F.R. Duplantier reporting Behind The Headlines
Week of:
January 23, 2000
The Bar-Approved Shakedown Artists

F.R. Duplantier

by: F.R. Duplantier

What is "the single greatest threat to our current prosperity"? Trial lawyers!

"Ordinarily, the lack of actual and credible complaints, evidence, or convictions would preclude million-dollar lawsuits over private conduct," observes Phyllis Schlafly of Eagle Forum. "But the Violence Against Women Act allows for attorneys' fees and punitive damages for alleged violence that was never reported to the police, let alone proved in criminal court." She warns that this law, if upheld in court, "would be an extraordinary and unprecedented extension of federal power into the areas of domestic violence and family law." Schlafly challenges the federal government to stop "undermining state criminal laws" and urges trial attorneys not to "trivialize" violence against women for personal gain.

This particular issue, unfortunately, is only one of many that have been trivialized by predatory trial attorneys, as a recent spate of class-action suits against American manufacturers demonstrates. "No industry is safe from class-action witch hunts," declares Stephen Moore of the Cato Institute. "In the 1980s it was lead paint and asbestos companies," he recalls. "Next it was the tobacco industry, which has agreed to cough up $246 billion over the next 25 years in ransom payments to the states. Now," says Moore, "it is the gun industry and Microsoft. After that," he speculates, "it may be the producers of alcoholic products and high-fat junk foods."

In a commentary published in a recent issue of the national conservative weekly Human Events, Moore argues that the rash of class-action attacks on our domestic industry represents "one of the greatest wealth transfers in American history." He deplores this "multibillion-dollar redistribution of income each and every year from the shareholders of U.S. corporations to the wallets of a few hundred parasitic lawyers -- who have the temerity to pretend that they are acting in the public interest by safeguarding the health and welfare of children, consumers, and workers."

Moore charges that the "ransom payments imposed on industry are bad news for consumers and investors. The lawsuits are in a very real sense a tax on business," he contends, "and thus will reduce the return for investors and increase costs to consumers. The inability of investors to predict which industry may be plundered next adds a whole new risk element into the investment equation, as well."

Moore worries that this "orgy of lawsuits is self-perpetuating. Class-action lawyers have become spectacularly and frighteningly well-funded thanks to recent victories in the courts," he explains. "This money is being re-channeled back into the political system," says Moore, "to buy off politicians, special interest groups, and even judges. The trial bar," he warns, "now has the financing in hand to fundamentally transform American politics."

Moore considers plundering trial lawyers "a clear and present danger to continued American prosperity. Litigation reform is an absolutely critical plank in any GOP pro-growth agenda," he asserts. "It has to happen soon. If it doesn't," Moore warns, "the trial lawyers will have amassed a bounty so massive that they will have successfully bought off the politicians, the judges, and the courts."

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