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reports and thoughts on legal issues, music, Orthodox Christianity and/or whatever else strikes my interest

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Location: Houston, Texas, United States

My name is David Stone. I live in Houston, Texas. I am a 30-something single white male. I am an Orthodox Christian and am a member of an English-language parish of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR).

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Down at the Duck

Photo from www.mcgonigels.com

Tonight the Mucky Duck featured the Emily Dugas Band in concert in honor of St. Andrew's Day which occurred today on the New Calendar.
The band and their music were great. The band featured many of the same members as the now defunct group Clandestine. There were only the loosest connections to anything dealing with the real life of Saint Andrew but it made for a great evening to celebrate all things Scottish.
The evening was also a part of a fundraiser for the Houston Highland Games Association.
So in honor of Saint Andrew and the Scots I heartily enjoyed a pint of Belhaven Scottish Ale.
You can listen to and purchase some of Emily Dugas' music from the old Clandestine days here.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Doctor's Work Questioned in Asbestos and Silicosis Claims

The New York Times featured an article today on Dr. Ray A. Harron. Dr. Harron's work has come under scrutiny in ongoing investigations into fraud and unethical behavior involving asbestos and silicosis litigation.

As the article mentions:

"This summer, a federal judge found that Dr. Harron "failed to write, read, or personally sign" reports supporting 6,350 claims by people saying they had inhaled silica, another potentially dangerous material.

Congressional investigators are now looking into asbestos and silica litigation. Federal prosecutors in Manhattan are also looking into asbestos claims, and while it is not clear whether they are looking at Dr. Harron's work, they have sought documents from a medical screening company that used his services and from others involved in asbestos and related litigation."

The article also notes that:

"The Manville trust announced in September that it would no longer pay claims based on reports by Dr. Harron or his son, as well as several other doctors whose work has been questioned by defense lawyers."

Federal Vioxx Trial Opens in Houston

The long anticipated first Federal Vioxx trial got underway today in Houston. Here is a good article that covers today's events.

The article notes that this trial is expected to be conducted quickly and should only last a few weeks. Mention is also made of the fact that the trial was moved from its original location in New Orleans due to the aftermath from Hurricane Katrina.

Here is another good article on the MDL Vioxx cases being handled in the Federal Courts.

This case centers on whether Vioxx caused the fatal heart attack of a man who had only been taking the drug for around one month.

Many commentators see this trial in the Federal Courts as favoring Merck. It is also true that this is not a particularly strong case for the plaintiffs. Mr. Irvin only took Vioxx for around 4 weeks and may not have even had a prescription for it. Even if the plaintiffs win the case there could be an issue on damages (esp. for loss of consortium) since there is a question as to whether Mr. Irvin was separated from his wife at the time of his death.

More information on this case can be found here.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

From the Fathers

"Human fortunes turn quickly and reverse; their changes are swift; there is nothing steadfast, nothing fixed. Everything can easily be turned about and has a strong inclination to go in the opposite direction. What, then, could be more ridiculous than the man who gapes after the goods of the present life to which he nails himself, and who judges that they are to be held in higher honor than the eternal things which abide forever?"

St. John Chrysostom, Baptismal Instructions.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Whither Welding-Rod Litigation?

A few years ago it looked like welding-rod lawsuits might be the next big wave of litigation. That doesn't seem to have materialized yet.

For those interested though Point of Law has a good post on the status of welding-rod litigation in Madison County that can be found here.

Celtic Music on NPR

Tonight I was able to listen to one of my favorite programs on NPR. The Thistle and Shamrock program is one of NPR's most interesting music programs and is aired on the weekends in most locations.

It is also one of the best Celtic Music programs on the radio. The show is hosted every week by Fiona Ritchie.

Tonight's show featured some field recordings from the early 20th Century including artists such as Michael Coleman and James Morrison. Next week's show will feature the different kinds of pipes. An index of playlists and upcoming shows can be found here.

