Why did Judge Jack do it? Because she simply wouldn't accept at face value what the plaintiffs' attorneys were offering in terms of evidence and "expert" testimony. Something smelled, and smelled bad. So Judge Jack conducted her own investigation, and lordy what an investigation it was, taking over 20 months. Some of the results of her inquiry appear in today's Wall Street Journal editorial "The Silicosis Sheriff" (subscription only, I'm afraid):
Her first discovery was that, of the more than 9,000 plaintiffs who supplied more information about their "disease," 99% had been diagnosed with silicosis by the same nine doctors. These physicians had been retained by law firms or by "screening companies" that do mass X-rays on behalf of law firms searching for plaintiffs. When these physicians were deposed, they all but admitted they took their orders from the lawyers and screening firms.Are you getting the idea? "These diagnoses were about litigation rather than health care," she wrote in her 249 (!!!) page decision. "These diagnoses were manufactured for money." Well, Judge Jack, God bless her, wasn't going to take any such crap in her courtroom. In true Texas fashion, the good judge opened up a can o' whoop ass on the plaintiff's attorneys.
Which explains why none of them took a medical history, while others never even saw their patients. One doctor signed blank forms for the screening company and let his secretary fill out the diagnoses. Yet another performed 1,239 diagnostic evaluations in 72 hours -- less than four minutes apiece. Dr. George Martindale, who diagnosed 3,617 patients with silicosis, admitted that he didn't even know the criteria for diagnosing the disease and had simply included in each of his reports a paragraph provided by the screening company.
Another shocker was that more than 65% of the silica plaintiffs had previously been plaintiffs in an asbestos suit, even though it is close to clinically impossible to have both asbestosis and silicosis. Digging deeper, the judge found that many of the same doctors had ginned up the same patients for both asbestos and silicosis cases. One doctor, Ray Harron, received nearly $5 million from 1996-2004 from a leading screening company, N&M, and has supplied thousands of silicosis diagnoses, and at least 52,000 asbestos-related diagnoses.
Judge Jack reserved her most severe criticism for the lawyers, noting that statistics alone should have shown that their case defied "all medical knowledge and logic," and that by bringing it regardless they had exhibited a "reckless disregard of the duty owed to the court." She required the Houston firm of O'Quinn, Laminack & Pirtle to pay the defendants' $825,000 in legal fees, and ordered sanctions. She also made clear she was on to the tort bar's tactics, noting that the "clear motivation" was "to inflate the number of plaintiffs and overwhelm the defendants and the judicial system."And there you have it, folks. A real by god American hero. We rag on our judges so often about the terrible decisions that only a few of them are actually responsible for (see, e.g., KJ's example today of juriprudence gone awry) that its truly refreshing to read about one judge that took it upon herself to get it right.
Judge Jack did not shy away from the word "fraud" in her courtroom, and clearly someone at the Justice Department has been paying attention. A Manhattan grand jury is now investigating at least one of the screening companies, and subpoenas have gone out to at least two of the doctors involved.
Thank you Judge Jack. You are my kind of gal.