Judges, Suits and Lawsuits

By June 18, 2007Briefly Legal

Walter Olson, the inveterate chronicler of legal abuses (at Overlawyered.com and elsewhere), takes on the Judge Roy Pearson’s pants-suit in the WSJ’s Opinion Journal today. Many good observations:

  • Phrases like “Do you realize I’m a lawyer?” uttered in the course of routine disputes with storekeepers, neighbors, school principals, etc., probably account for more of the legal profession’s aggregate unpopularity than any number of scandals in the actual representation of clients.
  • David and Goliath talk notwithstanding, legal action is often a powerful dis-equalizer of the playing field, as those who know how to work the system fleece the outsiders, the novices, the distracted and the trustful.
  • Pretty much every other advanced country would have afforded the Chungs better protection against a lawsuit like this. Under proper “loser-pays” rules, the Chungs would be correctly construed as having won even if Mr. Pearson proves damages of, say, $1,000, since they would have prevailed on the actual issues in dispute. D.C. does have a weak “offer of judgment” rule that might let the Chungs recover some miscellaneous court costs — but not their major expense, lawyers’ fees — if Mr. Pearson loses or wins but a token sum. So even if they win, they’re bound to lose.
  • The other source of Mr. Pearson’s power — his ability to hold the threat of huge penalties over the Chungs’ heads — arises from consumer laws that encourage complainants to multiply the stated penalty for a single infraction by the whole universe of a business’s clientele, or by all the days in the calendar, with no need to prove actual injury.
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