Peter Lattman at WSJ law blog (Apr. 10) discusses political maneuvering in the two early-Presidential-deciding states. It turns out that both states have (in the persons of Bill Shaheen and Jerry Crawford, respectively) Democratic kingmakers who happen to be trial lawyers. Not that this makes them so different from other states from coast to coast….
John Edward is the quack who made a television career claiming to channel the dead. John Edwards is the trial lawyer presidential candidate who didn’t go quite that far when delivering a closing argument, restricting himself merely to a channeling a mute victim of cerebral palsy that he successfully blamed on a doctor. As the New York Times reported:
“She speaks to you through me,” the lawyer went on in his closing argument. “And I have to tell you right now — I didn’t plan to talk about this — right now I feel her. I feel her presence. She’s inside me, and she’s talking to you.”
We’ve had lots of coverage of Edwards’s trial career: Jan. 12; Oct. 20, 2005; Aug. 17, 2004; Jul. 28, 2004; Feb. 2, 2004. And we’ve noted others’ comments, too: Jan. 5; Jul. 16, 2004; Feb. 26, 2004; Jan. 31, 2004; Sep. 16, 2003.
For better or worse, John Edwards isn’t as special this time around:
For years Edwards has relied on the support of his fellow trial lawyers’ deep pockets to help get him elected — first to the Senate and then three years ago, when he made a run at the White House and then became running mate to Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., who won the Democratic nomination. But as Edwards mounts his second presidential bid, he has struggled to attract plaintiffs lawyers beyond his stable of longtime donors, just as other Democratic candidates, such as Sens. Hillary Clinton from New York, Barack Obama from Illinois, and Joseph Biden Jr. from Delaware, have been actively wooing the plaintiffs bar. …
Many of the trial lawyers who supported the Kerry-Edwards ticket in 2004 have chosen to throw their lot in with Obama or are keeping their options open by donating to multiple candidates. The fracturing of the trial-lawyer constituency could have dramatic effects on the total dollars Edwards will be able to raise. …
Also cited as hurting Edwards with some past givers: the steps he took to moderate his image on litigation reform during the 2004 campaign, including his endorsement of pre-screening of merit in medical malpractice cases. Even Sen. Biden is making inroads:
Biden has long been seen as a supporter of the trial lawyer community on the Senate Judiciary Committee, where he has opposed legal-liability proposals and bills that would limit claims against health-care providers. No candidate is more visibly tied to the trial bar than Edwards. But Clinton and Biden, who also headlined a national trial lawyer convention in Miami Beach in February, have both said they’re opposed to caps on punitive damage awards.
Despite Obama’s silence on the issues trial lawyers care about, those who support him say they are confident he will back trial lawyers when the time comes.
(Anna Palmer, Legal Times, Apr. 9).
John Edwards may not be the only plaintiff’s attorney in the White House race:
Mr. Thompson [Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., much buzzed about as a late-entering Republican possibility] has also been criticized for failing to back some comprehensive tort-reform bills because of his background as a trial lawyer. Here he insists his stance was based on grounds of federalism. “I’m consistent. I address Federalist Society meetings,” he says, noting that more issues should be left to the states. For example, he cast the lonely “nay” in 99-1 votes against a national 0.8% blood alcohol level for drivers, a federal law banning guns in schools, and a measure limiting the tort liability of Good Samaritans. “Washington overreaches, and by doing so ends up not doing well the basics people really care about.” Think Katrina and Walter Reed.
(John Fund, “Lights, Camera . . . Candidacy?”, OpinionJournal.com/WSJ, Mar. 17).
On Sen. Thompson’s behalf, it can be said that he did co-sponsor the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which was enacted into law after he left the Senate. Thus he presumably recognizes that in some situations, federal action can be necessary and proper to prevent a few state courts from imposing their views on the unwilling citizens of distant states. One hopes Thompson also goes so far as to realize that federal curbs on state-court litigation in those circumstances do not necessarily infringe on proper precepts of federalism and decentralization, but in fact can work in defense of them, by protecting the right to self-government of sister states and their citizens. The question is whether he has gone on to consider that quite a few other federal interventions into state-court litigation, in such areas as class actions, product liability and punitive damages, can be defended on very similar grounds (namely, that they are needed to restrain state courts from exporting their legal doctrines to other states) and thus are entirely consistent with “good federalist” precepts.
