Class Action Shakedown - Trial lawyers continue to exploit the American legal system. Will Congress finally stop the abuse?


Citizens for a Sound Economy

Public records document that the Democratic Party relies heavily on the financial backing of the trial lawyers. In fact, Democrats received more money from lawyers ($28 million) in 2002 than they received from organized labor. So it should not be too surprising to find Democrats supportive of the interests of trial lawyers. The more interesting question is why are trial lawyers so partisan? Do trial lawyers have an ideological preference for big government, higher taxes, and weak defense? Or perhaps, do they have a financial interest that requires trial lawyers to invest heavily in politics to protect that interest?

How do trial lawyers make their money? They sue people, businesses and institutions. The easier it is to sue and win the suit, the more money the trial lawyers make. To make it easier to sue, trial lawyers invest heavily in politicians who will write laws that tip the judicial balance in favor of the trial lawyers’ clients. When successful, the trial lawyers make more money because they can bring more suits and then win a higher percentage of those suits. In other words, the trial lawyers’ investment in the Democratic Party is a straightforward business transaction. Ideology does not enter the equation.

The profound constitutional problem with this cozy business relationship is that our legal system serves a far more important purpose than as a piggy bank for an elite group of trial lawyers. The U.S. legal system is one of the crown jewels of our Democracy. It provides a peaceful and predictable way for adversaries to resolve disputes. Therefore, the success of our judicial system depends upon the trust and faith of the people that the rules are fair and outcomes are just and consistent.

Fewer and fewer Americans view the civil justice system as fair and just – and therefore the civil justice system must be reformed. We must restore the basic trust that is at the core of an effective judicial system. A good place to start is with the class action system. A recent poll commissioned by the Institute for Legal Reform found that 67 percent of Americans believe that lawyers benefit most from the current class action lawsuit system. The system was not intended to benefit lawyers, and yet 2/3 of Americans believe that is exactly who benefits most from the current class action lawsuit system.

The original intent of the class action lawsuit was to allow similarly situated people to go to court as a group. For instance, suppose the water authority routinely overcharged its customers. The customers could sue as a “class,” rather than each one suing the water authority on his own. The initial purpose of class action lawsuits was to save time, allow the courts to more efficiently handle multiple similar disputes, and provide access to the courts for people who have suffered losses.

Unfortunately, pure greed has led many trial lawyers to exploit this legal device to enrich themselves at the expense of businesses and consumers --- with fair and efficient justice a tragic casualty. It’s a slick game that these trial lawyers play. The pick a company to sue and then go to a state court with judges elected with trial lawyer dollars and “certify” a class of plaintiffs – most of whom don’t even know they’re suing the company. The problem with allowing trial lawyers to pick friendly local judges for these massive cases is, as even The Washington Post points out, “a judge accountable to a single county can make decisions regulating products distributed nationwide.”

The Class Action Fairness Act, which has passed the House of Representatives and will soon be voted on in the Senate, restores balance to the class action system. Most importantly, the legislation makes it easier for class action suits to be moved to federal courts, where judges are appointed for life, have broader national interests than state judges, and where the rules for certifying a “class” are more transparent and fair.

A clear majority of the United States Senate supports the Class Action Fairness Act. But trial lawyer supporters in the Senate have made clear they will attempt to block the legislation which - in the world of the United States Senate – means the legislation will need 60 votes to pass.

The need to stop this type of common sense legislation is exactly why trial lawyers invest so heavily in the political process. Politicians, however, even on the liberal side, care more deeply about constituent support than they care about campaign contributions. In fact, campaign contributions are mostly used to buy ads to build constituent support. Senators, therefore need to hear from their constituents on this legislation. Senators need to hear the message “End Lawsuit Abuse.” The vote will be close and citizens who want to take back our legal system from the elite trial lawyers can make the difference by calling and writing their senators demanding support for class action reform.

A free society needs a functioning judicial system. For those of us who love freedom, we need to stand up and restore a system that is essential to protecting our basic freedom and liberty. We need to support the Class Action Fairness Act.


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