFU a “new grassroots organization.” We here at e&hEsq are shocked and saddened that the author of a fine post earlier this month about misleading terminology dubbed “cynic incubators,” would utilize one of the prime examples of the c/i phenomenon to legitimize the p/i lawyers fan club. I hope he’ll give us some evidence (or at least rumors) about how VFU got started.

  • Hyperbole Alert (02-20-04): Due to my old-fogey reluctance to use emoticon’s in a posting, I apparently did not adequately signal that I’m merely poking fun at Evan (who is a very good fun-poker himself), and not questioning his integrity. Please see my late-night response (apology) to Evan’s extended Comment.

Here’s a good Rule of Thumb when reading this website: If David uses hyperbole such as “shocked and saddened”, you can be pretty darn sure that his cynic-tongue is in his cyber-cheek.

I need an emoticon-free way to signal “feeble attempt at humor and/or irony.” Or, perhaps, I need to swallow my elitist pride and use those silly emoticons. [If you, like I, need a primer on webmail emoticons and acronyms, click here.]

16 Comments

  1. David: First of all, my apologies in advance for making this comment too long.

    The world is a better place, I think, when non-biased refs like you can throw down the yellow flag when you think it’s warranted. Here is my response. First of all, I don’t know how the group got started. I first heard about it in the Alton Telegraph. There were two articles in the Telegraph, one on 2/17 and one on 2/18. In the 2/17 article, the newspaper calls the group a “grassroots” organization”–and so did I. No irony was needed because none was warranted; I was just quoting the article. (Look closely at the article, though, and you’ll see that because of a missing quotation mark, it’s hard to tell if it’s the article’s author or a spokesman who used the term–I thought it was the author). In any event, it wasn’t until the next day, 2/18, that the second article stated “the crowd included victims and their families and people who work at some of the plaintiffs’ law firms.” I couldn’t have known this on 2/17 because it didn’t appear until 2/18.

    Now it’s possible, although you doubt it, that the group did spontaneously form because a group of people were angered over the anti-lawyer and anti-lawsuit sentiment in Madison County. When I say on Legal Underground that we hear about it almost every day, I’m not joking. (Many in the community don’t seem to understand that they will be directly affected by this “talk” if they are ever seriously injured in Madison County and have to have their case decided in front of a jury.) There are also frequent demonstrations at the courthouse by tort “reform” groups. It could be that some people are angry about it and formed the group themselves. You certainly don’t need to be a lawyer to have the smarts to start an organization like the one we’re discussing. (By the way, although you say the group is reacting to criticism about class actions, that’s not what either of the articles says).

    However, let’s assume that some plaintiffs’ lawyers are involved in the organization, which seems likely. Is this the same as big tobacco funding and organizing tort reform groups? I don’t think so. I don’t have a lot of faith in the motives of large corporations–a belief based on my own personal life experiences, things that I’ve learned about corporations and how little regard some of them give to human lives. I do, however, have faith in the motives of plaintiffs’ lawyers–and that’s perhaps where we disagree. (Not to over-generalize, though: there are obviously good corporations and bad plaintiffs’ lawyers). Anyway, in my mind, it does not invalidate the group if lawyers are involved in the organization. The people who were talking at the rally were not doing so from cue cards held up by plaintiffs’ lawyers. And the lawyers were not hiding their involvement, if they are involved, since they let their employees show up at the rally.

    Anyway, your post is very interesting and I appreciate your comment at the end about my weblogs, even if you are critical. I have thought a lot about an earlier comment you made about Legal Underground–that “it’s clear you write to justify the current p/i system.” For awhile, I thought you meant that it was your view that I was writing *only* to “justify the current p/i system,” as if the entertaining parts of Legal Underground were a Trojan horse meant to get inside people’s head then explode with hidden political content. I don’t think my biases are hidden, though: as I’ve said on my site, I used to represent big companies, but now I usually represent individuals. I have a bias in favor of individuals over corporations — and I would even if it weren’t my profession. In other words, I don’t hold this position only because of the money I earn as a lawyer. If I quit tomorrow, I’d feel the same way.

