When worlds collide.

An interesting legal ethics case out of New Jersey has caused a former municipal judge to resign. According to the ABA Online Journal Vincent Sicari, in addition to his municipal judgeship, was working as a stand up comedian on the side. The State Supreme court unanimously ruled that Mr. Sicari could not continue to preside over municipal court so long as he was also performing stand up comedy routines. Given the ultimatum, Mr. Sicari chose to resign from his position as a judge.

In its reasoning, the Supreme Court of New Jersey considers some of the content from Mr. Sicari’s comedy routine. It is the court’s opinion that in the course of his show Mr. Sicari demeaned certain persons, ethnic groups, or people based on their national origin, in addition to revealing some of his political leanings. Based on the reasonable possibility some of those same same persons or ethnic groups he demeans may appear before his court, Mr. Sicari was forced to choose between comedy or his judgeship.

Admittedly, the action of the New Jersey Supreme Court does not strike me as unconscionable. While I adamantly oppose restraints or suppression of freedom of speech, at the same time the impartiality of the tribunal is sacrosanct. As an attorney it is uncomfortable to see limits placed on speech, even if it is offensive.  However, judges are public officials and may be subject to a heightened degree of scrutiny or criticism. The issues are complex, but on the information given here I think the court played it safe and made the right decision. Mr. Sicari, on the other hand, is now free to say whatever he wants.

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Customer slips on soda in the store, sues Pepsi and CVS.

According to the Louisiana Record a local resident is suing international beverage company Pepsi together with CVS pharmacy, after allegedly falling in a store as a result of spilled soda on the floor. At first impression it may seem strange to sue the store and the beverage company. But this is the typical “shotgun” approach that crafty lawyers have been taught since the first year of law school. As tenuous as it may appear, a lawyers’ standard approach is to sue every party that has any perceived connection to the complaint. The theory being that it is better to have them and not need them, then vice versa.

Thus, in an abundance of caution a Louisiana lawyer includes the pharmacy and the manufacturer (or distributor) of the soft drink on which the plaintiff allegedly fell. Of course, this will probably require the showing that Pepsi knew or should have known that its product would enter the stream of commerce in this state. Probably not too difficult, but that won’t keep Pepsi on the hook that easily. Federal Courts are notoriously conservative when it comes to personal injury cases. In a state where “slip and fall” cases have a pretty hefty burden of proof, to keep Pepsi in the game the plaintiff’s will likely have to show Pepsi knew or should have known that it was manufacturing or distributing a faulty product. And further, that if Pepsi had exercised reasonable care it could have prevented the product from creating an unreasonable risk of harm to the end consumer.

The focus of this post intentionally omits the mention of CVS but rather concentrates on Pepsi for illustrative purposes. This is purely because I find the issue of Pepsi’s product liability (or not) more interesting than the merits of a “slip and fall” case. As always, comments are welcome and appreciated.

Virginia jury awards over $3 million to injured hospital patient.

A jury in Newport News Virginia awarded $3.5 million to a woman who was injured while under the care of a hospital. The 87-year-old woman had a hip surgery but fell while still recovering in the care of Riverside Hospital. The case is an interesting juxtaposition between a negligence case and a medical malpractice case. Here, the plaintiff alleged her injuries were due to negligence on the part of the hospital staff and personnel, rather than the fault of a doctor in performance of medical care. The plaintiff was successful in persuading the jury the hospital could or should have been able to prevent the injury had it exercised reasonable care.

On the plaintiff side there is cause for guarded enthusiasm. The hurdle of trying the case successfully is over, but the post trial procedure now begins. Given the amount of the award it would be surprising if the defendant doesn’t request a new trial, reduction of the judgment, or a judgment not withstanding the verdict which could take weeks or months depending on the volume of cases on the court’s docket. In Louisiana, the time delay for filing an appeal begins after post trial relief has been adequately disposed of.

In Jefferson Parish suit resident alleges she was injured at Bed Bath & Beyond.

Recently reported by the Louisiana Record, Bed Bath & Beyond is being sued by a customer who was alleges she was injured while shopping at a store when boxes fell on her head. The article also gives details that the New Orleans based law firm is representing the plaintiff in the 24th Judicial District Court of Jefferson Parish before the Honorable Judge Ross LeDart. Given the conservative reputation of the venue I’d rather be on the defense side of this case. The articles also notes that the plaintiff is seeking an”unspecified” amount of damages, which is the standard form of a Louisiana pleading which doesn’t allow for a monetary amount to be included but rather a “prayer” for damages which are “reasonable under the circumstances.”  This leaves open the possibility for the defense to file a removal action to federal court, which is another standard practice, and what I would do if I were defending the case. In any event, this is just the inception of the case and anything could happen in time.

Changes to Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure: Summary Judgment

Some of you may already be aware of changes to Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure article 966 governing summary judgments. On its face, it appears that evidence is “deemed admitted” when it is submitted in support or in opposition to the summary judgment, and which is not addressed accordingly. The draft copy of the law states “objections to evidence in support of or in opposition to a motion for summary judgment must be raised in memorandum or written motion to strike stating the specific grounds therefor.” At this point, we can only guess as to what the practical and procedural implications will be.

The other notable change to article 966 is in subpart B(2), providing that in the event summary judgment is denied the court “should provide reasons for the denial on the record, either orally upon rendition or in writing sua sponte or upon request of a party within ten days of rendition.” Although the impact of this provision is also uncertain, it appears to aspire towards clarity. All of these changes became effective on August 1, 2013 and the Louisiana Legislature website already reflects these changes in the text. As always, your questions, comments, and observations in the comments are appreciated.