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Outside Income Disclosure Round-Up

golden_piggy_bank_with_dollar_glassIt wouldn’t surprise us if you missed any of the coverage of the New York State Legislature’s disclosure of outside income, since the ‘disclosure’ was strategically released on the eve of a holiday weekend in order to bury the coverage. As Capital New York put it, If Sheldon Silver discloses income on a holiday, does it make a noise?

So to help you out, we’ve posted some of the best pieces here:

The New York Times: Legislators Reap Benefits of Part-Time Jobs at Law Firms, Filings Show

The Wall Street Journal: Earnings of Albany Lawmakers Revealed

Times Union: Form: Top NY leader had $350K-$450K in law income

New York Post: Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver rolls in dough from controversial law-firm income

Lot’s a lot of Silver! Assembly speaker paid between $350K-$450K for ‘of counsel’ services at law firm

Shelly the 1 percenter

New York Daily News: Sunshine for Shelly

NY Assembly Speaker Sheldon may be a $6 million man, financial disclosure says

NYDN Daily Politics: It’s Finally Known! Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver Makes Up To $450,000 From His Law Firm

Sheldon Silver’s Gold: NY Assembly Speaker’s 2012 Investments As High As $1.83 million

Newsday: Sheldon Silver earned up to $450G as attorney in 2012

NBC New York: Assembly Speaker Paid More Than $350K from Law Firm

The Journal News: Assembly’s Sheldon Silver earned $350G-$450G from law firm

Poughkeepsie Journal: Assembly’s Silver tops outside-income list at $450,000

Governor Cuomo Signs Notice of Claim Legislation on Condition of Chapter Amendment

By: Scott Hobson

Last June, in the final hours of the final day of session, the legislature passed a bill titled the “Uniform Notice of Claim Act,” which would streamline the process for suing municipalities and government entities. Certainly simplifying the process of getting justice is a worthy cause, but in this case, as is often the case with public policy, the devil was in the details.

The bill contained a seemingly innocuous provision, overlooked by many – a few words of language that could allow cases that had previously passed the statute of limitations to be reopened. Reopening “time barred” cases is somewhat murky business – defendants must be able to know with certainty that they will not have to face old claims from which they cannot adequately defend themselves. In criminal law, retroactive legal changes violate the U.S. Constitution – the line in civil law is far less clear.

Beyond compromising defendants’ right to a fair defense, we expressed concerns about the timing. Fighting stale lawsuits requires lots of staff and no small amount of money – two things that local governments are conspicuously lacking. As written, the proposal would put even more strain on taxpayers at a time when too many local governments are on the brink of insolvency, schools are struggling to provide even a basic education, and the state’s fiscal sustainability is being seriously questioned.

Despite the bill being “freight trained” through the senate and assembly and passed without a word of meaningful debate in a matter of hours, advocates were able to make our voices heard. Appealing to the Governor, LRANY and local government groups from across the state, including the NY Conference of Mayors and the Association of Towns, were able to express our concerns with the bill before it landed on Governor Cuomo’s desk.

On December 17, Governor Cuomo signed the bill into law, but in keeping with his commitment to reducing costs to taxpayers and local governments, included a caveat that the offending provision be removed:

“The legislature has agreed to a chapter amendment to improve the process described in the bill for service of notice of claim, correct technical errors and ensure that entities will not face shortened time periods within which to investigate claims. On that basis, I am signing the bill.”

We applaud Governor Cuomo for injecting a measure of sanity and common sense into a well-meaning but flawed piece of legislation. The resulting bill is a compromise that we can live with, and given New York’s track record on lawsuit reform, that’s quite an endorsement.

 

TU: Objections Raised to Lawsuit Bill

An article the Albany Times Union this week highlights objections to a bill that was quickly and stealthily introduced and passed in both houses on the final day of the legislative session, just hours before its’ end.  The legislation at hand is known as the “Uniform Notice of Claims Act” (S.7641/A.10657) while commendable in its intent, it will have serious ramifications for taxpayers and local governments if enacted.

“It creates a fill-in-the-box approach toward litigation,” Tom Stebbins, LRANY Executive Director, was quoted by the Times Union.

Read More From the TU

New York needs mandate relief, not more lawsuits.  This legislation is currently pending arrival to Governor Cuomo’s desk, where he will have the ultimate say and either sign or veto the bill. The Governor needs to put taxpayers first and veto this bill!

