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Bar News - November 3, 2006

Notes from a Messy Desk



Novel Retribution, Part I


Intoxicating Agent, a self-published crime novel written by California prosecutor Joyce Dudley, features a heroine with the same job and a name with the same initials (Jordon Danner) as the author. It’s about a date-rape case being prosecuted by the novel’s heroine—and was published at the same time that the author was also prosecuting a rape-by-intoxication case. Dudley said parts of the novel were based on her experience with an earlier rape case involving an alleged intoxication agent. That case was tried twice, with two juries not reaching a verdict, and it was eventually dismissed.


A California appeals judge ruled in September that the real-life prosecutor must be disqualified from handling the pending case because she has “a disabling conflict of interest” because of the similarity of the current case and the case portrayed in the novel.


Justice Kenneth R.Yegan of the California Court of Appeals, writing for a unanimous three-judge panel, said the attorney-author’s desire for publicity and greater sales of her book might affect her professional judgment in the real-life case. 

Source: New York Times, Oct. 9, 2006.


Novel Retribution, Part II


We will let you speculate on the inspiration for The Third Oath, another self-published novel that recently crossed our desk. Written by two attorneys (using the single pen-name Robert Paul), the novel’s plot is this: A cabal of doctors, oppressed by med-mal lawsuits, concoct a nationwide scheme to execute trial lawyers who are successful at suing doctors; and, to make the scheme self-compensating they purchase life insurance on the lawyers they plan to execute. (Rest easy: They don’t get away with it, although the ranks of the trial bar are thinned a bit before the villains in white coats get their comeuppance.)


Here is a representative nugget:


“Garth Bainbridge was a modern-day prospector, whose quest for small ingots of wealth, or pure running veins of riches, took him not to mines, creeks and streams, or dried up and overworked riverbeds of far-off hills and mountains, but to the dirt and grime found within the likes of city streets and alleys, courthouses, insurance, and credit companies. To those places associated with his ‘profession.’ But most of all, Garth was forever drawn, like a bug to a light at dusk, to the ingots of wealth and riches found in ambulance chasing, hospitals, and morgues.”


Facts on trial verdicts


From the American Trial Lawyers Association magazine, here are some statistics compiled on tort litigation and “runaway” jury awards:


In the federal courts,  512,000 civil cases were disposed of in 2002-2003; only 1,647 (2 percent) went to trial; plaintiffs prevailed in less than half of all cases, and only 37 percent of med-mal cases, and 34 percent of product liability cases. The median award was $201,000.


In state courts, plaintiffs prevailed in 52 percent of tort trials in 2002, a rate that has been relatively constant since 1992. The median award to plaintiffs was $27,000 fewer than 20 percent received $250,000 or more. 

Source: Trial magazine, July 2006.


Innocence Commission Created


In August, 2006, North Carolina became the first state to empower an independent panel to investigate convicted felons’ claims of innocence and initiate reviews that could lead to overturned convictions. The Commission is initially made up of three judicial representatives, two representatives from the Governor’s office, three defense attorneys, six law enforcement representatives, five prosecution representatives, three law professors, one victim assistance representative, one journalism professor, and two general interest representatives.



Quote to Remember:

Conservative, n: A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the liberal who wishes to replace them with others.

—Ambrose Bierce



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