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The Rule of Lawyers: How the New Litigation Elite Threatens America's Rule of Law


Big-ticket litigation is becoming a way of life in this country. But something new is afoot-something typified by the $246 billion tobacco settlement, and by other courtroom assaults against companies producing guns, cars, breast implants, asbestos, lead paint, and more. Each massive class-action suit seeks to invent new law, to ban, tax, or regulate something that elected lawmakers had chosen to leave alone. And each time the new attack process works as intended, the new litigation elite reaps billions in ...

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The Rule of Lawyers: How the New Litigation Elite Threatens America's Rule of Law

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Big-ticket litigation is becoming a way of life in this country. But something new is afoot-something typified by the $246 billion tobacco settlement, and by other courtroom assaults against companies producing guns, cars, breast implants, asbestos, lead paint, and more. Each massive class-action suit seeks to invent new law, to ban, tax, or regulate something that elected lawmakers had chosen to leave alone. And each time the new attack process works as intended, the new litigation elite reaps billions in fees-which they invest in fresh rounds of suits, as well as political contributions.

The Rule of Lawyers asks: Who picks these lawyers, and who can fire them? Who protects the public's interest when settlements are negotiated behind closed doors? Where are our elected lawmakers in all this? The answers may determine whether we slip from the rule of law to the rule of lawyers.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A truly gripping read about tort lawyers...a brilliant expose of the way courts are being overwhelmed by mass tort actions."

- Robert Lenzner,

"Walter Olson lays out an entertaining, but disturbing chronicle of class-action abuses."

- David A. Price, The Wall Street Journal

"With a marvelous combination of irony, insight and outrage, Olson covers the whole range of opportunistic litigation over tobacco, asbestos, breast-implants, autos and guns....Olson even proposes sensible ways of reforming the jury system that might actually make a difference."

- Gene Epstein, Barron's

"Even lawyers, however, will find [The Rule of Lawyers] a tasty snack."

- Peter Schuck, The New York Law Journal

The Los Angeles Times
Walter K. Olson's new book, The Rule of Lawyers, is about the legal entrepreneurs who emerged with this laissez-faire approach to justice. It is a dark story in which Olson lets the lawyers and facts speak for themselves as he guides us through levels of cynicism that may shock even a cynic. — Philip K. Howard
Publishers Weekly
Olson, a veteran legal commentator (The Litigation Explosion) and senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, profiles a sector of the American legal system that he contends is out of control, inflicting serious damage on the nation's economy. The target of Olson's polemic is the use of class actions by a coterie of private lawyers who extract enormous verdicts and settlements from lawsuits against producers of tobacco, asbestos, automobiles, pharmaceuticals and the like. According to Olson, trial lawyers subvert democracy by using courtroom procedures to obtain reforms, such as regulating guns, which the American left has not been able to achieve in the federal or state legislatures. The lawyers distort public opinion, buy influence with judges through campaign contributions, introduce junk science into evidence and manipulate juries through unworthy courtroom theatrics. The class-action lawyers, Olson contends, garner stupendous fees for themselves, often produce minuscule payments to their clients and drive entire segments of business into bankruptcy. Olson contends that the class-action bar is bolstered behind the scenes by left-leaning organizations such as those affiliated with Ralph Nader. This is a partisan indictment, powerful enough in its recital of horror stories about misuse of the law, but so one-sided that it will appeal largely to those already convinced of the rectitude of big business. (Jan. 22) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Olson (senior fellow, Manhattan Inst.; The Litigation Explosion) frequently writes about the impact of law on society. Here he decries excessive and frivolous civil lawsuits, outrageous jury verdicts and awards, egregious class-action settlements, anything-goes jury-selection practices, and the bulging wallets of trial lawyers. He goes so far as to coin a term for a region of the United States synonymous with inimical and conspicuous legal consumption: the Jackpot Belt, which stretches along the nation's Gulf Coast and inland to its rural areas. Olson attempts to classify inhabitants of these and other mini-Jackpot Belts. While demographic patterns may be complex, one legal pattern is simple and constant: top trial lawyers with sharply honed skills can and do play to any audience and manipulate both juries and the adversarial system of justice. Olson notes the deleterious impact of such manipulative jurisprudence upon the separation of powers and exposes the unfortunate extent to which politics and money dictate justice. Recommended for academic and law libraries.-Philip Y. Blue, New York State Supreme Court Criminal Branch Law Lib., First Judicial Dist., New York Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312331191
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 5/19/2004
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 384
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.86 (d)

