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10 posts from November 2010

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Legal Cost Reporting Bill on the Governor’s Desk

In previous posts, we’ve emphasized the hidden cost of lawsuit abuse to New Jersey’s taxpayers, embedded in municipal and even school budgets.  Now, legislation to expose these costs to the light of day is on the Governor’s desk. 

S-1248, sponsored by Senators Ronald Rice (D-Essex) and Jennifer Beck (R-Monmouth), would prohibit the Division of Local Government Services, which is housed in the Department of Community Affairs, from approving the budget of a municipality or local authority until the municipality reports their involvement in lawsuits in which they have spent or are expected to spend more than $50,000 in legal fees. 

Local governments’ annual budgets must be approved by the State.  However, legal fees are often added to the budget after its approval, which can sometimes mask the true state of municipality’s budget. 

S-1248 also tackles outside law firms’ billing practices, which deters potential pay-to-play activity.  It’s harder for firms to bilk the taxpayer when municipalities are required to report the names of attorneys performing work and an explanation of their billing practices. 

In addition to reporting the names of attorneys performing work and an explanation of their billing practices, the number of lawsuits settled out-of-court and the amount for which they were settled must also be included.  Outstanding lawsuits and an explanation must be included as well, unless costs are expected to be covered by a liability insurer. 

Senator Rice acknowledged that the bill is largely aimed at alerting state official to large contracts awarded to outside firms.  “New Jersey taxpayers are paying enough for local governments and authorities without over-the-top legal contracts to political cronies,” he said in a statement.  “This bill is about making sure that local officials publicly report any legal contract in which the municipality is expected to spend more than $50,000, so that State regulators, lawmakers, and the governor can step in if necessary on behalf of the local taxpayers.”

Monday, November 29, 2010

Barnes to chair Assembly Judiciary Committee

Assemblyman Peter Barnes III will replace Senator-elect Linda Greenstein as chair of the Assembly Judiciary Committee.  Assemblyman Barnes served as vice-chair of the committee during the 2008 – 2009 Legislative Session. 

Senator-elect Greenstein, who chaired the committee for nearly a decade, won a special election to fill the remaining term of Senator Bill Baroni, who left for a position with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey earlier this year.  Barnes and Greenstein, both Democrats representing parts of Middlesex County, will assume their new roles next month. 

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Check out NJLRA's op-ed in today's Times of Trenton!

State's small businesses have a lawsuit problem

Sunday, November 28, 2010
SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

For many of us, it may be difficult to imagine, but there was a time in New Jersey's recent history when our state was a beacon for the American Dream instead of a barrier to it.

An abundance of natural resources, an educated work force and low business costs made the Garden State ripe for the mom-and-pop shops and diners that at one time populated nearly every Main Street across the state. New Jersey shone especially brightly to would-be small-business owners across the Hudson River, and these attributes helped lure a good number of them from the five boroughs.

It's almost inconceivable that within the span of a generation, the New Jersey we knew has become one of the most hostile business environments in the United States.

Read full op-ed here

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Hosting Thanksgiving this year?

Before your in-laws get any ideas (“You mean there are calories in this? ::gasp:: How could you do such a thing?!?  Wait until my lawyer hears about this!”) you can actually serve a handy downloadable waiver along with those unlabeled Turkey dinners marinating in delicious excess calories to protect yourself.

This past year, we’ve seen an array of food lawsuits gain traction – everything from a customer claiming he had no idea Denny’s “Moon over my Hammy” dish was “loaded up with the salt,” to the latest McDonald’s lawsuit unfairly marketing Happy Meals to children,  to excessive alcohol consumption that may make one drunk (imagine that).  And of course, merely working at a fast food chain may make employees fat. 

But if you take your chances with nondisclosure like the vast majority of us plan to, remember to also be thankful that you’re not dining amongst the litigious kind who make these waivers possible! 

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Legislative wrap up…

The Senate and Assembly are wrapping up their final voting session before Thanksgiving.  Among the more tort-inspired bills considered is A-2975, which requires that a person destroy (or arrange for the destruction of) all records store on a digital copy machine.  This is in response to a legitimate public concern, since many copy machines have an internal hard drive capable of storing every document have the ability to retain images of everything ever scanned, printed, or faxed with it. 