Their website also has a good selection of links including some of my favorite artists such as the Chieftains, Dougie Maclean, Niamh Parsons, and Kate Rusby.

Fiona Ritchie has also written a listener's guide to Celtic Music that can be purchased here.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Sitka Icon at Jordanville

Photo from www.hts.edu
Here is a brief article on the visit of the Sitka Icon of the Theotokos to Holy Trinity Monastery and Holy Trinity Orthodox Seminary in Jordanville, New York.

Delaware Supreme Court ponders Asbestos Premises Liability Case

Here is an interesting article on an asbestos premises liability case pending before the Delaware Supreme Court. This case deals with whether a property owner who hires an independent contractor, but does not directly control their work, should be held liable for alleged asbestos related injuries stemming from the contractor's work. The case is also of interest since Delaware has recently seen an influx of asbestos lawsuits.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Tavener on the radio

Photo from www.bbc.co.uk
Today I happened to hear the John Tavener piece As One Who Has Slept on KUHF. This piece is one of my favorite of Tavener's works. It is a very short piece lasting less than ten minutes. It sets the following text taken from the Communion Hymn from the Liturgy of Saint Basil on Great and Holy Saturday:
As one who has slept
the Lord has risen,
and rising he has saved us.
The musical setting is fairly simple but very solemn. Tavener employs an ison in the basses at different points in the piece. The real power of the piece though comes from his extended melismatic settings of the word "Alleluia". This is a recurring technique in many of Tavener's works.
I hope that one day someone will compile an "Alleluiaria" of all of Tavener's settings of that particular word.
A sample of this piece can be found here. A good recording of this piece can be found here.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Some Orthodox Photo Blogs

Here is a good Orthodox Photo Blog that I just ran across. Another good Orthodox Photo Blog can be found here. Both sites are primarily in Russian but are pretty easy to navigate for non-Russian speakers.

Asbestos Bill Tops Legislative Agenda for 2006

This article reports that the Asbestos Trust Fund Bill will be the top legislative priority for the Senate when it returns in January of 2006.

According to the article:

"The Senate will finally resolve the asbestos litigation crisis,'' Frist of Tennessee said in a Senate floor speech. "The day has come for us to fix it.''

Here is another article on the planned January floor vote.

This article quotes the bill's original author Sen. Arlen Specter as stating:

"It's going to be a battle but I think we have a realistic chance of winning," said Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., who has been pushing legislation this year.

Specter, in a speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said more than 80 companies have declared bankruptcy because of asbestos-related lawsuits. "Of all of the items which could provide an economic stimulus to the U.S. economy, I think asbestos reform would be the most important," he said.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Judge Jack remands Silicosis Cases

This article (you may have to register to view) from the Corpus Christi Caller Times reports that Judge Janis Graham Jack has finally disposed of all the Silicosis cases pending in her court.

The article notes that Judge Jack has now either dismissed or remanded all the cases to lower courts.

These cases, involving questionable diagnoses from doctors hired by the plaintiffs' firms, resulted in Judge Jack issuing a scathing 249 page Order against the plaintiffs.

The article also mentions that:

"A federal grand jury has begun investigating allegations of fraud against the doctors, and Congress has begun holding hearings on the matter. "

It concludes with these details of the disposition of the cases:

"Jack determined that she did not have jurisdiction over many of the cases. Those have been sent back to the courts in which they originated. On Monday, she dismissed the one case she did have jurisdiction over, saying the plaintiffs had not established the proper authority to bring the case to federal court. "

For more on the "Silicosis Debacle" click here.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

A Sea-Change in Asbestos Litigation?

Here is an interesting article from The National Law Journal on the current state of asbestos and silica litigation.

This article covers several recent changes in this litigation including the passing of the World War II shipyard generation, the increasing number of defendants declaring bankruptcy, recent rulings against mass diagnoses, the growing rise of "inactive dockets" and requiring stronger medical criteria.

