Archived Posts July 2005 - Page 7 of 12 | Acton PowerBlog

Trial by Fury, by Ronald Rychlak

The Wall Street Journal editorializes today (subscription required) on a rare bit of good news from the world of tort law:

If the criminal investigation of class-action titan Milberg Weiss is anything to go by, prosecutors may finally be starting to hold the trial bar accountable for its legal abuses. Another good sign is that a separate federal grand jury, this one in New York, is investigating the ringleaders of the latest tort scam, silicosis.

Much of the credit for pointing the grand jury toward this corruption goes to Texas federal Judge Janis Graham Jack, who last month put the brakes on the silicosis machine with an extraordinary 249-page decision. Judge Jack not only blasted nearly every one of the 10,000 silicosis claims in front of her court, she documented the fraudulent means by which lawyers, doctors and screening companies had manufactured the claims. “These diagnoses were about litigation rather than health care,” wrote Judge Jack. “These diagnoses were manufactured for money.”

The facts of this case would be comical if they didn’t represent a gigantic effort to pervert the legal system into a cash cow for unscrupulous lawyers:

A former nurse, [Judge Jack] couldn’t understand how a disease that causes on average fewer than 200 deaths annually in the U.S. had suddenly resulted in more than 20,000 claims from Mississippi and surrounding states. To get to the bottom of the suits against some 250 companies, the Clinton appointee held 20 months of pretrial proceedings. What she found was a gigantic attempted swindle.

Her first discovery was that, of the more than 9,000 plaintiffs who supplied more information about their “disease,” 99% had been diagnosed with silicosis by the same nine doctors. These physicians had been retained by law firms or by “screening companies” that do mass X-rays on behalf of law firms searching for plaintiffs. When these physicians were deposed, they all but admitted they took their orders from the lawyers and screening firms…

…Another shocker was that more than 65% of the silica plaintiffs had previously been plaintiffs in an asbestos suit, even though it is close to clinically impossible to have both asbestosis and silicosis. Digging deeper, the judge found that many of the same doctors had ginned up the same patients for both asbestos and silicosis cases. One doctor, Ray Harron, received nearly $5 million from 1996-2004 from a leading screening company, N&M, and has supplied thousands of silicosis diagnoses, and at least 52,000 asbestos-related diagnoses.

Representatives from N&M admitted in court that they had no medical training and that their company has never had a medical director. They confirmed that law firms often set the criteria for the silicosis screening process, and that the screening companies were paid by the volume of people who ultimately joined a lawsuit. As N&M owner Heath Mason testified, his business depended on doing “large numbers.”

Thankfully, in this case a conscientious judge stopped the fraud in its tracks, and now a Manhattan grand jury is examining the conduct of the individuals who so recklessly tried to abuse the system. That investigation will be worth keeping an eye on.

Be sure to visit’s special section on tort reform, where you will find a wealth of resources dealing with the important legal, societal, and moral issues that arise from the abuse of tort law, including the most recent addition to Acton’s Christian Social Teaching series: Trial by Fury: Restoring the Common Good in Tort Litigation.

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, July 14, 2005

For a very cool tool for anyone interested in archaeology, Biblical studies, or ANE history, check out The Virtual World Project hosted by Creighton University.

To see the site I worked on in the summer of 1999, check out Israel: Galilee: Bethsaida (on the north side of the Sea of Galilee).

Apparently Europe is buying in to the concept. Here are two key paragraphs from today’s Washington Post, in this article from Robert J. Samuelson, “The End of Europe”:

It’s hard to be a great power if your population is shriveling. Europe’s birthrates have dropped well below the replacement rate of 2.1 children for each woman of childbearing age. For Western Europe as a whole, the rate is 1.5. It’s 1.4 in Germany and 1.3 in Italy. In a century — if these rates continue — there won’t be many Germans in Germany or Italians in Italy. Even assuming some increase in birthrates and continued immigration, Western Europe’s population grows dramatically grayer, projects the U.S. Census Bureau. Now about one-sixth of the population is 65 and older. By 2030 that would be one-fourth, and by 2050 almost one-third.

No one knows how well modern economies will perform with so many elderly people, heavily dependent on government benefits (read: higher taxes). But Europe’s economy is already faltering. In the 1970s annual growth for the 12 countries now using the euro averaged almost 3 percent; from 2001 to 2004 the annual average was 1.2 percent. In 1974 those countries had unemployment of 2.4 percent; in 2004 the rate was 8.9 percent.

Blog author: jcouretas
Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Bernie Ebbers got 25 years in the cooler for his role in the demise of WorldCom. If he serves the full sentence, he’ll be 85 years old when they let him out. Here’s how AP described his reaction when the verdict came down:

Ebbers sniffled audibly and dabbed at his eyes with a white tissue as he was sentenced. He did not address the court. His wife, Kristie Ebbers, cried quietly. Later, the two embraced as the courtroom emptied.

