Saturday, March 24, 2007

Annals of American Greed

Q. What do you call a hundred lawyers at the bottom of the ocean? A. A good start.

That very old joke comes to mind as headlines blare over the shenanigans of the nation’s attorney, Alberto Gonzales and his merry men at the Justice Department.

Its civil counterpart is unfolding in Lexington, Kentucky where a grand jury is investigating lawyers who won a $200 million settlement but apparently kept most of it for themselves.

In the Annals of American Greed, the case promises to be a classic. Start at the bottom with average citizens looking for a free lunch by taking a prescription drug to help lose weight without going to the effort of diet and exercise, doctors reaping fees for obliging them and a pharmaceutical company making hundreds of millions for providing the stuff in the mid-1990s.

When users began to suffer heart damage and the drug, phen-fen AKA fen-phen, was withdrawn at the request of the FDA, the legal profession took over. By 2005, there were an estimated 50,000 lawsuits seeking $14 billion for victims. The Lexington case was one of them.

But instead of receiving the customary two-thirds of the settlement, clients got only $74 million of the $200 million with lawyers keeping $106 million and the remaining
$20 million going into a “charitable fund” administered for $5000 a month by, surprise, the judge in the case who understandably retired from the bench

The judge, according to The New York Times, has returned his fees after the state Judicial Conduct Commission called his behavior “shocking to the conscience.”

Now a grand jury has taken over, but liability lawyers are indomitable. Google “phen-fen lawsuit,” and the first two paid links will steer you to attorneys who want to represent new victims.

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