Sunday, July 24, 2005

Lawyers Challenged on Asbestos

Plaintiffs' lawyers, long accustomed to public criticism and lawmakers' wrath, now face a new and more dangerous adversary in federal prosecutors. The latest evidence that the government may be increasingly willing to pursue these lawyers comes in the bankruptcy of a company overwhelmed by asbestos claims. Recently filed court documents show that federal prosecutors in Manhattan may have begun to investigate the conduct of three law firms.

The documents - which surfaced in the bankruptcy case of G-1 Holdings, formerly the GAF Corporation, a manufacturer of roofing material - show that lawyers for G-1 have met with prosecutors from the United States attorney's office in Manhattan in recent months. The documents also show that the company's lawyers have turned over records of extensive interviews with former employees of the three plaintiffs' firms in which some employees described coaching potential claimants and noted efforts to influence doctors' diagnoses.

The investigation is potentially explosive because asbestos litigation has been a hugely costly problem for companies and an almost inconceivably profitable business for plaintiffs' lawyers. About 730,000 people have filed claims for asbestos-related injuries, costing a total of $70 billion as of 2002, according to the RAND Corporation, which estimates that a little less than a third of the total went to plaintiffs' lawyers. And since 1976, asbestos liability has contributed to the bankruptcy of more than 70 companies, including Bethlehem Steel, Owens Corning and W. R. Grace.

"Our system of justice depends on lawyers processing cases and making representations that are based on their sound judgment about the facts," said Stephen P. Younger, a lawyer at Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler in New York. "As a result, if lawyers are charged with inflating or falsifying claims, it is a bad day for the legal profession."

The current criminal investigation is the latest example of a new willingness by prosecutors to look into the conduct of plaintiffs' lawyers. Last month, the United States attorney's office in Los Angeles announced the first indictments related to a three-year-old investigation of Milberg Weiss Bershad & Schulman, a law firm known for its frequent shareholder class-action lawsuits.

The interviews of former employees were conducted by investigators from Kroll, which was retained by G-1 to gather evidence in its three-year-old civil lawsuit against three plaintiffs' law firms: Baron & Budd of Dallas; Ness, Motley, Loadholt, Richardson & Poole of Mount Pleasant, S.C. (a law firm in the process of disbanding); and Weitz & Luxenberg of New York. Last month, Kroll investigators, after receiving a subpoena from prosecutors, turned over their findings; the subpoena suggests that prosecutors are interested in the asbestos claims. Lawyers say at least one insurance company has also received a subpoena.

A spokeswoman for the United States attorney's office declined to comment on the matter, as did a spokeswoman for Weitz & Luxenberg. Steven Storch, a New York lawyer representing Ness, Motley, Loadholt, Richardson & Poole, said, "We would've expected that if there were anything of any interest, we would've heard about it during the course of civil litigation, and we didn't hear anything." Frederick M. Baron, of Baron & Budd, said that he knew documents had been provided to the United States attorney's office, but that the same documents had not proved persuasive in the civil case by G-1 against the firm. "We have received no information that the U.S. attorney's office has done anything other than accept documents that the lawyers from G-1 have asked them to." Mr. Baron said the judge in the civil case had reviewed the documents and not found them credible. "The Kroll affidavits are bogus in the extreme," he said.

G-1 was driven to seek Chapter 11 protection in 2001 as a result of some 150,000 asbestos claims. The court filings, in which lawyers describe the activities that generated their bills, indicate that lawyers for G-1 have spoken or met with assistant United States attorneys several times in recent months.

The United States attorney's office in Manhattan is also pursuing an investigation into thousands of claims filed on behalf of people who said they were injured by exposure to silica, another dangerous material. Some of the same law firms that brought those claims also brought asbestos claims, some of the same doctors who diagnosed silica injury in claimants also diagnosed asbestos injury in claimants - and many of the same people claiming they were hurt by silica previously claimed they were harmed by asbestos.


Climatologist: Denver 'not getting hotter'

Marvellous the difference that a bit of history makes

Don't be fooled by the heat wave and Wednesday's record-tying high: Denver summers are not getting hotter, State Climatologist Roger Pielke Sr. said. Wednesday's high temperature of 105 degrees tied the all-time Denver record set Aug. 8, 1878.

"Denver is not getting hotter in the summer, and one measure of that is the number of consecutive days above 90 degrees," Pielke said. "There were longer stretches of days above 90 degrees back in the early part of the 20th century and the end of the 19th century," he said. "So we are in a heat wave right now, but we're not in an unprecedented heat wave." A 12-day stretch of 90-or-above highs ended Sunday, when the mercury in Denver peaked at 86.

The city's longest streak of 90-or-higher days is 18, which has happened twice: in July 1874 and July 1901. Those early temperatures were measured near Union Station in downtown Denver, said Kyle Fredin, a National Weather Service meteorologist. Later, official Denver temperatures were recorded for decades at Stapleton airport. In 1995, the official site moved to Denver International Airport.

