You retired from the Fortune 500 company (that did you well over the years) after deciding that you still had some productive years left and did not want to let the dream owning your own business slip away. Tonight you are attending your first meeting at your town’s local Chamber of Commerce. The speaker is Joe Schmegegy, the founder of Patriots For Tort Reform And A Better Civil Justice System (PFTRAABCJS), and he is offering you a chance to join his movement – NO, your movement – and do something about trial lawyers and jackpot justice.
Membership is only $250 per year. Your first thought is "why didn’t I think of this before Joe did – a low overhead business with a rock bottom start up cost and a product that will sell itself at every local Chamber chapter in the state." Your second thought is "might as well join, it will help my business and, besides, I am a conservative businessman after all."
As if he read your mind, a young man who recently opened an internet cafe across the street from your business, and is also attending his first Chamber meeting, is challenging Joe’s assertion that tort reform is something that our Founding Fathers would have embraced. "Who told you that," bellows Joe, "a trial lawyer?" "Actually," replies your new neighbor, "it is what Andrew Cochran says." "Isn’t he the TV lawyer that promises a settlement check within 8 hours of calling his 24/7 hotline," Joe asks, mistaking Andrew for Billy "Cha-Ching" Murphy (the Happy Hour alcohol is only a problem when Joe is questioned and forced to think at these presentations).
"No," said the young man, "Andrew Cochran has a very interesting background. He’s a life long conservative Republican who worked in the Reagan Administration, was nominated by W to be Inspector General of EPA and is a member of the Federalist Society. A lawyer and a CPA, he understands that the 7th Amendment to our Constitution was a clear annunciation by those Founding Fathers that each citizen is guaranteed the right to a jury trial. Tort reform, in fact, is an erosion of that right. In fact, he has offered a free meal at the nicest restaurant in Washington, D.C. to anyone who could cite one quote by any of the Founding Fathers that is pro tort reform. That offer was made more than two months ago and no one has taken him up on it yet. If you subscribe to his blog, The 7th Amendment Advocate, I will bet that you will find it enlightening."
As you process everything he is saying, you realize that you have been enlightened, and not by Joe. You also realize that, while the fears of failure felt by everyone around you are real, maybe there are ways to protect small business and also be true to the Constitution.
Tort reform is anything but a true conservative view. Though he did not invent it, Karl Rove is the first person to see that tort reform provided the Republican Party with a win-win position – it raises money for the GOP while simultaneously making it more difficult for lawyers representing real people to make a living, which in turn hampers fund raising for anti tort reform legislators and judges. Using that idea, he started with the Texas Supreme Court and got the ball rolling. It wasn’t about political philosiphy, it was about winning.
I think Andrew is right. If you don’t, send me your cite and I will arrange the best meal you ever had – for free.
Cum Laude graduate of Cumberland School of Law, Pet Mackey is a civil trial litigation expert who represents plaintiffs in business and consumer tort, contracts and construction, employment disputes and insurance. He is board certified as a Civil Trial Advocate by the National Board of Trial Advocacy, a Certified Alabama Mediator, and an “AV” rated lawyer by Martindale-Hubbell.