For the past few years, trial lawyers have been on a gravy train ride across the country.
Their first stop? Alabama.
Earlier this month, former Alabama State Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore (40 percent) bested incumbent appointed Senator Luther Strange (33 percent) in the first round of the hotly-contested primary to fill U. S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions' seat in the Senate. Unfortunately, if a trial lawyer-backed elected official like Roy Moore were to win the runoff election on September 26, it could pose a significant setback to any legal reform efforts in the United States Senate.
Moore has long been aligned with prominent trial lawyers in Alabama, and they have rewarded him with their hefty campaign contributions ever since his nomination to the State Supreme Court. According to AL.com, campaign disclosures reveal Moore's 2012 campaign for chief justice received more than $46,000 (in just one month!) from individual plaintiff trial lawyers or their firms, which was nearly half of his total collections for the month of June. Plaintiff lawyers donated roughly $55,000 of the $310,000 in total that Moore raised in a bid to regain the seat stripped from him in 2003 when he refused to follow a federal judge's order to remove a Ten Commandments monument from a state court building.
In fact, notorious Alabama-based plaintiff's lawyer Jere Beasley has been a very public benefactor of Moore over the years. Just last week, Beasley sent around a slew of emails urging employees of his Beasley-Allen firm to support Moore's Senate candidacy. Beasley wrote, "Roy Moore is the only candidate who will stand up to [special] interests and who will be good for our clients' interests." Last month, Beasley made two contributions to Moore's campaign totaling $5,000.
When examining Moore's past decisions in the Alabama Supreme Court, it becomes increasingly clear he sympathizes with his trial lawyer friends. In 2001, he "came down hard on arbitration" in a case involving a contract dispute between two doctors and a Selma hospital. His dissenting opinion surely would have served to benefit trial lawyers like Jere Beasley, who reportedly called it "the strongest thing he's read against arbitration in five years."
Though the happenings in Alabama illustrate how trial lawyers have infiltrated the Republican Party in their own state to further liability expansion, the gravy train also has stops in the state of Georgia. In 2013, the Executive Committee of the Georgia Republican Party appointed Republican Micah Gravley as the party's nominee for an unanticipated vacancy in the state legislature. Although Gravley was approached by "several folks in the community" to consider the post and counted among his supporters the district attorneys from the counties in this district, the fact that he continued to serve as the grassroots director for the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association is a boon for that organization in the long run.
Successful legal reform efforts generally enjoy bipartisan support, but Republicans are almost always the ones leading the charge. The developments in Alabama and Georgia, with the personal injury bar helping sympathetic candidates such as Roy Moore or Micah Gravley win public office as Republicans, are examples of the trial bar looking to expand its political reach outside of just one party.
Whether it is the U.S Senate, Georgia or any other state, this development makes essential reform of the civil justice system increasingly difficult.
Tiger Joyce is president of the American Tort Reform Association in Washington, D.C.
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