Congressional Oversight: Not for the Trial Bar

By September 23, 2008Briefly Legal

Congress is drawing to a close, and it’s doubtful many committee hearings will be called after Friday. And we’ve checked the hearing schedule for the week for the House Judiciary Committee, House Oversight and Government Reform, and the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Quite a few hearings on an array of topics ranging from human rights and minerals extraction in Africa, the visa waiver program, a contempt of Congress resolution against Attorney General Mukasey, and how information policy affects “competitive viability” in minority contracting, etc.

But no hearings on trial lawyers.

Last October we commented in a post, “We Await the Congressional Oversight Hearings, after the former Milberg Weiss legal titan/criminal William Lerach pleaded guilty to paying kickbacks to plaintiffs who filed class-action lawsuits against American companies:

It is time for high-profile investigations and oversight hearings from Congress into the lawsuit industry, demanding accountability from these spoilers. Let’s investigate their impact on the economy, the abusive model that Milberg-Weiss established, and the harm their predations do to the children. Make the witnesses take the Fifth, if it comes to that. At the very least, the public shaming will serve an educational and deterrent effect.What a tremendous opportunity for the chairmen of the respective committees. Surely oversight hearings are just around the corner.

This call for accountability was shared by The Examiner’s editorial page — “Who’s watching the trial lawyers?“, and later, “Milberg settlement should be only the beginning” — and the American Tort Reform Association, “Why Won’t Congress Scrutinize ‘Criminal Lawyers’?

House Minority Leader John Boehner and Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) also wrote House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers, asking him to call an oversight hearing on Milberg Weiss for May 19th, the day Lerach was to report to prison. Since then, Mississippi legal eminence Richard “Dickie” Scruggs has pleaded guilty in an unrelated judicial bribery scheme, heading off to federal prison as well.

A whole year gone with congressional committees holding no hearings, demanding no explanations, publicizing no wrongdoings committed in some of the decade’s highest profile criminal cases involving the legal profession.

Accountability to the public? Not in this case, not for the nation’s most prominent trial lawyers, and apparently not for this Congress either.

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