As the article notes:

"Many in the asbestos bar see a return to the asbestos litigation style of the 1980s in the move away from the "wholesale" inventories of plaintiffs of the past decade to "retail" litigation, in which each claim is considered individually on its merits. "

The article also points out that due to the "wholesale" style of litigation "...an entire generation of asbestos lawyers never tried a case, they were just claims processors ..."

Monday, November 14, 2005

only in Ireland...

Here is a great story from Reuters on an Irish nursing home that has opened a pub for its patients.

I just hope the staff can handle the inevitable soccer riot when Manchester beats Liverpool. : )

Friday, November 11, 2005

Asbestos Hearing Delayed

This article from Reuters mentions that the new Hearing on the proposed Asbestos trust fund bill has been postponed.

The Hearing by the Senate Judiciary committee is planned to discuss a recent study that predicts a shortfall in the funding of the proposed trust fund that would render it bankrupt within a few years.

The Hearing will is now scheduled to begin on November 17th.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Asbestos exposure increases colon cancer risk

Here is an article from Reuters on a new study that finds an increased risk for developing colon cancer among men with significant exposure to asbestos.

The study was undertaken by the Yale University School of Medicine and the results were published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

The study found that men with over 21 years of exposure to asbestos had a 74% increased risk of developing colon cancer.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

From the Fathers

We faithful ought to look upon all the faithful as one single being. We should consider that Christ is in each one. We should therefore be ready to give our life willingly for the sake of our love for Him. We have no right at all to say, or even to think, that a person is evil. As I have said, we should consider all of them good, and even if you see someone swept away by the passions, do not hate your brother, [hate instead] the passions which torment him.

St. Symeon the New Theologian, The Practical and Theological Chapters.

More on Martindale and the Silicosis Debacle

This article discusses the investigation into the silicosis diagnoses made by Dr. George Martindale and the N&M, Inc. industrial screening company in Mississippi.

The article details the questionable diagnoses and practices of the plaintiffs firms that paid for them.

The article also discusses some of the ongoing investigations into the Silicosis Debacle.

Fighting Back

Here is an article on the recent legal troubles of both John Torkelsen and Silicosis plaintiffs firms.

Torkelsen was formerly affiliated with Milberg Weiss the originator of California's famous "strike suits". He was recently "flipped" and is now cooperating with prosecutors on their investigation into Milberg and its practices. His wife also recently pleaded guilty to fraud in connection with their ownership of Acorn Technology Fund.

The article notes that some plaintiffs lawyers in California are now worried:

"Flipping Torkelsen would be the end of any semblance of order as we know it," one worried plaintiff attorney told The Recorder, a California legal daily.

Said another: "He knows where all the bodies are buried."

From the Fathers

"A man cannot acquire hope in God, unless he first fulfills His will as much as he is able. For hope in God and courage of heart are born of the testimony of conscience, and only through truthful testimony of our mind can we have trust in God. Testimony of the mind consists in the fact that conscience in no way accuses a man of negligence in anything he ought to do within his powers. `If our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God' (1 Jn. 3:21). So confidence comes from progress in virtues and a good conscience."

St. Isaac of Syria

New Asbestos Hearing

Here is an article on a new planned hearing on the proposed asbestos compensation fund.

The hearing to be held by the Senate Judiciary Committee is tentatively scheduled for November 14th. The hearing will discuss the findings of a study by the Bates White economics consulting firm on whether the $140 billion proposed compensation fund will have sufficient funds to pay all the expected claims.

It is the opinion of this study that the fund will not be large enough to cover all the claims and would go bankrupt within only a few years.

Marketing Risk

Here is a good editorial on how new drugs are marketed.

The author believes that Vioxx should have been allowed to stay on the market but that the manner in which it was marketed and its risks downplayed was unconscionable.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Tallis at the Villa de Matel

On Sunday night I attended a concert by the Houston Chamber Choir featuring the music of Thomas Tallis. The concert was part of a Symposium on Tallis in honor of the 500th Anniversary of his birth.

