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Another Titan of the Trial Bar in Trouble:

Overlawyered.com is rounding up news and commentary about the criminal indictment of noted plaintiffs' attorney Richard Scruggs. Scruggs is not the only high-profile plaintiffs' lawyer under siege. Earlier this year, class action maven William Lerach pled guilty to a federal conspiracy charge.

Meanwhile, it seems there's a new ATLA that's being challenged by the old ATLA.

wm13:
Do you say "pled"? I always say "pleaded."
11.30.2007 3:31pm
GV_:
I don't understand why anyone would ever say or write "pleaded" instead of "pled." Why say a long word when a shorter one will suffice? Same thing with people who use the word "towards" instead of "toward."
11.30.2007 3:38pm
Anderson (mail):
Scruggs isn't getting any love from Grady Tollison, a state legislator and one of the foremost plaintiffs' attorneys in Mississippi:

Grady Tollison, who represents Jones, said he was "sickened" over the indictments.

"I believe in the system and these men are presumed innocent," Tollison said. "However, Judge Lackey's integrity has never been questioned. If he says it, you can bank on it."


(Temporary link, so go look if you want some local-paper details on the Scruggs mess.)
11.30.2007 3:40pm
anym_avey (mail):
Eschew obfuscation! Forgo thy unnecessarily lengthy and needlessly arcane quotations. Brevity, thy name is ephemeral impermanence. The irony hits us like an anvil...
11.30.2007 3:43pm
Anderson (mail):
Oh, and I'm with "pleaded." Bryan Garner (Dict. of Mod. Legal Usage, 2d ed.) agrees, tho he notes that "pled" is a minority variant in the U.S.
11.30.2007 3:44pm
Wahoowa:
I actually dealt with this pled vs. pleaded thing the other day. I always go with pled, but have noticed recently that most judges use pleaded. As Anderson mentioned, Garner's Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage (which I generally like) prefers pleaded. I spoke to my law school's writing center director and she said they are equally proper but prefers pled herself. I think "pled" is becoming more acceptable as the years go on. Pleaded was once-upon-a-time the only proper way to say it.

Furthermore, "pled" is NEVER proper in the UK--it's pretty much an American variant.
11.30.2007 4:04pm
Duffy Pratt (mail):
GV:

So you are saying that you don't get why one would use a long word when a short one will do? "Get" is shorter than "understand", "one" is shorter than "anyone", "do" is shorter than "suffice". "Ever" in your sentence is completely unnecessary. And "use" is certainly shorter than "say or write."

At least we know this tangent will spare us any discussion of these corruption charges.
11.30.2007 4:08pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Black arm band time for the bar.

What's the point of law school any longer?

Interesting that nothing these guys did was all that secret. It just takes a while for disgust to build, I guess.
11.30.2007 4:13pm
GV_:
But why prefer the longer word?
11.30.2007 4:13pm
GV_:
Duffy, "get" doesn't mean the same thing as "understand". I thought it was obvious in context that I meant, "why use a longer when a shorter word means exactly the same thing." Pleaded is the same thing as pled. Towards is the same thing as toward.
11.30.2007 4:16pm
CrazyTrain (mail):
It seems odd that the Justice Department is so interested in plaintiffs' attorneys who are taking on big business. I can't ever remember another time like this, or remember DOJ going after attorneys representing big corporations. (I certainly hope they don't start doing the latter, moreover.) It all seems fishy.
11.30.2007 4:34pm
Anderson (mail):
GV, "fuck" is shorter than "copulate with," yet some would prefer the latter expression.

"Pleaded" is the traditional word, and thus will be preferred on grounds other than length.
11.30.2007 4:34pm
ronnie dobbs (mail):
I remember talking with one of the litigators at my prior firm, which was defending a tobacco suit against plaintiffs represented by Mr. Scruggs. For some reason or other they ended up having to visit Scruggs' home in MS. IIRC, my colleague told me that Scruggs had erected a statute outside his house, which showed Scruggs posed in the Classical heroic style, purportedly as a permanent reminder of all of the wonderful things he's achieved for his clients. Now tell me, does this sound like a guy who would try to bribe a judge?
11.30.2007 4:35pm
Anderson (mail):
It seems odd that the Justice Department is so interested in plaintiffs' attorneys who are taking on big business.

