Monthly Archives: April 2008

Blogging forecast, April 30: extremely light posting

Time is extraordinarily short today for posts of any kind — just a heads up in case you were looking for a new one. Probably not going to happen.

 

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Trailer Lawyer News, April 29:

The Trailer Lawyers have been promising a devastating response to State Farm’s motion to disqualify them in the False Claims Act case, Ex rel. Rigsby.  They filed two briefs yesterday in opposition, one by Chip Robertson’s firm, loaded with euphemisms and which studiously avoids the word "trailer," and another by Todd Graves’ firm. In the Robertson brief, here’s the description of a Trailer Summit:    

The meeting was held in a temporary housing unit due to the damage caused to so many structures by Katrina.

Temporary housing unit? How about "prefabricated improvisational dwelling"? What of "non-self-propelled mobile abode"? "Non-permanent omni-directional quarters"?  The new brief goes to extreme and silly lengths to avoid calling things by their right names. How devastating can a response be when it’s afraid of the word "trailer"?

Look at this statement in the Robertson brief: 

These are the facts: After the Rigsby’s completed the document protection exercise, they immediately informed State Farm that they had accessed the State Farm database and downloaded documents. They did not try to keep their actions secret. What is also true is that while the Rigsbys had access to the databases, they never improperly accessed or exceeded their access to these systems. Their counsel never used their computers or accessed their data base.

Let’s take a look at this stuff.

"Immediately informed State Farm." it says. "Immediately" in this context does not refer to, as you might expect, immediately, but instead means "some months after they admittedly had begun engaging in covert spying on behalf of Dickie Scruggs." As the November 20, 2007 deposition of Kerri Rigsby shows (page 140), the sisters fessed up only after they were ready to quit, after they realized that State Farm had just about figured out they were covertly funneling documents to Scruggs, and they did this only after they did a final frenzied "data dump" over the weekend, inviting some friends over to help them copy thousands of pages of claims files.

"Document protection exercise." The Rigsbys agreed in testimony that they illicitly took the documents. Is it any use to try to come up with some Newspeak label?  Question: when someone doesn’t dare call a trailer what it is, why should anyone buy this characterization of the Rigsbys’ secret taking of documents?

"They did not try to keep their actions secret." Except up until the time they were going to be caught and then they took thousands of more pages secretly, staged a walk-out, and went over to Scruggs to be paid $150,000 a year.

"[T]hey never improperly accessed or exceeded their access to these systems." Notice the word "access." If you give me a key to your house to feed your fish while you’re on vacation and I go in and take your TV, did I exceed my access? Technically, no.  

Let’s apply this style to a familiar story, that of the Three Little Pigs, told by the wolf:  

I politely asked to be allowed entry, as I conveyed information that extreme wind conditions were expected momentarily.  Sudden violent gusts destroyed two semi-permanent structures. I paused briefly only to take nourishment to sustain me as I hurried to warn the occupant of a nearby permanent clay-based dwelling unit.  Regrettably, my warning was ignored, and as I tried to access via a vertical entrance to contact said occupant, I was attacked with heated liquids.

Apparently, though, we finally know who Trailer Todd is: Graves admits to being in the trailer, although the Trailer Lawyer filing denies they met with the Rigsbys in the temporary housing unit in March 2007.  The Trailer Lawyers say it was April.  This looks like it contradicts the testimony of their own clients, although it is possible both Rigsby sisters were messed up on dates, basic facts, when stuff happened, what they did, what other people did, etc.  You know, the whole story.  Odd that they were both were wrong the same way, though, isn’t it?      

Here’s a few more things filed by the other Trailer Lawyers: Trailer Chip, Trailer Tony and Trailer Mary. 

Robertson declaration.

DeWitt declaration.

Winter declaration.

All of this seems to say they didn’t "instruct or encourage" the Rigsbys to do what they did.  Why, according to the Trailer Lawyers, they know nothing at all! (Lack of awareness — not exactly the trait one looks for in a lawyer). They just happened to be passing through and sought shelter in the trailer, er mobile home, I mean, semi-stationary vehicular habitat, I mean, temporary housing unit — well, you know what I mean — because it was time for Days of Our Lives and they hoped to find a TV, a bag of Doritos and a six-pack of Schlitz for refreshment!  

 

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Appleman Critical Issues article, more anti-concurrent analysis and theory, exploration of the philosophical underpinnings of ambiguity

I’ve said it was coming Monday, and when I make a promise, I aim to keep it.  Even though as I write it is once again into the wee hours, due to day job responsibilities.  Good Lord, I miss seeing my family. 

Here is a copy of the article as it appeared recently. 

