Hunter Biden, A Liability on the Precipice

Photo: Visar Kryeziu/AP, as published in CityWatch LA, 12/30/19.

Photo: Visar Kryeziu/AP, as published in CityWatch LA, 12/30/19.

By Sara Corcoran, Courts Monitor Publisher (Originally published in CityWatch LA, 12/30/19)

 

DC DISPATCH-Amidst Trump campaign slogans calling for Hunter Biden’s location, one thing is clear. . .we all know where Hunter is — Los Angeles — and hope he is enjoying his new life in Citywatch’s backyard.
But in wishing him well, we would be remiss if we did not mention the serious threat he presents to his father’s presidential prospects. Hunter Biden (photo above, left) is an unpredictable tracking cookie who follows his father’s campaign, displacing bytes of data wherever he travels. Furthermore, he appears to be a liability that the campaign or its leader has strongly overlooked in assessing Biden’s chances of winning the presidency. Absent a credible strategy to block Hunter’s cookie trail, he will continue to diminish the fungibility of his father’s candidacy — stonewalling or calling members of the audience on the campaign trail “damn liars” will just not work. 

Let me start by saying that I admire Joe Biden as a candidate and public servant. This courageous American has dedicated his entire life to the American people both domestically and abroad. He has endured unimaginable tragedies which makes his ability to connect with fellow survivors genuine. I do not question his patriotism nor his frontrunner status in national and swing-state polling, but I am left feeling very uncomfortable that his former partner in the Executive Branch has failed to endorse him. 

According to some media reports, Obama is not convinced that Biden has what it takes to clinch the nomination and beat Donald Trump. Absent the overt and covert blessing of Obama, we are left to infer that he knows something about the former Vice President that the general public does not. What can it be? His health? His age? Or some secret information that he’s gleaned from classified intelligence reports? 

Obama, during the last year of his presidency, had the insider track when it came to monitoring the impact Donald Trump was having on the U.S. elections — he may have underestimated the impact, but he knew that the Russians were working to harm Hillary Clinton and to push for Donald Trump. In hindsight, I’m sure he feels his administration should have acted more forcefully as a former member of his cabinet was eviscerated by a very successful Putin-led assault. Obama is likely flustered at the prospect of witnessing another member of his former cabinet suffer the same tortious interference and I suspect he thinks that possibility is very real. 

As the activist, silent investor in the Democratic party, Obama knows the assets and liabilities of each candidate on the debate stage. When the former president speaks publicly about the 2020 contest, it has been to caution the party against going too far left. So, when he was reported to be telling top democratic donors that “Elizabeth Warren is a capable candidate,” it seems as if he was steering wealthy donors to look elsewhere — a definite slight to Biden, who served him loyally for eight years. 

While out on the campaign trail, Joe Biden has failed to competently address questions and concerns related to his son. While many candidates have previously enjoyed the rule that family is off-limits, in the age of Trump and his tweets, this is no more, and candidates must adapt. Nothing is off-limits and everything is on the table, including Hunter on a platter. 

Hunter Biden’s ongoing child support and paternity case illustrate the type of prey that Trump, a known carnivore, will pounce on, feasting on every savory morsel of output. If Trump had known that Hunter would risk gravely harming his father by engaging in an open-source civil matter, our President would not have needed to risk abuse of power and obstruction of Congress by mining for dirt in Ukraine. Trump could simply have waited for Lunden Roberts, Biden’s baby momma, to produce a trove of public and humiliating documents. 

This case cried for a quiet settlement, but for some reason, Hunter first refused to acknowledge paternity and then to make steady payments to the child he knew he had helped produce. By his arrogant conduct, Hunter managed to anger the judge who has denied a protective order in part and compelled him to appear for a deposition in Arkansas in early 2020. Hunter will now be forced to supply five years of financial documents (instead of three) which include his time as a Burisma board member, his work in China and who knows where else he has been conducting business. These will be made public in redacted form. 

