Asbestos Trust Filings An Issue In California Legislative Push

Photo credit: Northern California Record report, 4/10/17

Photo credit: Northern California Record report, 4/10/17

Tort reform advocates are pushing a new California proposal that would require victims’ attorneys to disclose filings with asbestos bankruptcy “trusts,” or face longer times awaiting trial in the state’s crowded civil court docket. The Norcal Record, a legal-issues newspaper owned by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, reports that the new law is scheduled for a vote in the Judiciary Committee of the California Assembly on April 25.

The Record explains that AB105 “… would require lawyers to reveal that they have filed for awards with asbestos bankruptcy trusts, established to compensate victims of exposure, before receiving ‘preference’ when filing a separate action in a civil court. Absent preference, a civil action in California’s  overburdened courts can take three years for a case to come to trial, legal experts say.”  
Nothing under current California law requires a lawyer to reveal to a court that a separate action for compensation has been filed with a trust, resulting in documented cases of lawyers and their clients receiving awards both from the trusts and the courts. The so-called ‘double dipping’ leaves trusts with fewer funds for those with legitimate exposure claims, critics of the practice say.

Asbestos victims’ cases are the nation’s longest running civil tort litigation, lasting more than four decades. The trusts are a special aspect of federal bankruptcy laws that allows companies facing asbestos liability to form special trust funds that operate separately from the civil courts system. Recently, those trusts have come under fire for offering victims a chance to tell one exposure story in the trust system and another in the separate civil courts system. 
Some states have passed, and the U.S. Congress is considering, new laws aimed at reconciling how the trust funds interact with the civil courts.

See the Record story here:
Asbestos transparency legislation set for committee vote next week

Obama’s ‘Rocket Docket’ Policy Comes Under Scrutiny

The so-called “rocket docket” policy of the Obama administration is coming under fire for lack of judicial training and for allowing non-judges to determine which cases get priority, according to four attorneys’ groups.

The Courthouse News is reporting that “… the groups — including the American Immigration Lawyers Association — claimed the Department of Justice, which oversees EOIR, refused to turn over records on policies and procedures for expedited immigration dockets, or “rocket dockets,” in violation of the Freedom of Information Act.

The CN also noted that the groups “… say the lack of clear policies and guidelines made it harder for unaccompanied minors, one-parent families and their attorneys to navigate the system and avoid deportation.

See the story here:

Legal Battle Resumes Over Nevada Nuke Waste Facility

The portal of a five-mile-long tunnel into Yucca Mountain in Nevada, where the Energy Department wants to bury 70,000 metric tons of radioactive waste. Photo credit: Los Angeles Times report, 3/29/17

The portal of a five-mile-long tunnel into Yucca Mountain in Nevada, where the Energy Department wants to bury 70,000 metric tons of radioactive waste. Photo credit: Los Angeles Times report, 3/29/17

The decades-old legal battle over Yucca Mountain, the proposed nuclear waste facility in Nevada, has resumed, the Los Angeles Times reports. The paper says that “… Nevada has filed some 300 legal ‘contentions’ against the Energy Department’s license, each of which must be examined by a special board. The state is swinging into action to file even more contentions if the license action is resumed, said Robert Halstead, chief of the state’s nuclear office.”

“They think because Reid is gone, this will be a cakewalk. Wrong,” Halstead told the LAT. “I see them going through a licensing procedure that will cost $1.5 billion and take five years, with a 50% chance of success.” The delays have resulted in staggering costs. The government promised nuclear utilities decades ago that it would take the spent fuel by 1998. Customers have paid a fraction of a penny on every kilowatt-hour of electricity into a fund for waste storage, which now contains about $36 billion.

The facility has long been considered for storing the nation’s nuclear waste and gathered political traction during the George W. Bush administration. Then Harry Reid became Senate leader and more or less nixed the proposal. But with President Trump in charge, the new energy secretary, former Texas governor Rick Perry, has already visited the site.