    More about my biases: as I hope is clear from Legal Underground, I’m a defender of all lawyers, plaintiff or defense, although I’m willing to explore (like you) the reasons why the public generally dislikes and distrusts lawyers. I understand I may defend lawyers a little too much for your liking, and if that’s what you think, I’m willing to concede the point to you. I also think of myself as a “writer” or “artist” as much as I do a lawyer, and another purpose of Legal Underground is to satisfy my own need for personal expression–more reason why it troubled me to hear that you thought I was writing mostly to mask a hidden agenda. (I understand I might be misconstruing your meaning–and we were involved in a heated discussion at the time–but that’s how I took it at first).

    To conclude: even though I’m a plaintiffs’ lawyer in Madison County, Illinois (where I’ve practiced for plantiffs and defendants since 1990), I’m not part of any grand cabal, and I don’t have any master plans for my various weblog creations, except to entertain and inform (on Legal Underground); and just to inform (on the p/i weblog for my clients and on http://www.illinoistrialpractice.com for lawyers).

    Again, sorry about the long comment. You seem to know just how to get me going!

    Comment by Evan — February 20, 2004 @ 12:05 am

  2. David: First of all, my apologies in advance for making this comment too long.

    The world is a better place, I think, when non-biased refs like you can throw down the yellow flag when you think it’s warranted. Here is my response. First of all, I don’t know how the group got started. I first heard about it in the Alton Telegraph. There were two articles in the Telegraph, one on 2/17 and one on 2/18. In the 2/17 article, the newspaper calls the group a “grassroots” organization”–and so did I. No irony was needed because none was warranted; I was just quoting the article. (Look closely at the article, though, and you’ll see that because of a missing quotation mark, it’s hard to tell if it’s the article’s author or a spokesman who used the term–I thought it was the author). In any event, it wasn’t until the next day, 2/18, that the second article stated “the crowd included victims and their families and people who work at some of the plaintiffs’ law firms.” I couldn’t have known this on 2/17 because it didn’t appear until 2/18.

    Now it’s possible, although you doubt it, that the group did spontaneously form because a group of people were angered over the anti-lawyer and anti-lawsuit sentiment in Madison County. When I say on Legal Underground that we hear about it almost every day, I’m not joking. (Many in the community don’t seem to understand that they will be directly affected by this “talk” if they are ever seriously injured in Madison County and have to have their case decided in front of a jury.) There are also frequent demonstrations at the courthouse by tort “reform” groups. It could be that some people are angry about it and formed the group themselves. You certainly don’t need to be a lawyer to have the smarts to start an organization like the one we’re discussing. (By the way, although you say the group is reacting to criticism about class actions, that’s not what either of the articles says).

    However, let’s assume that some plaintiffs’ lawyers are involved in the organization, which seems likely. Is this the same as big tobacco funding and organizing tort reform groups? I don’t think so. I don’t have a lot of faith in the motives of large corporations–a belief based on my own personal life experiences, things that I’ve learned about corporations and how little regard some of them give to human lives. I do, however, have faith in the motives of plaintiffs’ lawyers–and that’s perhaps where we disagree. (Not to over-generalize, though: there are obviously good corporations and bad plaintiffs’ lawyers). Anyway, in my mind, it does not invalidate the group if lawyers are involved in the organization. The people who were talking at the rally were not doing so from cue cards held up by plaintiffs’ lawyers. And the lawyers were not hiding their involvement, if they are involved, since they let their employees show up at the rally.

    Anyway, your post is very interesting and I appreciate your comment at the end about my weblogs, even if you are critical. I have thought a lot about an earlier comment you made about Legal Underground–that “it’s clear you write to justify the current p/i system.” For awhile, I thought you meant that it was your view that I was writing *only* to “justify the current p/i system,” as if the entertaining parts of Legal Underground were a Trojan horse meant to get inside people’s head then explode with hidden political content. I don’t think my biases are hidden, though: as I’ve said on my site, I used to represent big companies, but now I usually represent individuals. I have a bias in favor of individuals over corporations — and I would even if it weren’t my profession. In other words, I don’t hold this position only because of the money I earn as a lawyer. If I quit tomorrow, I’d feel the same way.