D & A Investigators, a private, Florida-based company is assisting with the effort of digging up dirt on Hunter and has filed a series of salacious documents with the court.

These allude to a series of criminal investigations that have tenuous links to Hunter at best, but they have become part of the court record. More importantly, it is not known who is footing that bill. In all likelihood, the T-shirt catchphrase, “Where is Hunter” will soon give way to, “I’ve got the Dirt on Hunter” from the Trump campaign. 

Hunter’s recent claims of poverty, rebuked by the purchase of an upscale home in the Hollywood Hills of Los Angeles, does not help his credibility. And though he lives far from Little Rock, it is clear that Hunter Biden will have to deal with this now very public proceeding and discovery process. It would have been the more prudent move to shield his father, his 18-month-year-old infant, and his newly pregnant wife, Melissa Cohen Biden, the pain of a public display by reaching an out of court settlement. 

In the current political environment, where dirt and kompromat have more value than the actual record, the younger Mr. Biden will continue to be an onus to his father’s campaign. Trump has demonstrated time and again that he will risk all to mine for valuable “oppo” data. Since it will now be available in plentiful supply in Little Rock, Trump won’t have to rely on Ukrainian cutouts. He will soon learn the utility of having an open legal proceeding out there for the press to dissect. The current Commander in Chief will benefit greatly from the subpoena of Hunter’s financial records, emails, and other communications and he won’t even have to show a trace of the clumsy machinations he and Giuliani used in Ukraine. 

The Biden family must address this unresolved liability head-on even if it involves acknowledging wrongdoing and errors of judgment. Candidate Biden cannot plead the loving father, asking no questions of his errant son. Hunter can no longer claim his finances are a private matter. There are simply too many areas of questionable conduct — from allegations of shady business dealings and child support obligations. Both Bidens need to sit down together for a lengthy, no-holds-barred interview and explain to the American people how they erred in the past and how they both intend to behave in the future. If Biden is to be elected President, it is the only way to take a step back from the precipice. If successful, they will be able to assuage voters’ fears and blunt the onslaught of oppo dirt that Trump and his campaign will keep hurling their way.

(Sara Corcoran writes DC Dispatch and covers the nation’s capital from Washington for CityWatch. She is the Publisher of the California and National Courts Monitor and contributes to Daily Kos and other important news publications.)

 

Dr. Dre, USC Among Those Disrupting Online Education

Sara Corcoran is correspondent, contributing editor, and founding publisher of the National Courts Monitor & California Courts Monitor.

Sara Corcoran is correspondent, contributing editor, and founding publisher of the National Courts Monitor & California Courts Monitor.

Courts Monitor Publisher Sara Corcoran takes an interest in Dr. Dre and ongoing higher education at CityWatchLA. See the story here:

Dr. Dre, USC Among Those Disrupting Online Education

Trump Games the Legal System but Will It Last?

Photo: AP/Alex Brandon, as published in CityWatch LA, 12/2/19.

Photo: AP/Alex Brandon, as published in CityWatch LA, 12/2/19.

by Sara Corcoran, Courts Monitor Publisher (Originally published in CityWatch LA, 12/2/19)

DC DISPATCH-In a normal judicial proceeding, when the Court speaks, it does so through orders. A court order is a command issued by a judge. If a judge orders you to appear for your speeding ticket hearing, failure to do so can result in a bench warrant or a default judgment. Penalties can also include jail time and fines. 

A subpoena, also an order of the court, can be issued by either of the parties to a civil action and, if approved by the judge, can require a person to produce documents or appear in person to provide testimony. And like most CityWatchers, when faced with a court order, a subpoenaed party would cooperate. For many of us that may mean paying a speeding ticket or getting current on child support, because the fear of being held in contempt of court or jailed would frighten most people, especially given their unfamiliarity with judicial process. 