CT, I hear ya, but when the Feebs got a call from Judge Lackey, what else were they supposed to do?
11.30.2007 4:35pm
GV_:
Anderson, as I wrote two posts before you posted, pleaded is the same word as pled. Toward is the same word as towards. Fuck is not the same word as copulate with.
11.30.2007 4:37pm
Duffy Pratt (mail):
OK, look at these two sentences:

I don't understand why anyone would say "pleaded."

I don't get why anyone would say "pleaded."

How does the meaning differ?
11.30.2007 4:38pm
Waldensian (mail):
I'm glad that Lackey was no..... nah, too obvious.
11.30.2007 4:39pm
ronnie dobbs (mail):

It seems odd that the Justice Department is so interested in plaintiffs' attorneys who are taking on big business.


That's one way to frame the issue.
11.30.2007 4:40pm
Steve:
Interesting that nothing these guys did was all that secret. It just takes a while for disgust to build, I guess.

What Milberg Weiss did most certainly was a secret. I worked for a close competitor at the time and believe me, if people like us knew then something would have come out.
11.30.2007 4:52pm
GV_:
The word "get" is ambigious because it has so many means and most grammar books will tell you to avoid it.

But I don't get, er understand, your point. Get is a different word than understand. It does not have the same meaning as understand. Pleaded and pled are the same word. They have the same meaning. One just has three extra letters.
11.30.2007 4:54pm
ejo:
hasn't Justice gone after big business or did I just dream that Ken Lay stuff (and various others). just think of this guy as a CEO.
11.30.2007 4:54pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

hasn't Justice gone after big business or did I just dream that Ken Lay stuff (and various others).
Yes, Bush's Justice Department went after Ken Lay--a guy with significant ties to the Clinton Administration, and to John Kerry's environmental causes--and yet in the 2004 elections, the Democrats tried to use Enron and Ken Lay as a symbol of the evils of Republicans.
11.30.2007 4:59pm
Steve:
OMG, how dare anyone try to link Ken Lay to George Bush! Clayton, don't ever change.
11.30.2007 5:08pm
Duffy Pratt (mail):
First off, words only have meaning in context. In this context, "get" and "understand" mean the same thing. I don't need to have more of a point than that. Similarly "suffice" and "do" also mean the same thing when used as they were above.

The main reason I can think of for using pleaded instead of pled is because it adds to the richness of the language. What other language would have the past tense of "lead" be "led", the past tense of "read" be "read", and the past tense of "plead" be "pleaded." Trying to force English into a sensible, one size fits all, approach for tense conjugation would rob it of one of its beauties.
11.30.2007 5:09pm
Hoosier:
"First off, words only have meaning in context."

It's nice to know that someone remembers Wittgenstein.
11.30.2007 5:19pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
It seems odd that the Justice Department is so interested in plaintiffs' attorneys who are taking on big business. I can't ever remember another time like this, or remember DOJ going after attorneys representing big corporations. (I certainly hope they don't start doing the latter, moreover.) It all seems fishy.
Part of the allegations are that he cheated. Maybe not directly here, but overall, which is why the DoJ was probably investigating.

It appears that the firm had a stable of ready class action plaintiffs for class action stock value lawsuits. The idea is that the first firm to file is more likely to get to be class counsel. So this stable owned a small number of shares of a lot of stocks. That in itself is probably not that bad. But some of the money for the stocks appears to have come from the Scruggs and his firm, and there also appears to have been a lot of under the table money going to their professional class action plaintiffs.

