TORTINI

For your delectation and delight, desultory dicta on the law of delicts.

PubMed Refutes Courtroom Historians

February 11th, 2018

Professors Rosner and Markowitz, labor historians, or historians laboring in courtrooms, have made a second career out of testifying about other people’s motivations. Consider their pronouncement:

In the postwar era, professionals, industry, government, and a conservative labor movement tried to bury silicosis as an issue.”

David Rosner & Gerald Markowitz, Deadly Dust: Silicosis and the Politics of Occupational Disease in the Twentieth Century America 213 (Princeton 1991); Gerald Markowitz & David Rosner, “Why Is Silicosis So Important?” Chap. 1, at 27, in Paul-André Rosental, ed., Silicosis: A World History (2017). Their accusation is remarkable for any number of reasons,1 but the most remarkable is that their claim is unverified, but readily falsified.2

Previously, I have pointed to searches in Google’s Ngram Book viewer as well as in the National Library of Medicine’s database (PubMed) on silicosis. The PubMed website has now started to provide a csv file, with articles counts by year, which can be opened in programs such as LibreOffice Calc, Excel, etc, and then used to generate charts of the publication counts over time. 

Here is a chart generated form a simple search on <silicosis> in PubMed, with years aggregated over roughly 11 year intervals:

The chart shows that the “professionals,” presumably physicians and scientists were most busy publishing on, not burying, the silicosis issue exactly when Rosner and Markowitz claimed them to be actively suppressing. Many of the included publications grew out of industry, labor, and government interests and concerns. In their book and in their courtroom performances,, Rosner and Markowitz provide mostly innuendo without evidence, but their claim is falsifiable and false.

To be sure, the low count in the 1940s may well result from the relatively fewer journals included in the PubMed database, as well as the growth in the number of biomedical journals after the 1940s. The Post-War era certainly presented distractions in the form of other issues, including the development of antibiotics, chemotherapies for tuberculosis, the spread of poliomyelitis and the development of vaccines for this and other viral diseases, radiation exposure and illnesses, tobacco-related cancers, and other chronic diseases. Given the exponential expansion in scope of public health, the continued interest in silicosis after World War II, documented in the PubMed statistics, is remarkable for its intensity, pace Rosner and Markowitz.


1Conspiracy Theories: Historians, In and Out of Court(April 17, 2013). Not the least of the reasons the group calumny is pertinent is the extent to which it keeps the authors gainfully employed as expert witnesses in litigation.

2 See also CDC, “Ten Great Public Health Achievements – United States, 1900 – 1999,” 48(12) CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 241 (April 02, 1999)(“Work-related health problems, such as coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (black lung), and silicosis — common at the beginning of the century — have come under better control.”).

ToxicHistorians Sponsor ToxicDocs

February 1st, 2018

A special issue of the Journal of Public Health Policy waxes euphoric over a website, ToxicDocs, created by two labor historians, David Rosner and Gerald Markowitz (also known as the “Pink Panthers”). The Panthers have gotten their universities, Columbia University and the City University of New York, to host the ToxicDocs website with whole-text searchable documents of what they advertise as “secret internal memoranda, emails, slides, board minutes, unpublished scientific studies, and expert witness reports — among other kinds of documents — that emerged in recent toxic tort litigation.” According to Rosner and Markowitz, they are “constantly adding material from lawsuits involving lead, asbestos, silica, and PCBs, among other dangerous substances.” Rosner and Markowitz are well-positioned to obtain and add such materials because of their long-term consulting and testifying work for the Lawsuit Industry, which has obtained many of these documents in routine litigation discovery proceedings.

Despite the hoopla, the ToxicDocs website is nothing new or novel. Tobacco litigation has spawned several such on-line repositories: Truth Tobacco Industry Documents Library,” Tobacco Archives,” and “Tobacco Litigation Documents.” And the Pink Panthers’ efforts to create a public library of the documents upon which they rely in litigation go back several years to earlier websites. See David Heath & Jim Morris, “Exposed: Decades of denial on poisons. Internal documents reveal industry ‘pattern of behavior’ on toxic chemicals,” Center for Public Integrity (Dec. 4, 2014).