Could you ever imagine being completely immune from any court order and/or subpoena? Life would be very different for most of us, if we thought that the arm of the law could in no way reach out and touch us. Yet, this is the position that Trump is claiming. He maintains that he is basically above the law and needs to answer to no one for his conduct. He also argues that anyone who works for him is similarly exempt — in effect, claiming absolute immunity from any legal process. We are witnessing in real-time what life is like for a person who believes this. In a country that promotes the rule of law, this monarchical conduct is simply not sustainable if Congress and the Courts are to have a role in running the country. 

In his recent book, “The Warning,” Anonymous notes President Trump’s familiarity with the legal system. When Trump became President, he had something like 3000 outstanding cases to his name. Anonymous recalls a conversation Trump had with a group of staffers when he paraphrased, “If you want to irritate someone threaten to sue, but if you really want to scare someone, file a lawsuit against them.” Trump is in the luxurious position of being able to rely on an army of Justice Department lawyers to bring his claims, however frivolous, and he no longer has the check of legal fees to control his conduct. He also has a group of lawyers led by Rudy Giuliani who work for him pro bono. Talk about carte blanche. No wonder he is tempted to abuse the American legal system. 

We have a litigious expert in the White House and while rules of civil procedure may not be his strength, he is very familiar with the benefits of delay. Trump is now for the first time in his life concerned with outcomes. Even if he loses in the lower courts, there is always a higher court to appeal to and more time to prevent the public from getting access to whatever information he is hiding. When coupled with his constant attacks on Twitter and in the press designed to undermine whatever position his opponents may take, Trump has manipulated the legal system to his ultimate advantage — likely assuring that he can defer any negative court decisions until after the election of 2020. 

There are a few risks on the horizon for the President, however. The litigation calling for him to produce his tax returns is advancing at a faster than expected pace and is already pending review by the Supreme Court. The Court could decide to take one of the cases and stall a resolution until next year, or it could decline to hear the cases, letting the lower courts’ decisions stand — in which case, the President could find himself suddenly exposed and forced to produce his taxes. 

The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) has issued countless subpoenas for both testimony and documents. Trump has instructed his subordinates at the Department of State, the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) not to cooperate in any way, citing an unfair impeachment process. This obstruction of Congress is unprecedented and exceeds even the Nixonian example. 

While the Democrats have managed to build a credible case working around the top layer, the testimony of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and OMB Director Mick Mulvaney under oath, should under normal circumstances present the President’s defense that his conversation with President Zelensky of Ukraine was a proper exercise of his foreign affairs powers and not, as Congress is alleging, an improper request to a foreign government for Trump’s personal benefit in a political campaign. By refusing to cooperate in any fashion, it is logical that Congress would infer guilt from these parties’ obstruction. Congress has also wisely refused to engage with Trump in the courts in trying to enforce subpoenas against these parties. The Congressional figures pressing Trump’s indictment know his game and are pressing on without them. 

Even though Trump and his legal counsel expressly ordered parties not to appear before the HPSCI, it is amazing how many people have shown extraordinary courage to testify both secretly and in public notwithstanding the Presidential orders. The recent conviction of longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone for lying to Congress may also have served as a harbinger. When there is a conflict between the Congress and an Executive branch leadership that may be engaged in wrongdoing and covering up that wrongdoing, it may be prudent to comply with the subpoena. While the long arm of the law has not yet reached into the White House and taken hold of our President, it has caught up with some of those around him. If individuals very close to the President are now concerned that the blanket claim of executive privilege won’t protect them indefinitely, the President himself should be worried as well.

(Sara Corcoran writes DC Dispatch and covers the nation’s capital from Washington for CityWatch. She is the Publisher of the California and National Courts Monitors and contributes to Daily Koz and other important news publications.)

Michael Bloomberg: An Option That is in the Money

Photo originally published in CityWatch LA , 11/14/19.

