Everyone has heard the old saying that a leopard does not change its spots and like many idiomatic expressions that its roots in antiquity, it accurately describes the human condition. Judge Feldman’s latest interest conflicted ruling regarding the drilling moratorium and the intense interest therein has opened the flood gates of information flow from the Slabbed Nation. It was a reader sending me one of Feldman’s rulings involving a lawsuit against an oil company that resonated with me as the tactics dishonest corporate defense lawyers and their lackey judges evidently use with regularity in the court system pop up again and again in litigation, whether it is the ordinary citizens against big oil or big insurance.
Let’s begin with a case from the 1990’s before Judge Feldman where ol Marty tries gave an offshore worker that was hurt on the job the Feldman in an attempt to deprive the man of justice. I used the word attempt because Feldman’s conduct in court formed the basis of an appeal so it from the Westlaw analysis of the case Billy G. and Cheryl Bufford v Rowan Drilling Company that we begin:
Employee sued employer and supervisor to recover damages for injuries allegedly sustained in workplace. The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, Martin L.C. Feldman, J., entered judgment for defendants after jury trial, and employee appealed. The Court of Appeals, Politz, Chief Judge, held that employee’s substantial rights to fair trial were impaired by defendants’ inferring that employee brought fraudulent claim from fact that his counsel had previously represented former co-worker in similar lawsuit, by likelihood that jury heard trial judge threaten employee’s counsel with jail during sidebar, and by trial court’s preventing employee’s counsel from countering defendants’ aspersions.
Man did this sound familiar to me but before we tie in other cases lets delve deeper into Feldman’s misconduct in Bufford:
This is one of those rare cases in which the actions of the trial judge combined with the conduct of defendants’ counsel to impugn the integrity of plaintiffs’ counsel in such a way as to prejudice the plaintiffs’ case in the eyes of the jury. The damaging aspersions began with the opening statement and consisted of more than isolated remarks. Indeed they were an integral part of the defense, building toward a crescendo at the end of the trial, unfortunately amplified by the trial court. We are compelled to the conclusion that plaintiffs’ substantial rights to a fair trial were impaired.
Impugning the integrity of plaintiff counsel is a tactic that we have also seen in the Katrina insurance litigation with State Farm raising it to an art form using it successfully through their surrogates, a Mississippi blog run by a far right-wing political consultant and a lawyer whose family does work for State Farm to trash the reputations of lawyers from Missouri that dared to affiliate with the whistle blowers Cori and Kerri Rigsby in their false claims act suit against State Farm. Such tactics would not work unless there were judges with an axe to grind standing ready to assist such as Alabama Federal Judge William Acker, who never met a white supremacist or insurance company he failed to like. Martin Feldman is the local version as we excerpt from the transcript of the Bufford trial:
THE COURT: Well, I’m going to permit it. The objection is overruled.
PLAINTIFFS’ COUNSEL: I object, and I think it’s reversible error.
THE COURT: Mr. Wiedemann, I must tell you that it’s my job to try a case as best and as fairly as I can given the issues that are in the case. If I commit reversible error, the Fifth Circuit will remind me of that, sir, and not you. Get back to work.
PLAINTIFFS’ COUNSEL: I’m sure they will.
THE COURT: Get back to work before you end up in jail.
PLAINTIFFS’ COUNSEL: My job is to protect my client.
THE COURT: You have one more warning and then you are going to be very sorry.
PLAINTIFFS’ COUNSEL: I’m going to protect my client when I have to.
THE COURT: You may be doing it from jail.
PLAINTIFFS’ COUNSEL: I may be, but I’m going to.
THE COURT: Last time. Now, get back to your chair.
This outrageous conduct from a federal judge is simply beyond the pale but is standard MO for thugs like Martin Feldman and this brings us to the insurance litigation after Katrina and another case, this one not in front of Martin Feldman but one which should highlight the difference between an honest judge and a thug like Feldman in Weiss v Allstate, a case which we have blogged on a good bit. Rather than highlight our after the fact coverage I’d like to introduce our readers to Allstate lawyer David Rossmiller from Portland Oregon, an ethically challenged lawyer who actively blogged on the case (without disclosing his firm’s business relationship with Allstate) covering in detail Allstate’s last minute allegation the Weiss family committed a crime filing a false insurance claim and it is there we go next:
You don’t need a weatherman to see which way the wind blows. Allstate, for a second time in a Katrina case on the cusp of the moment of decision, has come out with allegations that a policyholder made material misrepresentations in a Katrina claim.