Things get trickier, however, when you get to section 4 of the bill, especially since it doesn’t contain the words “willfully” or knowingly,” as does section 3:

      3.    Any person that willfully or knowingly violates the provisions of this act shall be liable to a penalty of not more than $10,000 for the first offense and not more than $20,000 for the second and each subsequent offense to be collected in a summary proceeding pursuant to the "Penalty Enforcement Law of 1999," P.L.1999, c.274 (C.2A:58-10 et seq.).  The Attorney General shall enforce the provisions of this act.

      4.    A person damaged in business or property as a result of a violation of this act may sue the actor therefor in the Superior Court and may recover compensatory and punitive damages and the cost of the suit including a reasonable attorney's fee, costs of investigation and litigation.

Monday, November 15, 2010

95th Annual League of Municipalities Convention

The New Jersey State League of Municipalities will hold its 95th annual convention this week at the Atlantic City Convention Center.  One exhibit of note is A Successful Mayors Wellness Campaign: It Takes a Village,” held by the Mayors Wellness Campaign at 3:45pm    Click here to view the rest of the conference schedule. 

Friday, November 12, 2010

Assembly Judiciary Chair is up for grabs

Democratic Assemblywoman Linda Greenstein, representing the 14th district (parts of Mercer and Middlesex counties) was elected to the State Senate earlier this month to fill the unexpired term of former Senator Bill Baroni, a Republican.  As a result, her departure creates a vacancy for the chair of the Assembly Judiciary Committee.  Published reports indicate that current vice-chair of the Judiciary Committee, Assemblywoman Annette Quijano (D-Union), and former Judiciary vice-chair Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer) are interested in the chairmanship.  Assemblyman Peter Barnes III (D-Middlesex) has also been mentioned. 

Monday, November 08, 2010

ATRA Conference

NJLRA will join with other tort reformers today at the American Tort Reform Association’s Annual Legislative Conference.  This year’s conference is being held at The Hyatt Lodge in Oak Brook, Illinois.  Speakers include Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum and the Honorable Mary-Dulany James of the Maryland House of Delegates, who will offer a legislative perspective about the False Claims Act. 

Friday, November 05, 2010

Check out Marcus’s interview in the Metropolitan Corporate Counsel

Executive Director Marcus Rayner was recently interviewed by the editor of the Metropolitan Corporate Counsel, a publication dedicated to serving the interests of corporate counsel.   

NJLRA: Fostering Business Growth And Job Creation.  Published on November 2, 2010

An excerpt:

Editor: How important has the legal climate been in discouraging businesses from coming to New Jersey or from succeeding here?

Rayner: New Jersey presents many challenges for businesses and those they employ, including the high cost of living, regulations, and taxes. The civil justice system is something businesses consider when deciding where to locate and expand. Unfortunately, one of our largest industries - the life sciences and pharmaceutical industry, as well as healthcare - is the most susceptible to litigation abuse because of the large number of people it serves.

When you sell medical devices and pharmaceutical products, you are servicing people who are, in many cases, facing a disease or a physical challenge that these items are helping them to overcome, and the results can vary across populations. It is important for the large industries that are critical to New Jersey's economic success that our laws be fair. We did a study in 2008 of all the mass tort litigation facing pharmaceutical manufacturers here in the state. It found that 94 percent of the plaintiffs in these cases were from outside the state. They chose to sue under New Jersey law and before New Jersey judges rather than in their home states because the legal environment here is much more favorable to their lawsuits.

The legal climate here is much worse than that in Delaware, Pennsylvania, or New York. Businesses here face a toxic combination of our Consumer Fraud Act, court rulings on things like the statute of limitations on discovery, and, most acutely, New Jersey's weak standards for expert evidence testimony in a courtroom. When you are talking about medical liability suits and product liability suits against manufacturers of medical devices and drugs, the quality of the expertise admitted in a courtroom is critical. When the door is wide open to unqualified witnesses and unscientific testimony, you get grossly unfair results.

Click here for the full interview.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Assembly Judiciary Chair headed to State Senate

Yesterday’s election yielded few changes in New Jersey’s national representation, with the exception of Democratic incumbent John Adler’s loss to Republican Jon Runyan in the third congressional district. 

At the State-level, however, Democratic Assemblywoman Linda Greenstein defeated Tom Goodwin in the 14th legislative district (parts of Mercer and Middlesex counties) to fill the remaining term of former Senator Bill Baroni, a Republican.  Goodwin had been appointed to the seat shortly after Baroni resigned to take a position at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey

Greenstein served as chair of the Assembly Judiciary Committee for several years.  NJLRA looks forward to working with Senator-elect Greenstein in the State Senate.  Her new committee assignments have not yet been announced.