The concert was led by Peter Phillips the founder of the Tallis Scholars. The concert was held at the Chapel of the Villa de Matel which is one of Houston's best kept architectural secrets. The acoustics of this magnificent space were a perfect setting for the English Renaissance music featured in the concert.

The concert consisted of:

Spem in Alium
excerpts from the Lamentations of Jeremiah
If ye love me
Hear the voice and prayer
O nata lux
and In manus tuas - all in settings by Tallis

The concert also featured works by other English Renaissance composers including:

Haec dies and Ne irascaris - William Byrd
Domine quis habitabit - Robert Parsons
Christe qui lux es - Robert White
and Verbum caro factum est - John Sheppard

Of course the main feature of the concert was the legendary 40 part motet Spem in Alium. This piece is only rarely performed given the difficulty and number of accomplished singers required. It was certainly the first time I had ever heard the piece performed live. Fortunately the concert both began and ended with this piece. The second performance of this motet was thrilling with the massed choir, including members of the Concert Chorale of the University of Houston, reaching otherworldly heights of sound in the Chapel's acoustics.

I also really enjoyed the Lamentations of Jeremiah which has always been my favorite work of Tallis. I had forgotten that Tallis also set texts in English and so the setting of If ye love me was especially powerful.

I even ran into a few of my old college profs after the concert and was pleasantly surprised that they still remembered me. : )

A review of the concert can be read here.

A selection of excellent recordings of the music of Tallis can be found here.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Galveston Greek Festival

Today I drove down to Galveston to check out the Galveston Greek Festival. It is held every year at the Assumption of the Virgin Mary Greek Orthodox Church.

The food was delicious. I tried some of the pastitsio and tiropita. Of course I had to have some baklava for dessert as well.

All that good Greek food put me in the mood for some Greek wine. On the way home I stopped at Spec's and found some wine that originates from Mount Athos. Believe it or not they actually had two different Athonite wines at Spec's!

Friday, November 04, 2005

Asbestos Lawyer keeps fighting

Here is an article on Daniel Speights who is a plaintiffs attorney that specializes in asbestos property damage claims.

Wow, this guy is amazing...never mind how many times the Courts rule against you...or even that the people you are suing on behalf of may not even be clients!

You have to admire his determination though.

House Committee Subpoenas Silicosis Doctors

The investigation into the Silicosis Debacle continues. Read all about the latest subpoenas here.

Mark Lanier on Second Vioxx Trial

Here is a link to an interview with Mark Lanier from NPR on the outcome of the second Vioxx trial.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Libby, Montana

Tonight's episode of Nightline featured the town of Libby, Montana and its contamination by tremolite asbestos tainted vermiculite ore which was mined there.

There was another featured story on Libby a few years ago on PBS.

Here is a link on the criminal case against executives of W.R. Grace.

Nightline will air a follow up episode on Libby tomorrow night.

How the Vioxx Jury Voted

How the Vioxx jury voted


Here are the jurors' votes on questions posed by Judge Carol E. Higbee. At least seven of nine possible votes on each question were required to find in favor of the plaintiff.

Failure-to-Warn Law

Did Merck fail to provide an adequate warning to prescribing physicians of an association between Vioxx and an increased risk of serious cardiovascular events that the defendant either knew or should have known about prior to Mr. Humeston's heart attack?

YES: 1
NO: 8

Consumer Fraud Law

Did Merck commit consumer fraud by using unconscionable commercial practices when marketing Vioxx to prescribing physicians?

YES: 0
NO: 9

Did Merck make misrepresentations that had the capacity to mislead concerning the cardiovascular risk of VIOXX(r) while marketing the drug to prescribing physicians?

YES: 0
NO: 9

Did Merck intentionally suppress, conceal or omit material information about an association between Vioxx and an increased risk of cardiovascular events from prescribing physicians?

YES: 0
NO: 9


A jury in New Jersey only needed around eight hours of deliberations to determine that Merck's Vioxx was not responsible for the heart attack of Frederick Humeston.

