They may not have names like Vinnie, Tony, and Sal -- or carry gats, heaters, and roscoes -- but trial attorneys who make a habit of shaking down business interests with trumped-up lawsuits and the threat of trumped-up suits are de facto members of organized crime.

Whether done with a gun or a gavel, extortion is still extortion.

Of course, the unscrupulous attorney (outlawyer?) has a better chance than the gangster of concealing or disguising illicit activities , since he can, and usually does, dress up accusations as legal crusades in the public interest.

“Yo, cafone, I’m just trying to get some justice for these poor babbos.”

He may not have a gangster-sounding name, but Pittsburgh attorney Robert Peirce has spent years trying to shake down CSX Transportation with fraudulent asbestos lawsuits -- and avoiding the consequences of the company’s countersuit for fraud. At the end of 2012, however, a jury awarded CSX $469,000 after finding Peirce and a colleague guilty of conspiring with Bridgeport radiologist Ray Harron to fabricate those claims.

Late last year, in accordance with the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), U.S. District Judge Frederick Stamp of the Northern District of West Virginia tripled the award.

Peirce and his former partner aren’t the only wise-guy attorneys unnerved by the RICO ruling and the million-dollar-plus award. Other self-enriching “altruists” can see the handwriting on the wall.

Just this month, the amusingly renamed American Association for Justice (FKA the Association of Trial Lawyers of America) filed an amicus brief in Peirce’s appeal of Judge Stamp’s decision.

“The harsh penalties designed to deter organized crime,” the Association argues, “would, in the hands of private litigants, become weapons to punish their adversaries and deter attorneys in the future from zealously representing wrongfully injured victims.”

We doubt that. The more likely result is that “the harsh penalties designed to deter organized crime” will, in fact, deter organized malpractice.

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