Read the Times’ story here: Decades-old war over Yucca Mountain nuclear dump resumes under Trump budget plan

Texas Lawsuit-Reform Group Issues Comprehensive Asbestos White Paper

The “Texans for Lawsuit Reform Foundation” has released a deep-dive into the ongoing role of the Lone Star state in asbestos litigation. The document notes that Texas has played a leading role, first on the side of victims’ attorneys and then on the side of tort reform and now in the ongoing litigation. While written from a decidedly pro-business tort-reform point of view, the paper still notes that some victims became “pawns” in the system and gives a good timeline on the litigation’s evolution.

(The National Courts Monitor has recent agreed to facilitate a victim’s group “investigative” effort to determine the extent that asbestos victims might have become litigation victims. Check out the website at

In its press release on the paper, TLR Foundation President Hugh Rice Kelly is quoted saying that a “handful” of “… lawyers’ activities were carried out at the expense of the judicial system, thousands of plaintiffs who were pawns in the litigation game, and hundreds of defendants who paid settlements to uninjured plaintiffs.”

The white paper is also a sort of greatest hits of asbestos litigation issues, noting recent trust-claim controversies and the infamous “witness coaching memo.” To view the full paper: _Web.pdf.

San Francisco Newspaper Profiles Immigration Courts in Near-Chaos

Photo: Santiago Mejia, The Chronicle

Photo: Santiago Mejia, The Chronicle Second from right: Mike Lee, from South Korea, and others wait in line to go inside the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Service building located at 630 Sansome Street on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017, in San Francisco, Calif. Lee, a molecular biology student at UC Berkeley, said he was going in for a naturalization interview.

It may be a “sanctuary city,” but the federal immigration courts in San Francisco are not immune from the backlog and lack of legal representation found in the rest of the country. The San Francisco Chronicle has a profile of the situation online, noting that “… since [President] Trump took office Jan. 20… U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which runs the detention facilities, has increasingly refused to release immigrants on bond after their arrest. Nieblas, the former lawyers’ association president, said the same agency is also refusing to settle once-routine cases and forcing immigrants to litigate them in court.”
The report notes that “… in most court cases, they’re on their own. Unlike criminal defendants, immigrants have no constitutional right to legal representation, and a recent study found that 37 percent were represented by lawyers, mostly from nonprofit organizations charging no fees. For immigrants in detention, only 14 percent had lawyers.
Some studies indicate that people are five times more likely to win the right to say in the U.S. if they have a lawyer. Unlike criminal defendants, who are legally entitled to representation, immigration cases are considered “civil” and no such right exists.
The Chron notes that the legal-representation issue “… is percolating in San Francisco, where Mayor Ed Lee has approved $1.5 million in city funding for immigration lawyers at nonprofit agencies but opposes Public Defender Jeff Adachi’s request for $7 million to hire 10 staff attorneys to represent detained migrants.”

Read the story here: Immigration courts clogged with 2-year backlog

‘King George’ Could Have Gone Federal? Historic Implications Abound

Most of our discussion over former Chief Justice Ronald George’s recent memoir “Chief” has focused on his relentless quest for power. But S.F. Gate in the Bay Area has an interesting alternative take, pointing out that many of California’s same-sex marriage rulings might have gone another way if “King George” had accepted a federal judgeship that was offered shortly after he’d accepted an appeal court position.
That move, of course, set up an appointment to the state high court by Gov. Wilson. But S.F. Gate has this bit of insight: “If Wilson had appointed someone else instead of George in 1991, there’s a fair chance that some of the court’s later 4-3 decisions would have turned out differently — such as the May 2008 ruling, written by the chief justice, that legalized same-sex marriage in California. That ruling stayed in effect for less than six months before the voters outlawed same-sex marriage by passing Proposition 8, which ultimately was overturned by the federal courts. But George’s ruling allowed 18,000 gay and lesbian couples to marry…”
There are other milestones, but clearly it’s a take on the Justice George story we’ve not seen. You can see it here.