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At the AAJ convention: immigration, hydrofracking and the usual

Resuming Point of Law blogging after a hiatus*, we return to reporting on the most under-covered lobbying outfit in D.C. and the nation, the American Association for Justice, i.e., the trial lawyers.

The AAJ concludes its winter convention in Phoenix at the Biltmore Report and Spa today, a four-day event held under the Orwellian-sounding theme, "Strength in Knowledge, Power from Networking, United for Justice." The choice of Arizona - with its retrograde immigration policies - obviously gave some members heartburn, but it's OK, they were assured:

The state law has been eviscerated in court decisions. Rather than continue to punish Arizona citizens, including the many Latino low-wage workers who depend upon tourist business for their livelihoods, Latino leaders in Arizona are uniformly asking for meetings to resume and people to visit Arizona. We at AAJ are locked into a hotel contract that requires a major penalty for canceling the convention. While we considered doing so, the penalty we face and subsequent actions by Latino leaders asking that we not boycott Arizona resulted in AAJ's decision to go forward with the convention in Arizona and to have a major focus on immigration as a part of the convention.

(Speaking of boycotts and "eviscerated laws": In 2009, the AAJ relocated its summer convention from the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego because the owner, Doug Manchester, had donated $125,000 to Proposition 8, the constitutional amendment to prohibit same-sex marriage, prompting a boycott of the hotel.) 

Erwin Chemerinsky, founding dean of the University of California, Irvine School of Law, did give a talk on how to overturn state immigration laws like Arizona's SB 1070, and there was a "Hot Topics" set of presentations on "Fighting for Justice in the Courts and in the Courtroom,  with class action lawsuits and immigration among the issues. (Full conference agenda, .pdf'ed.)

The Advocacy Track discussions on Daubert looked interesting. We usually like to delve into the "Litigation at Sunrise" sessions to see what new target or tactic might be coming down the line. Sadly, this year's schedule of 10-minute presentations was sparse, although "Cruise Ship Slips and Falls" catches one's eye. (The presenter, Florida, of course.)

But you know what's new, or at least building as a promising area of anti-business litigation? Hydrofracking.

The Oil and Gas Litigation group, which met Sunday, clearly has the natural gas industry in its sites, and eschewing the environmental aspects - at least for this meeting - they're going after royalty payments.

1. A primer on shale‐gas royalty valuation and related lawsuits, which is a shorter version of James Holmes's October 2011 speech to NARO. Those of you in Marcellus Shale states (WV, NY, OH and PA) will benefit from this speech.
2. Introduction to Victoria Snively -- a natural gas revenue analyst and consultant living in the Phoenix‐Scottsdale area, who frequently works in the Barnett Shale of Texas
3. Focus on potential tax and revenue litigation on behalf of states: for instance, WV, PA or NM may be prime candidates for this sort of litigation
4. Useful forms and initial letters that you can send on your clients' behalf, to start the process of investigation (and Ms. Snively will have insights into this technique)

Snively's firm is Snively Royalties Analytics.

In its journalistic campaign against the use of hydrofracturing to produce natural gas, especially in the Marcellus Shale, The New York Times recently took up the royalty issue, e.g., "Learning Too Late of the Perils in Gas Well Leases," and "Signing Drilling Leases, and Now Having Regrets." Short version: Companies are cheats and liars who will dupe the simple and noble locals.

So hire a lawyer.

* Since June, I am a speechwriter at Business Roundtable. All posts represent my own personal opinion and do not reflect the views of my employers, BRT members, or really, anyone else.

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The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.