Wednesday, September 15, 2004


The Progress Report

CHENEY HYPOCRISY WATCH: A recent Los Angeles Times article proclaimed, "Cheney Says Rivals Too Cozy With Lawyers." The Vice President might want to watch how hard he throws stones from his glass house. Consider his former corporation Halliburton's cozy relationship with lawyers. A watchdog site,, has found that while Cheney was at the helm, Halliburton filed 151 claims in 15 states around the nation, petitioning America's legal system an average of 30 times a year; most actions were filed against other corporations. Halliburton currently is suing former employees who complained when the giant corporation sliced retiree health care benefits.

WHAT ABOUT MEL? President Bush claimed, "I don't think you can be pro-patient and pro-trial lawyer at the same time…I think you've got to make your choice." Or do you? The Bush campaign is taking pains to attack trial lawyers, while at the same time quietly handpicking the former president of the Florida trial lawyers' association, Mel Martinez, for a Florida Senate seat. As Greg Casy, president of the Business Industry Political Action Committee, put it, he wasn't "just a trial lawyer, but a big trial lawyer."

President Bush has made an overheated attack against so-called frivolous lawsuits one of the cornerstones of his campaign. Last Thursday, Bush said, "In order to make sure health care is available and affordable, we've got to do something about the frivolous lawsuits that are running good doctors out of practice and running up your health care costs." He also charged, "we must protect small business owners and workers from the explosion of frivolous lawsuits that threaten jobs across America." Scratch below the surface and, as with far too many of Bush's policies, you'll see who really benefits from his drive to curb the right of Americans to sue: powerful corporate interests. Corporate America spends billions of dollars to maintain access to the White House and Congress to make sure their interests are heard. But the average American citizen, lacking access or money for powerful lobbyists, use the courts as a place to be heard and receive justice.

PLAYING POLITICS WITH THE LAW: Yesterday, the Republican-controlled House took his lead and approved a measure "requiring sanctions against lawyers who file lawsuits deemed frivolous." Republicans didn't bother to take any pains to hide the fact that it was a measure driven purely by politics: Tom DeLay of Texas, the majority leader, called it part of "John Edwards Appreciation Week." The legislation, which imposes major financial penalties and potential contempt citations, would be sure to have a "'chilling effect' on bringing suits and could make it harder for less-affluent Americans to retain legal counsel if lawyers were nervous about facing sanctions."

LITIGATION DOWN: President Bush has vilified trial lawyers for everything from driving doctors out of medicine to driving health care costs up to devastating small businesses. The numbers don't back him up. Recent data put out by the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics showed, "The number of civil trials in the nation's 75 largest counties dropped by 47 percent from 1992 to 2001." Plaintiffs won about half the time, but the overall damages award shrank from $65,000 in 1992 to $37,000 in 2001.

FOLLOW THE MONEY: Much of Bush's drive to attack trial lawyers comes from the enormous financial support he's received from powerful corporate interests. In this election cycle, Bush's campaign has received over $4.4 million from insurance companies and almost $26 million from miscellaneous business interests. Business interests were also active on Capitol Hill: A study by Public Citizen shows, "at least 100 large companies and trade associations have employed 475 different lobbyists who pushed for class action legislation from 2000 through 2002."

CONTRADICTED BY THE TRUTH: The studies the Bush administration relies on for political attack directly contradict its arguments. Bush and Vice President Cheney have been using a new report by the American Enterprise Institute, a Republican-leaning think tank, to bash Kerry's proposal to overhaul health care. What Bush and Cheney don't mention: that same AEI study reports that there are no cost savings from medical malpractice reform. It cites a Congressional Budget Office study that concluded that medical malpractice reform – in general – would have little or no impact on health care costs. "Malpractice costs account for less than 2 percent of healthcare spending," said the CBO. That means even a drastic drop in premiums would cut the nation's health care bill less than one half of one percent.