The jury also found that Merck did not engage in fraud in marketing the drug and did provide adequate warnings on the drugs health risks.

Early remarks from the jurors indicate that they believed that Humeston's prior medical history and work related stress played the major roles in contributing to his heart attack.

The jurors also indicated that they did not believe that Humeston took Vioxx long enough for it to have had any negative effects on his heart.

This victory for Merck is not completely surprising given that the trial was held in Merck's home state and that the jury was composed mostly of business professionals.

It remains to be seen how the Vioxx litigation will ultimately play out. Plaintiffs in the initial wave of asbestos litigation lost around ten cases before gaining their first victory. Also this case, along with the first case in Texas, were not particularly strong cases for the plaintiffs. There are plaintiffs awaiting trial who did take Vioxx for over two years and suffered heart attacks and strokes while having little or no prior risk factors.

There has already been discussion by Merck about reintroducing Vioxx.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

The Sitka Icon Pilgrimage

Photos from www.oca.org
Last weekend I traveled to Dallas to venerate the Sitka Icon of the Theotokos while it was at Saint Seraphim's Cathedral.
I was present on Saturday evening for the planned Vigil. There was some difficulty getting the icon through airport security and it was late in arriving. So it ended up that Great Vespers was served, followed by a talk on the history of the Sitka icon and the history of the Orthodox Church in Alaska by Father Michael Oleksa, and then concluding with the Akathist for the Sitka icon and an anointing with oil from the shrine lamp of the icon. A cd recording of the Akathist sung by the Clergy of the Diocese of Alaska can be ordered here.
The icon itself is rather large and quite beautiful. It was very encouraging to see the large turnout and to see Orthodox faithful and Clergy from many different jurisdictions in attendance.
On Sunday morning I was also able to attend Divine Liturgy at Saint Nicholas parish in Dallas. Many thanks to Vasyl for chauffeuring me around and for the early "Winter Welcome".
: )

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

After the Verdict

Vioxx jurors cashing in as trial advisers

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Jurors in the nation's first Vioxx trial knew they would be thrust into the limelight this August when they slapped Merck with a multimillion dollar judgment.

Now, two months later, some of those same jurors are getting star billing of a different sort -- and a nice paycheck -- as paid advisers for trial lawyers lining up against the embattled New Jersey pharmaceutical company.

The practice of paying discharged jurors for their insights, unheard of until recently, shows a growing sophistication and coordination among mass tort lawyers as they pursue big quarry such as Merck. In addition, legal experts say, it could carry risks for the jury process as payments become more commonplace.

On Nov. 2, four of the 10 jurors who returned a $253 million verdict against Merck in Angleton, Texas, will speak on a teleconference with some of the attorneys involved in the more than 6,000 Vioxx cases in state and federal courts.

The program, sponsored by the legal publishing business Mealey's, promises to give participants "an exclusive, one-time only opportunity to find out what worked and what didn't from actual jurors in the first Vioxx trial."

For their 90 minutes of work, jurors will receive $500.

While these payments trouble some legal ethicists, it's not the first time Vioxx jurors will receive compensation for discussing the case, nor will it be the last.

Three jurors were flown from Texas to New York last month to brief a group of plaintiff lawyers. And Mealey's wants to recruit jury members from the second Vioxx trial, now under way in Atlantic City, for a conference in December, said Randy Dunham, a spokesman for Lexis-Nexis, which owns Mealey's.

Informal questioning of jurors after a verdict is standard practice by attorneys. After the verdict in the Texas case -- won by the widow of Robert Ernst, a 59-year-old Wal-Mart produce manager who died in 2001 while taking Vioxx -- Merck lawyers called jurors at home to discuss how deliberations unfolded, according to two jurors.

In some states, such as New Jersey or Massachusetts, attorneys are not allowed to approach jurors. A session set up by an independent group can get around that prohibition, however, and can come relatively cheaply: Mealey's Vioxx teleconference, for example, only costs $199 a pop.