These shills known as blogging lawyers are a smooth group as a general rule and Rossie was no different. Despite holding himself out as a hurricane insurance law expert he really had no clue what was going on down here, and his appetite for blogging on Katrina cases diminished considerably after this non lawyer/blogger exposed him as a fraud in March 2009 while he attempted to carry water for State Farm in Kodrin, a wind water case we covered extensively. I’ll let our readers judge the quality of our coverage for themselves but we made the ABA Journal on that case and we thought that an honor. With that bit of background in place lets continue with Rossie’s “analysis”:
At the time, this seemed a little mysterious — you drove all the way to the prom in your rented tux, why not go in and see if the jury will dance with you — but if Allstate’s brief in Weiss v. Allstate is correct, now it makes more sense. Here’s a pdf of the brief filed April 4. It says that the judge in the Tomlinson case, Judge Feldman, had approved a jury verdict form saying Louisiana law requires that a material misrepresentation about any part of the policy voids the whole thing.
So we see Feldman’s name pop up in a case which he did not hear and we are up to 2 cases where, literally on the steps of the courthouse Allstate drops a late bomb alleging the policyholders committed insurance fraud. I guess they are nicer than Liberty Mutual though, which had a homeless policyholder arrested after Katrina on trumped up insurance fraud charges simply because he dared file a homeowner’s claim. So what is the difference between the Judge in Weiss and Marty Feldman? One handled the allegation correctly according to the law while the other passed threats to the plaintiff’s lawyer.
Let’s examine how Weiss turned out courtesy of CBS news:
Allstate Insurance Co. must pay a Louisiana man who lost his home to Hurricane Katrina more than $2.8 million in damages and penalties, a federal jury decided Monday in a case that hinged largely on whether it was wind or storm surge that wiped out his house………
Jeffrey Mika, 30, foreman of the 8-person jury, said the jury was persuaded by Allstate’s decision to rely on the assessment by Rogers, who did not personally visit the site.
“We didn’t feel that Allstate acted in good faith to settle this claim,” Mika said.
Allstate also had claimed the Weisses misrepresented part of the claim.
The company said the couple asked Allstate to pay for a boathouse that was not covered by their policy. The company argued a policyholder who misrepresents even part of a claim voids all coverage.
“I think the jury saw right through it,” Trahant said of the misrepresentation defense after the verdict was read. “I think the jury saw it as a last grasp at a straw that wasn’t there.”
Judge Vance did let ethically challenged Allstate lawyer Judy Barrasso raise the misrepresentation smoke screen but unlike Bufford v Rowan did not actively assist Allstate in trying to make it stick.
So how does Judge Feldman play into this per Rossie above? He was the judge in another policyholder case involving Allstate, Tomlinson v Allstate that was mysteriously dropped just before the jury got the case. I’ll let Rossie explain:
You don’t very often see plaintiffs just drop their lawsuit right before it goes to the jury, but that’s what happened in the Tomlinson v. Allstate case in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. No monetary settlement, apparently. They just dropped it……
Why did the Tomlinsons drop their case at this point? The story refers to the effect of alleged material misrepresentations made by the Tomlinsons about their damages. So I looked up a brief on the alleged misrepresentations filed by Allstate, and here is a pdf of that brief. As you can see, the brief alleges the Tomlinsons falsely claimed they executed a lease on some property after their home was destroyed , and then claimed the amount of the lease as part of their damages. The brief, which I’d have to classify as some pretty good writing, contained arguments that a material misrepresentation on damages voids the entire policy, and does not merely negate the part of the damage claim that is false.
So again we have a last minute attacks alleging a crime on the plaintiffs just like in Bufford and Weiss but this case was dropped just before it went to the jury. What gives? The local bar has been talking about this case since 2007 and there is a possible explanation floating about that Judge Feldman may have pulled out an old trick from his past and passed a threat, perhaps one like having the plaintiffs arrested for insurance fraud if the jury did not find in their favor. Whatever happened it evidently freaked the Tomlinson’s lawyer who folded up, turned tail and ran away as fast as she could.
Thugs and bullies like Feldman can not ply their trade in the light of day and instead rely on threats and intimidation to beat people into submitting to their will. We’ve seen it time and again in the Katrina litigation. As our readers no doubt have figured out we’re a different kind of blog, one that does not take blood money from corporate predators to crush ordinary citizens and certainly not one that will be intimidated into silence.
Thugs like Martin Feldman belong behind bars, not a bench sitting in judgement of others. It will never happen until such evil is confronted head on. When ordinary citizens summon courage and confront evil who knows what the dawn will bring?