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Judges Slam More and More Plaintiffs’ Attorneys for Corruption

March 13, 2014

Peasants in Leon, Nicaragua, march in 2007 to denounce the use of harmful pesticides at banana plantations

Photograph by Miguel Alvarez/AFP via Getty Images

http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-03-13/judges-slam-more-and-more-plaintiffs-attorneys-for-corruption#p1

Peasants in Leon, Nicaragua, march in 2007 to denounce the use of harmful pesticides at banana plantations

On March 7 a California appellate court upheld a trial judge’s finding that what had been billed as a watershed liability verdict against Dole Food over pesticide use in Nicaragua was actually the product of a conspiracy by corrupt plaintiffs’ lawyers. That decision came only three days after a federal judge in New York ruled that a multibillion-dollar pollution judgment against Chevron (CVX) in 2011 was so tainted by bribery and coercion that it wasn’t worth the paper it was written on.

Meanwhile, in Texas, a prominent class-action injury lawyer faces mounting woes because of allegations that he faked thousands of damage claims against BP (BP)related to the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. When you combine these cases with the criminal convictions several years ago of plaintiffs-bar titans Mel Weiss, Bill Lerach, and Dickie Scruggs—all of whom served time for corrupting the civil justice system—it’s hard to deny that there’s deep dysfunction within a powerful portion of the legal profession that claims to fight corporate abuse on behalf of the little guy.

A look at the Dole ruling illustrates the point. The California Court of Appeal in Los Angeles affirmed dismissal of one of a series of suits filed against Dole, alleging the company’s use of pesticides in Nicaragua left banana workers sterile in the late 1970s. In all, these suits resulted in billions of dollars in judgments against Dole.

The case at issue in the March 7 ruling, known as Tellez, went to trial in 2008 and produced a multimillion-dollar verdict for workers. That verdict was thrown out when Dole’s attorneys proved that many of the plaintiffs never worked for the company and weren’t, in fact, sterile. Witnesses and investigators were intimidated in Nicaragua, and plaintiffs were coached to concoct false stories. One supposed victim testified that he was instructed to memorize and repeat phony evidence “like a parrot.”

Plaintiffs’ lawyers and law firms are major political contributors, particularly to Democrats

The California appellate court said the trial judge correctly sent the Tellez plaintiffs packing. The ruling was a win for the Los Angeles firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, which has engineered the negation of multiple pesticide verdicts against Dole. That accomplishment prompted Chevron to hire Gibson Dunn to fight back against a $19 billion oil-contamination judgment imposed by an Ecuadorean court in 2011. In the Chevron case, U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan of New York ruled on March 4 that plaintiffs’ attorney Steven Donziger turned his Ecuadorean lawsuit against the oil company into a racketeering scheme, complete with extortion, bribery of judges, and fabrication of evidence. Donziger has denied wrongdoing and vowed to appeal.

Mass-tort and class-action securities-fraud suits reached their apogee in the 1990s, fueled in part by the energy and ingenuity of an elite fraternity of plaintiffs’ firms and individual lawyers, some of whom became phenomenally wealthy as a result of their success. There’s nothing necessarily wrong, of course, with plaintiffs’ attorneys doing well along the path to doing good, just as there’s nothing necessarily improper with corporate-defense lawyers getting richly paid.

But as the plaintiffs’ bar achieved lucrative triumphs in asbestos litigation and the tobacco cases, some of its leaders lost their bearings. Scruggs, who earned a fortune in both of those arenas, pleaded guilty in 2008 to crimes related to a judicial bribery scheme. Weiss and Lerach, impresarios of securities-fraud class actions, went to prison for paying kickbacks to shareholder plaintiffs-for-hire. Last year the Kentucky Supreme Court upheld the disbarment of Stanley Chesley, a scourge of the pharmaceuticals and chemicals industries, among others. Chesley allegedly sought “unreasonable” fees in the settlement of a diet drug class action against Wyeth, now part of Pfizer (PFE).