Those station shifts complicate efforts to analyze long-term temperature trends in Denver, Fredin said. In addition, different types of thermometers have been introduced over the years, as technology has advanced. There's also the so-called urban heat-island effect. The highs in downtown Denver can surpass airport highs because the city's concrete and asphalt holds onto the heat.

July is Denver's hottest month. On average, since record-keeping began in 1874, July 25 is the hottest day of the year. "I don't think you can draw any conclusions from this latest hot streak about whether we're getting warmer or not" due to global warming or some other cause, Fredin said. "At 105, we're just kind of bumping up against our threshold of how hot Denver can get," he said. "I would be getting excited if we hit 108 or 110. That would really be something."

More here


"California's forests were far more fire resistant 100 years ago than they are today. I have published scores of historic photos side-by-side with modern retakes from the same locations that show how much less dense Sierra Nevada forests were about a hundred years ago. Our current forest conditions differ greatly with the historic norm - as detailed in my book "Fire in Sierra Nevada Forests: A Photographic Interpretation of Ecological Change Since 1849." California's forests have experienced massive increases in tree cover resulting from human activities, particularly the suppression of natural fires. Similar changes are evident in vegetation throughout the West.

As a wildlife biologist, I know evidence strongly suggests that increasingly dense forests are detrimental to wildlife, including numerous songbirds, rabbits, squirrels, and deer. Historically, wildlife populations adapted to ecosystems that were subjected to frequent low-intensity fires. Today, thicker forests burn in high-intensity crown fires. Yet, despite this disparity, current conditions often are the primary reference point for biologists making wildlife habitat assessments. We have a tendency, therefore, to essentially preserve wildlife habitat in its present state of decay and high risk of catastrophic wildfire. That must change.

The Forest Service plan for the Sierra Nevada emphasizes retention of forest canopy. To meet the presumed habitat requirements of featured species, Forest Service biologists recommend 50 to 60 percent retention of crown cover. But are high levels of crown closure best? Tree crowns are often so dense that sunlight does not reach the ground and small plants are shaded out.

There is an inverse relationship between the amount of tree cover and the abundance of shrubs, grasses and flowering plants on the forest floor. As trees increase, other green plants decline, primarily from shading and competition for water and nutrients. Wildlife populations also decline because most forest species are dependent not on trees but on low-growing vegetation.

High tree densities and closed canopies pose another threat to wildlife populations: too many trees mean more fuel for catastrophic wildfire. Scientists from Cal Poly State University and elsewhere have noted that high-intensity wildfire has a far greater impact on the environment than any forest management activities could under California's forestry laws. Catastrophic fires lead to increased erosion, devastate watersheds, pollute the air, and destroy even protected habitat.

The Forest Service has proposed fuel reduction in the Sierra Nevada because it believes that continuing to severely suppress tree harvesting on public lands will increase dramatically the incidence of catastrophic wildfire. With its proposed thinning, the Forest Service expects to reduce the acres lost to catastrophic fire by 30 percent over 50 years and increase the number of old-growth stands. Yet activists oppose cutting even a miniscule number of trees. The plan they are objecting to calls for harvesting only two tenths of 1 percent of the medium-sized (20-30 inches) trees standing each year. That thinning could save lives and precious habitat.

History can help provide a more accurate view of the natural composition of Northern California landscapes and a more realistic benchmark for understanding the relative condition of wildlife habitat. A historic perspective would also foster a cry to thin forests not just for fire safety, but also for biological diversity."

More here (HT Cheat-Seeking Missiles)

Energy bill follies : "With great fanfare, the Senate passed a $35 billion energy bill earlier this month that has been characterized as a somewhat wiser and greener bill than that passed by the House a few months ago. Although conservatives claim to find much therein to embrace, virtually every section of the bill represents a rejection of free markets and limited government. The most obnoxious aspect is the ten-year, $18.4 billion in tax breaks and incentives for various energy investments. While conservatives like to argue that if you subsidize something, you'll get more of it, that observation is generally used as an admonition against -- not as a rationale for -- government intervention. In this case, the Senate proposes to subsidize investments that have been unable to attract as much private capital as proponents would like. But what are the chances that 100 senators using other peoples' (taxpayers) money will make better investment decisions than investors using their own money?"


Many people would like to be kind to others so Leftists exploit that with their nonsense about equality. Most people want a clean, green environment so Greenies exploit that by inventing all sorts of far-fetched threats to the environment. But for both, the real motive is to promote themselves as wiser and better than everyone else, truth regardless.

Global warming has taken the place of Communism as an absurdity that "liberals" will defend to the death regardless of the evidence showing its folly. Evidence never has mattered to real Leftists

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