Self-Legalation

Some years ago I read a story in Private Eye – one of the long, earnest, features they put at the back – concerning a chap who worked in middle management at a major oil company. According to the article he’d spotted some wrongdoing (environmental IIRC), complained to his hierarchy, and been told to forget about it and keep his trap shut. He decided not to and kept making noise, then eventually blew the whistle to outsiders. The oil company tried to buy his silence, then fired him. He sued them, and they tried several times to settle with five-figure sums. But this guy’s aim was to get the oil company in court where they’d be found guilty, heavily fined, and forced to apologise to him, so he kept rejecting their offers. Eventually the oil company decided to come down on him hard and destroy his life with endless lawsuits and delays. Private Eye gave us a teary-eyed account of how the chap had been unemployed for years, had been forced to sell his house, and now his health was failing. Well, what the hell did he expect?

The legal system is not the route on which to launch a moral crusade, and the courts not the place to grandstand. If you’re thinking of launching legal action against your employer, your lawyer should ask you right at the start what you want: to stay in your job unmolested or to leave with a settlement. If your answer is neither and you want to go to trial and force the company to apologise, the lawyer should spend the next several hours talking you out of it. You’ve got to have a pragmatic resolution in mind, which usually means a settlement in which the company accepts no liability or wrongdoing. That’s just the way it goes, and any lawyer will tell you that trials are dicey as hell no matter how solid you think your case is and how right you are. That’s why everyone works overtime to avoid them in such cases. For everyone’s sake it’s better just to collect the cash and move on.

Some people insist on being martyrs, however. Last week I listened to the Joe Rogan podcast with a Canadian chap called Phil Demers. Demers is in something like the seventh or eighth year of grinding litigation with his ex-employer, a marine life park in Canada. Demers was unhappy with the treatment of the marine mammals in the park and sought to expose them, and that led to his being sued and his counter-suing them. Now morally Demers might be right, but he has refused settlement after settlement, determined his case goes to trial so his former employer be denounced in public. He said he is frustrated with his lawyer who doesn’t seem keen on it going to trial (why he’s paying for advice he won’t listen to I don’t know). He also said he’s not interested in money, will accept no figure to settle, and only wants custody of a walrus he used to work with and which he considers his child. I can’t see that going down too well in court. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to him that, regardless of his bond with the animal and its poor condition in the marine park, he has no legal claim on it. He says he is flat broke and is looking forward to when this whole thing finally goes to trial (there is no date in sight) and he can put the whole thing behind him and move on with his life. I suspect he’s going to be waiting an awful long time, and if and when the trial comes he’ll learn the harshest lesson of his life.

I listened to the podcast aghast, thinking someone needs to knock some sense into this chap. Rogan did query whether he really ought to be doing this to himself, but remained very supportive. I scoured the comments under the podcast looking for a dissenting opinion, but they are almost all along the lines of “Yeah, don’t back down, stick it to the man!” What they didn’t seem to appreciate is that it’s not so much David v Goliath than a man whacking his head against a brick wall in a long, painful suicide attempt. Company executives don’t lie awake at night worrying about some individual suing them, they simply cut a cheque and get a lawyer to take care of it. And if the absolute worst happens and they lose in court down the line, they cut another cheque and use the loss to lower their tax bill that year. For them it’s a simple business transaction, much the same as a paying customs charges. Their only interest is to minimise the bill, and right and wrong don’t come into it. If you’re going to bring legal action against a company without realising this it will never end well for you, even if you think you’ve won. You really do want to listen to that lawyer you’re paying so much for.

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27 thoughts on “Self-Legalation

  1. As a lawyer, I have to say that this article is the best piece of legal advice I have ever read from a layman. The law is there to deliver certainty. If it delivers justice, that is merely a coincidence.

  2. Even if he had a moral right of custody over the walrus, how would he afford to keep it? Particularly in “humane” conditions? In which case, how could any court, however generous, possibly award custody?

    I haven’t listened to the guy so don’t know if I’ve got the wrong end of the stick here, but “box of frogs” comes to mind.

  3. Private Eye, and these Erin Brockowitz types, really need to answer a simple question.
    If the crime is as heinous as they say, why have the people (environmental agencies, RSPA, etc) who specialise in these prosecutions declined to get involved?