Some malfunction of the BPM servers, as of the moment I write this, has lost me my connection to Microsoft Outlook.  Therefore, I cannot retrieve right now from my friends at LexisNexis the exact language of the copyright notice I was supposed to include with this reprint.  Nor can I access the other articles that appear in the current edition of the quarterly publication New Appleman on Insurance: Critical Issues in Insurance Law, which I said I would talk about. 

So I will wing, for the time being, the copyright notice:

Copyright © Matthew Bender & Company, Inc., a member of the LexisNexis Group. Republished with permission from New Appleman on Insurance: Current Critical Issues in Insurance Law. All rights reserved. 

I think that’s it, it’s the one I’ve used before.  I’ll fix the rest when my e-mail access is restored.  Again, thanks to the good people at LexisNexis, who have always treated me well, for whom I have high regard, and who know how close to my heart are these anti-concurrent articles over which I have struggled and suffered. Incidentally, are there any others out there like me, who like to use the who/whom distinction whenever possible?  I remember working hard in grade school to master this, and no matter that "whom" has passed into obscurity, I’m not letting all that effort go for naught.

UPDATE:  On Friday, Judge L.T. Senter Jr. gave a further opinion in the Dickinson v. Nationwide case I mentioned earlier, the one in which he endorsed the anti-concurrent cause methodology and analysis I have explained in these articles.  The new opinion is a denial of Nationwide’s motion for reconsideration and denial of its motion for an interlocutory appeal to the Fifth Circuit.  For non-lawyers, interlocutory means before the case is done.  Another very clear and precise ruling from Judge Senter.  His focus on what the "loss" is under the policy is exactly right, and in reading this opinion and comparing it to other court opinions on anti-concurrent cause, you can see how this methodology cleans up the analysis and gives it direction. I hope all courts will eventually adopt this way of analyzing anti-concurrent cause. Here’s a copy of the opinion.  

 

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Sun Herald story on Rigsby sisters

Lots of e-mails from readers yesterday about this story by Anita Lee in the Sun Herald on Kerri and Cori Rigsby. The story is headlined "Under Pressure," which means we better cue up the You Tube video of the David Bowie song of the same nameThe lyrics, in case you can’t understand the words, include the following:

Pressure pushing down on me
Pressing down on you no man ask for
Under pressure
That burns a building down
Splits a family in two
Puts people on streets

. . . . .

Its the terror of knowing
What this world is about
Watching some good friends
Screaming let me out
Pray tomorrow takes me higher
Pressure on people

. . . . .

This is our last dance
This is our last dance
This is ourselves under pressure
Under pressure pressure

(I also link to this version with Bowie and Annie Lennox, not as spirited as the first one, but it’s worth it to see these two great performers together).  A very good song, so good one could ask whether the lyrics rise to the level of poetry.  I say: certainly, if poetry expresses, in shorthand and without the conventions of expository prose, some truth about human experience.   "The terror of knowing what this world is about," is what it says.  Means different things to different people in different circumstances, but we’ve all been there, haven’t we? Litigation is machinery that tears people’s lives up, lawyers and litigants and witnesses, it can rip the soul right out of you if you’re not careful. Pressure. Pressure on people. 

Before we look at the story, one more thought to brace us for the journey. Do you remember in Dickens’ David Copperfieldthe opening, those great, great words? "Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own story, or whether that station will be held by any one else, these pages must show."  Perfect beginning, perfect words. Aren’t we all tempted to see ourselves as the hero of our own story? But as David Copperfield implies, this determination is not up to us — it is something "these pages must show." There is also something ominous in those words: they foreshadow that the narrator will be both subject and object, a mere bit player in scenes of his own life.  Even  though we may write a page in the book of life, we delude ourselves by thinking we determine life’s course.  Life mocks our attempts to control it, and we act as a Sorcerer’s Apprentice, releasing forces whose power we only dimly realize.  And as the opening of Copperfield suggests, in your own story, in my story, in our story, we may turn out not to be the hero, and what’s worse, our story may not necessarily be all about us.  We forget this, but we would do well not to forget it.   

Now let’s look at the Sun Herald story.  First, let’s look at this excerpt:

The sisters said they were naive in February 2006 when they first reported in a meeting with policyholders’ attorney Dickie Scruggs what they called underhanded tactics at the State Farm Catastrophe Office.

"It was a tough decision, but we just needed help and needed somebody to stop what was going on," Kerri Rigsby said. "We didn’t know what we were getting into at the time.

"I would do it again. I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody else. We just definitely didn’t know what to do. I guess, in my wildest fantasy, I thought that Dick (Scruggs) would just fix it."

As it turns out, they didn’t know what they were getting into with Scruggs or State Farm.