The present effort, however, is marked by shameless self promotion and support from other ancillary members of the Lawsuit Industry. The Special Issue of Journal of Public Health Policy is introduced by Journal editor Anthony Robbins,1 who was a mover and shaker in the SKAPP enterprise and its efforts to subvert judicial assessments of proffered opinions for validity and methodological propriety. In addition, Robbins, along with the Pink Panthers as guest editors, have recruited additional “high fives” and self-congratulatory cheerleading from other members of, and expert witnesses for, the Lawsuit Industry, as well as zealots of the type who can be counted upon to advocate for weak science and harsh treatment for manufacturing industry.2

Rosner and Markowitz, joined by Merlin Chowkwanyun, add to the happening with their own spin on ToxicDocs.3 As historians, it is understandable that they are out of touch with current technologies, even those decades old. They wax on about the wonders of optical character recognition and whole text search, as though it were quantum computing.

The Pink Panthers liken their “trove” of documents to “Big Data,” but there is nothing quantitative about their collection, and their mistaken analogy ignores their own “Big Bias,” which vitiates much of their collection. These historians have been trash picking in the dustbin of history, and quite selectively at that. You will not likely find documents here that reveal the efforts of manufacturing industry to improve the workplace and the safety and health of their workers.

Rosner and Markowitz disparage their critics as hired guns for industry, but it is hard for them to avoid the label of hired guns for the Lawsuit Industry, an industry with which they have worked in close association for several decades, and from which they have reaped thousands of dollars in fees for consulting and testifying. Ironically, neither David Rosner nor Gerald Markowitz disclose their conflicts of interest, or their income from the Lawsuit Industry. David Wegman, in his contribution to the love fest, notes that ToxicDocs may lead to more accurate reporting of conflicts of interest. And yet, Wegman does not report his testimonial adventures for the Lawsuit Industry; nor does Robert Proctor; nor do Rosner and Markowitz.

It is a safe bet that ToxicDocs does not contain any emails, memoranda, letters, and the like about the many frauds and frivolities of the Lawsuit Industry, such as the silica litigation, where fraud has been rampant.4 I looked for but did not find the infamous Baron & Budd asbestos memorandum, or any of the documentary evidence from fraud cases arising from false claiming in the asbestos, silicone, welding, Fen-Phen, and other litigations.5

The hawking of ToxicDocs in the pages of the Journal of Public Health Policy is only the beginning. You will find many people and organizations promoting ToxicDocs on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Proving there is no limit to the mercenary nature of the enterprise, you can even buy branded T-shirts and stationery online. Ah America, where even Marxists have the enterpreurial spirit!


1 Anthony Robbins & Phyllis Freeman, “ToxicDocs (www.ToxicDocs.org) goes live: A giant step toward leveling the playing field for efforts to combat toxic exposures,” 39 J. Public Health Pol’y 1 (2018). SeeMore Antic Proposals for Expert Witness Testimony – Including My Own Antic Proposals” (Dec. 30 2014).

2 Robert N. Proctor, “God is watching: history in the age of near-infinite digital archives,” 39 J. Public Health Pol’y 24 (2018); Stéphane Horel, “Browsing a corporation’s mind,” 39 J. Public Health Pol’y 12 (2018); Christer Hogstedt & David H. Wegman, “ToxicDocs and the fight against biased public health science worldwide,” 39 J. Public Health Pol’y 15 (2018); Joch McCulloch, “Archival sources on asbestos and silicosis in Southern Africa and Australia,” 39 J. Public Health Pol’y 18 (2018); Sheldon Whitehouse, “ToxicDocs: using the US legal system to confront industries’ systematic counterattacks against public health,” 39 J. Public Health Pol’y 22 (2018); Elena N. Naumova, “The value of not being lost in our digital world,” 39 J. Public Health Pol’y 27 (2018); Nicholas Freudenberg, “ToxicDocs: a new resource for assessing the impact of corporate practices on health,” 39 J. Public Health Pol’y 30 (2018). These articles are free, open-access, but in this case, you may get what you have paid for.

