Lest Ye be Judged...


  We couldn’t believe our eyes. Twenty-one Federal judges from all over the country are scheduled to come to New York City in October to participate in a forum on how to help insurance companies defend against ERISA claims! These are the same judges whom ERISA mandates have sole jurisdiction to decide these cases.

What is going on, we thought? How could this be? When we read the brochure of the American Conference Institute’s (ACI) announcement about the conference, we became even more confused. It is clearly an event structured only to give insurance company counsel tips and ideas on how to defend against ERISA claims. What are a group of Federal judges doing lending their judicial authority to such a one-sided affair, we thought?

Obviously, ACI had a strategy. In soliciting the participation of these judicial luminaries, the American Conference Institute downplayed the clearly “defense-oriented” nature of the conference and played it up as an educational event without partisan overtones. Given the neutral appearance of the event, judges might certainly want to participate to further educate both sides of the litigation bar.

We can’t believe that any of the judges who accepted the invitation were given the opportunity to review the announcement brochure which contains phrases such as:

* “Expert defense strategies…”
* “Senior in-house counsel, top outside defense litigators and renowned jurists will provide you with up-to-the minute practical information on:

“Using the claims review process to set up, control and strengthen the defense

“…ERISA fiduciary litigation: ...substantive defenses, and trends in defense pleadings and motions…

“…Communication with the Judge: Explaining a plan and the ERISA statute to the court…

“… ERISA preemption – the procedural and substantive aspects of the defense

“…Defending against age-based and other “recessionary economy ERISA claims…”

* “The premier ERISA litigation conference devoted entirely to the defense of claims, led by an unparalleled faculty of 28 in-house counsel, 21 federal judges,…

* “…Sympathy for plaintiffs in today’s landscape and juror bias against defendant companies…”

In fact, there are so many embarrassingly one-sided topics and statements in the brochure that we can’t excerpt them all so we have pdfed them so you can read the full document. After such a review can any one be in doubt about the one-sided defense tenor of this conference?

Why would any judge expose his or her reputation for the sake of attending a biased conference, once the judge knew all of the facts? What would a disabled ERISA plaintiff feel if the claimant knew that the judge hearing the case had attended such a defense-oriented forum?

Our read on the situation is that when the judgers were asked to attend they were not given the full story. The acceptance of the invitation by 21 Federal judges was a feather in the cap of the ACI and the insurance defense bar and they sure are flaunting it in this brochure.

Wouldn’t it be better for all concerned if the ACI withdrew its invitation to the judges and find a replacement program for the morning of October 20?

We suggest the substitute program be called, “Mounting a Rigorous and Complete Defense for Doing What is Right -  for a Change”.