Mikal Watts of San Antonio ranks among the nation’s most feared mass-injury lawyers. In the wake of the BP oil spill four years ago, his firm filed some 40,000 claims on behalf of deckhands and others alleging economic harm from the disaster that killed 11 rig workers and sullied the Gulf Coast. Last December, BP hit back, accusing Watts of seeking to shake down the company by filing claims for thousands of “phantom” clients who didn’t fit his description of them or didn’t exist at all. Then, in January, another well-known mass-tort attorney, Danny Becnel of Louisiana, filed a separate suit against Watts on behalf of Vietnamese American fishermen and business owners who say Watts used their names without authorization. Watts last year resigned from the plaintiffs’ steering committee helping to direct the litigation against BP after media reports that federal agents had searched his offices in connection with the phantom-claims scandal. The federal criminal probe is continuing. Watts, a major fundraiser for the presidential campaigns of Barack Obama, has denied any wrongdoing—civil or criminal. His lawyers have said all his filings against BP were made in good faith.

Despite the egregiousness of the plaintiffs’ bar abuses, there’s little chance that Congress will enact tort reform anytime soon, says Victor Schwartz, a lobbyist for business on the issue and a partner in Washington with law firm Shook, Hardy & Bacon. Plaintiffs’ lawyers and law firms are major political contributors, particularly to Democrats, who have fought attempts to cap settlements in big corporate liability cases and class actions. Lawyers spent about $135 million in 2012 helping to elect Democrats, compared with $56 million for Republican candidates, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks political money. “There have been no major business civil justice victories [in Congress] for almost a decade,” Schwartz says. Likewise, President Obama has shown little interest in taking on attorneys who invested $28 million in his reelection effort in 2012, more than twice what they gave Mitt Romney, according to the center. And bar associations and state attorneys general rarely seek to prosecute litigation fraud, which is expensive to pursue and politically fraught. As a result, says Sherman Joyce, president of the corporate-funded American Tort Reform Association, “too many plaintiffs’ lawyers believe there’s not much risk in filing fraudulent suits.”

The bottom line: Dole and Chevron have won major court victories after federal judges ruled that plaintiffs’ lawyers engaged in fraud.

Barrett_190
Barrett is an assistant managing editor and senior writer at Bloomberg Businessweek. His new book, Law of the Jungle, which tells the story of the Chevron oil pollution case in Ecuador, will be published by Crown in September 2014. His most recent book is GLOCK: The Rise of America’s Gun.
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How To Blackout Your Site (For SOPA/PIPA) Without Hurting SEO

 

How To Blackout Your Site (For SOPA/PIPA) Without Hurting SEO

Jan 16, 2012 at 2:39pm ET by Matt McGee

Google-Webmaster-SEO-Rep-1304428070A number of websites are (or were) planning to “go black” this week while the U.S. Congress discusses issues related to the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA). The website blackouts are part of a larger social media effort against the bills that our Greg Finn wrote about this morning on Marketing Land.

You may be thinking about joining the website blackout movement, but yikes … what about the SEO implications? How do you take your site offline in protest without messing up your visibility in Google’s search results?

Well, Google’s Pierre Far shared several tips earlier today on Google+ in a post called “Website outages and blackouts the right way.”

In short, the advice is to use a 503 HTTP status code to tell spiders that the website is temporary unavilable. With a 503 status, Google won’t index the content (or lack thereof if you’re blacking out your site) and it won’t consider the site as having duplicate content issues (when all of the pages are blacked out).

But Far adds a couple important caveats to this advice regarding the robots.txt file and what will happen in Webmaster Tools if Google finds your site blacked out. Another Googler, John Mueller, adds additional information in the comments, so you’ll want to read the original Google+ post if you’re thinking about blacking out your website this week for SOPA, or in the future for any other reason.