3 David Rosner, Gerald Markowitz, and Merlin Chowkwanyun, “ToxicDocs (www.ToxicDocs.org): from history buried in stacks of paper to open, searchable archives online,” 39 J. Public Health Pol’y 4 (2018).

4 See, e.g., In re Silica Products Liab. Litig., MDL No. 1553, 398 F.Supp. 2d 563 (S.D.Tex. 2005).

5 See Lester Brickman, “Fraud and Abuse in Mesothelioma Litigation,” 88 Tulane L. Rev. 1071 (2014); Peggy Ableman, “The Garlock Decision Should be Required Reading for All Trial Court Judges in Asbestos Cases,” 37 Am. J. Trial Advocacy 479, 488 (2014).

Fake Friends and Fake Followers

January 28th, 2018

In the Black Mirror production of Nosedive, based upon a short story by Charlie Brooker, a young woman named Lacie lives in a world in which social media approval metrics determine social, economic, and political opportunities. Every interaction is graded on a scale from one to five. Lacie’s approval rating is slipping, thus jeopardizing her participation in her friend’s wedding, and she is determined to improve her rating. She tries her best to be “nice,” and then enlists a ratings coach, but her efforts cannot stop her approval rating from its nosedive. Perhaps if Lacie had greater financial resources, she could have improved her ratings by paying people to like her on social media.

Would people really pay for the appearance of social approval? “Celebrities, athletes, pundits and politicians have millions of fake followers,” and they paid for them. Thus announces the New York Times in an exposé of the practice of paying for followers on social media.1 Perhaps even the President has paid for fake followers who are mere bots. Maybe bots are the only friends he has.

Although I am skeptical of the utility of Facebook and Twitter, I have come reluctantly to admit that these and other social media – even blogs – have some utility if properly used. The business of buying followers, however, is just plain sick.

Finally, Eric Schneiderman has announced an investigation into an issue of some importance. He is investigating Devumi, a company that he claims sells fake followers on social media. The company is alleged to have created over 55,000 bots based upon living people and their identifying features.2

Stealing identities and selling fake followers is deplorable, and Scheiderman’s crusade is a laudable exercise of prosecutorial discretion. But so is buying fake followers to lard up one’s social media metrics. The crime involves two separate criminal acts, and we should not lose sight of the fraudulent nature of the representations about inflated number of followers. It takes two parties to enter the contract to defraud the public. Devumi’s clients may well be in pari delicto.

Let us hope that when Schneiderman opens the books at Devumi, he will have the fortitude to tell us which “celebrities, athletes, pundits, and politicians” have been juking their stats. Schneiderman’s investigation has the promise of making Eliot Spitzer’s commercial transactions look like child’s play. Inquiring minds want to know who would buy a friend or a follower.


1 Nicholas Confessore, Gabriel J.X. Dance, Richard Harris, and Mark Hansen, “The Follower Factory: Everyone wants to be popular online. Some even pay for it. Inside social media’s black market,” N.Y. Times (Jan. 27, 2018).

2 Nicholas Confessore, “New York Attorney General to Investigate Firm That Sells Fake Followers,” N.Y. Times (Jan. 27, 2018).

Divine Intervention in Litigation

January 27th, 2018

The Supreme Being, or Beings, or their Earthly Agents (Angels) rarely intervene in mundane matters such as litigation. Earlier this month, however, there may have been an unsuccessful divine intervention in the workings of a Comal County, Texas, jury, which was deliberating whether or not to convict Gloria Romero Perez of human trafficking.

After the jury reached a verdict, and rang the bell to signal its verdict, the trial judge, the Hon. Jack Robison, waltzed in and proclaimed that that God had told him that Perez was not guilty. According to jury foreperson Mark A. House, Judge Robison told them that he had prayed on the case and that God told him that he had to tell the jury. The state’s attorney was not present to object to the hearsay. House reported that the jury signaled again that it had reached a verdict, and again Judge Robison appeared to proclaim the defendant’s innocence.