With Scruggs, they unwittingly stepped into a political, legal and ethical minefield.

And let’s note this later section of the story:

The Rigsbys hoped to remain anonymous when they went to Scruggs, taking with them records from State Farm files. They had begun saving and copying the records in the fall of 2005. As events unfolded, they say they realized anonymity would be impossible.

How plausible is this? The way the story says it, they first "reported" to Scruggs in February 2006. Yet the story also says they began saving and copying records in the fall of 2005.  Did they do this solely on their own?  Did Scruggs ask them to do so, directly or indirectly? These are important questions, for their testimony under oath has been they did not meet with and form an attorney-client relationship with Scruggs until February 2006.  Yet knowing how adverse almost all people are to "begin saving and copying records," one must inquire further about the reason they would go counter to this fundamental and recurrent feature of human psychology, especially since their conduct just happened to match with Scruggs’ agenda and litigation plans, and they just happened to meet secretly with Scruggs and the Trailer Lawyers, and they just happened to illicitly access State Farm computer files in the exact order of a list of Scruggs’ plaintiffs. 

These questions are not answered or addressed in the story, and the story does not tell us why they are not. In that these questions are central to the litigation mess the sisters find themselves in and about which they complain, one might expect these questions to be explored in the story, but again, they were not. 

Let’s go forward just one more yard here, by taking a look at another piece of the story:

The sisters said they acted on their own when, over a weekend in June 2006, they downloaded thousands of pages of records from State Farm computers. They used a State Farm engineering roster and a Scruggs client list to decide what records to download.

"I knew that as soon as we did the data dump, we would lose our jobs," Cori Rigsby said. "I knew we would lose our careers."

The "acted on their own," is what it says. There is more than one connotation to this phrase.  We know some friends helped them out in the physical tasks of the data dump, so the statement is not literally true and therefore might be taken to mean they continue to claim they did not perform the data dump at the direction of Scruggs or others. But the phrase does not even quite say that.  We know AG Jim Hood’s office sent someone to pick this stuff up right after it was copied.  How did he hear about it? But more than that, do you see the limiting perspective of the phrase "acted on their own"?  It stops short of addressing its own implications, and therefore does not reveal all that stuff that might be uncomfortable to talk about.  For example, the phrase can also be taken to mean merely that their conduct was volitional and that Scruggs was not physically involved in the tasks themselves.  It is quite difficult to picture a scenario where the Rigsbys decided, solely on their own, to copy thousands of pages of documents that were later used in litigation as purported support for their allegations.

Again, human nature is not to engage in a potentially fruitless frenzy of weekend activity involving playing with thousands of pages of paper.  This type of behavior is more typical of some larger plan. In that it has become manifest that a larger plan involving the Rigsbys had been activated some time prior to this, that this plan was carried on covertly, and that this activity has been found to create ethical problems justifying the disqualification of lawyers and the Rigsbys as witnesses, it is legitimate to inquire further as to the meaning and credibility of "acted on their own."  How does the data dump tie in to the accessing of the State Farm servers during the March 11 Trailer Summit, attendance at which is a point of hot contention at present? 

Also, staying on this point for the moment, what of the Lee Harrell deposition, in which he testified that Scruggs claimed, in a December 2005 meeting with Harrell and Insurance Commissioner George Dale, that he had corporate insiders at State Farm and was going to work this just like he and Mike Moore worked the tobacco litigation? The question, once again, is what of this testimony?

In that there is no apparent motive for Lee Harrell to make up this meeting or what was said in it, let us assume for purposes of argument that this testimony has credibility.  Who were these insiders? In the time since December 2005, no other State Farm "insiders" have surfaced, and we would surely have seen them by this point if there were any others.  So the logical inference is that Scruggs’ reference was to the Rigsby sisters.  Remember two facts — they say they began copying and keeping records in the fall of 2005, and they say they did not "report" to Scruggs until February 2006. There are several discrepancies here then that justify further inquiry.  I don’t need to belabor it, you can see if for yourself.

Let’s switch gears just a bit.  Although in this story the Rigsbys seem to be generally aligned with Scruggs, there is the germinating seed of a new narrative:

"I knew that as soon as we did the data dump, we would lose our jobs," Cori Rigsby said. "I knew we would lose our careers."

They told State Farm executives the following Monday what they had done and were soon out of work. Scruggs followed his tobacco playbook, offering them consulting salaries of $150,000 each to come to work for him on policyholder cases. He also planned to use them as witnesses in those cases.

The sisters had no familiarity with attorneys’ rules of conduct. To pay witnesses is unethical.

Again, following his tobacco game plan, Scruggs took the Rigsbys to the media and pursued political options to pressure State Farm. 