Meet the Author

Walter K. Olson is the author of The Litigation Explosion (1991). A senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, Olson has written on law and lawyers for the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, City Journal, and others. He lives and works in Chappaqua, NY.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Better Living Through Litigation 1
1 The Joy of Tobacco Fees 25
2 Serial Litigation 73
3 Gunning for Democracy 99
4 Stacked: The Breast-Implant Affair 129
5 Trial Lawyer TV 153
6 Asbestos Memories 181
7 The Jackpot Belt 209
8 The Art of the Runaway Jury 237
9 The Lawsuit Lobby 263
10 Litigators on Horseback 293
Notes 315
For Further Reading 339
Acknowledgments 341
Index 343
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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 28, 2007

    Hysterical author writing about hysteria

    Joy Horowitz doesn't tell it like it is. No one ever proved that the oil wells on the Beverly Hills High School campus ever caused any illness. There is no credible scientific proof. Just hysterical allegations. Since I had experience in closing down many oil wells in Torrance, I was hired by the City of Beverly Hills in 1973 to get rid of the oil wells on the Beverly Hills campus. At that time they were scattered on the campus. Oil was selling at about $2.00 a barrel and the oil well field was just about exhausted. Only a major investment in injection technology which would have forced the oil out of the sands would have made the wells productive. The owner did not have the money. The Beverly Hills School Board also wanted to get rid of the wells but did not know how to do it. I began preparing a strategy for closing down the unproductive wells and the necessary ordinances. But at the time, the owners, the Beverly Hills Oil Company, were just looking for a way to get out, hoping that they would be bought out. However, at that time the nation suffered from an oil embargo and the price of oil shot sky high and the value of the oil leases sky rocketed. The oil embargo was eventually lifted and oil prices came down but still were significantly higher thus the oil company 's revenues from even its limited production of oil were sufficient to not only cover the costs of production but to make a tidy profit. But if the company could expand its drilling and recover the oil remaining in the oil field there were much better profits. Nothing really happened though until Proposition 13 passed which significantly reduced the amount of revenue available to the School District. The oil company then came up with a proposal that appeared to be win-win for both the oil company, the School District, and many property owners in Beverly Hills who had leased the oil rights to the oil company. The oil company proposed to consolidate all of its wells into one drill site which would eliminate the wells scattered around the high school and they would pay substantially higher royalties to the School District and the property owners. There was however, a fly in the ointment. It had to be approved by the City. The City Council wanted the oil wells to go away but there was considerable political pressure on the Council to at least consider the proposal. Adding to the problem was that the School District has no one with any experience with oil drilling so the task fell to the City and primarily on me. I am an opponent of oil drilling having been involved in opposing oil drilling on the coast in the Pacific Palisades and also trying to get the Occidental Oil drilling site on Pico in West Los Angeles shut down. Consequently, the City required an extensive Environmental Impact Report which was prepared entirely by independent consultants hired by the City but principally recommended by me. Every possible hazard including health hazards were explored and if there was even the slightest hint of a hazard, strict conditions were imposed, many of them expensive. For example, the oil company had always transported the oil from the site by truck, but the City required that the oil be transported by pipeline. There were nearby oil pipelines from other sites in Century City to connect to. The City also wanted the drill site extensively camouflaged so that it did not look like an oil well. However, the City had imposed so many conditions on the site, that the costs of better camouflaging the site would have left almost no profit for anyone to divvy up so that condition was dropped and the existing tower was constructed. At that time oil was selling at around $18 a barrel. I am satisfied that the conditions imposed upon the drilling were so stringent, particularly on air pollution, that there was no hazard whatsoever to the students and faculty of the high school and knowing how tough the City enforces conditions, that there was no risk of any health

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