Legal Briefing: States Prepare to Sue BP, Too

A daily look at legal news and the business of law:

States Lining Up to Sue BP

It's hard to see an end to BP (BP)'s liability for its Great Gulf Disaster. The latest plaintiffs to array themselves against the company are states, and not just Gulf Coast states; East Coast states are eyeing claims based on the spill's damage to bird populations that migrate to them from the Gulf. The Wall Street Journal's report sketching out the likely suits make it ever-more clear that the $20 billion fund BP set up, and the $50 billion it reportedly considered raising to pay for liabilities will not be enough.

Massachusetts AG Gets $102 Million Settlement from Morgan Stanley

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley has persuaded Morgan Stanley (MS) to cough up $102 million to compensate 1,000 Massachusetts homeowners ($58 million), $23 million to the state pension fund, and $19.5 million to Massachusetts taxpayers. Morgan Stanley is paying up because it allegedly knew that the mortgages it funded and securitized for subrime lender New Century were going to fail. (Morgan Stanley does not admit any wrongdoing.)

New York's New Voting Machines May Reduce Voting

A lawsuit charges that New York's new voting machines may result in a disproportionately large number of votes being thrown out, particularly those cast by non-native English speakers, reports the New York Times. That's because of how the machine responds when a voter has accidentally tried to vote for too many candidates for a race, as famously happened with Florida's butterfly ballot in 2000. The N.Y. board of elections decided not to try to reprogram the machines before November as the fix would take too long, but instead to evaluate after the fact how they performed. Plaintiffs dispute that claim, noting that Washington and Connecticut have already fixed the same problem for their residents.

Oregon's Top Court Saves Philip Morris $100 Million While Shaming It

The Oregon Supreme Court tossed out a jury's $100 million punitive damages award against Philip Morris (PM) on the grounds the jury wasn't properly instructed; however, the Court chastised the company for its bad behavior. The case involved a smoker of low-tar cigarettes, and the plaintiff charged that they were marketed as safer despite the company knowing otherwise. The AmLaw Litigation Daily reports that the Court wrote:

"Defendant's behavior with respect to the development and marketing of low-tar cigarettes was but one iteration of a larger pattern of deceiving smokers and the rest of the public. . . . [Philip Morris] conspired with other cigarette manufacturers to wage a massive disinformation campaign designed to create the perception of uncertainty about the health risks of cigarettes, when, in fact, secret research by those same tobacco companies confirmed the adverse health consequences of smoking."

Given everything that's come out about tobacco companies in recent years, Philip Morris's behavior seems par for the course.

And in the Business of Law...

The Wall Street Journal Law Blog rounds up the grim employment landscape for new lawyers, including Marin, Calif.'s efforts to get them to work as deputy District Attorneys for free. Marin County has so many wealthy residents it's bizarre it can't afford to pay its law enforcers. (Marin is the 18th wealthiest county in the country.)

The New York State Bar Association is trying to fix what ails the profession, starting with a 30-member task force drawn from law professors, firm partners and in-house counsel that will examine law firm billing practices, legal education, and other issues, reports the American Lawyer. Seems to me that a huge chunk of the legal profession: government attorneys, public interest attorneys, solo practitioners, judges, legislative counsel and staff, etc., are oddly missing from the task force. With such a narrow membership, I'm not sure how "legal education and training," for example, can get properly critiqued.