Photo originally published in
CityWatch LA
, 11/14/19.

by Sara Corcoran, Courts Monitor Publisher
(Originally published in CityWatch LA, 11/14/19)

DC DISPATCH-Michael Bloomberg, the former Mayor of NYC, has officially expressed interest in earning the Democratic nomination for 2020.

Although his pathway to the nomination may be unconventional, likely forgoing the four early but low-vote states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina and instead making a concentrated Super Tuesday attack for the big-delegate states including California and Texas — Bloomberg has the right moxie, background, temperament, and demographic appeal to unseat Trump in the next Presidential election. 

The current roster of Democrats lacks a candidate that has the ability to comfortably beat Trump.  Moreover, recent swing state polling margins confirm this. All the current Democratic front runners are either negative or in the margin of error when paired on the electoral college map against Trump. Bloomberg has the best chance of changing this paradigm. Although national polls that have shown Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Joe Biden beating Trump in the popular vote, it is only Biden who eeks out a win in some of the swing states, including Arizona and Virginia, with an outcome too close to call. 

The current lineup of Democratic candidates does not offer enough risk insurance against a Trump presidency, given the likelihood that 2020 will be determined within the margin of error yet again. Joe Biden, once the best shot to beat Trump, has been weakened by the mere allegation and perception of corrupt practices by his family in Ukraine. Although the impact on Biden’s polls of Trump’s attacks tends to fluctuate, to dismiss it as a contingent  liability is naive. Trump’s attacks are not likely to stop. If anything, they will increase and become more vicious. Biden’s defense of his son has been to evade and plead ignorance. There is a real risk that he will not be able to absorb the Trump onslaught, particularly if he remains financially vulnerable. 

After Bloomberg officially expressed interest in pursuing a 2020 run, the reaction has been mixed, but more favorable to some who are looking for a middle of the road option. For Independents, swing voters, and moderate Democrats, this should be a welcome move. His announcement may also serve to quell the rumblings of a possible third try by Hillary Clinton. Biden has publicly approved of a Bloomberg run, although privately, he may be shaken. On the other hand, both Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have piled on with criticism of “billionaires buying their way into an election.” 

Although both Sanders and Warren (who are millionaires, not billionaires) have had impressive careers, they will not be able to carry the white, working-class vote in Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. They are both Washington insiders in a country that has an increasing appetite for “outsider” Presidential candidates even those who are independently wealthy. It is ironic that Tom Steyer, a billionaire, has been unable to create traction with voters, suggesting that some unknown quantifier is at play. 

Bloomberg is a self-made billionaire who has created jobs. Coming from humble beginnings, Bloomberg made his wealth the old-fashioned way, he earned it. His career on Wall Street started as a partner Solomon Brothers. As the creator of the Bloomberg terminal, Michael Bloomberg transformed the way professionals could access, interpret, and understand capital market relationships with banking, credit, currency and government finance to name a few. Anyone who has had the pleasure of accessing a terminal appreciates the wealth of information that it affords. Today, Bloomberg is a diverse conglomerate that focuses on financial services, software, and media with over 20,000 employees and revenues north of $9 billion. 

As much as the liberal base of the Democratic Party thinks they drive the nomination process, it is incumbent upon this branch to support the candidate that has the best chance of beating Trump. It is Bloomberg whose option is in the money (“in the money” refers to a concept in options where the underlying security’s price is greater than its strike price). At a minimum, Bloomberg can distract Trump away from Biden and allow the former VP to recover from the onslaught against his family. Bloomberg is a covered option that has value whether you go long or go short. 

In the present environment where much of the Democrats case against Trump centers on charges of foreign influence and accommodations, Bloomberg will have to deflect claims that his business interests  make him susceptible to foreign influence given his various subsidiaries with China in particular. Bloomberg will have to address the allegations of  firing  journalists and changing editorial content in its news in exchange for maintaining access and financial terminal business. That said, Bloomberg can differentiate himself from Trump by demonstrating he understands what putting his assets in a trust involves — he did it when running for mayor of New York. Bloomberg’s brand isn’t about chaos and nepotism. He has a clear understanding of how to avoid conflicts of interest. 