That's a pittance compared to focus groups or mock trials, which lawyers regularly use before heading to court. Typically, such an exercise can last from one to five days and cost anywhere from $5,000 to as much as $100,000, according to Chris Placitella, a lawyer involved in the Vioxx trials.

The transformation of jurors into paid legal advisers is a recent phenomenon. Dunham said it was pioneered in mass tort cases involving asbestos and lead.


Vioxx was developed as a treatment for chronic pain without the stomach problems of aspirin or other traditional pain relievers. It was used by more than 20 million Americans before Merck, based in Whitehouse Station, withdrew the drug a year ago after a study suggested it led to an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes.

Most of the lawsuits against Merck contend the company knew about the cardiovascular risks years before sales of the drug were halted but downplayed them to doctors and the public. Since many cases are expected to revolve around the same witnesses and internal documents that have been the focus of the first two trials in Texas and New Jersey, the Ernst jurors' impressions are considered valuable by attorneys.

"In some of these very expensive, high-profile cases, you want every advantage you can find," said George Badey, a plaintiff lawyer whose Philadelphia firm is handling several Vioxx cases.
Said Ellen Relkin, whose firm also has numerous Vioxx cases: "It's especially valuable to New Jersey attorneys, because we're not allowed to speak with jurors after a trial."

The catch is getting jurors to agree to talk in the first place. That's where Mealey's $500 "honorarium" comes in.

"We are paying them because otherwise they'd have no incentive to participate," Dunham said.
But payments, if they become common, could lead to distractions in the jury room, said Andrew Kaufman, a Harvard Law School professor who specializes in legal ethics. Hoping to cash in, jurors could become consumed with reconstructing deliberations instead of performing their main task: deciding the case fairly, he said.

A juror conceivably could say, "I took careful notes during the deliberation process, so you should pay me five times as much," Kaufman said. "Does that have an effect on the jury process? It could if it became widespread."

There are other concerns.

The Ernst judgment has not been formally entered yet and Merck has said it plans to appeal the award, which may be reduced to roughly $26 million once Texas limits on punitive damages kick in.

Whatever the Ernst jurors say on the teleconference could conceivably be scrutinized for evidence of jury misconduct or other grounds of appeal, legal experts say.

A spokesman for Merck's legal team, Kent Jarrell, said he is aware of the Vioxx jurors' appearances on behalf of trial lawyers.

"This appears to be more about the promotion of the plaintiffs' cases than the law or the science," he said.


To be sure, the Ernst jurors say they are hardly getting rich off the trial.

Derrick Chizer said he is participating in the teleconference to send a message to Merck and other pharmaceutical companies about drug safety.

"Based on the outcome of the trial, $500 is basically nothing," he said. "I'm the kind of person that's going to speak my mind."

The teleconference is the second event in which Chizer will participate. In late September, he and two other Ernst case jurors were flown to New York City and put up at the Hilton by Ernst's law firm for a private seminar with more than 100 lawyers, he said. They were also given a per-diem for expenses during the trip, Chizer said. The jurors, in interviews last week, declined to say how much.

Others jurors were asked to speak but decided to pass. Marsha Robbins, the jury forewoman, flew to the seminar in New York but decided not to participate in the upcoming conference call. She said the six-week trial was "pretty strenuous," and not something she was anxious to relive again -- even for $500.

"I've gone back to the real world," she said.

New Jersey Vioxx Trial Jury Verdict Form

It all comes down to this.

Lawyers behaving badly

Some of the biggest headlines from the second Vioxx trial centered on the misbehavior of Merck's trial team. The defense attorneys were often outspoken and quarreled repeatedly with the trial judge. Merck's attorneys in this trial are all accomplished lawyers with years of trial experience. One has to wonder then: why all the fireworks and outbursts?

One answer is that it was done for strategic reasons. This article details some of the flare ups in the trial by the Merck team and what they may have hoped to gain by them.

To the Jury

The second Vioxx trial against Merck has gone to the jury. For more details on the closing arguments see this article as well as this article.