The other part of this is that it is highly questionable whether this sort of case has any real value, except to the attorneys pursuing them. Let us assume for a minute that someone owned stock in a company, and some sort of quasi-fraud, or even incompetence, caused the stock to go down. So, who ends up paying for the class action fraud that presumably harmed the stockholders? Mostly, the stockholders. And who benefits? Clearly not the stockholders, since they are the ones paying. Rather, it was primarily the attorneys who are filing in the name of the stockholders. The stockholders are hurt by this twice: first by the actions that caused the decline in stock value; and secondly by paying for the damages, and in particular, the attorneys' fees. Or it can be viewed as the stockholders paying themselves, with a large chunk taken out for the attorneys and their stable of professional lead plaintiffs.
11.30.2007 5:26pm
Steve:
Bruce, you're mistaken in two respects.

First, somewhat trivially, it's not the first firm to file who gets to be plaintiff, it's the firm which represents the investor with the largest loss. This has been true for at least a decade. Regardless, this means it's to your advantage if wealthy investors are part of your stable of clients, and Milberg Weiss was apparently inducing them into that stable through illict means.

Second, who pays? Many times, it's the wrongdoers, who would otherwise ride off into the sunset having successfully redeemed their stock options prior to the fraud being revealed. Other times, it's the insurers.

These days, in major securities class actions, the plaintiffs are typical major institutional investors like public pension funds. These investors often continue to hold large positions in the company even as they proceed with the prosecution of the class action. Unlike your clueless Aunt Helen with 2 shares of stock who might have been a nominal plaintiff back in the day, these institutional plaintiffs are extremely sophisticated. Take my word for it, they wouldn't file these lawsuits if the money were simply coming out of their own hide in the end, "with a large chunk taken out for the attorneys."
11.30.2007 5:38pm
ejo:
was conrad black somehow affiliated with the Clinton WH as well? there have been all sorts of CEO's charged with crimes over the past 8 years and convicted (and acquitted, as well, of course). I don't see any reason why these particular criminals somehow should be allowed to get away with their crimes (none I've seen indicted are such paupers that they would be pleading guilty because they couldn't afford to defend themselves).
11.30.2007 5:48pm
Anderson (mail):
What I was amazed to hear about Scruggs, pre-indictment, was the practice of investing in plaintiffs' suits -- putting up $$$ in return for a % of the attorney fees in the event of a successful contingency fee.

I had thought that was barratry or champerty or whatever, but apparently not?
11.30.2007 5:52pm
anym_avey (mail):
The main reason I can think of for using pleaded instead of pled is because it adds to the richness of the language.

Two other good reasons:

1. The long 'e' and second syllable lend to a more musical prose flow and force the speaker to spend more time articulating the word, but without making the word particularly difficult. These factors usually make for better audibility and comprehensibility in speech.

2. "P" and "B" are very similar sounds. Thus, "pled" and "bled" come out of the mouth as nearly the same word, while "pleaded" and "bled" do not.
11.30.2007 6:01pm
bittern (mail):
Steve, I don't get how investors, theoretically being owners, find it useful to sue what they own. You are right that they evidently do. I've been curious about this for a while.

Too, I'd appreciate any additional links or context on the Scruggs story that anyone has.
11.30.2007 6:03pm
Mississippi Lawyer (mail):
Don't we want all of the allegations of our complaints well-pleaded?
11.30.2007 6:10pm
wfjag:
I wonder if the organization formerly known as ATLA would be upset if someone set up an organization called the "American Association for Just-us." Nah. They obviously have a sense of humor.
11.30.2007 6:15pm
Michelle Dulak Thomson (mail):
anym_avey,

Add one more: We can't do without "pleaded" in any case, because it's the only past-tense form of "plead" in contexts other than "entering a plea." I'm thinking particularly of "plead with" — you can say "I pleaded with her," but certainly not "I pled with her." (Unless perhaps you're her co-defendant . . .)
11.30.2007 6:21pm
Swede:
I'm not a lawyer, but if I was I would use "plud".

Some lawyer: Did you just say "plud"?

Me: Yes.

Some lawyer: Um, I'm not sure that's a word.

Me: You didn't go to Harvard, did you?

Some lawyer: No.

Me: It shows.
11.30.2007 6:32pm
Steve:
Steve, I don't get how investors, theoretically being owners, find it useful to sue what they own.

While the corporation is a defendant, the other defendants typically include the corporate officers and other individuals who perpetrated the fraud, who probably aren't even employees any more if the fraud was clear.