    More about my biases: as I hope is clear from Legal Underground, I’m a defender of all lawyers, plaintiff or defense, although I’m willing to explore (like you) the reasons why the public generally dislikes and distrusts lawyers. I understand I may defend lawyers a little too much for your liking, and if that’s what you think, I’m willing to concede the point to you. I also think of myself as a “writer” or “artist” as much as I do a lawyer, and another purpose of Legal Underground is to satisfy my own need for personal expression–more reason why it troubled me to hear that you thought I was writing mostly to mask a hidden agenda. (I understand I might be misconstruing your meaning–and we were involved in a heated discussion at the time–but that’s how I took it at first).

    To conclude: even though I’m a plaintiffs’ lawyer in Madison County, Illinois (where I’ve practiced for plantiffs and defendants since 1990), I’m not part of any grand cabal, and I don’t have any master plans for my various weblog creations, except to entertain and inform (on Legal Underground); and just to inform (on the p/i weblog for my clients and on http://www.illinoistrialpractice.com for lawyers).

    Again, sorry about the long comment. You seem to know just how to get me going!

    Comment by Evan — February 20, 2004 @ 12:05 am

  3. Evan, Dude, I’m sorry you got riled — I should have used my “;-)” emoticon, because it was with a big wink that I brought you into the story — mostly to catch you up on the “grassroots” concept as a cynic incubator.

    I can sincerely say that I don’t believe you have any hidden agenda. Instead, you have a love of words, a good sense of humor and irony, an entertaining style, and lots of things on your mind you love to share and shine for your audience. You often touch on your career, and if you have any biases they are out in the open. I see nothing insidious about the way you run Underground. And the Personal Injury blog is straight up about its goals and target audience.

    You might want to know that I had only been a weblogger for 3 days when I got my first hate mail (from p/i lawyers after I wrote on standard contingency fees — ss http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/ethicalesq/2003/06/03). I was accused of having a secret agenda to promote the interests of insurance companies and big business, and using ethics and consumer issues to secretly promote the agenda. As I’m sure you can relate, I was angry and worried that weblogging was going to get ugly at a time when my health requires avoiding stressors. So, I don’t make such charges lightly, and don’t have any reason or intention to raise them with you. I can like start like using emoticons, if you like want me to. I’m sorry you felt the need to write so much. At least, there were no typos.
    You all come back now!

    You were mentioned in the post as the pointer (lord knows, I would never have found those stories otherwise, and you allowed me to use your cynic incubator to go off on the oft-misapplied term “grass roots” [Aside: you didn’t use quotation marks around “grassroots,” and that made it look like your adoption of the term, rather than a mere quotation from the newspaper.

    Comment by David Giacalone — February 20, 2004 @ 1:08 am

  4. Evan, Dude, I’m sorry you got riled — I should have used my “;-)” emoticon, because it was with a big wink that I brought you into the story — mostly to catch you up on the “grassroots” concept as a cynic incubator.

    I can sincerely say that I don’t believe you have any hidden agenda. Instead, you have a love of words, a good sense of humor and irony, an entertaining style, and lots of things on your mind you love to share and shine for your audience. You often touch on your career, and if you have any biases they are out in the open. I see nothing insidious about the way you run Underground. And the Personal Injury blog is straight up about its goals and target audience.

    You might want to know that I had only been a weblogger for 3 days when I got my first hate mail (from p/i lawyers after I wrote on standard contingency fees — ss http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/ethicalesq/2003/06/03). I was accused of having a secret agenda to promote the interests of insurance companies and big business, and using ethics and consumer issues to secretly promote the agenda. As I’m sure you can relate, I was angry and worried that weblogging was going to get ugly at a time when my health requires avoiding stressors. So, I don’t make such charges lightly, and don’t have any reason or intention to raise them with you. I can like start like using emoticons, if you like want me to. I’m sorry you felt the need to write so much. At least, there were no typos.
    You all come back now!

    You were mentioned in the post as the pointer (lord knows, I would never have found those stories otherwise, and you allowed me to use your cynic incubator to go off on the oft-misapplied term “grass roots” [Aside: you didn’t use quotation marks around “grassroots,” and that made it look like your adoption of the term, rather than a mere quotation from the newspaper.

