The Best Wall Street Journal Op-Ed Page Ever!

By April 4, 2008Briefly Legal

As we glance over to the paper every half-hour or so, another outstanding column jumps out. Now, ABC’s John Stossel on the abuses of the trial bar, a column entitled, “Small Victories for Tort Reform.”

Our legal system invites lawyers to act like bullies. For “20/20” tonight, I report on a class-action lawyer who’s suing his neighbor for smoking in her own apartment. Toxins are “being breathed every day by our 4-year-old,” says Jonathan Selbin of Lieff, Cabraser, Heimann & Bernstein. His frightened neighbor had the apartment manager seal off air ducts between the two apartments, but Mr. Selbin sued anyway, claiming smoke was in the hallway. Mr. Selbin’s neighbor was unusually feisty in going to the media to fight back, at least for a while. But last night, she decided to settle. After all, Mr. Selbin had written her that he had a legal advantage, because he and his wife “are both lawyers, and both litigators, for whom the usual barriers to litigation are minimal.” Right. Mr. Selbin wrote ABC, “I have recovered more than $2 billion in cash for consumers defrauded by companies. I am proud of what I do.” He wouldn’t tell us how much of the $2 billion he kept.

What do we get from this kind of “private law enforcement”? Very little. James Copland of the Manhattan Institute points out, “The small, diversified investor is as likely to be a buyer as a seller and thus a payer in a class action settlement. The ‘little guy’ pays money to himself.” Actually, it’s worse than that: Little guys come out behind because the lawyers pocket so much.

The homepage for the “20/20” program is here.

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