Now, set that picture against these remarks:

At the sentencing hearing, Henry J. Bruen Jr., 37, a former WorldCom salesman, told the court the company’s collapse caused “untold human carnage” and put him through “sheer hell.” He lost all of his savings and couldn’t get another sales job.

There are many thousands more who have been severely battered by the WorldCom collapse. Ebbers also had to cough up nearly $40 million of his own fortune as partial restitution for investors and employees whose retirement accounts were wiped out by the $11 billion accounting fraud. No doubt, many tears were shed by these unfortunates, too. Recently, The New York Times offered this summary of what Mr. and Mrs. Ebbers had to give up:

The assets that Mr. Ebbers has promised to turn over include $5 million in cash, 300,000 acres of timberlands in Mississippi, a prospective multimillion-dollar income tax refund, and interests in a major trucking business, a marina, a golf course, a rice farm, a hotel, a grain elevator company and other real estate ventures. He and his wife will also be required to vacate their multimillion-dollar home in Clinton, Miss., by October; it will be put up for sale. In addition, Mr. Ebbers has agreed to pay $450,000 to former WorldCom employees who sued him over losses they incurred in their retirement accounts.

So what’s the cure for this, and other corporate wrongdoings? Rev. Robert Sirico points to the solution in “The Ethical Challenge for Business,” a commentary written in 2002, that scandal plagued year:

If we are to learn anything from the ethical lapses of business this year, it should be that the Judeo-Christian moral code needs to be retrieved, not reformulated, much less wholesale politicization. Old truths need to be spoken into new contexts, remembering that the basic principles of right and wrong are discovered, not invented. Nor do they change based on circumstance or popularity. If this lesson is not learned from the corporate scandals, we cannot expect the moral standing of business, that activity that most people spend much of their time occupied with, to achieve a level worthy of human beings and a civilized culture.

As public policy debate about the extent of government regulation over charities, Karen Woods argues in favor of a “common sense approach” that “would look to transparency and accountability measures that are already on the books, rather than fashioning yet more regulation and mandated enforcement from public agencies.”

Read the full text here.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Some caricatures of Puritans depict them as strict, severe, and stolid. H.L. Mencken’s famous definition of a Puritan is an example of this: “A Puritan is someone who is desperately afraid that, somewhere, someone might be having a good time.”

This stereotype carries over into various areas of life that are often considered “fun,” including the drinking of alcoholic beverages. Indeed, Christians have historically been at the forefront of efforts at prohibition of various drugs, most notably perhaps in the case of The Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). The United Methodist Church notably opposes alcohol use, stating, “We affirm our long-standing conviction and recommendation that abstinence from alcoholic beverages is a faithful witness to God’s liberating and redeeming love.” Baptists are so famous for their traditional teetotalling that “the Baptist minister” has become a figure appearing in jokes and humorous stories (see “The Wedding Reception”).

The position in favor of complete abstinence from alcohol is far from ubiquitous in Christian circles, however. This issue, as most others, receives a variety of responses from faithful Christians. Martin Luther’s love for beer has been variously exploited slanderously by opponents and celebrated by his followers. My own denomination takes a middle-ground position on the issue, “Though abstinence from alcohol is a morally creditable choice, those who, in their freedom in Christ, choose to use alcohol moderately are not to be condemned.”

Christians of course agree on the impropriety of drunkenness, following the biblical injunctions, but seem to split over whether there is any legitimate popular use of alcohol in moderation. Certainly some of the Christian oppposition to alcohol stems from the linkage of drunkenness with pagan practices. In this sense, alcohol use is understood as characteristic of sinful behavior.

An interesting editorial in today’s Wall Street Journal argues that there are empirical data that suggest otherwise, at least in our contemporary situation. Arthur C. Brooks, an associate professor of public administration at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, in “Drink More, Earn More (& Give More),” writes,

moderate drinkers tend to be more charitable than nondrinkers. For example, 54% of nondrinkers contribute to charity each year, giving away an average of $1,100. In contrast, 62% of those who take one to two drinks per day have an average annual giving level of $1,200. The alcohol effect has diminishing returns, however: Just 40% of people drinking five or more drinks per day are donors, and they give only $230 per year on average. (So once you get past two or three, you have to stop claiming you’re “doing it for a good cause.”)

He sums up the matter this way, “Compare two people who are the same in terms of income, education and even religion, but where one drinks moderately and the other doesn’t: The drinker will give between $50 and $100 more to charity each year.”

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, July 13, 2005

The Melbourne Herald Sun reports, “Fast food could be subject to a new tax of up to 50 per cent under a plan to fight Australia’s worsening obesity epidemic. The proposed fat tax would, hopefully, steer consumers away from calorie and sugar-laden foods and force them to choose cheaper, healthier options.”