 

Make your voice heard! Write to the Governor here.

New York Needs Mandate Relief Not More Lawsuits

On the final day of the legislative session, just hours before its’ end, a bill was quickly and stealthily introduced and passed in both houses.

The “Uniform Notice of Claims Act” (S.7641/A.10657) while commendable in its intent, will have serious ramifications for taxpayers and local governments if enacted.

Ultimately, the bill will increase costs, putting additional pressure on local governments’ already strained budgets, and this will have a detrimental impact on taxpayers statewide.

This legislation has passed both the Senate and the Assembly and now the decision lays in the hands of our Governor who states he is serious about mandate relief.  Governor Cuomo needs to put taxpayers first and veto this bill!

Make your voice heard! Write to the Governor here.

2011-2012 Post-Session Update

By: Scott Hobson

On June 21st the Senate and Assembly adjourned at the call of the Majority Leader and Speaker, signaling the end of the 2012 legislative session. Throughout the session, the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York actively engaged elected officials and advocacy groups to fight for meaningful lawsuit reform and defeat efforts to expand liability.

During the 2011-12 session, LRANY achieved a number of significant milestones. LRANY secured majority-party sponsorship of numerous key legislative priorities, including expert witness disclosure reform and limitations on liability to trespassers. LRANY also spearheaded the creation of a historic, diverse coalition to reform the Scaffold Law which engaged the media and elected officials to advance reform legislation.

Additionally, LRANY defeated all trial bar backed efforts to expand liability and unfairly advantage plaintiffs. These efforts included countless proposals to authorize new types of private lawsuits and create liability where none existed previously. Many sought to eliminate existing statutory or common law liability protections. Most significantly, LRANY blocked the passage of legislation which would have extended the broad powers of the Martin Act to private plaintiffs, and defeated a proposal to eliminate defendants’ right to informally interview plaintiffs’ treating physicians – a right affirmed by the highest court in the state.

The following list provides a summary of legislation supported and opposed by LRANY and actions taken on that legislation during the 2011-12 session.

LRANY would like to thank all our members, supporters, staff and affiliates for helping make the 2011-12 session successful and productive.

Read the detailed update here.

Nyack-Piermont Patch Opinion: Carlucci Should Treat Disease, Not Symptom

Today the Nyack-Piermont Patch highlighted LRANY Executive Director’s letter to the editor in response to the recent announcement of a program designed to bring doctors back to New York.

An Excerpt:

“We applaud Senator Carlucci’s call for greater efficiency in multimillion dollar Doctors Across New York program, a program designed to lure doctors back to New York (“Carlucci Calls for Reform of Medical Program,” May 17). However, the Senator’s reform fails to tackle the major underlying issue, namely, why are doctors leaving New York and why are millions of dollars earmarked to lure them here left unspent?

The answer is largely the medical liability climate in New York.”

Read the full letter.

Coalition Calls on Cuomo for Action on Scaffold Law

This week, LRANY joined a coalition urging Governor Cuomo and the Mandate Relief Council to support reform of New York’s antiquated “Scaffold Law”.

See excerpt from press release:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: New York’s municipalities pay over $1 billion each year for total claims and legal judgments, including increased liability under the Scaffold Law.  A broad coalition of advocacy groups, representing small and large businesses, contractors, farmers and municipalities recently issued a letter to Governor Cuomo and the Mandate Relief Council asking for their support in reforming the Scaffold Law.  The law, which dates back to the 1880s, holds contractors and property owners absolutely liable for workplace injuries, regardless of fault – driving up insurance and building costs across the state.  New York is the only state to still have the law on the books.

“At a time when communities all across the state are facing some of their greatest fiscal challenges, any efforts to protect local governments from additional financial exposure by affording them their right to due process must be given the utmost consideration,” said Peter Baynes, Executive Director of the New York Conference of Mayors.

The coalition also highlighted the effect of the Scaffold Law on state spending.  “Governor Cuomo has strongly supported mandate relief and increased infrastructure spending.  Reforming the Scaffold Law would relieve our communities of this burdensome and outdated mandate and allow our state’s infrastructure dollars to go further,” said Tom Stebbins, Executive Director of the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York.

