HONORS FOR PUBLIC JUSTICE
Sierra Club to Honor Public Justice Attorney and Co-Counsel for Years of Outstanding Environmental Litigation in Appalachia
Jim Hecker, Public Justice’s Environmental Enforcement Project Director, has been named a recipient of the Sierra Club’s 2009 William O. Douglas Award, which recognizes those who have made outstanding use of the legal process to achieve environmental goals, particularly those with national significance.
Hecker will share the honor with Joe Lovett, executive director and a founder of the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment, for their determined and ongoing efforts to hold the coal mining industry in check for practices that wreak environmental havoc on land, water and air and endanger the health of people, animals and plant life in neighboring communities.
Under Hecker’s leadership, the Environmental Enforcement Project at Public Justice has taken the lead in challenging the coal industry’s destructive mountaintop removal mining practices in Appalachia since 1998. He and Lovett have been co-counsel in a dozen such cases in West Virginia, Virginia and Kentucky.
In his nearly three decades of private practice and public interest law, Hecker has been fighting on behalf of local citizens, grass roots organizations, and national environmental organizations. At Public Justice, he has litigated over 30 citizen suits in 14 states under federal environmental statutes regulating clean air, clean water, hazardous waste, and coal mining.
The Sierra Club, the country’s oldest grassroots environmental group, will honor Hecker and Lovett at its annual Volunteer, Honors and Awards Dinner in San Francisco on Sept. 26.
News Release – The Sierra Club, Cumberland Chapter. August 2009.
******************************************************************** Team that Obtained Justice for Thousands of Maryland HMO Customers Wins Maryland Trial Lawyer of the Year Award
Public Justice Staff Attorney F. Paul Bland, Jr. and a team of Maryland attorneys who doggedly – and successfully – pursued justice for thousands of customers who had been double-billed by their HMOs were named 2009 Trial Lawyers of the Year by the Maryland Association for Justice.
Bland; Kiernon F. Quinn and Marty Wolf, both of Quinn, Gordon & Wolf in Baltimore; Robert K. Jenner of Janet, Jenner & Suggs, LLC in Baltimore; and Bruce Plaxen of Plaxen and Adler in Columbia, MD, won the award for their victories in five cases against HMOs in Maryland over subrogation. Plaxen had been the first lawyer to discover the widespread illegal practice by the HMOs, and he, Jenner and Quinn developed the legal theories that led to the state’s high court unanimously declaring that the practice was illegal.
Quinn served as lead counsel in the cases, and Wolf worked on class certification, summary judgment, and the mediation and settlement negotiations.
Under the practice of subrogation, when a customer recovered damages from a party that injured them, the HMOs demanded a portion of the money from the recoveries. Over a dozen years, Bland, Quinn, Wolf, Jenner and Plaxen challenged the practice as violating Maryland’s HMO Act and amounting to a double recovery on the theory that the HMOs’ premiums already accounted for these sums and that Maryland’s HMO statute did not permit HMOs to obtain subrogation against their insureds. They fought this issue in separate cases against five major HMOs and won.
The team’s work involved four separate appeals (all argued by Bland), extensive motions practice and significant battles for discovery. In one case, for example, the plaintiffs discovered and proved that substantial case computer records had been destroyed.
In perhaps the greatest challenge the consumers faced in this case, after they had secured an initial victory in Maryland’s highest court that the HMOs had engaged in double billing, HMO lobbyists persuaded the Maryland Legislature to pass a law that allowed HMOs to pursue subrogation claims within certain limits. While those limits reformed HMOs’ practices in ways that would save Maryland consumers many millions of dollars in the future, the law also included a retroactive provision aimed at eliminating all liability for the HMOs for their earlier illegal subrogation going back 24 years.
The legal team then sued to overturn the law, alleging that its retroactive application was unconstitutional. In 2002, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that the state legislature could not retroactively void consumers’ rights.
The team also won two appeals in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit overturning decisions by U.S. district courts dismissing the cases on the grounds that a federal statute, ERISA, preempted Maryland’s HMO Act.
The Maryland Association for Justice bestows the annual award on the lawyer or legal team who made the greatest contribution to the public interest by trying or settling a precedent-setting case that either directly benefited Maryland residents or put wrongdoers on notice that the rights of Maryland citizens could not be abused without consequence.
The winners were feted at the organization’s annual President’s Party on May 8 in Baltimore. Each member of the team received a plaque commemorating the achievement.