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The Men Behind Edwards

Our editor, Walter Olson, has covered this territory before, but it’s worth revisiting as Kerry and Edwards make their way across key states in their bus caravan campaign. The report on the men behind John Edwards at EdwardsWatch makes for interesting reading.:

According to published reports, Edwards received $4.65 million from 3,220 lawyers, 29 paralegals, 17 legal assistants and 555 people with the same address as a personal injury attorney contributor (such as a spouse or close relative). The $4.65 million represents 63% of the total money raised by Edwards. Over one-third of those contributors gave the maximum $2,000..

His biggest contributors include patron, friend, campaign finance director, and asbestos-litigator extraordinaire Fred Baron, Silicon Valley litigator William Lerach (see also this), and the mysterious Stephen Bing.

He also has close ties to the law firms Girardi and Keese and Chitwood and Harley. And that’s just the tip of the special interest iceberg.

Other tidbits from the EdwardsWatch site include the discount air travel Edwards gets from his trial lawyer friends and the money he’s gotten from every state trial lawyers association in the country. Has there ever been a candidate so beholden to one special interest?

More: See also details at Rantburg and Edwards’ PAC donors from OpenSecrets.org.

Market Influence

There may be good news on the horizon for physicians in John Edwards’ home state. No, the state didn’t pass sweeping tort reform. It’s market magic:

Unlike the last survey, business-related cases didn’t just lead the top of the list. In a dramatic change from past years, they made up more than a quarter of all the entries for 2003, with 14. That’s more than double the number of business recoveries reported to Lawyers Weekly in 2002 ? and matches the tallies in medical malpractice and auto negligence.

Another telling statistic: In 2003, six business-related cases resulted in recoveries of $7 million or more, according to the survey. There were only three reported in that range in 2002 ? and only one in 2001. In contrast, no contested personal injury recoveries reached $7 million in 2003.

Why is that good news for physicians and what does it have to do with the free market? It means that lawyers will be expending their energies on business cases instead of malpractice cases. This may not be good for the economy of North Carolina, but it would give doctor’s and hospitals a reprieve. As one lucky winner, I mean attorney, puts it:

“In my view, in terms of making a living, business misconduct cases in today’s environment are becoming almost as profitable as personal injury, where you traditionally have had more high-end verdicts and settlements,” said Hunt.

And I thought they were in this to champion the little guy.

Click here to see a list of the top 55 verdicts for 2003 in North Carolina, none of which were under one million dollars.

Somewhere in America

The medmal crisis isn’t just affecting doctors, it’s having an impact on nurses, too:

Kimberly Ridpath was shocked to learn earlier this year that the malpractice insurance policy for her 150 health care workers had been canceled.

In three years of supplying nursing homes with nurses and assistants, no lawsuits had ever been filed against her Mechanicsville firm, Advantage Staffing.

…The tension over the future of her company and its 150 employees took its toll.

“I cried. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep,” said Ridpath, a registered nurse.

(Could this be the woman Senator Edwards was talking about?) She eventually found a policy, at roughly ten times the price of her original. It’s the nursing home work that makes her company such a high risk. But the problem isn’t confined to nurses who staff nursing homes. Midwives and nurse practitioners, who often serve the underserved, are finding their malpractice insurance premiums rising, too. As result, they can no longer afford to staff public health clinics on the cheap as they once did. Tort reform. It really should be a bipartisan issue.

Speed Trap Shut Down

Residents of central Ohio fear and loathe the town of New Rome. Most people, including the state’s Attorney General, suspect it exists only to line the pockets of a few people who live in its three block radius. The tiny town (pop. 60) has a per capita income of $12,983, but takes in $300,000 a year in traffic tickets. (Take a virtual tour of the town here.) It’s almost impossible to pass through New Rome without getting stopped for a violation, be it speeding or a broken tail light.

Ohio residents can breathe easy now. New Rome was dissolved this week by court order. Sometimes, the system works.

With a little help from their friends

The Association of Trial Lawyers of America has decided to cultivate friends on both sides of the aisle. Long viewed as a friend of Democrats, the organization is beginning to see the wisdom of courting Republicans, too:

ATLA stepped up its courting of Republicans — particularly in the Senate — about three years ago. David Casey Jr., a Democrat who at the time was ATLA’s vice president, invited Mr. Parkinson, the Republican lawyer, to his San Diego law office….Mr. Parkinson went to see Sen. Hatch, who, he says, told him, “Not all Republican senators and House members favor the wholesale dismantling of the civil-justice system, but the view is that you’re completely Democratic.” If ATLA “would just try to be fair to both sides, they’re going to find the reception” among Republicans more welcoming, Sen. Hatch says in an interview.

How “fair” do they have to be to get a warm welcome? Let’s look at the numbers for the politicians mentioned in the article: Orrin G. Hatch, Saxby Chambliss, Lindsey Graham, and John T. Doolittle. Evidently, their work is paying off:

The trial bar’s Republican push again showed results last month, when Sen. Kyl tried once more to pass his attorney-fee cap for tobacco cases. This time, 15 Republicans opposed it, two more than last time.

Money talks. And trial lawyers have no shortage of money.

Pennsylvania Reform Roadblocked

Doctors in Pennsylvania had high hopes for the possibility of caps on non-economic damages in their state. They had managed to get a bill for an amendment to the state constitution that would allow the caps, only to see it killed in committee by opponents of tort reform. Evidently, the legislators don’t want to take the issue to the people, who would have had to vote on the amendment. Will they be willing to answer to the consequences of their inaction? Young doctors already view Pennsylvania as a state to avoid :

In 2003, only 17% of residents who trained in Pennsylvania stayed there, according to the Pennsylvania Medical Society. The state had a net loss of 507 physicians from 2002 to 2003, and it dropped into the bottom 10 states for the number of young physicians in the state, PMS data show.

Second Hand Smoke

An Overlawyered reader makes a point worth debating about second hand smoke and the law:

In the case of smoking, I am one of those who thinks someone smoking around me (in public, of course – they can do as they like as long as the smoke stays on their own property) is a form of assault.

Analogy – chlorine gas. A little more obvious, a little quicker, and therefore easier to condemn, but whatever crime someone who releases chlorine gas in a public place (or directly onto my property) is committing, a person who blows their smoke on me in a similar manner is committing.

You want to dip? Chew? Snuff? Take tobacco intravenously? Knock yourself out – but leave me out of it! And if the legislature won’t protect my rights, then the lawyers are all I have left… Ouch, that’s a terrible choice.

It certainly is a terrible choice. But, is the case for second hand smoke really analogous to chlorine gas? Chlorine gas is highly caustic and causes immediate damage to the lungs. Lung damage can occur with doses as low as 9 parts per million.

Second hand tobacco smoke, on the other hand, is a little more complex. It’s composed of many different components, for one thing, kind of like smoke from a fire. One of its deadliest components is, perhaps, carbon monoxide, which can kill at concentrations of 2000 ppm and cause symptoms at doses of 200ppm. The amount of carbon monoxide in second hand smoke will vary depending on the concentration of the smoke, but even in a submerged submarine filled with smokers, the amount of carbon monoxide produced in three days is only 6.6 ppm, well within OSHA’s work-safety standards.

A better analogy of second hand smoke would be perfume. As crazy as this may sound, I have never had to admit someone for an exacerbation of their asthma or emphysema because their neighbor or a relative was smoking outside on their porch. But, I have had to admit patients whose asthma or emphysema was aggravated by perfume or incense. So where do we draw the line? If the smoker commits assault with his second hand smoke, then so, too, do the heavily perfumed with their Chanel No. 5.