The close working relationship between some state attorneys general and private trial lawyers — in which the AGs hire the lawyers to represent their states for a percentage fee of the haul — is not a new topic to us here at Overlawyered, but it’s nice to see it getting aired at length in the Dec. 18 New York Times piece by reporter Eric Lipton. The title gives a good introduction: “Lawyers Create Big Paydays by Coaxing Attorneys General to Sue” and in fact the private lawyers who commonly pitch the suits are themselves sometimes former state attorneys general, such as Michael Moore of Mississippi (of longstanding fame here), Patricia Madrid of New Mexico, Patrick Lynch of Rhode Island, Drew Edmondson of Oklahoma, and Peg Lautenschlager of Wisconsin. A few excerpts:
- Law firm donations to AGs or “party-backed organizations that they run” “often come in large chunks just before or after” inking contracts to represent the state. A sidebar chart, “Political Gifts from Plaintiffs Lawyers,” confirms that most of the money flows to partisan attorney general associations ($3.8 million to Democrats and $1.6 million to Republicans over a decade) or state parties ($1.5 vs. $445,000) as opposed to candidates directly ($2 million vs. $240,000, not counting AGs running for governor).
- When various AGs signed a brief to the Supreme Court supporting the plaintiff’s side in a securities litigation case, it was after being sedulously cultivated to do so by the lawyers.
- “…at least three former attorneys general are pitching painkiller abuse cases to states nationwide, although no state has yet publicly signed up.” More on the Chicago and California-county painkiller cases here.
- Yes: “‘Farming out the police powers of the state to a private firm with a profit incentive is a very, very bad thing,’ said Attorney General John Suthers of Colorado, a Republican and a former United States attorney.”
Full article, again, here. Michael Greve has further commentary on why it’s often AGs from small states who take the lead and whether business really started it all.
Trial lawyer and inveterate Litigation Lobby booster Bruce Braley lost his Iowa senate bid (“He comes across as arrogant, and I think it’s because he is,” said an unnamed Democratic official.) Sen. Mark Pryor, chief Senate handler of the awful CPSIA law, lost big.
Massachusetts voters again rejected Martha Coakley, whose prosecutorial decisions we have found so hard to square with the interests of justice. The Wisconsin Blue Fist school of thought, which sees organized government employees as the natural and truly legitimate governing class, met with a rebuff from voters not only in Wisconsin itself but in neighboring Illinois (where Gov. Quinn, of Harris v. Quinn fame, went down to defeat) and elsewhere. Colorado voters rejected GMO labeling, while a similar Oregon bill was trailing narrowly this morning but not with enough votes to call.
California voters rejected Prop 46, to raise MICRA medical liability limits, require database use and impose drug testing of doctors, by a 67-33 margin, and also rejected Prop 45, intensifying insurance regulation, by a 60-40 margin (earlier).
I’ve written a lot at my Free State Notes blog about the governor’s race in my own state of Maryland, and unlike most others was not surprised at Larry Hogan’s stunning upset victory. The politics category there includes my letter to Washington Post-reading independents and moderates about why they should feel comfortable electing Hogan as a balance to the state’s heavily Democratic legislature, as well as my parody song about what I thought a revealing gaffe by Hogan’s opponent, Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown.
George Will, hard-hitting but on target, on what happened to people who took the wrong side of the Wisconsin public-employee wars:
The early-morning paramilitary-style raids on citizens’ homes were conducted by law enforcement officers, sometimes wearing bulletproof vests and lugging battering rams, pounding on doors and issuing threats. Spouses were separated as the police seized computers, including those of children still in pajamas. Clothes drawers, including the children’s, were ransacked, cellphones were confiscated and the citizens were told that it would be a crime to tell anyone of the raids.
Earlier on the Wisconsin John Doe raids, including this Cato piece. More Will:
Chisholm’s aim — to have a chilling effect on conservative speech — has been achieved by bombarding Walker supporters with raids and subpoenas: Instead of raising money to disseminate their political speech, conservative individuals and groups, harassed and intimidated, have gone into a defensive crouch, raising little money and spending much money on defensive litigation. Liberal groups have not been targeted for their activities that are indistinguishable from those of their conservative counterparts.
Such misbehavior takes a toll on something that already is in short supply: belief in government’s legitimacy. The federal government’s most intrusive and potentially punitive institution, the IRS, unquestionably worked for Barack Obama’s reelection by suppressing activities by conservative groups. … Would the race between Walker and Democrat Mary Burke be as close as it is if a process susceptible to abuse had not been so flagrantly abused to silence groups on one side of Wisconsin’s debate? Surely not.