Let’s just accept this at face value, these statements, because our purpose is to examine them for an indication of where the Rigsby narrative will lead next.  They aren’t quite making Scruggs the fall guy for their problems yet, but the door is open. They were "naive," they "had no familiarity with attorneys’ rules of conduct," they didn’t realize that "to pay witnesses is unethical." You will notice that the obverse side of the coin — that in order for it to be unethical for lawyers to pay witnesses, it must be unethical for witnesses to accept money from lawyers — is not addressed.  That seems to be the direction they are traveling — maintaining that what they did was according to sincere belief, but that to the degree what they did was illegal or unethical, they were led into it by Scruggs and his "playbook."  I think, but I do not know for sure, that Scruggs is still paying for lawyers for the sisters.

This road has some bumps and twists and turns, because they have testified that, contrary to the implication of Scruggs’ alleged statement to Harrell and Dale, they were not working with Scruggs before February 2006.  So there are some hard and fast facts they have testified to, and their own testimony under oath can’t be blamed on Scruggs.  The fluidity of the narrative, in other words, has some limits which they themselves have prescribed.  Let me be clear: I make no judgment or representation as to the truth of their statements.  I merely note things that don’t make sense as the facts are currently known. 

Let’s look at another thing from the story, the last line, which says:

During countless hours of questions from corporate attorneys, Kerri Rigsby said at one point they produced an 8-by-10 photo of her dog, Payton, and asked about him.

Now, let’s try to make sense of this.  The hours of the depositions in fact are not countless, because one could count them — the time of beginning and concluding are noted in the transcript of the depositions.  But why the questions about the dog? Was this some frivolous harassment?  ("Who do you think would win in a fight between a T-Rex and King Kong? Who put the "Ram" in the Ramalama Ding Dong? Please, listen closely to my question and answer that question.") 

The questions about the dog appear to me to be aimed at the hypothesis explained below.  In the May 1, 2007 deposition of Kerri Rigsby, this questioning, beginning on page 36 and continuing to about page 46, appears designed to explore additional living expenses paid under the State Farm policy of the Rigsbys’ mother, who was uprooted by Katrina damage.  To collect additional living expenses under the contract, you must have additional living expenses. And when living with a family member, you must provide a tax ID number or Social Security number of the family member.  Kerri, according to her testimony, executed a lease agreement with her mother for $2,800 a month so her mother could collect these expenses, and said: 

Absolutely. I wasn’t going to let her live there for free. (Page 39, lines 21-22).

The money collected, however, appears from the testimony not to have gone directly to Kerri Rigsby but into an account for something called Payton Properties — recall that Payton is the name of her dog, and recall also that there exists an 8 by 10 photo of the dog that was produced at the deposition.  The account, it seems, was not for the dog, however, despite the name of the company. It was, however, named after the dog, of this we can be sure.

Kerri testified this company did not have a tax ID number and was not registered with the state.  Kerri testified she did it this way because this was the advice of the lady at the bank — "note to self, must resolve not to follow advice blindly from whomever offers it".  Kerri testified that Payton Properties was synonymous with Kerri and Kerri only.  Her state of being therefore was unique to the personhood of Kerri Rigsby herself and did not extend to members of the animal kingdom.  Again, the account was not set up for the benefit of the dog, although it was named for the dog.  The testimony does not reveal if the dog received incidental benefits from the use of its name, such as perhaps a Milk Bone, extra kibble or additional petting and kind words. But some things seem clear: the dog was not the actual holder of the account and the dog did not control or share in the money, nor did the dog exercise authority over the company bearing its name.  

Additionally, I suspect the point in asking about the taxpayer status of Payton Properties — remember, named after but not controlled by the dog, so the dog cannot be blamed here, nor does it appear the dog provided advice in any respect — and whether this sub rosa company’s income was reported to the Internal Revenue Service and whether $2,800 per month was a fair market value for the lease. In other words, the hypothesis being explored was whether the insurance claim was inflated to channel money to Kerri Rigsby which was then not reported as income.  This much is apparent to me in reading the transcript, and would be to anyone else who cares to read it as well.  I don’t know the truth of the hypothesis, but the existence of the hypothesis was the reason for the questions, not idle curiosity about the dog, whom you will remember, was named Payton, and of whom at least one 8 by 10 photograph exists.  

Now, when someone gives an interview, if they make it seem like big bad lawyers are picking on their puppy and this turns out not to be a complete version of events — whoops, forgot to mention that unregistered company created to accept insurance dough — one begins to suspect a few other things about the statements made in the interview as well.  Of course, the dog thing is just a line in the Sun Herald story, so we don’t know exactly what Kerri Rigsby said about the dog or the questions that led to the statements.  The implication of the line in the story, however, is that Kerri Rigsby stated an outrageous example of the harassing character of deposition questioning. From the evidence of the transcript, I would have to disagree with that assessment. 

