Monday, June 2, 2008

ATRA Calls on Congress for Investigation

With former securities class-action lawyer Melvyn Weiss today being sentenced to 30 months in federal prison, American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) president Tiger Joyce renewed his call on Congress to investigate “what may be widespread misconduct by the plaintiff’s bar that undermines the rule of law and imposes a drag on our economy.”

Weiss’s former law partner, William Lerach, reported to prison last month after similarly pleading guilty to a federal count of conspiracy in connection with illegal payments to a stable of ready-made class-action plaintiffs during a two-decade scheme that prosecutors say netted the firm more than a quarter of a billion dollars.

Mississippi legend Richard “Dickie” Scruggs pleaded guilty and will be sentenced next month for conspiring to bribe a judge over the division of attorney’s fees in a Hurricane Katrina case.

“These were three of the most powerful and influential plaintiffs’ lawyers in the country during the past 20 years,” Joyce explained. “And as in any other field, many lesser known trial lawyers sought to emulate their success by borrowing from their methods and strategies.

“Are the known crimes of these three litigation industry titans the proverbial ‘tip of the iceberg?’” he continued. “Bill Lerach himself told the Wall Street Journal in a published report that unlawfully paying plaintiffs in order to file class actions first and thus secure the lucrative position of lead counsel was ‘industry practice.’

“If Congress has time to investigate steroid use in baseball and the videotaping of defensive play-calling in professional football, one would think it could find time to investigate whether our civil courts are being routinely corrupted by those who can profit handsomely in doing so.

“In addition to problems with securities litigation, there’s also a growing body of bullet-proof evidence documenting endemic corruption in asbestos and silica litigation, and a 2006 Harvard School of Public Health study concluded that four out of every 10 medical malpractice lawsuits filed in America each year are groundless,” Joyce added.

“So why aren’t chairmen of the House and Senate judiciary committees hurrying to schedule hearings? Do they feel a greater loyalty to trial lawyers than they feel to other Americans, all of whom would benefit if incidents of speculative and sometimes corrupt litigation were reduced?” Joyce asked.

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