Readers who followed Overlawyered in 2009-10 will recall that the closest this site has ever come to a crusade was in covering the truly horrible Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008, enacted after a media-fed tainted-toy panic, a law that needlessly drove out of business many small retailers and manufacturers of children’s goods posing no hazard whatsoever to consumers. Some will further recall that the chief Senate handler of the legislation was Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Arkansas), who cut a poor figure throughout as both ill-informed and dismissive about the side effects his own legislation was having.
Now Sen. Pryor is locked in a tight race for re-election with challenger Rep. Tom Cotton, and a group called the Arkansas Project has been reminding readers of Pryor’s record on CPSIA, digging up many new details in an August series written by Washington, D.C.-area policy analyst Marc Kilmer (who generously credits Overlawyered coverage as a source throughout). Most of the series can be found at this tag or via search. Here is a guide to individual installments in the series, supplemented by links to further coverage from our archives:
Arkansas voters — and everyone who wants to learn how a Congress can fail spectacularly at its legislative responsibilities — should read this series in full.
“It is a truism that laws tend to be arranged for the benefit of the political class.” Even so, would you expect Connecticut law to provide that private employers must hold open the jobs of full-time elected officials for as much as eight years in case they decide to return? My new blog post at Cato has details.
Paul Caron at the justly admired TaxProf blog has been patiently documenting the IRS scandal since the start and his daily link roundups are now as relevant as they have ever been. More: CNN, John Hinderaker/PowerLine, A. Barton Hinkle (finger of responsibility points at Congress), Peter Suderman. Earlier here, etc.
Update: IRS said on Tuesday that computer crashes swallowed without a trace the emails of several other employees central to the nonprofit-targeting probe, and admitted it waited months to tell congressional investigators that it did not expect to produce Lois Lerner’s emails.
From a September New Yorker profile by writer Ryan Lizza of Tom Steyer, the billionaire political donor promoting environmental causes:
Steyer is, at first glance, an unlikely leader of the environmental movement. He is rangy and square-jawed, and he has exquisite establishmentarian credentials, to say nothing of a vast pile of money. He honed his raffish sense of humor at Phillips Exeter Academy, and went on to get degrees from Yale and Stanford business school. Before starting his own fund, he worked at Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley….
This must represent the New Yorker editors’ special idiomatic use of the word “unlikely” to signify “clichéd, stereotypical, and exactly as you would expect.” William Tucker has written at more length about the subject.
Sen. Harry Reid seems to have been central:
“We felt really good the last couple of days,” said the tech lobbyist. “It was a good deal—one we could live with. Then the trial lawyers and pharma went to Senator Reid late this morning and said that’s it. Enough with the children playing in the playground—go kill it.”…
Trial lawyers are heavy donors to Democratic politicians, including Reid. … The long history of the divide over other kinds of legal tort reform loomed over the bill, which was dubbed the Innovation Act in the House. The fact that it was the trial lawyers’ lobby that reportedly delivered the death blow suggests that the rift only got wider as debate dragged on.
Key Litigation Lobby allies like Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) spoke out against the legislation on the Senate floor. [Joe Mullin, ArsTechnica]
A federal judge has quashed the stunningly abusive “John Doe” proceedings that had resulted in midnight raids on the homes of leading conservative activists across the state. I’ve got more in a new Cato post; fuller coverage at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Watchdog.org (and series), and the decision itself is here. Earlier coverage here, here, and here. I conclude:
The citizens of Wisconsin must now demand a full accounting of how these raids could have happened. They should also insist on changes in state law, in particular the “John Doe” law, aimed at ensuring that nothing like them ever happens again.
Update: Seventh Circuit panel stays ruling pending appeal.
After a long career as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives deeply unsympathetic to business concerns, he became a restaurant owner in Washington, D.C., and discovered a lot of things worth knowing about how the world works [Thomas Heath, Washington Post] More: Greenfield.
Laws requiring campaign donation disclosure can reinforce conformist pressures, notes my colleague Ilya Shapiro on the episode of the tech CEO who stepped down after an outcry over his donation to California’s Prop 8 campaign a few years ago. [Forbes] On the wider significance of the episode (not mostly one of law or regulation, since the government did not and in my view should not get involved either way), I recommend Conor Friedersdorf’s careful analysis in the Atlantic.