Incidentally, all the Rigsby depositions I have are available at this post.  For free, too.

 

 

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When is rogue employee conduct covered? Course and scope of employment decisions

Reading cases about insurance coverage for employee bad conduct is sometimes difficult — not just the legal part of it, the facts are often pretty disturbing.  I mean, some of these folks? We’re talking major league weirdos.  After I read some of these cases, I feel like going to wash my hands — or not, considering they are often about some wacko using bathroom surveillance equipment.  You read these, you’ve got to watch The Sound of Music three or four times just to get your mind right again.

Randy Maniloff has done a service by taking a close look at some of these cases and how the coverage issues in them shake out.  Here’s a copy of a good article he wrote on the subject for a recent edition of Mealey’s.  Didn’t ask him how many times he had to wash his hands during the course and scope of writing this piece.    

 

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Trailer Lawyers v. Snake Farm: battle of the theme songs

I’ve nominated this song as the official theme music for Trailer Lawyer posts.  A reader nominated this terrific song as the anti-Snake Farm, pro-Trailer Lawyer anthem.  There were other good suggestions from readers for theme music in the comments to this post, and more are welcome. We can’t make these important decisions lightly.

 

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New anti-concurrent article coming Monday April 28

Posting will be light, probably, for the next few days due to extreme day job demands.  I do want to mention, however, that I will be posting on Monday, April 28 the text of my new article on anti-concurrent cause and Fifth Circuit Katrina cases, being published this week in New Appleman on Insurance: Current Critical Issues in Insurance Law. In the course of examining the workings of anti-concurrent cause, this article puts a heavy emphasis on two things: a critique of the circuit court’s decision in Leonard v. Nationwide and examination of the nature of ambiguity in insurance contracts. 

The second part was included for three reasons: it’s fun to talk about, it was necessary to talk about, and it gives me an excuse to highlight once again the amazing work of Prof. Michelle Boardman in her article March 2006 article in the University of Michigan (Go Blue!) Law Review, Contra Proferentem: The Allure of Ambiguous Boilerplate. I’ve talked about this article before, and as I said in the Critical Issues piece, it is destined to become a classic on the subject, not just because of the insights presented but because it is uncommonly well-written.  

Because LexisNexis owns the copyright to my article, I am not free to do with it what I want, but my friends there have given me permission to post it on my blog, along with appropriate legal mumbo-jumbo about copyright ownership and so forth.  But it is embargoed until Monday, so the post has to wait. These things have a lengthy lead time, and I wrote it in January, so even though the article’s nominal scope is all Katrina litigation before the Fifth Circuit, the Broussard case had not yet been decided so the treatment of this case is incomplete. The name of it is Katrina in the Fifth Dimension: Hurricane Katrina Cases in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

It’s very difficult to write these things and keep them from becoming some boring string of legal indecipherability where the author quack-quack-quacks along as mindlessly as a duck.  The primary responsibility of the author is not to put words on paper or to try to look smart but to write something that fellow humans would find enjoyable and possibly enlightening to read. If the thing won’t be read, it has no hope of being accepted. So a lot of thought has to go into organization, pacing and storytelling, using all of the writer’s tools: plot, character development, foreshadowing, simile, metaphor and allegory, humor.  Intellectual discourse that lacks humor fights itself, it will only appeal to ideologues who are already convinced.  And it is not easy, believe me, to find humor that is both appropriate to the subject matter and works to tell the story, while maintaining intellectual standards. I have no use whatsoever for any kind of writing in which the author distances himself or herself from the reader, denying the humanity of both, where the author fails to do the work to anticipate the struggles and distractions of the readers and try to solve these problems in advance.  Humor is one such device that can be employed by the author, even in works of the utmost gravity, a point made most famously and most unforgettably by Thomas De Quincey in his essay, On the Knocking at the Gate in Macbeth.  One of the most remarkable things about this essay to me is its opening line, in which we come to understand that the author actually read or saw Macbeth as a boy — imagine that. A reminder that, in addition to its other attractions,  Macbeth is a ripping good yarn.   

So, once again, the embargo is in place, but on Monday it is lifted and that’s when I will post the article. In passing, I will also mention that I finished the chapter on Hurricane Law for the Appleman’s treatise, and that will be published in the book at some point in the semi-near future, the exact timing of which I haven’t inquired about because it was so exhausting to write I was sick of thinking anything about it by the time it was done. As you might expect, anti-concurrent cause is a prominent part of the chapter.