  4. Incidentally I do think “sticking it to the Man” can be a legitimate, worthy and sane objective, provided you’re prepared to accept that the Man is bigger than you so as an individual you’re barely likely to make more than a mildly irritating dent, and that you’re going to have to fight asymmetrically. You also need to accept that fighting the Man is unlikely to bring great personal or financial reward, so devoting your entire life to it, rather than treating it as a slightly eccentric hobby, is unwise.

    If you think the Man is deeply in the wrong about something and it’s important to you that someone needs to do something about it, then do something about it. But that “something” is highly unlikely to be “take MegaCorp to court”. Because they can afford more and better lawyers than you, and you don’t want to end up on the hook for legal expenses, but also because that’s fighting on their own turf. If you’re not going to fight them in a smart and asymmetric manner, don’t fight at all – you’re the wrong man or woman for this job. Leave it to someone with less emotional involvement or more guerilla-protest savoir-faire.

  5. As a lawyer, I have to say that this article is the best piece of legal advice I have ever read from a layman.

    Thanks, Brendan!

  6. Incidentally I do think “sticking it to the Man” can be a legitimate, worthy and sane objective

    Indeed.

    Because they can afford more and better lawyers than you, and you don’t want to end up on the hook for legal expenses, but also because that’s fighting on their own turf. If you’re not going to fight them in a smart and asymmetric manner, don’t fight at all – you’re the wrong man or woman for this job.

    That too.

  7. ‘Courts deliver Law, not Justice’, is advice that has stood me in good stead whenever I have felt the urge to litigate.

  8. It’s not about the big company having more
    money or lawyers. That’s hysterical garbage. It’s a simple matter of who has a claim and what that claim is. In this post, the most salient point is that the worker has no claim. He might like to think he does. The animal might even be better off with the guy. But he has no claim and unless you’re a mega-green lobby group or you’re the DNC, feelz still don’t trump facts.

  9. I would like to take possession of a rather pretty goat ai met in,Middle East country. I wish to raise his children as my own.
    No, sorry. This is beyond parody.
    Whistleblowers generally,have some weird agenda. Usually marching to a different drum under whatever colour the sun is on there planet.
    Having said that a number of,times,I’ve taken the money and run. It’s,a,living

  10. As far as I can tell the problem with these two cases is that the chaps involved want to use their employment case as a stick to punish their former employers for other failings.

    If your employer is mistreating animals or illegally polluting, shop ’em. Make it so it is the state or a powerful and well-funded body taking legal action against them.

    If it’s just you, then you’re screwed, because the law isn’t there to benefit the likes of you.

  11. @JB

    If you’re going to engage in lawfare with someone, that difference in legal budgets is going to tell in the end. Even if you have a winnable claim you’re going to have to win the hard way, at least if you morally refuse to settle. MC is correct – leave the lawfare to those with the budgets and expertise to fight this sort of thing. If you’re going to resort to the law personally, don’t let it be as part of some grand moral crusade, have a winnable objective and if necessary be prepared to sign the papers, take the cash and go do something else with your life.

  12. This sounds like an unhealthy obsession and the snowflake public is indulging him.

    Marineland’s statement about him is pretty hilarious. I think I agree with based on my exhaustive 2 minutes of research on the topic:

    “Phil Demers is a failed reality TV show aspirant, who has been making veritably false allegations about Marineland for nearly six years, while fundraising to support a lifestyle that does not appear to involve consistent full-time employment,” Marineland said in a statement to The Dodo. “His demonstrably false accusations about Smooshi, Zeus and other mammals at Marineland have been investigated by the OSPCA and others and have been verified to be bogus. Literally every claim Phil has ever made about our park has been debunked. He is not a reliable source of information on anything related to animal welfare as he has literally no expertise in this field.”

  13. That movie about the Erin Brokovitch case has much to answer for.
    Likewise Robert Redford in “The Electric Horseman”
    Plus no end of TV dramas & minor movies, all on the same theme, righteous individual drags big corporate to face the music.

    Hollywood tends to skip over the part about who pays.
    This may be due to creative types not being good with numbers, or may be due to creative types being very aware the viewing public won’t understand numbers.

  14. @John Brumble, @MyBurningEars: “If you’re going to engage in lawfare with someone” … then you’re a nutjob who will engage in lawfare with anyone, including your current lawyer.

