Thursday, May 10, 2018

Are We Now Going to Crowdsource Our Legal System?

The issue of lawyers and their money has been a constant tussle. There is a mess of policy aspects involved. Contingency fees, cash, in-kind payments, pro-bono work. In medieval times there were crimes, champerty and maintenance.

Maintenance is when a third party intervenes on behalf of one litigant against another. It usually takes the form of financial assistance with legal costs. Champerty is a similar deal only the interceding party has an agreement to share in the damages awarded at trial. Both were considered unseemly, even criminal.

What got me thinking about this stuff again was an interview I saw last night with Stormy Daniels' lawyer, Michael Avenatti. His client was paid $130,000 by Trump fixer, Michael Cohen. Avenatti's client was suing Cohen but that civil suit was put on hold by a judge pending further developments in a possible criminal case by special counsel, Robert Mueller.

When Avenatti's lawsuit was put on hold I expected the high-priced California litigator to wing his way back to the coast to await developments. Instead he's been appearing almost daily on the American cable outlets, CNN and MSNBC, releasing periodic revelations about his target, Cohen.

Last night Avenatti was asked just who is paying for all this sideline work. His client can't afford to have a guy like that on the clock 24/7. I was kind of shocked when Avenatti volunteered that he's being paid by some crowdfunding campaign at To date they've raised just over half of the target of $850,000.

I can sort of see the appeal in it. You throw a few bucks in the pot because you want to bring down Cohen and, through him, Trump. Yet there's something about it that doesn't sit well. Celebrity justice.  On one hand she is up against a couple of people with very deep pockets. On the other her lawyer is using that money to make constant appearances on the cable news nets and to do research that's probably already been done far better by Robert Mueller's team.

I really wish I could better articulate my concerns. There's just this nagging something I can't put my finger on.


rumleyfips said...

I don;t know Mound, I just sent some money to the Tsleil-Waututh Nation Sacred Trust Initiative and I don't feel bad.

Anonymous said...

Could the words you're looking for be maintenance and champerty?

In modern idiom maintenance is the support of litigation by a stranger without just cause. Champerty is an aggravated form of maintenance. The distinguishing feature of champerty is the support of litigation by a stranger in return for a share of the proceeds. — Lord Justice Steyn, Giles v Thompson


rww said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
rww said...

According to a popular American TV lawyer show there is an industry of firms that upfront the cost of contingency fee actions for a percentage of the proceeds. In this "fictional" scenario they used a computer algorithm to decide which cases to "invest' in.

BJ Bjornson said...

The crowd-sourcing doesn’t bother me too much, outside of the fact that it shouldn’t actually be necessary. As it is, it’s just part of what is bound to happen when you create a system overwhelmingly biased towards those with deep pockets being able to exhaust or overwhelm their opponents’ resources and thus avoid any real justice. At least this allows the little people to occasionally act collectively against the big boys.

If you do want a good example of how such things can be abused however, Peter Thiel setting out to destroy Gawker media by financing lawsuits against it and ultimately succeeding is a good place to start. Hell, the crowdjustice thing is practically transparent and benign in comparison.

Northern PoV said...

Your headline Mound, am I missing the pun?

The Mound of Sound said...

NPoV, if you're missing the pun be assured so am I.