Imagine, for example, this common scenario. The senior management of a company has been inflating sales numbers for a while in order to meet Wall Street expectations. They're afraid the news is going to come out, so they dump a bunch of their stock. Then the fraud gets revealed, the stock price plummets, etc. It's entirely normal for the stockholders to want to go after those senior management personnel and recoup those ill-gotten gains.

Because there's almost always insurance (although fraud, like the scenario I just described, can't be insured), a major stockholder can sue the company and recoup their losses without the damages coming out of their own pocket. That's another consideration.
11.30.2007 6:41pm
r78:
What time is the sentencing? I think we all agree he is guilty based on that article and we should just skip trial . . .
11.30.2007 7:08pm
PJH (mail) (www):
Ronnie Dobbs: Your colleague was kidding about the statue, right? No matter, it's the first laugh I had today. Thanks for sharing!

PS: It's statue, not statute. You have to get away from the office more often ;-)
11.30.2007 7:40pm
GV_:
PS: It's statue, not statute.

Perhaps the poster was poking fun at the pleaded - pled argument? ;)
11.30.2007 7:56pm
Brian G (mail) (www):
I still can't get "pled" or "pleaded" right in my pleadings.
11.30.2007 7:59pm
Duffy Pratt (mail):
cede - ceded, not ced
deed - deeded, not ded
feed - fed, not feeded
heed - heeded, not hed
knead - kneaded, not kned
lead - led, not leaded
need - needed, not ned
plead - pleaded and pled
read - read, not readed or red
seed - seeded, not sed
weed - weeded, not wed

So, any explanations why feed and lead get the short e, read stays constant, and only plead gets whatever treatment you want?

I don't buy the similarity of sound between P and B idea. Need and Knead sound remarkably similar. But they get treated the same. So do cede and seed.

I tend to think that the more often used words get the shortened treatment -- e.g. feed and lead are very common words, thus fed and led. But need is a pretty common word too.

I've looked a little at etymological differences, but can't find an explanation there either.

So, I'm left with the beautiful, seemingly random complexity of English.

Also, I don't see anything anywhere that says that "pled" is only proper in the legal context. Why can't someone say: I pled with her all night, but she dumped me anyway???
11.30.2007 10:15pm
rlb:
This whole thing with Scruggs has been very amusing. I really, really hope the case against ol' Dickie is sound-- sound enough to get him to turn on his crooked political allies. He knows where the bodies are buried, remember?

Folks are always talking about Mike Moore going after a Senate seat, and one just opened up. Oh, I really hope Dickie sings.

As to why he'd try something as stupid as bribing a judge, it had to be about power, ego, or maybe a personal vendetta. Anybody know the details? I admit I haven't been following this one as much as I should.
11.30.2007 10:21pm
MarkField (mail):

So, any explanations why feed and lead get the short e, read stays constant, and only plead gets whatever treatment you want?

I don't buy the similarity of sound between P and B idea. Need and Knead sound remarkably similar. But they get treated the same. So do cede and seed.

I tend to think that the more often used words get the shortened treatment -- e.g. feed and lead are very common words, thus fed and led. But need is a pretty common word too.


Ask and ye shall receive.
11.30.2007 11:08pm
OregonJon (mail):
Steve &Others

Sometimes it insurers who pay? Never. Insurance premiums are a business cost. Those corporations who are not sued by shareholders effectively are being taxed for those who are. The aggressive actions of trial lawyers in suing on behalf of shareholders created a huge business for AIG, Chubb and a few others whereas 30 years ago Directors &Officers coverage didn't exist. It's businesses paying for their own losses, less the haircut for the insurers expenses and profit, not the insurance company.
12.1.2007 12:26am
Christopher Cooke (mail):
Steve

