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ATTORNEY SAYS $52M IN PUNITIVES WILL STAND PHILADELPHIA — A Philadelphia lawyer who won a verdict of $52 million in punitive damages in a suit against Ford Motor Co. in federal court in Nevada last week said he is confident that the award will be upheld on appeal because it satisfies the U.S. Supreme Court’s most recent pronouncement on excessiveness in punitive awards. It was the second trial of the case White v. Ford, for plaintiffs’ attorney Shanin Specter of Kline & Specter, who in 1998 won a verdict that included $150 million in punitive damages for the family of a young Nevada boy who was killed when a Ford pickup truck rolled over him because of a defective parking brake. The trial judge later reduced the punitive award to $69 million, but the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals concluded that the jury instructions on the punitives issue was flawed and ordered a new trial limited to assessing the punitive award. Unaffected by the appeals court’s ruling was the jury’s award of $2.3 million in compensatory damages. On the last day of the first trial, Ford’s co-defendant, Orscheln Co., a manufacturer of the parking brake, settled with the Whites for a little more than $2 million. After last week’s $52 million verdict, Ford spokeswoman Kathleen Vokes in Dearborn, Mich., said the company plans to appeal. “This was a tragic case but Ford believes that today’s result is inconsistent with recent constitutional decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court,” he said, apparently referring to the high court’s decision last year in State Farm Automobile Insurance Co. v. Campbell, 123 S.Ct. 1513. But Specter said that the State Farm decision had been “overread” and that an examination of the case shows that the $52 million award to the Whites is likely to be upheld. — The Legal Intelligencer ‘CREWS’ DIVORCE MAY SET ANOTHER PRECEDENT NEWARK, N.J. — After 19 years of yo-yoing up and down the court system, the infamous Crews v. Crews divorce action, which has set precedent in family law, is ready to settle yet another novel issue. Superior Court Judge Ellen Koblitz in Bergen County, N.J., will rule next week on whether a big legal malpractice settlement won by a wife for bad lawyering during the divorce trial can constitute a change of circumstances justifying a cut in alimony. Almost a year ago, Barbara Crews settled her seven-year malpractice suit against her original attorney, Stephen Roth, receiving $1.5 million from his carrier. Roth, a Hackensack, N.J., solo practitioner, triggered the bizarre and twisting tale when, in 1994, he walked out of trial with his client in tow after the presiding civil judge denied his request for a 13th adjournment. He argued that he couldn’t adequately proceed and carry the case without upfront payment of fees that had been ordered by Judge Roger Kahn but not paid by the husband. After the walkout, Kahn held an ex parte trial. — New Jersey Law Journal

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