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September 2010 Archives

How a National Texting Ban Would Affect Texans

The use of cell phones while driving has made the nation's roads more dangerous: nearly half of all drivers admit to texting while driving. With more than 30 states passing distracted driving laws, Congress is now considering enacting a national texting ban.

More Injured Workers at BP's Texas City Refinery

Two workers were burned by steam while working at BP's Texas City refinery on September 21. One worker suffered burns over 30 percent of his body, including injuries to his torso, left arm, and left leg and was taken by LifeFlight to UTMB Hospital's Burn Unit. The other worker was transported by ambulance to Mainland Medical Center. BP's Texas City refinery, the nation's third largest refinery, is the site of the worst U.S. refinery accident in the past five years when 15 workers were killed and 180 injured in an explosion on March 23, 2005. BP has paid over $1.6 billion to compensate victims of this tragedy. It is also the site where benzene was released for 40-days due to a unit malfunction earlier this year, which currently is the focus of a class-action lawsuit.

Endorsements and Judicial Information

As the mid-term elections approach, there are a lot of political races to be excited about. In Texas, the most watched race will be that of governor of the state of Texas. Voters will be given many opportunities to see what each individual gubernatorial candidate stands for and believes in. The airways, internet, social media sites, and print media will all receive attention from both camps vying for statewide votes.But down ballot races -- those which probably more directly affect the local citizenry -- will not received near the media attention or voter interest as the top of the ticket candidates. This is not unusual, and likely a necessary evil of a complete democracy, but there are tools available to voters who want to educate themselves on the races and not just pull a single lever or vote based on an arbitrary system. For judicial races in Harris County (also encompassing the two courts of appeals that cover 10 counties including Harris County, and the Texas Supreme Court), voters should look to several different endorsement groups, as well as the Houston Bar Association Preference Poll.There is not one definitive group that a single voter should completely rely on in deciding who he or she should cast their vote for. The top of the endorsement chain is the Houston Chronicle. They endorse both republicans and democrats, males and females, and non-minorities and minorities. There are other groups that also put in a lot of time and effort to interview and make a sincere effort to recommend a candidate. The Association of Women Attorneys is one group that clearly does not favor "women" over men, and they spend many hours to try to get it right. One other group that does a good job of analyzing the candidates is the Houston Bar Association's Preference Poll. All members of the HBA are given the opportunity to cast their preference vote on the judges they are personally familiar with. While there can be some potential to skew the results (for example if a large group of like-minded lawyers vote for a particular judge even though those lawyers do not have personal knowledge or experience with the judge), for the most part the HBA poll excels at identify those who would be acceptable in a judicial position (or at times, those who have no business sitting as a judge).I encourage voters to use these tools as they head to early voting or their polling locations on November 2, 2010.

Defective DePuy Hip Replacements: More on the Recall

Recently, at the end of August 2010, Johnson & Johnson, along with its DePuy Orthopaedics subsidiary, announced that it is recalling parts used in hip replacements. The recall includes the DePuy ASR XL Acetabular System - the cup portion of a replacement hip joint - and the DePuy ASR Hip Resurfacing System. There are an estimated 93,000 people that have the defective hardware implanted. The recall came on the heels of the National Joint Registry of England and Wales report, which found that one eighth of all patients with the ASR hip replacement had to suffer repeated surgery to make adjustments to the device within five years of receiving the implant. Many patients have had multiple surgeries and severe complications; now we know why.

TTLA Member Spotlight

Last week, the Texas Trial Lawyers Association honored me with their first TTLA Member Spotlight. The TTLA Member Spotlight is designed to highlight lawyers in the community that have given something back. I have always felt that it is our duty as lawyers to give back to the community--whether it be donating our time, providing our services pro bono, or contributing to scholarships and charities.

"Toyota Settles High Profile Crash Case"

Toyota has quietly settled a high-profile lawsuit over a fatal crash near San Diego last year that drew attention to the sudden acceleration issues in its vehicles and led to massive recalls. The automaker revealed the settlement in a letter to a California Superior Court judge but declined to provide any details of the terms, which it is seeking to keep confidential. By getting the case off its growing plate of legal woes, Toyota plans to focus on an aggressive strategy to fend off lawsuits with less dramatic evidence. But the settlement left out co-defendant Bob Baker Lexus, a move by the automaker that could set the stage for a potentially bloody fight with its own dealers over who is to blame for sudden acceleration incidents.

Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute Annual Gala

It was my honor and distinct pleasure to attend the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute's 33rd Annual Awards Gala in Washington, D.C. this week. It was surreal to meet the democratic leadership of the House and Senate, congressmen, senators, private- sector executives, judges, and students from all over the United States. Not to mention, listening to President Obama deliver a meaningful speech that had all the flavor of election time preparation. The Awards Gala is an opportunity for the CHCI to publicly acknowledge the level of dedication to the community that the honorees exemplify. This year's honorees included Eva Longoria Parker, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Arturo Sandoval. The event was hosted by Soledad O'Brian, a former honoree, and entertainment was provided by Sheila E. and Pee Wee Salinas. I attended the event not only in an individual capacity but also in my position as President-Elect of the Hispanic National Bar Association. It was a great opportunity to meet lawmakers and discuss certain issues that affect the Hispanic community but to also to see the collective force Hispanics are gaining nationwide.

CLEAR Act Oil Spill Bill Narrowly Passes House of Representatives

On July 30, 2010, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Consolidated Land, Energy and Aquatic Resources (CLEAR) Act by a 209-193 margin. If enacted, this legislation could bring considerable change to the offshore oil industry.

"Medical Journal Consultants"

In a recent study, comparing significant payments made to "consultants" by orthopedic device companies, it was concluded there was a lack of public transparency when those "consultants" contributed to medical journal articles. The study, published on The Archives of Internal Medicine website, involved 32 medical doctors and researchers who were paid at least $1 million in 2007 and published one or more journal articles in 2008. The study concluded that 25 out of 32 of those "consultants" to the medical device companies, or their publishers, failed to reveal their financial connections in the journal articles.The failure to disclose the financial relationships between the doctors, researchers, medical device companies and the journals calls into serious question the validity, integrity and safety of the products written about in medical journals that are reviewed by health care providers throughout the world. This conduct also calls into question the possible widespread abuse and corruption that may permeate the entire medical research industry. Readers of these studies should be given all of the information about the device, including any possible bias (financial or otherwise) so they can draw their own independent conclusions on the efficacy of the medical equipment, devices and pharmaceuticals. It was reported that five companies (Zimmer, DePuy Orthopaedics, Stryker, Biomet and Smith & Nephew) paid about $250 million to consultants in 2007 including royalties. Of that money, approximately $114 million went to 41 doctors.

Johnson & Johnson Recalls DePuy Hip Replacements

Recently, at the end of August 2010, Johnson & Johnson, along with its DePuy Orthopaedics subsidiary, announced that it is recalling parts used in hip replacements. The recall includes the DePuy ASR XL Acetabular System - the cup portion of a replacement hip joint - and the DePuy ASR Hip Resurfacing System. There are an estimated 93,000 people that have the defective hardware. The recall came on the heels of the National Joint Registry of England and Wales report, which found that one eighth of all patients with the ASR hip replacement had to suffer repeated surgery to make adjustments to the device within five years of receiving the implant. Many patients have had multiple surgeries and severe complications; now we know why.

"Consumer Reports Now Rating Doctors"

Medical groups that perform heart bypass surgery are now being rated alongside cars and trucks in Consumer Reports. In most parts of the country, data-based ratings of doctors are not available to patients. The magazine published ratings of 221 surgical groups from 42 states online on Tuesday and will print them in its October issue. Only groups, not individual doctors are rated. The groups receive one, two or three stars, for below average, average or above average. The scores were based on complication and survival rates, whether the groups used the best surgical technique, and whether patients were being sent home with certain medicines that research has shown to be beneficial after this type of surgery.

Toyota's woes continue

Toyota is once again recalling vehicles due to an issue with the vehicle engine control module (ECM), this time recalling 1.3 million vehicles. The latest recall affects Matrix and Carolla models from 2005 to 2008. The failures of the ECM in these vehicles can cause a faulty check-engine light alert, rough shifting, or even an engine stall-out while driving. General Motors was also forced to issue a similar recall for over 200,000 Pontiac Vibes that built in the company's jointly owned plant. The specific engine in question causing these accidents is a 1.8L 4-cylinder engine (engine code 1ZZ-FE). There have already been three confirmed accidents with injuries directly attributed to ECM failures in these engines.

The Mexican-American Bar Association of Texas Foundation Announces the Creation of Fellows Program

For the past 25 years, the Mexican-American Bar Association of Texas (MABATx) has provided a forum and a means for lawyers to promote the social, economic, and educational advancement of the people of Texas. In addition, MABATx has strived to serve the Mexican-American populous and all Hispanics, by providing services, assistance, and advice on matters of legal concern to the community; all the while encouraging respect, fairness, justice and equality. Five years ago, during my term as President of MABATx, I created the MABATx Foundation in an effort to present an opportunity to provide scholarships to deserving law students.

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