i think you oversimplify things in your description of class actions. In 90+ percent of the shareholders' class actions (10b-5), the D&O carriers pay for the settlement. That is why the plaintiffs name the directors and executve officers--to kick in the coverage. While there is an exclusion for fraud in these policies, it is for common law fraud, which requires proof of an intentional act to defraud. 10b-5 liability can be established through reckless conduct (see Sunstrand), or knowing conduct. So, it is not so easy for the D&O carriers to refuse to pay. If one really wanted the culpable parties to pay, the Court should reject settlements funded by the insurance carrier and require the named defendants to fork over their own money. Judge Alsup in the US Dist Crt (ND Cal) suggested this once, and it sent shivers down the spines of the plaintiffs' counsel (who were worried they won't get any more settlements) and the defendants' counsel (whose clients might actually have to pay their own money).
12.1.2007 12:31am
Libertarian1 (mail):
General surveys have consistently shown that attorneys do not engender the same amount of respect as say the clergy. Therefore I am pleased to see so many here showing approval for the indictment of an unethical practioner.

But then we get:
CrazyTrain:It seems odd that the Justice Department is so interested in plaintiffs' attorneys who are taking on big business. I can't ever remember another time like this, or remember DOJ going after attorneys representing big corporations. (I certainly hope they don't start doing the latter, moreover.) It all seems fishy.



This appears to be a "he was speeding also" defense. Crazy Train are you actually saying that if you contribute to the Democrats, sue big corporations and make millions you should be exempt from criminal prosecution?
12.1.2007 12:51pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Steve.
When the New England Journal of Medicine and others demonstrate that there is no connection between breast implants and connective tissue disease, in an alternate universe, the lawsuits go on.
When a judge observes that a person who is not ill can sue a corporation which had nothing to do with asbestos, you think nobody figured there was scam going on.
Pull the other one.

It's conceivable that officers of the court, involved in the situation, were too close to see what was going on. Pull the other one.
12.1.2007 2:07pm
Peter Wimsey:
cede - ceded, not ced
deed - deeded, not ded
feed - fed, not feeded
heed - heeded, not hed
knead - kneaded, not kned
lead - led, not leaded
need - needed, not ned
plead - pleaded and pled
read - read, not readed or red
seed - seeded, not sed
weed - weeded, not wed

So, any explanations why feed and lead get the short e, read stays constant, and only plead gets whatever treatment you want?


You left out bleed/bled. Also, read/read (pronounced "red") belongs in the same category; spelling doesn't matter much to language.

The short and dirty answer as to why we have bleed/bled but cede/ceded is that one very common way that English and ancestor languages to English used to make past tenses - especially of short words - was by changing a vowel. So see/saw, begin/began, swim/swam, etc. You can see this pattern in other languages that came from the same ancestor as English - sehen/sah; beginnen/begann; schwimmen/schwamm, etc. These are called strong verbs, for whatever reason.

Anyway, at some point these earlier germanic languages started using the equivalent of -ed to form past tenses instead of the vowel change. (The theory I learned in school is that this came from a form of the verb plus a form of "did"; I don't know if that is still the common view).

Anyway, because many of these strong verbs were common, they kept their older way of forming the past tense, but all new verbs formed in the language now use the -ed suffix. So if you have a new verb (say "grottle"), the past tense will invariably be "grottled" and not "grit" or something else.)

There is also a tendency for some strong verbs to become weak verbs - the past tense of "help" used to be "holp" (see Shakespeare), but it is not help. Occasionally, though, you do get some "interference" where strong verbs influence otherwise weak verbs that are not traditionally strong but that - I guess - seem like they might be. This is what is going on with sneak/snuck vs. sneak/sneaked...and I think it's what's going on with plead/pled/pleaded.
12.1.2007 3:28pm
Glenn W. Bowen (mail):
...adults.
12.1.2007 6:00pm
Duffy Pratt (mail):
Lord Wimsey:

I also forgot breed/bred.

Your answer was very interesting and a little bit helpful. So, if you could figure out why some verbs are strong while others are weak, you would have the answer about the difference in tenses. Who'd a thunk it?

I like the idea that sneak (and plead) are verbs that have recently eaten their spinach.

I also agree that for the most part spelling is irrelevant. But it is curious how, of all the -ead verbs, only read keeps its spelling in the past tense.
12.1.2007 8:53pm