Instead, his focus is on creating jobs, accepting climate change as a threat, and instituting concrete economic policies. He has run a massively complex city and has proven executive skills. He has developed relationships with mayors and governors across the country and is data driven in his responses to problems. When Trump won the presidency, he allegedly called Bloomberg and asked him for advice. “Hire people smarter than you,” he reportedly recommended. Trump was obviously too insecure to follow this suggestion with disastrous consequences and claims that Bloomberg lacks “the magic” to win. We shall see how much magic Trump brings to the next election as he turns his attention to a possible Bloomberg threat. 

A repeat of the 2016 Presidential race would be devastating to the Democratic Party but if they underplay the significance of state data in favor of national data, it is likely to occur. Progressive Democrats keep looking at national polling with the hopes the state polling will eventually mirror it, but this won’t happen without the right candidate who leads by more than 5%. Trump salivates at the prospect of fighting an election into the margin of error where the dirt he cultivates against opponents can have magnified value and impact. When polling data goes below 5%, foreign actors can interfere indiscriminately without being identified, at least in the short run.

Michael Bloomberg made his fortune by making wise choices about options. If the Democrats want to win the 2020 election, they need to do the same.

(Sara Corcoran writes DC Dispatch and covers the nation’s capital from Washington for CityWatch. She is the Publisher of National Courts Monitor the California and National Courts Monitor and contributes to Daily Koz, The Frontier Post in Pakistan and other important news publications.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

Asbestos-Style Lawsuits Growing in N.C. Agribusiness Trials

By Sara Corcoran, Courts Monitor Publisher and CityWatch LA DC Dispatch Contributor

 

Terry Sanford Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Raleigh, N.C. where multiple hog farm trials are being held.

Terry Sanford Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Raleigh, N.C. where multiple hog farm trials are being held.

Recently, North Carolina has been making national headlines for its tawdry and tainted congressional election, but for some observers, an equally interesting civil courts drama is playing out in the Tar Heel state: Iconic big-money asbestos lawyers are now driving hog farm lawsuits.

This week, as in four previous trials, plaintiffs suing hog farms for being an unreasonable nuisance are represented by Michael Kaeske, a Dallas attorney known for asbestos cases. His team is joined by Lisa Blue, the widow of Fred Baron, who made the Dallas-based Baron & Budd an asbestos litigation giant. Baron & Budd is also known in North Carolina because of Fred Baron’s close relationship with former VP candidate John Edwards, allegedly helping conceal Edwards’ former mistress, Rielle Hunter, during Edwards’ VP run.

Baron & Budd is also notorious for its involvement in witness coaching described in the “Mystery of the Missing Memo.” (I wrote about this strange practice in the Huffington Post back in December of 2017.) The memo is an asbestos-lawsuit legend, and significant because N.C. critics of the hog farm lawsuits claim that similar tactics are being utilized in their cases.

There are multiple cases filed so far and in three of the four trials last fall, juries awarded a combined half-billion dollars in damages, although N.C. personal injury law caps should reduce that amount to approximately $100 million dollars. All the cases are being appealed.

It’s worth noting that the hog farm lawsuits do not make claims of environmental damage, health concerns or other damages. They basically claim the smell of hog waste is so bad that it becomes an unreasonable nuisance and diminishes their quality of life. The resulting evidence, including decades-old government documents and detailed expert testimony rolling out over weeks, would seem familiar to anyone who has seen an asbestos trial.

In a possible legal strategy to fight asbestos lawyers with other asbestos lawyers, the defendants, after the first three cases, have been represented by Robert Thackston. Mr. Thackston, a North Carolina native with offices in Dallas and Los Angeles, has been associated with high-profile asbestos defense for decades.