Read the full press release

Read the letter

 

To Learn more about the Scaffold Law and how you can help, visit www.ScaffoldLaw.org!

Legislative Alert: Private Actions for Insurance Claims Practices

By: Scott Hobson, Legislative Analyst

On May 2nd, Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein (D, Brooklyn) introduced Assembly Bill A.10045, which would create a private right of action for “unfair insurance claim settlement practices.” Currently, actions for such violations may only be pursued by the Superintendent of the New York Department of Financial Services.

The bill gives the broad powers of the DFS Superintendent to private attorneys but fails to incorporate any safeguards against abuse or mechanism of accountability. Moreover, the definition of “unfair claim settlement practices” relies on broad, subjective language which could be easily exploited by plaintiffs’ attorneys. The legislation also provides for the award of punitive damages and attorneys’ fees.  LRANY strongly opposes this legislation because it would invite a surge of meritless lawsuits against insurance companies, ultimately impacting New York consumers and businesses through higher premium costs.

Legislators Introduce Bipartisan Tort Reform Bill

By: Scott Hobson, Legislative Analyst

On Tuesday, May 1st, Assemblywoman Sandra Galef (D, Ossining) introduced legislation which would balance disclosure requirements for expert witnesses in lawsuits. Senator Martin Golden (R, Brooklyn) introduced the legislation in the Senate on April 13th.

The legislation would require plaintiffs to disclose their expert witnesses before a trial date can be set for the lawsuit. Defendants would be required to disclose their experts no later than 60 days after the trial date is set. Currently, New York’s civil law requires all parties in a lawsuit to disclose their experts, but incredibly, fails to set a time frame for this disclosure. This has given rise to the practice of “trial by ambush”, where plaintiffs’ attorneys wait until the eve of trial to disclose their expert witnesses, preventing defendants from preparing an adequate defense. The New York State Bar Association Committee on the Commercial Division noted that, “Trial by ambush…does nothing to further to further the pursuit of fair and efficient resolution.”

The new legislation would improve fairness, reduce frivolous lawsuits, and lower costs to the court system. Early disclosure of witnesses allows both parties to engage in meaningful settlement negotiations long before the case goes to court, rather than allowing one side to game the system to their advantage. Because all parties understand the relative merits of the case against them, frivolous lawsuits are far less likely to be settled. Tom Stebbins, Executive Director of the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York noted, “Nothing prevents frivolous lawsuits like having to show you have a case.”

Legal scholars have long called for a timeframe for disclosure of expert witnesses.  David Siegal, the pre-eminent New York tort law scholar, noted “The statute cries out for some type of amendment to impose some kind of time period on the disclosure…” In fact, the basic elements of the legislation are already in place in the Third Judicial District of the New York State Supreme Court in the form of a judicial rule. The proposed bill would simply apply this rule statewide.

LRANY Applauds Senator Golden and Assemblywoman Galef for their leadership and commitment to a fairer, more balanced civil justice system.

Assemblyman Morelle Introduces Key Tort Reform Legislation

By: Scott Hobson

On Tuesday, state assemblyman and chair of the Assembly Insurance Committee, Joseph Morelle (D, Irondequoit) introduced legislation which would bring New York’s astronomical interest rate on judgments in line with market rates. The legislation is sponsored in the Senate by Joseph Griffo (R, Utica), Chair of the Senate Banking Committee.

In New York and most other states, interest accrues on a judgment from the date the judgment is made. This makes sense – it ensures that the monetary award will not lose real value if the case is appealed or payment is delayed for some other reason. A reasonable rate of interest on judgments is critical to ensuring that victims are fairly compensated.

But while the markets rise and fall, New York’s rate of interest on judgments stays fixed at 9%.  You won’t find a return that high in this market – it’s more than ten times the current federal funds rate. It represents a major windfall to plaintiffs – they end up receiving more than the jury intended.

This can create serious access to justice issues. The appeal process can take years, and as the size of the award grows, so too does the cost of getting justice. The potentially high cost of losing an appeal can force defendants to simply settle, even if they feel they have a strong case.

Assemblyman Morelle and Senator Griffo support linking the rate of interest on judgments to the market rate, a rational approach which treats both sides fairly. We applaud their leadership – this is the kind of common sense reform that New York has long needed.