WASHINGTON - Aside from ranking judicial hellholes, the American Tort Reform Foundation is highlighting what it feels is a movement by plaintiffs attorneys to influence elected officials.
"Tort Deform" explores lobbying by the plaintiffs bar against legislative measures harmful to their causes, while "Dangerous Liaisons" chronicles the relationships between contingency fee agreements between state attorneys general and private attorneys.
"Hired on a contingency fee basis, outside counsel have won many billions of dollars in fees for their litigation work against a variety of industries," says the ATRF's seventh Judicial Hellholes report, released Tuesday.
"They also have been generous supporters of their chief clients' reelection campaigns; thereby ensuring that the model provides financial benefits to both the elected official doing the hiring and the personal injury lawyers performing the work."
The 2008 report mentions the following of four attorneys general:
* Mississippi's Jim Hood, who has retained 27 outside firms to represent the State in 20 separate lawsuits during his five years. Partners in the firms have contributed more than $500,000 to Hood;
* Marc Dann, the former Ohio attorney general, who gave a state contract to sue Fannie Mae to an attorney with no experience but whose son contributed $10,000 to Dann's campaign;
* Rhode Island's Patrick Lynch, who hired Motley Rice to represent the State in litigation against the former manufacturers of lead paint; and
* West Virginia's Darrell McGraw, who has drawn criticism for his handling of settlement funds in agreements negotiated by outside counsel.
In "Tort Deform," the report says the American Association for Justice, former the American Trial Lawyers Association, pushed for the strengthening of consumer protection laws.
"(T)he trial bar successfully increased the likelihood that state attorneys general will consider hiring private sector lawyers ostensibly to enforce federal law, created new whistleblower lawsuits, limited the (Consumer Protection Safety Commission) ability to stop state tort lawsuits that conflict with its ability to protect consumer safety, and established an online database to report supposedly dangerous products without adequately ensuring that such information is accurate," the report says.
Also featured in the report were:
* Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court for an egregious expansion of medical liability
* Missouri Supreme Court for gutting a long-held legal doctrine and inviting lawsuits from around the nation
Points of Light
* Maryland Court of Appeals blocks an effort to expand medical liability
* Rhode Island Supreme Court's lead-paint case ruling rejects products liability claims that masquerade as "public nuisance" lawsuits
* Pennsylvania & Texas reform laws increase access to high-risk medical care
* New Jersey & Oregon Supreme Courts insist on evidence of injuries from those seeking medical monitoring
"In doing this, we do hope to be a catalyst for reform," ATRF President Tiger Joyce said.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for Legal Reform, the owner of The West Virginia Record, applauded the report.
"We commend ATRA for helping shine a spotlight on efforts by the trial bar to slip liability expanding measures in bills before Congress and state legislatures," ILR President Lisa Rickard said.
"During a 2008 election night poll, voters overwhelmingly opposed these trial lawyer earmarks, saying that giving lawyers more opportunity to sue would only hurt our already struggling economy."