Parens Patrie, Ad Absurdum

By July 2, 2008Briefly Legal

Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick Lynch responds with bluster and abuse to the state Supreme Court’s 4-0 ruling throwing out his lawsuit against paint manufacturers. From his statement:

This case was litigated in the Superior Court for more than eight years. Despite the multi-million dollar lead industry-funded defense waged by an army of more than 100 lawyers, my office proved to the satisfaction of a unanimous jury that the three defendants were liable for the public nuisance that their products created in Rhode Island. Those products poisoned our infants and children – and continue to poison our infants and children – while bringing great profits to the companies that made and sold them. Today, the Supreme Court ruled that these defendants do not have to clean up the mess they have made. I find this legally and fundamentally wrong.  As important, I find it impossible to explain to the kids who have been and will continue to be lead poisoned, to the parents and families harmed and suffering as a result, and to everyone trying on their own, and at their own expense, to protect our children from these defendants’ products.

But, then, as the Supreme Court found, the state did not prove the companies made “the mess,” as Lynch puts it. The justice rejected the causal relationship Lynch claimed.

Then there’s Lynch’s use of appeal, “for the children,” as the ultimate good he would substitute for the rule of law. “For the children” has replaced patriotism as the last refuge of the …Well, you know.

It’s the same appeal that Lynch’s contingency-fee attorneys at Motley Rice LLC, the people who really ran the show, made in their news release:

We are very disappointed that the Rhode Island Supreme Court chose to ignore the verdict of a jury of Rhode Island citizens and the judgment of a preeminent trial judge in order to absolve the lead paint companies of any responsibility for contaminating thousands of houses in Rhode Island with a poison that has injured tens of thousands of Rhode Island children.

These are political arguments, not legal arguments. But then, it’s politics, not the law, that drives self-promoting attorneys general to file these kind of suits in the first place.

UPDATE (5:20 p.m.): We had missed this Providence Journal story, which includes comments not reported elsewhere. For example, from the office of U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, who as AG filed the suit:

“There is no doubt that lead paint manufactured by these companies caused grave harm to thousands of Rhode Island children,” Whitehouse said. “It has for years been Rhode Island’s worst public health problem for children.”

Sherwin-Williams stopped producing lead-based paint 50 years ago. On point is this comment from the company’s attorney, Charles Moellenberg: “The Supreme Court went out of its way to make it clear that Rhode Island children are not left without a remedy — their remedy is the property owners.”  

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  • […] Last week amid all the postings on the Rhode Island Supreme Court’s ruling that rejected the state’s lawsuit against paint manufacturers, we noted the similarity of comments from Attorney General Patrick Lynch, former AG and now U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, and the contingency fee attorneys at Motley Rice who manned the legal assault (and campaign contributions): They were all acting “for the children.” […]

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