 

   

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Sanctions sought against Scruggs in Wilson case

Better do a quick post this morning on this Anita Lee story in the Sun Herald on a motion for sanctions against Dickie Scruggs in the Wilson fee dispute case, the one in which Joey Langston pleaded guilty to trying to influence a judge. This paragraph seems explosive:

[Wilson attorney Vicki] Slater said she learned how the conspirators communicated. If Scruggs had something to relay to DeLaughter, Peters and Scruggs’ attorneys met before Peters had lunch with DeLaughter. If DeLaughter had a message to pass along, he told Peters over lunch, then Peters met with Scruggs’ attorneys.

If this is true, what are the feds doing about it? Seems the Wilson investigation fell into a crater since Scruggs pleaded guilty. 

 

 

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Trailer Lawyer News, April 23: the ‘Snake Farm’ edition

You know the old saying — if you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the trailer. This story by Dan Margolies in today’s Kansas City Star features angry denunciations by Chip Robertson and Todd Graves, suspected Trailer Lawyers, of State Farm:

“There’s a reason people call them ‘Snake Farm,’ ” Robertson said Monday.

OK, before we proceed, let’s say something about this "Snake Farm" line.  As an insult, it’s so-so, it’s been said before, but I think the intent was for something more, a good satirical catch phrase to coalesce the storyline.  While I can appreciate the effort, this violates the first rule of satire — it has to be funny. Like "Trailer Lawyers" is funny and catchy, it’s fun to say, it’s funny to think about a bunch of lawyers crammed into a trailer, probably the first trailer they’ve ever been in their lives ("try not to touch anything, you might catch something!").  The phrase is more than words, it gives you an image.  But "Snake Farm" is not funny, whether you agree with it or not.  It just sounds kind of unattractively bitter, like Great-Grandpa sittin’ around complain’ about how the milk wagon don’t come no more, and them dang kids next door are so loud I can’t watch my programs!!  

Let’s take a look at a further excerpt from the story (I’ve added the words in brackets throughout this post for clarity in light of the Robertson statement): 

Although Graves and Robertson were not part of the Scruggs Katrina Group, State [Snake] Farm wants them off the whistleblower case. The insurer charges they were at meetings during which its computer data were illegally accessed.

That accusation met with angry denunciations this week by Graves and Robertson, who emphatically denied they had any role — as participants or observers — in the matter.

“They’re trying to cast these aspersions on us by saying that on March 11 (2006) we were with these girls in a trailer and got on the State [Snake] Farm Web site and viewed stuff,” Graves said. “The depositions State [Snake] Farm cites don’t say that.”

Graves acknowledged the Rigsbys might have given some of the downloaded information to Tony DeWitt, Robertson’s partner. But that, he said, “was not an ethical violation.”

“You’re not supposed to be able to go in court and just throw things up there,” Graves said. “Maybe in the blog world you can, but that’s not how you’re supposed to plead cases.”

Let’s look at the Graves quote in the third paragraph of the excerpt. What do the depositions say?

Well, both Cori and Kerri Rigsby said, in their November 19 and November 20 depositions, that there were two trailer meetings.  Here’s a link to a post with all the Rigsby depositions I have so you can do your own detective work, if you care to.

We know that State, sorry, Snake Farm was able, through a simple check of who accessed their server and when, to determine Cori Rigsby accessed the Sta-, Snake Farm claims records in virtually the same order they appeared on a list of Scruggs plaintiffs — and in the January 2008 deposition she admitted she had such a list, although she said she didn’t remember where she got it. This check of computer records has previously been submitted as evidence in the McIntosh case.

We also know that Cori Rigsby, on November 19, testified as follows:

Q. And when did you give Tony DeWitt your laptop? 
A. In April. 
Q. Did you also give him your password? 
A. I don’t remember. 
Q. Well, it wouldn’t do much good to have the laptop without the password, would it? 
A. Well, I was sitting right next to him. 
Q. All right. Did you boot it up for him? 
A. I don’t remember. 
Q. What were you searching for? 
A. I’m not — I’m not sure of the exact — that we had a list. There were some documents that we were talking about. We were talking — I’m not sure which documents he retrieved. I let  him in the computer, and I can’t speak after that. 
Q. Where did this take place? 
A. It took place in Pascagoula. 
Q. Did you print documents as a result of that search? 
A. No, sir. 
Q. Did he read documents off your computer? 
A. I’m assuming he did. 
Q. Can you give me the date of this incident? 
A. I believe that this occurred in March. 
Q. March of ’06? 
A. Yes, sir. 
Q. Can you be more specific by day? 
A. I can’t. 
Q. Would your calendar refresh your  recollection? 
A. If I wrote it on there, it would have. 
Q. Do you know whether you did? 
A. I don’t know. 
Q. Didn’t you normally write appointments with your lawyers on your calendars? 
A. I normally did. 
Q. Did you — is that a yes? 
A. Yes. 
Q. Did you go to his office? 
A. No. 
Q. He came to you? 
A. Yes. 
Q. He came to your house? 
A. No. We met in a trailer. 
Q. Pardon me? 
A. We met at a trailer. 
Q. Okay. Who else was there? 
A. Tony DeWitt. There were two meetings in this trailer, and I’m going to get confused as to  who was at which meeting. 
Q. Well, do your best. 
A. Okay. Tony DeWitt, Dick Scruggs, Zach 
Scruggs, Mary Winters, Chip — 
Q. Chip who? 
A. I don’t remember Chip’s last name. Kerri, myself and my mother. 