Judge Robison’s pronouncements apparently anguished the jurors, some of who were “physically sick, crying and distraught” from the appearance of a putative prophet in the courthouse. Nonetheless, guilty is guilty, and the jury returned its verdict unmoved by Judge Robison. According to news reports, Judge Robison later apologized to the jury, but added something like “if God tells me to do something, I have to do it.” Zeke MacCormack, “Judge facing complaints over trying to sway jury,” San Antonio Express-News (Jan. 20, 2018); Ryan Autullo, “Texas judge interrupts jury, says God told him defendant is not guilty,” American-Statesman (Jan. 19, 2018). Foreperson House filed a complaint against Judge Robison with the judicial conduct commission, but told a local newspaper that “You’ve got to respect him for what he did. He went with his conscience.” Debra Cassens Weiss, “Judge informs jurors that God told him accused sex trafficker isn’t guilty,” A.B.A.J. online (Jan. 22, 2018).Or he was having a stroke. Somewhere, Henry Mencken is laughing and crying uncontrollably.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

For better or worse, I have not experienced divine intervention in my cases. At least, I think not. In one of my cases, the jury foreman and several jurors were in the elevator with my adversary and me, at the end of the trial. The situation was awkward, and punctuated by the foreman’s simple statement that God had directed them to their verdict. No one questioned the gentlemen. I thanked the jurors for their service, but I have never been able to verify the source of the direction or inspiration given to the jury. To this day, I prefer to believe the verdict resulted from my advocacy and marshaling of the evidence.

The case was Edward and Carmelita O’Donnell v. Celotex Corp., et al., Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas, July Term 1982, No. 1619. My adversary was a very capable African American lawyer, Sandy L.V. Byrd, then of the Brookman, Rosenberg, Brown & Sandler firm in Philadelphia, now a sitting judge in Philadelphia County. As you will see, race was an important ingredient in this case, and perhaps the reason it was tried.

Sandy and I had pulled Judge Levan Gordon1, for the trial, which was noteworthy because Judge Gordon was one of the few trial judges who stood up to the wishes of the coordinating judge (Hon. Sandra Mazer Moss) that all cases be tried “reverse bifurcated,” that is, with medical causation and damages in a first phase, and liability in the second phase.

This unnatural way of trying asbestos personal injury cases had been first advocated by counsel for Johns Manville, which had a huge market share, a distinctive lack of liability defenses, and a susceptibility to punitive damages. In May 1989, when Sandy and defense counsel announced “ready” before Judge Gordon, Johns Manville was in bankruptcy. Reverse bifurcated had long outlasted its usefulness, and had become a way of abridging defendants’ due process rights to a trial on liability. If a jury returned a verdict with damages in phase One, plaintiffs would argue (illegitimately but often with court approval) that it was bad enough that defendants caused their illness, how much worse is it now that they are arguing to take away their compensation.

Worse yet, in trying cases backwards, with reverse bifurcation, plaintiffs quickly learned that they could, in Phase One, sneak evidence of liability, or hint that the defendants were as liable as sin, and thus suggest that the odd procedure of skipping over liability was desirable because liability was well-nigh conceded. The plaintiffs’ direct examination typically went something like:

Q. How did you feel emotionally when you received your diagnosis of asbestos-related _[fill in the blank]____?

A. I was devastated; I cried; I was depressed. I had never heard that asbestos could cause this disease..…

So clearly there was a failure to warn, at least on that colloquy, and that was all juries needed to hear on the matter, from the plaintiffs’ perspective. If the defendants lost in the first phase, and refused to settle, juries were annoyed that they were being kept from their lives by recalcitrant, liable defendants. Liability was a done deal.

At the time, most of the asbestos case trials in Philadelphia were brought by government employees at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. The government was an extremely knowledgeable purchaser of asbestos-containing insulation products, and was as, or more, aware of the hazards of asbestos use than any vendor. At the time, 1989, the sophisticated intermediary defense was disallowed under Pennsylvania strict liability law, and so defendants rarely got a chance to deploy it.

