Politicians, Trial Lawyers and Contingency Arrangements

By May 23, 2009Briefly Legal

With so much attention being turned in Oklahoma to the major tort reform legislation signed into law this by Gov. Brad Henry, the Wall Street Journal still sees an alliance among Oklahoma’s governor, attorney general, and the plaintiff’s bar. Henry just vetoed the Private Attorney Retention Sunshine Act, HB 2167. His veto message:

While HB 2167 is well intended and has many good provisions, the legislation potentially does more harm than good because of its unintended consequences. Many state agencies could easily comply with the contracting restrictions in question, but for those agencies, such as Oklahoma Department of Transportation, that must respond quickly to a lawsuit or that must execute a large volume of legal contracts by virtue of their statutory responsibilities, such mandates would impair their ability to respond to pressing legal issues or to timely complete crucial projects, causing undue delays, increasing costs to the state and causing them to miss court-imposed deadlines. The Legislature should consider legislation that recognizes the unique statutory responsibilities of such adversely-impacted agencies.

From today’s WSJ editorial, “Oklahoma’s Tort Secrets“:

Whenever a governor vetoes a bill because it would have “unintended consequences,” you know it deserves a closer look. So it is in Oklahoma, where Democratic Governor Brad Henry said precisely that while turning down a bill that would have shed light on the state’s pay-to-sue racket.

That’s the unseemly state practice of hiring outside lawyers to sue private companies on a contingency fee basis. The Oklahoma bill would have required more transparency and limitations on these deals. More to the point, the bill would have offered a close look at how this game has been played by Mr. Henry’s probable successor, Democratic Attorney General Drew Edmondson.

Mr. Edmondson has become a player in the growing national scandal of attorneys general who retain private plaintiffs lawyers on a contingency fee basis to prosecute cases on the state’s behalf. Then these lawyers make campaign donations for the AG’s re-election.

We note the Private Attorney Retention Sunshine Act is model legislation developed by the American Legislative Exchange Council, and the legislation has become law in Texas, North Dakota, Colorado, Kansas and Virginia. A veto message meant to persuade would cite negative consequences of the law’s enactment in those states.

In other government/trial lawyers news, from the AAJ Convention blog:

The American Association for Justice is pleased to welcome Governor Tim Kaine as the keynote speaker at AAJ’s Leadership Breakfast. For nearly twenty years, Virginia Governor Tim Kaine practiced civil rights law in the capitol city of Richmond.

Kaine is now chairman of the Democratic National Committee.


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