The tables seemed to turn in the defendants’ favor for the fourth case. Senior District Court Judge David Faber (a different judge than in the first three trials) refused to allow some of the evidence of the first cases. The jury awarded about $100,000 to eight hog farm neighbors and half of the plaintiffs received only $100. Then Judge Faber nixed the punishment phase of the trial.

This pattern of small client payouts relative to the award offers another parallel to asbestos litigation. Also, the three cases that went pro-plaintiff had a different federal judge than the fourth case which was pro-defendant. Off the record, many key asbestos lawyers claim that judicial attitudes carry too much weight in asbestos trials; similar claims from both sides are being made in the hog farm decisions.

The left-leaning “Progressive Pulse” blog, affiliated with the North Carolina Policy Watch, noted that Judge Faber nixed testimony about ownership by a Chinese firm and also declined to allow evidence on industry executives’ salaries.

“Those are emotional arguments,” the judge ruled.

As this area of litigation produces more awards, just like asbestos litigation did, national politicians are also taking notice. They point out that these are federal trials with possible national implications for agricultural operations.

“We need to come up with model legislation, we need to figure out what the federal government should do,” said U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, a N.C. Republican who was part of an agriculture roundtable in Raleigh last fall. “We need to send a very clear message to the trial lawyers: We’re bigger than you when we coordinate.”

Even media coverage is split along urban-rural lines, with The News & Observer, a California-owned Raleigh daily which won a Pulitzer in the 90s for a hog farm series, embracing an environmentalist tone. Outlets closer in proximity to hog farm communities have been more sympathetic to the farmers, including an in-depth investigative report from a Wilmington TV station offering a relatively sordid tale of out-of-state lawyers, angry state judges, and ethical quandaries.

In her report at WECT, journalist Casey Roman, also noted that “… how the plaintiffs were enlisted is a question with no clear answer. Spend time in any of the areas under scrutiny, and you will hear wildly different stories. On one side are accusations the legal teams went door to door recruiting plaintiffs for an issue the lawyers manufactured under the promise of a big payout.” Roman counters that “…….on the other side the plaintiffs had been  pleading for relief for years with no recourse until finally a legal entity would hear their case and offer their services.”

She also reports that the farming community found significant fault with both the trials’ location in the urban “Research Triangle” and the fact that jurors have not visited the hog farms. She says “.. they said they feel it is unfair that city-dwelling jurors would be tasked with making a verdict on how agricultural areas operate.”

The WECT report also explains the details of who is named in the lawsuits. Hint: It’s not the actual farmers in question, but the company contracting with the farms. Of course, pitting sympathetic plaintiffs against deep-pocketed corporations is a staple of asbestos lawsuits.

Could this be another parallel? With two dozen hog farm cases pending in North Carolina, with about 500 plaintiffs, hog farm cases are gaining velocity. Considering the livestock industry in California, we will likely see this type of “asbestos-style” ag litigation gain momentum on the West Coast. Will the Bear Flag State be tarred and feathered during the year of the pig?

What remains to be seen is if, like the asbestos cases, awards push hog farmers into bankruptcy and create court-ordered bankruptcy trusts to handle settlements.

Born in Ireland but Made in the USA … of Brick and Block

By Courts Monitor publisher, Sara Corcoran. Originally published in CityWatch LA.

 

President of the Bricklayers Union, James Boland, seen here with Courts Monitor publisher Sara Corcoran.

President of the Bricklayers Union, James Boland, seen here with Courts Monitor publisher Sara Corcoran.

As President of the Bricklayers Union in Washington D.C., James Boland, an immigrant from Ireland, is proud of his heritage and history with labor. As I took a brief stroll around his office, I noticed photos of prominent politicians, spanning generations and a 49ers football helmet that caught my attention.  As a former resident of San Francisco, President Boland got his start in the bricklaying world like every other member, as a former bricklayer. Having worked his way from the bottom to union management, Mr. Boland has a firm grasp of the issues that are facing the U.S. construction industry. 

