What was really going on during the Crusades - that is, the assaults on former lead paint manufacturers et al. by zealous state attorneys generals? Something very capitalistic: The transfer of wealth.
At stake were, are and will be billions, perhaps soon trillions, of dollars which are taken from businesses and, yes, taxpayers [think tobacco settlement] and handed over to plaintiff attorneys and political leaders. That's the interpretation of the role of the activist state attorney general, presented by Hans Bader of the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
Now that the most zealous of all and model for others Eliot Spitzer has been unmasked as not quite the pure and selfless fighter for truth and justice, the public, Congress, media, and other influentials might finally be ready to pierce the layers of populist rhetoric supporting this wealth transfer. Incidentally, CEI lists the top 10 worst as:
- Richard Blumental, Connecticut - the mastermind behind the tobacco Master Settlement Agreement which transferred $14 billion from business and smokers to plaintiff attorneys.
- Bill Lockyer, California.
- Eliot Spitzer, New York.
- Zulima Farber, New Jersey.
- Patrick Lynch, Rhode Island [sound familiar].
- Darrell McGraw, West Virginia.
- William Sorrell, Vermont.
- Lisa Madigan, Illinois.
- Peg Lautenschlager, Wisconsin.
- Tom Reilly, Massachusetts.
The planets seem truly aligned for tort reform. Today, as the legal and political powers-that-be move in on Spitzer [even Andrew Cuomo's dad got in the act], the Federal Society sponsored a forum called "Reaching Too Far: The Role of the State Attorneys General." Featured were attorneys general Bob McDonnell, Virginia, John Suthers, Colorado, J.B. Van Hollen, Wisconsin, and former Nebraska attorney general Don Stenberg.
In his summary of the key points made at today's forum, Bader noted that the problem is now being recognized by these state attorneys general themselves who represent a push to reform.
Among the topics discussed, reports Bader, were:
- How trial lawyers and lobbyists "descend like vultures" at attorneys general conferences, post the tobacco Master Settlement Agreement.
- How contingency-fee arrangements between state attorneys general and trial lawyers "breed conflicts of interest and prevent settlements in the public interest."
- How, in Wisconsin, real law enforcement was neglected as activist attorney general Lautenschlager devoted the office's resources to "ideological causes and nuisance lawsuits against businesses like cranberry growers."
- How outmoded court rules "can turn a meritless lawsuit into a dangerous weapon, such as state rules restricting summary judgment."
- How the tobacco Master Settlement Agreement "imposes disproportionate burdens on certain states." Examples include Colorado and Virginia.
Spitzer Unmasked might accelerate the reform being advocated by the presenters at the Federalist forum. But there are so many other public-interest issues that are emerging. They range from pesticides which a study in California found linked to autism to global warming.
The public is scared. Scared people, as we know from Germany post-World War I, are vulnerable to manipulation. It's going to require user-friendly compelling outreach to demonstrate that the public interest is not the interest of activist state attorneys generals and the plaintiff bar.