January 26, 2015
For Immediate Release
Contact: Phoebe Stonbely
Legal Reform Group Calls for Further Investigation by US Attorney into New York City Asbestos Courts
Group says Silver investigation and recent judicial rulings raise a lot of questions
(ALBANY, NY) Today, the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York called on US Attorney Preet Bharara to investigate if the alleged payment scheme involving New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver may have affected judicial selection, verdict trends, and recent judicial decisions in the New York City Asbestos Litigation court (NYCAL).
“The arrest of New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver gives New Yorkers a glimpse into the mysterious and profitable world of asbestos litigation,” said Tom Stebbins, the group’s Executive Director. “Based on the US Attorney’s complaint and recent press reports, we urge the US Attorney to further investigate if this payment scheme may have influenced judicial selection and recent decisions in NYCAL.”
The firm employing Speaker Silver, Weitz & Luxenberg, is the single most active law firm in the NYCAL court, accounting for more than half of the litigation. According to recent press reports, of 15 mesothelioma verdicts in the last four years, Weitz & Luxenberg won $273.5 million of $313.5 million awarded by NYCAL juries. The firm is so active that the NYCAL website apparently lists cases as “Weitz” and “Non-Weitz.”
In 2008, Speaker Silver appointed Arthur Luxenberg, a partner at the firm, to the influential Judicial Screening Committee. Since 2008, the average payments to Speaker Silver increased significantly according to the US Attorney complaint. “It certainly raises a lot of questions” said Stebbins.
Stebbins noted that since 2010 the average mesothelioma awards in the NYCAL are more than twice the national average. “The decisions currently coming out of the NYCAL are far out of line with the rest of the country. Given that asbestos is such a large part of the US Attorney’s complaint, we ask that Mr. Bharara shine a light into the NYCAL to discover if Speaker Silver’s alleged payment scheme is in any way connected to the court’s recent decisions.”
Stebbins noted that, at the request of Weitz & Luxenberg and others, the NYCAL recently lifted a long-standing agreement deferring punitive damages. The agreement was in place since 1996 to ensure funds for future asbestos plaintiffs, but NYCAL Judge Sherry Heitler recently ended the agreement, potentially allowing the law firm to reap millions more in asbestos claims.
Stebbins also noted that the NYCAL has recently consolidated several asbestos cases, allowing plaintiff’s firms to sue for several plaintiffs at the same time. “It’s really an assembly line approach to justice,” said Stebbins, “and it allows the plaintiffs firms to pick and choose what to highlight and create this kind of ‘franken-plaintiff,’ and the judges allow it.”
“There are so many red flags in the NYCAL. Mr. Bharara may have only scratched the surface,” warned Stebbins.
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The Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York (LRANY) is a nonpartisan not-for-profit association of businesses, professionals, healthcare providers, membership organizations, taxpayers, and concerned citizens committed to changing New York’s legal system to help create jobs and energize our economy.