“The Bricklayers Union is important to me because I’ve spent my entire life as a member,” he noted. “As the longest union in continuous existence,” he continued, “the Bricklayers Union is very distinguished and has great persistence…The Union formed when the Baltimore and Philadelphia bricklayers locals merged in the mid-19th century to improve working conditions and relocated to Washington DC.” 

Read the entire interview here.

Courts Monitor publisher thinks that the newly emerging cannabis industry can learn a thing or two from the alcohol industry

Sara Corcoran is correspondent, contributing editor, and founding publisher of the National Courts Monitor & California Courts Monitor.

Sara Corcoran is a correspondent, contributing editor, and founding publisher of the National Courts Monitor & California Courts Monitor.

Sara Corcoran, the Courts Monitor publisher, thinks that the newly emerging cannabis industry can learn a thing or two from the alcohol industry. For example, as the repeal of alcohol prohibition turns 85 years old, the feuds between the “beer and wine” crowd and the “distilled spirits” companies could easily be repeated as cannabis regulation takes shape amid conflicted industry sectors. She is published at CityWatch LA, the regionally prominent Los Angeles-based opinion-and-politics website here.
 

Courts Monitor Publisher Believes Kavanaugh Accuser

Sara Corcoran is correspondent, contributing editor, and founding publisher of the National Courts Monitor & California Courts Monitor.

Sara Corcoran is correspondent, contributing editor, and founding publisher of the National Courts Monitor & California Courts Monitor.

Based in part on the fact they attended the same Washington, D.C. area high school, Courts Monitor Publisher Sara Corcoran explains why she believes the woman accusing the U.S. Supreme Court nominee of a sexual attack. She posted her story at the Daily Caller website which you can find here.

Tar Heel State on Point to Tackle Asbestos Fraud by Sara Corcoran, Courts Monitor Publisher

U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis is among several senators pushing reform with the “PROTECT Asbestos Victims Act.” Photo credit: Wikipedia.

U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis is among several senators pushing reform with the “PROTECT Asbestos Victims Act.” Photo credit: Wikipedia.

North Carolina, long famous for great college sports and some of the nation’s best barbecue, is fast earning recognition of another sort: Being at the forefront of America’s longest-running personal injury litigation, asbestos lawsuits. The new status is interesting in the civil justice sense not only because of recent landmarks involving talc (I’ve written about that here but over how the state overlaps with national political trends.

For example, there was another “reform” milestone this month as the Tar Heel State became, by my count, at least the 15th state to embrace increased transparency in the virtually unregulated filed of asbestos bankruptcy trusts. The trusts are part of a special process for asbestos companies to protect them from massive liability, and industry watchers say some 100 companies have gone the bankruptcy route.

Of course, asbestos litigation community members will recall that one of the more prominent bankruptcies came in 2004 in North Carolina, and has unearthed questionable practices as related to the management of asbestos trusts. “Garlock” is a gasket manufacturer that received bankruptcy protection in Charlotte, NC. In an unusual move, a retired judge presiding over the case allowed discovery into 15 cases, eventually deciding that ALL 15 had some level of evidence suppression.

For context, it is worth noting that asbestos bankruptcy is an insular environment. Faced with burgeoning asbestos liability in the early 1990s, the U.S. Congress in 1994 created a system that allowed court-approved trusts to assume those payouts. Funded by the companies, the trusts are typically managed by victims’ attorneys and have come under fire for having little or no independent oversight.

The Reuters news service explained that “… a judge who found what he called a ‘startling pattern’ of abuse by plaintiff’s lawyers may have shifted the landscape of asbestos litigation with a ruling in favor of manufacturers” and then quoted from the judges decree stating that lawyers had manipulated evidence to get bigger settlements from Garlock.