    Comment by David Giacalone — February 20, 2004 @ 1:08 am

  5. David: I appreciate your comment. I wanted to state my position in part because you said you were “shocked and saddened” by one of my posts. Had you added a “;-)” this might have colored your meaning a bit. However, please don’t start scattering emoticons around your site on my account. Just consider that rash readers like me sometimes might not understand your sense of irony if your meaning isn’t very clearly stated. ;-)

    Someday I’m going to post about the “hidden agenda” topic, and I’ll use the long comment I mucked up your site with as a draft. I regret not calling on my wife’s services as an editor before posting, but last night she’d already gone to bed (grumbling under her breath about “those damned blogs”).

    Comment by Evan — February 20, 2004 @ 8:02 am

  6. David: I appreciate your comment. I wanted to state my position in part because you said you were “shocked and saddened” by one of my posts. Had you added a “;-)” this might have colored your meaning a bit. However, please don’t start scattering emoticons around your site on my account. Just consider that rash readers like me sometimes might not understand your sense of irony if your meaning isn’t very clearly stated. ;-)

    Someday I’m going to post about the “hidden agenda” topic, and I’ll use the long comment I mucked up your site with as a draft. I regret not calling on my wife’s services as an editor before posting, but last night she’d already gone to bed (grumbling under her breath about “those damned blogs”).

    Comment by Evan — February 20, 2004 @ 8:02 am

  7. I hope I didn’t ruin your sleep last night, Evan.  Here’s a pretty good rule of thumb for reading my site:

     If David uses hyperbole such as “shocked and saddened”, you can be pretty darn sure that his cynic-tongue is in his cyber-cheek.

    I need an emoticon-free way to signal “feeble attempt at humor and/or irony.”   Or, maybe, I need to swallow my elitist pride and use those silly emoticons.

    Comment by David Giacalone — February 20, 2004 @ 8:47 am

  8. I hope I didn’t ruin your sleep last night, Evan.  Here’s a pretty good rule of thumb for reading my site:

     If David uses hyperbole such as “shocked and saddened”, you can be pretty darn sure that his cynic-tongue is in his cyber-cheek.

    I need an emoticon-free way to signal “feeble attempt at humor and/or irony.”   Or, maybe, I need to swallow my elitist pride and use those silly emoticons.

    Comment by David Giacalone — February 20, 2004 @ 8:47 am

  9. How about putting your “cynic-tongue . . . in . . . [the] cyber cheek by using something simple like “bold italics” to signify attempts at humor or irony? Sorry, I can’t quite see a way to put my suggestion into bold italics!

    Comment by Ann M. Byrne — February 20, 2004 @ 8:44 pm

  10. How about putting your “cynic-tongue . . . in . . . [the] cyber cheek by using something simple like “bold italics” to signify attempts at humor or irony? Sorry, I can’t quite see a way to put my suggestion into bold italics!

    Comment by Ann M. Byrne — February 20, 2004 @ 8:44 pm

  11. Hmm.  Actually, I usually use bold italics when I’m making a really serious statement/point.  You know, it’s a wonder we human beings ever understand each other. (seriously)
    p.s. I think using regular html signage works for Commentors — as in <b><i>bold italics</i></b> .  I should leave myself a message and try it out.

    Comment by David Giacalone — February 20, 2004 @ 8:51 pm

  12. Hmm.  Actually, I usually use bold italics when I’m making a really serious statement/point.  You know, it’s a wonder we human beings ever understand each other. (seriously)
    p.s. I think using regular html signage works for Commentors — as in <b><i>bold italics</i></b> .  I should leave myself a message and try it out.

    Comment by David Giacalone — February 20, 2004 @ 8:51 pm

  13. The text was good, but i stil cant find the play ipdates. looking for it dude.

    Comment by Joe Fuentes — July 23, 2005 @ 3:56 am

  14. The text was good, but i stil cant find the play ipdates. looking for it dude.

    Comment by Joe Fuentes — July 23, 2005 @ 3:56 am

  15. A heap of wheat, says the Song of Songs
    but I’ve never seen wheat in a pile :)
    did you like it?

    Comment by Peter Jackson — July 23, 2005 @ 10:47 pm

  16. A heap of wheat, says the Song of Songs
    but I’ve never seen wheat in a pile :)
    did you like it?

    Comment by Peter Jackson — July 23, 2005 @ 10:47 pm

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