Of course, also keep in mind that Bing may not handle things the same way if you do blackout your site.

Related Entries

Related Topics: Google: SEO | SEO: Blocking Spiders | SEO: Duplicate Content


About The Author: Matt McGee is Search Engine Land’s Executive News Editor, responsible for overseeing our daily news coverage. His news career includes time spent in TV, radio, and print journalism. His web career continues to include a small number of SEO and social media consulting clients, as well as regular speaking engagements at marketing events around the U.S. He blogs at Small Business Search Marketing and can be found on Twitter at @MattMcGee and/or on Google Plus. See more articles by Matt McGee

How To Blackout Your Site (For SOPA/PIPA) Without Hurting SEO

Wikipedia Will Go Dark On January 18 To Protest SOPA And PIPA | TechCrunch

 

Wikipedia Will Go Dark On January 18 To Protest SOPA And PIPA

ChrisVelazco

posted 7 hours ago

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Chris Velazco is a mobile enthusiast and writer who studied English and Marketing at Rutgers University. Once upon a time, he was the news intern for MobileCrunch, and in between posts, he worked in wireless sales at Best Buy. After graduating, he returned to the new TechCrunch to as a full-time mobile writer. He counts advertising, running, musical theater,… → Learn More

Wikipedia_SOPA_Blackout_Design

Wikipedia_SOPA_Blackout_Design

Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales wanted to send a “big message” to the U.S. government regarding the two heinous internet censorship bills currently being considered, and after a brief period of debate the world’s encyclopedia will soon do just that.

The Wikipedia founder announced on Twitter today that starting at midnight on Wednesday, January 18, the English language version of the world’s encyclopedia will go dark for 24 hours in protest of SOPA and PIPA. With their commitment confirmed, Wikipedia will be joining a slew of websites and companies that will suspend their operations for one day in an effort raise awareness around the two bills.

Meant to curb IP theft and piracy, the (imaginatively named) Stop Online Piracy Act and the PROTECT IP Act have raised eyebrows recently due to their decidedly scorched-earth approach to handling suspected offenders. Websites found to offer pirated content, along with the services that they use, could be hidden from US internet users by being delisted on search engines and potentially on DNS servers themselves.

Rather than let users access Wikipedia’s vast stores of English-language information on the 18th, Wales mentioned that the Wikipedia landing page will instead be populated with a letter of protest and a call to action that urges readers to get involved with the issue. It doesn’t appear as though the new landing page has been finalized, but one of the community’s prototypes can be seen above.

The news comes after a lengthy debate as to the particulars of such a grand gesture — whether or not the site should participate at all, which versions of the site would be affected, and how exactly the blackout would go down were all on the table for the community to discuss. Ultimately, the consensus pointed to a full blackout as a the proper way to make their collective displeasure known. There’s no official word on how other parts of the site will handle the event, although Wales has mentioned that the German language version of the site will be displaying a banner in support.

Meanwhile, some of SOPA’s supporters are already reacting to the very public backlash against the bill. Ars Technica reports that Congressman Lamar Smith (R-TX) would be pulling his DNS-blocking provisions from the bill after having consulted with “industry groups across the country.” What’s more, the White House has responded to two petitions about SOPA and PIPA on the official White House blog stating that they will not “support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet.”

Wales notes on Twitter that while SOPA has been “crippled,” buts its counterpart in the Senate is still very much alive and very dangerous. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid recently popped up on Meet The Press claiming his continued support for PIPA even though it “could create some problems.”

Though the event is meant to raise public awareness over two critical pieces of legislation, Wales still took a moment to offer a bit of sage advice for students heading back to school:

Jimmy Wales@jimmy_wales

Student warning! Do your homework early. Wikipedia protesting bad law on Wednesday! #sopa

16 Jan 12

Tags: Wikipedia, sopa, PIPA

Wikipedia Will Go Dark On January 18 To Protest SOPA And PIPA | TechCrunch