Citing his finding, the judge knocked a billion dollars off the amount victims attorneys were seeking for asbestos cancer victims. Garlock even sued some of the firms that had been suing them, claiming racketeering. That case was resolved, but other civil racketeering cases have been filed and more than a dozen state attorneys general have taken notice, The AG group issued a formal letter demanding information from trust records, but did not get that information. That effort resulted in a lawsuit in Utah, and developments are ongoing.

In discussing North Carolina, it is also worth noting that in neighboring South Carolina, another retired judge – a former state supreme court chief justice – presided over one of the nation’s high-profile asbestos/talc trials that ended in a hung jury. More than 10,000 lawsuits nationwide claim that talc was involved in giving them cancer, with some jury awards in the millions of dollars. Defendants note that none of that has been paid out and appeals have overturned some big awards.

Federally, the asbestos trust transparency has been a casualty of Congressional gridlock for years. Yet new traction is being reported for a bill with – you guessed it! – North Carolina connections. U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis is among several senators pushing reform with the “PROTECT Asbestos Victims Act.”

Probably the most significant section of the bill involves allowing the U.S. Trustee Program of the Department of Justice, which has oversight of similar trusts, to investigate fraud against the asbestos trusts – a power not included when Congress created the asbestos-specific system in 1994.

“Asbestos bankruptcy trusts were created to compensate asbestos victims, not trial lawyers,” said Senator Tillis. “The PROTECT Asbestos Victims Act will reform the asbestos bankruptcy trust system by adding in layers of oversight, accountability and transparency, which in turn will help eliminate fraud and ensure that trusts are able to compensate present and future asbestos victims.”

Another sponsor of the bill, Chuck Grassley (R-IA), argued that we “… need commonsense accountability measures to ensure that the trust fund is not syphoned away from the victims it was intended to help. And we need independent oversight to protect against any waste, fraud, and abuse. This bill accomplishes these much needed reforms.”

Grassley refers to a provision of the proposed law that empowers the U.S. Trustee Program of the Department of Justice to investigate fraud against asbestos trusts, which they are excluded from doing under current law. Allegations of potential fraud has brought some to support trust transparency efforts, at least in part because asbestos cancers impact U.S. military veterans more than the non-vet population.

For example, the reforms would no doubt be welcomed news to the American Legion, one the nation’s largest veterans’ groups, which has repeatedly endorsed legislation aimed at discovering attorneys who might be pilfering the trusts.

If that turns out to be the case, keep an eye on the Carolinas, Tar Heels and Palmettos alike.

(Sara Corcoran is the publisher of the California Courts Monitor, National Courts Monitor, and a contributor to CityWatchLA and other news outlets.)

Sara Corcoran interviews Alan Lowenthal, United States Congressman for California’s 47th District.

Courts Monitor publisher Sara Corcoran with Alan Lowenthal, United States Congressman for California’s 47thDistrict.

Courts Monitor publisher Sara Corcoran with Alan Lowenthal, United States Congressman for California’s 47thDistrict.

Just published is Courts Monitor publisher Sara Corcoran’s interview with Alan Lowenthal, United States Congressman for California’s 47thDistrict.

“I have the largest Cambodian community in the country, one of the largest Vietnamese American communities, and a large LGBTQ community. I am going to continue to fight for human rights. I’ve had legislation passed with Ed Markey in the Senate to ensure that the State Department deals with LGBTQ issues internationally. Right now, there are some 70 nations where it’s a crime of some sort to be gay and in some of those countries you can be put to death. Together we need to make sure U.S. policymakers are working with those countries to change those policies. We can provide assistance to them and urge that they be required to have human rights protections for all,” states Rep. Lowenthal in the interview.

Rep. Lowenthal also provides insights on the upcoming elections in this riveting interview. Read it here: http://www.randomlengthsnews.com/2018/05/22/19938/