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Justinian Lane

Professor Sebok thought Richard Neely was joking, too

If you've been reading this blog or Corpreform much, you've no doubt seen at least one comment thread in which Ted Frank has screamed at me about a quote by Richard Neely.  The full back story is at Corpreform.  Now it seems that someone else besides me has recognized Neely's claim that he was being ironic when he wrote his infamous quote. 

That someone else is highly respected law professor Anthony Sebok:    

Are we really sure that West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Richard Neely was joking when he wrote in his book, The Product Liability Mess, “As long as I am allowed to redistribute wealth from out-of-state companies to in-state plaintiffs, I shall continue to do so”? (Emphasis added.)

Source: FindLaw's Writ - Sebok: How and Why the Supreme Court of Rhode Island Made the Right Decision in the Multi-Billion-Dollar Rhode Island Lead Paint Case: Part Three in a Three Part Series on the Case

I debated posting this out of fear that Ted would pollute the comment threads with more vicious personal attacks against me and other irrelevant material.  But then I realized censoring myself out of fear would be the blogging equivalent of "letting the terrorists win." 

Hat tip to Walter at Overlawyered for the link.

Justinian Lane: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 11:08 AM, Jul 21, 2008 in Civil Justice
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Comments

I think you've misintrepreted the meaning of Professor Sebok's text.

Sebok was commenting, first, on how attractive it would have been for a Rhode Island judge to transfer billions from out-of-state corporations to Rhode Island citizens. Then, to those who would dismiss this temptation as too cynical a view, he mentioned Neely's quote with a skepticism indicating that Neely probably wasn't being ironic:

If the verdict were left undisturbed, the trial judge could easily have ordered the defendants—all of whom were large, out-of-state corporations—to transfer between $2 and $4 billion to the State of Rhode Island, to be used (in theory) for the abatement of lead paint in hundreds of thousands of homes in a state where the homes’ owners and the state are unable or unwilling to pay for the cleanup themselves.

"It is easy to dismiss this 'instrumentalist' motivation as too cynical for any judge to embrace, at least at the conscious level. Maybe so. Still, how else can we explain the $250 billion tobacco settlement in the late ‘90s? Are we really sure that West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Richard Neely was joking when he wrote in his book, The Product Liability Mess, 'As long as I am allowed to redistribute wealth from out-of-state companies to in-state plaintiffs, I shall continue to do so'?"

Thus, Sebok's writing "are we really to believe that Neely was joking" indicates that at least is unconvinced that Neely was joking. Compare that with your headline which states the *exact opposite*.

Posted by: Lawyer | July 21, 2008 4:10 PM

But Seebok has recognized Neely's claim that he was being ironic even while he doubts the claim. That instead of just ignoring Neely's claim and using the quote for his own purposes without noting the controversy attached to it.

Writing "are we really sure" indicates to me that he at least thinks it is possible that Neely was joking... would you prefer the headline "Sebok acknowledges Neely might have been joking"?

Posted by: Justinian Lane | July 21, 2008 4:32 PM

This is only going to muddy up this whole too long running debate. The statement should, I believe, be read as "It is certainly possible to believe that Neely was not joking, because how else can you explain certain actions on the parts of judges?"

This neither argues for or against Professor Sebok believing that "Neely was joking." What it does suggest is that Professor Sebok thinks that most people understand Neely to have been joking.

Posted by: Nate | July 21, 2008 4:41 PM

Neely was dead serious in his comments - all you need to do to verify this is read some of the ridiculous (actually offensive) rulings that came out of his courtroom.

Ted is not the terrorist - you and Kia, with your totally slanted view of the world are the terrorists. I note that Ted and Walter link to a wide array of legal interest links including some Personal Injury Lawyer links, and iconclastic bloggers like Coyote. All of your links are to left-wing, mostly trial lawyer sites

Then again, expecting anything like objectivity here would be misguided

Posted by: Avenger | July 21, 2008 5:30 PM

Funny, Avenger, I linked to Overlawyered today. And when I visit Overlawyered, I don't flood the comment thread with hateful personal attacks against Walter or Ted. Not just because I know they'd delete my comment (I've written extensively about Ted's inability to accept criticism) but because I have enough class not to defecate in my host's living room. Too bad you don't.

Posted by: Justinian Lane | July 21, 2008 6:22 PM

There is no legitimate "controversy attached to" Neely's quote: he said what he said, and said it repeatedly in judicial opinions, in his writings, and in congressional testimony. The only reason you think otherwise is because you still haven't read the book that you are dishonestly purport to comment on. Your post again dishonestly ignores the evidence that Neely was serious, and dishonestly misrepresents Sebok to boot.

Posted by: Ted | July 22, 2008 4:08 PM