We told you the continuing Paul Minor imbroglio in Mississippi (Mar. 16 and many other posts) was going to be worth watching:
[In recent weeks] four former fundraising aides to [former Sen. John] Edwards have spoken voluntarily to FBI agents.
Democrats familiar with the investigation said that neither the current or past Edwards campaigns nor any of his staffers appear to be targets of the investigation, which is trying to determine whether Minor reimbursed his children for $8,000 in contributions to Edwards, an illegal practice known as “conduiting.” …
Trial lawyers are a fixture of Democratic politics and fundraising, particularly in the South, but some also have a reputation in Democratic political circles for a freewheeling approach to campaign finance law. Within Edwards’ 2004 campaign, staffers referred to those flamboyant personalities by an acronym: They called them “DFTLs,” which according to former staffers was short for “dirty (expletive) trial lawyers.”
“No current staffer for John Edwards for President uses that kind of language to talk about our donors,” said Kate Bedingfield, campaign spokeswoman.
(Ben Smith, The Politico, Mar. 21). I mentioned Minor’s prominence among Edwards’ presidential donors in this 2004 W$J piece. And as Ted noted on Jun. 24 of last year the Federal Election Commission has fined the law firm of prominent Arkansas plaintiff’s attorney Tab Turner, as well as the Edwards 2004 presidential campaign itself, over Turner’s having unlawfully funneled money to the campaign in the guise of contributions by employees at his firm (see Apr. 28-29, 2003).
Title says it all: “Let presidential candidates sue one another for libel”. Oh, great, then White House races will start depending on who’s more skilled at manipulating the judicial process (although now that you mention it Bush v. Gore has already gone far to advance that proposition). (Joseph H. Cooper, Christian Science Monitor, Mar. 16).
Maybe because they’re not donating enough to the political class (Carney/Dealbreaker, Mar. 13).
Because it’s not as if traffic law counts as real law, right? (Howie Carr, “Hillary circling as Obama searches for parking space”, Boston Herald, Mar. 8).
P.S. in response to comments: I think it’s a cultural fact worth recording that the editor of the Harvard Law Review felt no obligation at the time to settle up on a stack of unpaid parking tickets. It’s not wholly unrelated to the phenomenon of attorney general nominees’ not having bothered to tell the IRS about their household employees, or of U.S. Supreme Court justices’ meeting for regular poker nights reputedly in noncompliance with local law: namely, it suggests that sonorous Law Day maxims about the need for each of us to respect the law in its full majesty have surprisingly little traction even in (especially in?) elite law circles. That’s a fact worth knowing, if true.
That Obama is running for president now is the least interesting bit of the story (and indeed is only of significance in that it provided the impetus for him to pay up). Far from being received as an unforgivable blot on his character, I suspect the story will (like his smoking habit) serve to humanize the senator for many voters, perhaps especially among those who, like many readers of this site, have a somewhat rebellious attitude toward law to begin with.
P.P.S. There have apparently been some malfunctions with comments on this entry — if you entered a comment and it didn’t show up within a reasonable time, you might want to email and let us know.
Jim Copland, at Point of Law, does a little digging (Feb. 26) to see whether something called the Colorado Home Alliance emerged as the spontaneous outgrowth of local residents’ dissatisfaction with the state of construction-defect law.
“Voters last November approved Amendment 41, which limited gifts to most government employees and their families to $50. The constitutional amendment was put on the ballot by wealthy entrepreneur Jared Polis and the public-interest group Common Cause.” It soon emerged that the measure might prohibit the award of university scholarships to children of government employees or the award of the Nobel Prize to a government-employed scientist. Highly placed Coloradans have been scurrying about for weeks now trying to figure out what to do. (Lynn Bartels and Alan Gathright, “Pressure to fix ethics law”, Rocky Mountain News, Feb. 6; Lynn Bartels, “GOP’s May says Polis ‘threatening’ in Amendment 41 talk”, Rocky Mountain News, Feb. 9; Chris Frates and Jeri Clausing, “Fix it yourself, backers of 41 told”, Denver Post, Jan. 31; Mark Hillman (former Colo. state treasurer), “Ethics amendment creates an ethical dilemma”, Independence Institute, Jan. 25; text of Amendment 41 (PDF); Peter Blake (columnist), Rocky Mountain News, Nov. 15, Dec. 20, Jan. 3, and Jan. 20).