    When things go awry for nutjob he will blame everything on his current lawyer then try to sue him too. And the lawyer knows it and is spending as much time covering himself as fighting for nutjob which is one of the many reasons the lawsuit is so expensive. Nutjob’s lawyer will have sent huge amounts correspondence to nutjob confirming every jot and tittle of advice. Which of course nutjob will in the fullness of time deny receiving.

  15. Ahh, Marineland. Yeah, that’s just down the road from me.

    So a bit of context: Marineland has been in financial trouble for years and if you actually go there you’ll see in short order that they’re skimping on the animal care. Animals have open sores, the enclosures are small and poorly maintained, etc. On the other hand, they’ve also been the targets of protests and legal harassment by former employees of…questionable sanity for decades at this point. Nothing ever seems to stick. I think there’s probably some there, there, but their critics have done such a thorough job of discrediting themselves that the locals largely ignore them.

  16. I defer to the great Ambrose Bierce and his Devil’s Dictionary, wherein the following entries may be found:-

    COURT FOOL, n. The plaintiff.
    FORMA PAUPERIS. [Latin] In the character of a poor person—a method by which a litigant without money for lawyers is considerately permitted to lose his case.
    LITIGANT, n. A person about to give up his skin for the hope of retaining his bones.
    LITIGATION, n. A machine which you go into as a pig and come out of as a sausage.

  17. “‘Courts deliver Law, not Justice’”

    In the early ’90s LBC (a past franchise) had a ‘phone in with an excellent lawyer. As soon as someone mentioned “neighbour” and “court” he’d say don’t, even before he’d heard the story. As he often said, nobody wins. I don’t think I heard him use that phrase but it sums up his advice in those cases.

    I’m also reminded of when I worked for a small telecoms consultancy. We had an office in HK run by a very experienced HK/China guy and whenever he was contacted to help someone move in to China he’d say: “No westerner makes money in China. Now, how can I help you?” Invariably we would get a nice little project and the client would end up losing money.

  18. The best way to win is to get someone else with unlimited resources to fight your case for you. For example the state. Lay a criminal charge. Emperors, Popes and the entire might of Europe couldn’t win a crusade. Erin Brockvich was an outlier and turns out she was wrong.

  19. In the meantime, what’s happening to the walrus? Is it in some kind of US court-imposed Guantanamo-style quarantine? Has it no rights? Interested, though stupid, millennials want to know.

  20. Talking of Courts & Law

    This is exceedingly funny

    Exceedingly funny – yes.

    Will Wolf have her PhD annulled?

    If Twatter not working
    Feminist author Naomi Wolf gets called out on live radio for misunderstanding legal terms in her new book.
    youtube.com/watch?v=3uRCcEoGWxs

  21. Sry to hijack thread. But, since you do like a good polyamory fail.. try the Projared saga.

  22. Talking of links Tim should fisk…

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-48411735

    I’ve a feeling he might be able to guess the actual reason for the increase in antisemitism in Germany, but bizarrely this article makes exactly no reference at all to Merkel letting in loads of Jew hating Muslim migrants in the last two or three years.

  23. Sorry, my comment was phrased in a way which could be misleading – the “he” in the second sentence referred to Tim!

    My point wasn’t particularly about Felix Klein, more the way the BBC have in their feature provided some very dubious context(Aka spin) alongside their (presumably factual) reporting of Felix Klein’s remarks.

  24. @Tim N

    Have you had to deal with this?

    From 1m20 thought lorry was going to topple down hill. Did it? Watch

    .
    @theProle

    BBC: Bias By [C]Omission, distortion – Left SJW PC Establishment agenda

  25. Quote of the week

    The ‘Mogg’ inveighed to the ERG group about the PM’s abject failure to get Brexit done and avoid the disastrous (for the Tories) European elections.

    ‘She promised us we wouldn’t be having any more MEPs,’ JRM said.

    Up popped burly Midlands Brexit sage Andrew Bridgen to quip: ‘As far as the Tories are concerned, she’s pretty much delivering on that.’

    [Edited to remove “New DM Ed’s Pro EU” anti-brexit bias]

    Letts & Hastings gone; Blackdog, Glover, Brummer, Sandbrook etc converted. Littlejohn & Hitchens on “to fire” list?

  26. As I was told by a very experienced attorney from whom I learned a lot:

    “The best settlement is when both parties walk away equally unhappy”.

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