* * * * *

Q. Once you logged in — I assume you’re following your counsel’s instruction? 
A. Yes.

OK, this is Cori Rigsby’s own testimony.  The date of the testimony, once again, is November 19, 2007. A fair inference from this testimony is that there were two trailer meetings, because that is what she said.  And at least at one of them, "Chip" and Mary Winters were present.  Coincidentally, Chip Robertson and Mary Winters, along with Tony DeWitt, are the names of the lawyers representing the Rigsbys in the False Claims Act "whistleblower" case, and Robertson is also of course the champion of the phrase "Snake Farm." A fair inference is that she gave her laptop to DeWitt in April, possibly at the second of the trailer meetings, perhaps at some other location.  But for sure at some point and at some place in April, she said, she did give the laptop itself to DeWitt.  She also testified that DeWitt was sitting right next to her at some point while she was accessing the computer, and at this meeting he might have viewed documents rather than accessing the computer itself, but it might also be that she "let him in the computer" and then doesn’t know what he did.  This is not definitive one way or the other whether the computer was logged in to the server at that time.  It appears she said this occurred in March. 

Here is Kerri’s testimony from the next day:

Q. And who did you meet with at the trailer? 
A. We met with several attorneys at that trailer. 
Q. Give me their names, please. 
A. Tony Dewitt, there was an attorney named Mary, Todd, and Chip. 
Q. Mary’s last name? 
A. I don’t recall her last name. 
Q. Is she an attorney? 
A. She is an attorney. She works with Tony Dewitt. 
Q. Does Tony Dewitt have a law firm name? 
A. It does, but I don’t know what the name is. 
Q. How about Todd, is he an attorney? 
A. He’s an attorney, but I don’t believe he’s in the same office. 
Q. Do you know what firm he’s with? 
A. I don’t. 
Q. And Chip, does he have a last name? 
A. He does, but I don’t recall his last name. 
Q. Is he a lawyer? 
A. He’s a lawyer. I believe he’s the head of that firm that Tony works with.

* * * * *

Q. Well, my question is: Was there a situation that occurred on March 11, 2006, when you and your sister both accessed the McIntosh file through a State [Snake] Farm computer? 
A. It’s possible, yes. 
Q. I don’t want possibility. Is that likely to have occurred? 
A. Likely, yes.

Now, Kerri’s testimony continued that day, November 20, 2007, as follows:

Q. Okay. Thank you. You talked earlier about a meeting that occurred on March 11th, 2006 in a trailer. And you listed several folks that were there, all attorneys except for your sister, I believe, and your mother — 
A. Correct. 
Q. — at that meeting. At that meeting — 
MR. TAYLOR: I just want to be clear about one thing, Mrs. Lipsey. She has testified that there was a meeting. She did not provide the date. The date was provided by records from State [Snake] Farm’s computers. 
MS. LIPSEY: Right. That’s correct. That’s correct. 
Q. But let’s talk about — you do remember that there was a meeting in spring, early spring, I guess, of 2006? 
A. Yes. 
Q. And at that meeting the attorneys that you listed earlier were present along with your  mother and your sister? 
A. Yes.

So from this we can see that Kerri Rigsby’s belief was that the lawyers she named, Chip, Mary, Todd, Tony, were at the earlier of the trailer meetings, the one that occurred in March.  It’s possible she was mistaken, of course. But that is the inference one must draw from her testimony.

What does this not tell us? It does not tell us who Trailer Todd was.  We know Todd Graves is one of the lawyers with his name on the lawsuit, but Trailer Todd might very well have been someone else named Todd. It does not tell us who looked at the computer while it was logged on to State Farm, excuse me, Snake Farm computers.  We know Cori Rigsby did, and Kerri Rigsby said it is likely she did as well.  Beyond that, the testimony is not complete. 