In a case that went “all issues,” with negligence and even potential punitive damages, however, the sophisticated intermediary defense was valid under Pennsylvania law. Judge Gordon’s practice of trying all cases, all issues, opened the door to defending the case by showing that there was no failure to warn at all, because the Navy, at its shipyards, was knowledgeable about asbestos hazards. If plaintiff’s testimony were true about lack of protections, then the Navy itself had been grossly negligent in its maintenance and supervision of the shipyard workplace.

Before trial began, on May 8, 1989, the Brookman firm had signaled that the O’Donnell case was on track to settle in a dollar range that was typical for cases involving the age, medical condition, and work history of the plaintiff, Mr. O’Donnell. The settlement posture of the case changed, abruptly however, after jury selection. When the jury was sworn, we had 12 Philadelphians, 11 of whom were African American, and one of whom was Latina. When I asked Sandy whether we were settled at the number we had discussed the previous day, he looked at me and asked why he would want to settle now, with the jury we had. He now insisted that this trial must be tried. Racism works in curious ways and directions.

So we tried the O’Donnell case, the old-fashioned way, from front to back. Both sides called “state of the art” expert witnesses, to address the history of medical knowledge about asbestos-related diseases. We called product identification lay witnesses, as well as several physicians to testify about Mr. O’Donnell’s disputed asbestosis. The lovely thing about the O’Donnell trial, however, was that I had the opportunity to present testimony from the Philadelphia Navy Yard’s industrial hygienist, Dr. Victor Kindsvatter, who had given a deposition many years before. Kindsvatter, who had a Ph.D. in industrial hygiene, was extraordinarily knowledgeable about asbestos, permissible exposure limits, asbestos hazards, and methods of asbestos control on board ships and in the shops.

The result of Judge Gordon’s all issue trial was a fuller, fairer presentation of the case. Plaintiffs could argue that the defendants were horribly negligent given what experts knew in the medical community. Defendants could present evidence that experts at the relevant time believed that asbestos-containing insulation products could be used safely, and that the U.S. Navy was especially eager to use asbestos products on board ships, and had extensive regulations and procedures for doing so. The testimony that probably tipped the balance came from a former shipyard worker, George Rabuck. Mr. Rabuck had been a client of the Brookman firm, and he was their go-to guy to testify on product identification. In the O’Donnell case, as in many others, Rabuck dutifully and cheerfully identified the products of the non-settling defendants, and less cheerfully, the products of the settled and bankrupt defendants. In O’Donnell, I was able to elicit additional testimony from Mr. Rabuck about a shakedown cruise of a new Navy ship, in which someone had failed to insulate a hot line in the boiler room. When an oil valve broke, diesel fuel sprayed the room, and ignited upon hitting the uninsulated pipe. A ship fire ensued, in which several sailors were seriously injured and one died. In my closing argument, I was able to remind the jury of the sailor who died because asbestos insulation was not used on the Navy ship.

On May 18, 1989, the jury came back with a general verdict for the defense in O’Donnell. Judge Gordon entered judgment, from which there was no appeal. Ignoring the plaintiffs’ lawyers intransigence on settlement, Judge Moss was angry at the defense lawyers, as she typically was, for tying up one of her court rooms for Judge Gordon’s rotation in her trial program. Judge Moss stopped asking Judge Gordon to help with the asbestos docket after the O’Donnell case. Without all-issue trials that included negligence claims, sophisticated intermediary defenses went pretty much unexercised in asbestos personal injury cases for the next 25 years.

My real question though, in view of Texas Judge Robison’s epiphany, is whether the defense won in O’Donnell because of the equities and the evidence, or whether an angel had put her finger on the scales of justice. It’s a mystery.


1 Ryanne Persinger, “Levan Gordon, retired judge,” Tribune Staff (Oct. 6, 2016). Judge Gordon was one of the most respected judges in Philadelphia County. He had graduated from Lincoln University in 1958, and from Howard University School of Law in 1961. Gordon was elected to Philadelphia Municipal Court in 1974, and to the Court of Common Pleas in 1979. He died on October 4, 2016.

The opinions, statements, and asseverations expressed on Tortini are my own, or those of invited guests, and these writings do not necessarily represent the views of clients, friends, or family, even when supported by good and sufficient reason.