Unlike Canada, where Justices of the Supreme Court of Canada face mandatory retirement at age 75, thus giving the Prime Minister, (barring the unforeseen) an orderly schedule for the making of future appointments, US Supreme Court jurists serve for life, Continue reading “More turmoil for SCOTUS”
Next weeks Law Society Annual General meeting is shaping up to be the sort of brawl usually reserved for MMA competitions.
In the first bout, the Benchers of the Society will square off against the family law bar, Continue reading “Cage Fight!”
One of my favourite fictional characters, Horace Rumpole of the Bailey, was famous for beginning his addresses to the jury with the admonition that “The presumption of innocence is the Golden Thread that binds British justice–”
In truth that presumption is indeed a cornerstone of our criminal justice system. That Golden Thread is spun into a protective cloak draped over every accused, lest any innocent citizen be wrongly convicted. But ought that same cloak be available to those being tried in that other court- the court of public opinion? Continue reading “Pulling on the Golden Thread”
At Darnell & Co we do a lot of estate planning and wills drafting for clients, so inevitably we come across testamentary requests that are just a little off the wall. Alas, as juicy as some of them are, professional ethics prevent us from talking about them.
Once probated however, wills become public documents, so we are allowed to snicker at some of the bizarre provisions that find their way into the last wills of the rich and famous.
Charles Dickens, for example, was a man after my own heart (and not just because of my favourite line in A Christmas Carol “Are there no prisons? are there no work houses ?”) Like me, Dickens abhorred the attire which most funeral goers affect, so his will stipulated the at “Those attending my funeral wear no scarf, cloak, black bow, long hat band or other such revolting absurdity”
And then there was famous escape artist Harry Houdini, who apparently thought he had a shot at escaping death itself. His will required his wife to conduct a seance each year on the anniversary of his death, so that he could communicate, in code, from the other side to let her know that his greatest escape had worked. She gave up after ten years , but apparently the tradition endures to this day.
Lawyers are amongst the worst offenders when it comes to weird wills. Take T.M. Zink, for example. An Iowa lawyer who died in 1930- he had a wee problem with women, leaving nothing to his wife, only $5 to his daughter, and the rest of his estate to build a “Woman-less library” not only would no women be allowed, but only books by male authors would be displayed! (As a lawyer he should have known the will would be challenged -it was, and the library was never built)
Canadian lawyer Charles Millar created a “baby derby’ when the details of his will became public. He gave his entire fortune to the Canadian woman giving birth to the most babies in the 10 years following his death (the derby ended in a four way tie between a quartet of women who each produced 9 offspring)
Lastly, we have American super -patriot Solomon Sanborn, who requested, in 1871, that his skin be made into two drums, one inscribed with Pope’s “Univesal Prayer”, and the other with the Declaration of independence, and further stipulated that the drums should be used each June 17th to beat out the tune of “Yankee Doodle ” on Bunker Hill!
I must say, the provision I made in my very first will, that I be given a viking funeral using the leaky sailboat I briefly owned as a law student, pales by comparison!
The news following Aretha Franklin’s recent passing that she had left a very substantial estate with no will, and without making adequate provision for a special-needs child, left me shaking my head. I guess I always thought that behind any celebrity was a team of professionals; agents, managers, accountants and lawyers, making sure their affairs were in order. It appears not.
Ever curious, I decided to poke around a bit see if I can uncover any other estate planning disasters of the rich and famous and I didn’t have to look very far.
Pablo Picasso, one of those famous artists of all time died a very wealthy man with a huge inventory of artwork stuffed in his château, and remarkably without a will. He reportedly steadfastly refused to ever make one.
Picasso had a famously convoluted love life, with two wives, many mistresses and number of children born both in and out of wedlock. his refusal to make a will left his estate in an absolute mess which took some seven years and the expensive assistance of a number of lawyers to sort out. In the end result, the clear winner was the French government which walked away with the lion’s share of the estate in death duties.
Indeed, for a time it appeared that only his eldest son would inherit, and it was only due to a posthumous modernization of French intestate succession law that his other children eventually received anything.
Quelle mess! It can’t have been what the great man intended .
I once employed a junior lawyer who had come the law late in life after a first career in academia. She viewed the practice of law through a somewhat different lens, as a result of her previous rich and varied life experience. Some of her observations were very shrewd. Continue reading “Know when to hold em, know when to fold em- why lawyers hair turns grey”
Everybody loves a time capsule. Digging one up gives one a chance to reminisce about the good old days, chuckle over the quaint prices of bygone years, shake one’s head at the fashions of the day and ponder how the headlines of the time actually played out in subsequent years.
The last time I participated in building a time capsule I was in high school, and the occasion was Canada’s Centennial, but this weekend I think I’l give it another try. I’ll dig a hole in the back garden and plant a container with a copy of this week’s Vancouver Sun-the one with the headlines announcing David Eby’s quest to sue Big Pharma for the government’s costs in dealing with the opioid epidemic, together with a note from me to my future self.
Then, 10 years from now, I’ll dig it up, retrieve the note and re-blog its contents to the world. The note will say “David! I told you so- I warned you that nothing good would come of suing Big Pharma. I told you it was a money pit and the only beneficiaries of your decision would be Big Law- the handful of downtown mega firms lucky enough to get a seat on the gravy train.”
The Attorney General, in making the announcement, claims that his department has learned many lessons from the “tobacco lawsuit”- a similar venture wherein various levels of government are suing the tobacco industry for healthcare costs related to smoking.
Frankly I find that hard to believe. The tobacco litigation has been grinding on for at least 10 years now, at a monstrous cost, and is nowhere near even going to trial. whole departments of well-paid lawyers have been spending literally years pawing through millions of documents. There are lawyers in the city, now starting to sprout gray hairs, who have worked on that single case for their entire career. The case has been a cash cow for the law firms involved, and many millions of tax dollars have been flushed down the drain
If I understand the premise of the lawsuit correctly, it is one of damages for misrepresentation- Big Pharma allegedly lied to us about opioids, telling us they were safe and non-addictive. That may be so, and I’m sure that some of the addicts the system is presently dealing with became so in all innocence, relying on the advice of doctors and taking medication that was prescribed to them. But I don’t buy that that subset of Addicts is at the heart of our present overdose crisis.
Surely the skyrocketing rates of drug overdose are caused, nor by misled consumers taking their prescription medication, but by the widespread introduction of illicit and adulterated drugs. People are dying not because Big Pharma lied to them, but because somebody laced their drugs with elephant tranquilizers. The only drugs that Big Pharma pedal are those which the government has approved, and then only by prescription through a licensed pharmacy. The overdoses however are coming from ingesting drugs being cooked up in basement labs, and being cut with substances such as fentanyl.
More and more our ponderous civil trial system is demonstrating itself to be an expensive and inefficient mechanism for governments to recoup damages in situations such as the present overdose crisis. The causes of such crises are simply too complex to be neatly pigeonholed into conventional theories of legal liability.
So, I have the hole dug and the capsule assembled ready for a burial this weekend, but I just checked Facebook, and I think I’d better add a copy of my resume to the contents, since my senior partner has just posted in support of the Big Pharma litigation ! She’s obviously a proponent of make work projects for lawyers!