Readers have been e-mailing since Friday evening asking what I really think about the wild $2.4 billion lead-paint abatement plan proposed by the state. Here is the official coverage of it by THE PROVIDENCE JOURNAL.
My candid assessment - and it's mostly from a public affairs perspective - comes down to this:
- The amount - which Halleland Lewis Nilan & Johnson attorney Scott Smith who represents Millennium Holdings calls "ridiculous' - is intended to be a symbol. It stands for the determination and political/legal skills that can snag big money for the state. The heroes, of course, are RI Attorney General and private law firm Motley Rice. From this positioning - which is temporary -could come a higher state/national profile for Lynch and more public nuisance business for Motley Rice. But, this path is strewn with risk. Should the "funny money" never become real money, the people probably will turn on Lynch. Buyers of legal services could steer clear of Motley Rice. In addition, if it can be shown statistically that these funny numbers and all the rest of the lead paint litigation follies drove businesses from coming to, expanding in or staying in RI, not only Lynch but this crazy kind of litigation could be over.
- Wall Street basically yawned about all this on Friday. The companies involved have demonstrated they know how to handle these bizarre developments. It probably helped that spokesperson for the defendants Bonnie Campbell, former Iowa Attorney General, said that no money would be paid until the appeal process is complete. That appeal process is at the stage of the state supreme court. My hunch is that it might move on to federal jurisdiction. No, folks, don't hope for a resolution in 2008.
- Yes, the defendants are being held hostage to all these proceedings, ranging from the appeals for a new trial to Judge Silverstein which they probably anticipated would be turned down to this abatement numbers game. This is just a have-to-do.
- By now, with all the roller-coaster developments in the RI Lead Paint Trial II alone [never mind what went on in City of Milwaukee and could go on in "Thomas"] people might be ready to listen to the defendants' side of the story, how this didn't have to happen, and how it can be avoided in the future. All the defendants in the lead paint public nuisance litigation, their trade associations, and their supply chains might form a coalition of their best communications strategists to reach these people. Anyway, this is going to have to be done if in Ohio the referendum on "117" gets put on the ballot in 2008.
- Humor is a brutally effective tool. "You did a heck of a job, Brownie." If the public-affairs head honchos have contacts in TV and radio, there could be a rollout of one-liners, skits, and fake news about what these AGs and plaintiff lawyers are really up to. The cabal of law enforcers and attorneys could just get laughed out of Dodge - or worse, as happened to "Brownie."
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