Friday, July 4, 2008

Earwigging for Some but Not Others in Federal Courts?

In Richard Sobol’s book Bending the Law: The Story of the Dalkon Shield Bankruptcy , a rather momentous example of earwigging of a federal district court judge is described.

In the Preface to the book, Mr. Sobol describes how A. H. Robins Company, the manufacturer of the Dalkon Shield, sought to consolidate the Dalkon Shield Litigation in the federal court in Richmond, Virginia before District Judge Robert R. Merhige, Jr., a local law school graduate of the University of Richmond, and an "enthusiastic booster of both the city and the university."

The efforts to consolidate had been opposed. Robins "finally achieved the consolidation of the Dalkon Shield litigation in Richmond before Judge Merhige by filing for bankruptcy." Mr. Sobol reported Judge Merhige "is a neighbor of E. Claiborne Robins, Sr., who is a celebrated figure in Richmond. Three weeks before the bankruptcy filing, Merhige met in his home with Robins, Sr., and E. Claiborne Robins, Jr., the president of A.H. Robins, to discuss the company’s plans with respect to bankruptcy."

The rest is history. The liabilities of the company and its officers, directors, attorneys and insurer were transferred "to a trust with limited funding, and to allow the Robin’s shareholders to be paid the value of the company in excess of the fund before it could be determined whether the individual entitlements of the women injured by the Dalkon Shield exceeded the amount of the fund, or indeed, the total value of the company."

Thus, it might be contended there there are differing standards regarding earwigging and its progeny from case to case in federal court.

One would have had a different view, maybe a more enlightened view, of the Scruggs sentencings had Judge Biggers made some mention of the A. H. Robins - Merhige earwigging. I wonder if he would have found a difference between it and the initial earwigging of Judge Lackey by Timothy Balducci to get the Jones case sent to arbitration?

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