My question: does it matter whether lawyers looked at the documents on the server? What is the difference between looking at data that is on someone’s server, and looking at that information after it has been illicitly downloaded from the server? Would you feel any better about me if you learned I was not the one who went into a house to take papers off someone’s desk, but instead I had an arrangement with the household butler to take them, and then I read the papers only after he came outside and handed them to me? What about if I read them a month after he took them, would that be better? 

So let’s return to the Graves quote from the Kansas City Star story:

“They’re trying to cast these aspersions on us by saying that on March 11 (2006) we were with these girls in a trailer and got on the State [Snake] Farm Web site and viewed stuff,” Graves said. “The depositions State [Snake] Farm cites don’t say that.”

A fair inference from the Kerri Rigsby testimony is that lawyers named Chip, Mary, Tony and Todd were in the trailer on March 11 — a fair inference, for that is what she said.  Again, she could be mistaken, but since she was there and was the star of the show, her words carry some weight on this issue.  Neither of the Rigsbys said Chip, Mary and Todd watched as the information was downloaded, although neither said this did not happen, either. It does appear, however, that a fair reading of the Cori Rigsby deposition is that Tony DeWitt read documents off her computer on March 11, 2006, and possibly also that he was in control of her computer as well, doing what exactly we do not know for sure.  But we can say with some degree of assurance that he was not using the computer, for example, to get online and play chess against Shredder, because his purpose in being at the trailer had to have something to do with the False Claims Act case that was filed the next month. 

Whether this means Tony viewed the documents when they were on the server or after they were downloaded is not clear, but again, does that really matter? Even if Chip, Mary and Todd were not present at all on March 11, isn’t the real question whether they viewed and made use of the documents knowing how they were obtained? And if Tony DeWitt was in the trailer on March 11, which appears to be the import of the testimony, are not the others charged with the knowledge of their colleague? Also, in the quote, who does "we" refer to?  

Just sayin’.

One thing I don’t think I’ve seen to this point is a categorical denial that Robertson or Graves ever met with the Rigsbys in the trailer, nor have I seen a denial that they knew how the documents were obtained and viewed and made use of them anyway.  This latter element would be hard to deny, in my opinion, in that the lawsuit is based on the documents and the Rigsbys are the plaintiffs.    

Also, let’s just focus ever so briefly on the last Graves quote from the story’s excerpt:

“You’re not supposed to be able to go in court and just throw things up there,” Graves said. “Maybe in the blog world you can, but that’s not how you’re supposed to plead cases.”

I don’t remember, in all the many stories that were done before about the "whistleblower" Rigsby sisters and this False Claims Act case, was there any peep from Graves or Robertson about how the publicity might unfairly affect the other side, or about how judges were too dumb to make up their own minds on the evidence?  In the story, Robertson also says, apparently speaking of State, er, Snake Farm, "I know they’re trying to sell a story, but it would be useful if they’d try to get the facts before trying to influence improperly any judge who might be reading the Internet." 

The other pro-Rigsby stories, it seems, would not confuse a judge who just happened to pick up the paper or sign on to the Internet, but Trailer Lawyer stories will.  Hmmm.  This is an interesting defense, not particularly persuasive in my opinion, that suggests judges cannot withstand the power of the Internet, and that Snake Farm is behind blog posts on this issue, at least insofar as it wrote a juicy storyline that will get bloggers stoked.  In case you want to look, here’s a copy of the Snake Farm memorandum in support of its Motion to Disqualify Trailer Lawyers.  I know one thing Snake Farm is not responsible for, however, and that is the testimony of Cori and Kerri Rigsby — and the Trailer Lawyer story comes from them. So whatever the truth is, these allegations originate with the lawyers’ own clients. 

Incidentally, if we are going to keep talking about the Trailer Lawyers, we are going to need an official theme song.  Considering the first line of this song, I can’t think of a better one. 

 

 

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Is this what Judge Senter had in mind?

When Judge Senter issued his order disqualifying the Katrina(less) Litigation Group, was this letter from Don Barrett on behalf of the KLG what he had in mind?  Where the Katrina Litigation Group handpicks a successor and sends clients a contract to sign up with that firm?

Here’s the key part of Judge Senter’s order:

The payments made to the Rigsby sisters require the disqualification of the successors to the SKG and those whom they have added as associates from further participation in any litigation in this Court against State Farm and Renfroe arising from property damage attributable to Hurricane Katrina.  

Here’s a link to the new firm Barrett recommends, including language welcoming the new Katrina clients.  And here is a link to a story about the new firm being sued over attorney fees in tobacco litigation.  Sound familiar?

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