Amid all the White House political contribution news stories, one special
interest story being overlooked is the large number of donations to the
Clinton political machine from personal injury lawyers. While it is widely
known that trial lawyers have contributed heavily to President Clinton and
the Democratic National Committee -- a Washington Times September 26 column
says the amount of such donations was $700,000 to the Clinton campaign and
$2 million to the Democratic National Committee by the spring of 1996 --
the recent scandals have focused elsewhere. Lawsuits against tobacco companies
are potentially the most lucrative lawsuits around for trial lawyers. Given
that fact, is it coincidental that the Administration's all-out war on tobacco
took place after the Administration took donations from trial lawyers? This
is, after all, the same Administration that virtually ignored the war on
illegal drugs during the president's first term. And it is the same Administration
whose top re-election consultant, Dick Morris was paid six figures by by
a firm of trial lawyers to do extensive polling on the American public's
attitude toward tobacco companies -- polling data Morris may have shared
with the White House. Is there a connection between campaign contributions
and the president's concern about tobacco to the exclusion of all other
We salute West Virginia attorney Bob Brandfass, who recently formed a
group he calls "Attorneys for Integrity," encouraging lawyers
to pledge that they will not contribute to the election campaigns of judges.
According to the Charleston Daily Mail, Brandfass began his group
because he's gotten a "queasy feeling" when campaign committees
of judicial candidates have asked him for money. Says Brandfass to other
lawyers: "Have you ever gotten that queasy feeling that if you don't
contribute, it may one day come back to haunt you or your clients?"
Brandfass is to be congratulated for speaking out against what he calls
the "inherent conflict in a system that allows a judicial candidate,
through his or her committee, to seek financial contributions from those
very individuals who will later be in front of him or her requesting rulings
on disputed matters."
Brenda K. Leer writes in the San Diego Business Journal that she
was awarded a whopping 93 cents in a class action lawsuit she knew nothing
about -- while the lawyers received more than $140,000. Leer's credit card
company settled a lawsuit over wording on monthly bills because it was cheaper
to settle than to go to trial. Leer said that even though she now has "93
cents to blow," she's not coming out ahead: "The bank with which
I do business spent countless hours dealing with the lawsuit. The legal
fees and administrative costs to issue thousands of 93 cent checks were
ultimately passed on to customers. In fact, just issuing this check cost
more than I received. This is time and money that could have been spent
making the bank more competitive and consumer-friendly." Adds Leer:
"Unfortunately, what's at the core of some of these suits is not a
desire to seek change in the best interest of the 'wronged' class, but rather
a desire to capture a big settlement."
Our thanks to Joseph Perkins of the San Diego Union-Tribune for inagurating the "Stella" awards to honor, or, as Perkins says, dishonor, the "most outlandish lawsuits of the year." The Stella Award is sutably named for Stella Liebeck of Albuquerque who won a $2.7 million judgement against McDonald's last year for spilling hot McDonalds coffee on her own lap.
Among Perkins' first annual Stella awardees is Carol Roland, who was awarded $2.1 million by a New Hampshire jury after she was attacked by a pit bull in her friend's apartment. Ms. Roland faced legal bills of approximately $40,000. But did Ms. Roland sue her friend, the owner of the pit bull? Why no. Ms. Roland sued the owner of the building. Does anyone doubt that her attorneys helped Ms. Roland identify the deeper pockets?