Last week my colleagues at the Manhattan Institute put out a report in their Trial Lawyers Inc. series taking a look at the lobbying clout of the plaintiff’s bar in Washington and elsewhere. It’s full of interesting details and vignettes, and now Jim Copland, who presided over the compiling of the report, will be blogging it all week at Point of Law. His first installment is here.
According to the U.S. Chamber-backed Legal NewsLine, the litigation lobby is quietly preparing to push through a $1.6 billion (with a “b”) tax break that would let contingent-fee lawyers deduct expenses as made, rather than in the year of settling a suit. American Association for Justice lobbyist Linda Lipsen says Sens. Harry Reid and Max Baucus and Reps. Nancy Pelosi and Charles Rangel are among those on board, as well as “some Republicans”, but “the problem is there is not a tax vehicle yet,” — “You cannot have a stand alone bill to help lawyers … so we have to tuck it into something.” [cross-posted, and slightly adapted, from Point of Law; updates and additional links there]
Robert Ambrogi at Legal Blog Watch criticizes the trial lawyers’ association for excluding the press from its annual convention, but the tactic seems to have worked pretty well in lowering the group’s lobbying profile and deflecting serious coverage of the parade of politicians, from Nancy Pelosi to Henry Waxman to DNC chair and Virginia governor Tim Kaine, who have made the pilgrimage as speakers to pay their respects. More: AAJ’s response.
Given that nearly every member of Congress voted for CPSIA last year, it’s not surprising that that body of lawmakers was slow to respond to reports of the law’s catastrophic consequences. It’s beginning to happen now, though. Republicans have been in the lead, the latest sign being a strong letter from ranking House Commerce minority members Reps. George Radanovich (R-Calif.) and Joe Barton (R-Calif.) asking for a hearing. The motorcycle/powersports issue has also kindled widespread interest from Hill members (example: Rep. Michael Simpson, R-Idaho).
On March 4 there was a welcome break in the ice on the Democratic side as well. Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) sent a letter to the commissioners of the CPSC that, although cautiously worded, acknowledges many of the reports of calamitous consequences from around the country, something that his colleagues Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) have been unwilling to do (when not dismissing those reports as based on misinformed or uninformed rumor). Of course, there is famously no love lost between Dingell and Waxman, who ousted him as Commerce chair. But Dingell’s stand could give cover for other Democrats to join in heeding the public outcry as legitimate. That letter in turn has prompted many CPSIA critics to write Dingell letters in hopes of arming him with more facts and arguments on the law’s ill effects: see in particular Rick Woldenberg and Wacky Hermit.
Waxman, for his part, has announced his intent to hold no hearing on the law until the Obama Administration installs a new chair at the Consumer Product Safety Commission. That serves the multiple functions of 1) stalling (while more small enterprises are driven out of business and thus are neutralized as political threats); 2) reinforcing the impression that the ball is in someone else’s court on addressing the law’s harms; 3) assisting in orchestrating whatever hearing is eventually held, since he expects an ally of his own to be installed as CPSC chair (the ultimate nightmare for CPSIA critics in that job would be someone like Pamela Gilbert, the class action lawyer, former plaintiff’s-lawyer lobbyist, and longtime Litigation Lobby figure who ran the Obama transition effort for the agency).
The membership of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, by the way, is listed here (hit “membership”; scroll to “Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection” to find the members most directly involved). The membership of the Senate Commerce Committee is listed here and that of the Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety and Insurance here.
Some miscellaneous weekend reading about the law: John Markley, Bureaucrash; Michael Maletic (Weil Gotshal & Manges), Republican National Lawyers Association; Ed Driscoll, Pajamas Media.
Public domain graphic: Grandma’s Graphics, Ruth Mary Hallock.
Add the August 28 LA Times to the list of newspapers looking askance at Joe Biden and his family’s cozy relationship to judicial-hellhole asbestos attorneys, in this case Madison County’s SimmonsCooper. (Chuck Neubauer and Tom Hamburger, “Business dealings of Biden family could be problematic for him”, Aug. 28). Unfortunately, the article somehow manages to miss the rationale for creating the trust fund, which was the degree to which so much asbestos litigation in the country is abusive.
Update: also, Am Law Daily.
A USA Today story delves deeply into how Biden’s done the bidding of the litigation lobby special interest group, particularly with respect to the bipartisan asbestos litigation reform bill.
Daniel Fisher usually understands legal issues and has done some good reporting about trial-lawyer abuses, so I was very disappointed in today’s Forbes.com story (which quotes me about Obama and CAFA). Most notably, it’s not true that tort reform is a “catchall phrase for legislative measures designed to make it harder for individuals to sue businesses”–many tort reforms make it easier for individuals with legitimate claims to sue businesses. Tort reforms are simply measures to improve the accuracy and efficiency of the civil justice system; they’re opposed by trial lawyers because they derive billions of dollars of wealth from inaccuracies and inefficiencies in the civil justice system, and supported by businesses and consumers that are the victims of such inaccuracies and inefficiencies.
The article also inaccurately characterizes the Obama-Clinton medical malpractice legislation, and furthers the idea of “Kennedy is a moderate,” blurring the role of the Supreme Court by implicitly endorsing the liberal idea of it as a political superlegislature rather than a judicial body with an obligation to follow the law. The focus on anti-preemption legislation, as opposed to some of the dozens of other pro-trial-lawyer-lobby bills pending in this Congress and likely to be renewed next Congress, is unusual. (Separately, I disagree with Jim Copland; I don’t think McCain would hesitate to veto the giveaways to the trial-lawyer lobby if they’re in single-purpose bills and not attached as hidden amendments to omnibus legislation.)
I’m less surprised than Fisher and Bill Childs that Obama is getting money from defense firms, or, more accurately, attorneys who work at defense firms. The legal establishment is overwhelmingly liberal (hence the 3:1 fundraising advantage Obama has), and many defense attorneys are perfectly happy with a status quo that requires companies to pay them millions of dollars to continue doing business. (Some are too happy, and have vocally supported ABA resolutions that would harm their clients–something their clients should pay closer attention to.)
While plaintiffs’ law firm contributions are often coordinated (sometimes a bit illegally, as when Tab Turner’s firm and Geoffrey Fieger’s firm were caught reimbursing their employees for donating to John Edwards), it’s a mistake to think the same thing happens in the defense bar, where attorneys are donating on an individual basis because they perceive future government administration (or Article III) jobs of a certain political caliber as pay-to-play or because they’re otherwise simply interested in the political process. Kirkland & Ellis may have tobacco and asbestos defense in its portfolio, and many alumni in the Bush administration, but most Kirkland attorneys are doing other things, and a disproportionate number of them at the Chicago-based firm are going to be former classmates of or students of Harvard Law graduate and Chicago Law lecturer Obama, and have the six- and seven-digit incomes to give maximum contributions–and it only takes a few dozen $4600 contributions to make a firm look like a big contributor. (And, on the other hand, as if to demonstrate the bipartisan nature of most law firms, John McCain turned to a Republican attorney, former Reagan White House Counsel A.B. Culvahouse, at the largely Democratic O’Melveny & Myers to lead his vice presidential search.) During the primaries, the trial lawyers were giving most of their money to Edwards, Clinton, and Biden, but those fundraisers are now doing business with Obama, as the recent press coverage of Fred Baron shows.
But the article is correct that the outlook for federal tort reform is grim, and that reformers are looking at rearguard actions defending against numerous attempts to make the system worse.
I’m quoted by Quin Hillyer in an Examiner story today about the dozens of bills pending in Congress that engage in tort deform–favors for the trial bar. The new Trial Lawyer Earmarks website does a marvelous job documenting most of the bills out there, though one wishes it would provide direct links to THOMAS rather than forcing one to engage in separate searches. (Mislink and misspelling corrected.)
- Raelyn Campbell briefly captured national spotlight (“Today” show, MSNBC) with $54 million suit against Best Buy for losing laptop, but it’s now been dismissed [Shop Floor; earlier]
- Charmed life of Florida litigators Stanley and Susan Rosenblatt continues as Miami judge awards them $218 million for class action lawsuit they lost [Daily Business Report, Krauss @ PoL; earlier here, here, and here]
- Lerach said kickbacks were “industry practice” and “everybody was paying plaintiffs”. True? Top House GOPer Boehner wants hearings to find out [NAM “Shop Floor”, WSJ law blog]
- It’s Dannimal House! An “office rife with booze, profanity, inappropriate sexual activity, misuse of state vehicles and on-the-job threats involving the Mafia” — must be Ohio AG Marc Dann, of NYT “next Eliot Spitzer” fame [AP/NOLA, Adler @ Volokh, Above the Law, Wood @ PoL; earlier]
- Sorry, Caplin & Drysdale, but you can’t charge full hourly rates for time spent traveling but not working on that asbestos bankruptcy [NLJ] More: Elefant.
- Fire employee after rudely asking if she’s had a face-lift? Not unless you’ve got $1.7 million to spare [Chicago Tribune]
- Daniel Schwartz has more analysis of that Stamford, Ct. disabled-firefighter case (May 1); if you want a fire captain to be able to read quickly at emergency scene, better spell that out explicitly in the job description [Ct Emp Law Blog]
- As expected, star Milberg expert John Torkelsen pleads guilty to perjury arising from lies he told to conceal his contingent compensation arrangements [NLJ; earlier]
- Case of deconstructionist prof who plans to sue her Dartmouth students makes the WSJ [Joseph Rago, op-ed page, Mindles H. Dreck @ TigerHawk; earlier]
- How’d I do, mom? No violation of fair trial for judge’s mother to be one of the jurors [ABA Journal]
- First sell the company’s stock short, then sue it and watch its share price drop. You mean there’s some ethical problem with that? [three years ago on Overlawyered]
Tort Deform is the effort of trial lawyers to undo successful civil justice reforms, even naming a blog after the concept. ATRA has a new report out, “Defrocking Tort Deform,” listing some of the pending state legislation on the issue. Related: my April Liability Outlook on revivers and retroactive lawsuits.