Posts Tagged ‘Tort Reform’


Mississippi’s points of lights - no longer “Judicial Hellhole”

Thursday, December 13th, 2012

The American Tort Reform Foundation released its latest “Judicial Hellholes” report and Mississippi doesn’t appear on the list of hellholes, on the watch list and is not even noted in the dishonorable mentions.

In fact, the Mississippi Supreme Court and the Mississippi legislature both are praised in the “Points of Light” section for actions dealing with the use of no-bid, private contingency-fee lawyers by the Attorney General.

From the report:

Mississippi Supreme Court Reins in Attorney General’s Alliance with Plaintiffs’ Lawyers.

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, possibly the most storied user of contingent-fee agreements in the hiring of private-sector personal injury lawyers to enforce state law, will now need to comply with good-government safeguards if he intends to persist in the controversial practice. In a pair of rulings this year issued in a consumer protection lawsuit against Microsoft and a tax collection case against MCI, the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled that the attorney general may not enter settlement agreements that require defendants to pay the fees of contingent-fee lawyers directly. Settlements are public funds that must be deposited into the state treasury, the court found. Agreeing with the state’s auditor, the court found that the attorney general may only pay private attorneys fees out of his approved legislative appropriation or contingent fund. The auditor had challenged respective payments of $10 million and $14 million to private lawyers in the two cases. It remains to be seen whether the rulings will provide needed oversight of the attorney generals’ ability to bypass the legislative appropriations process or will simply lead him to take the extra step of depositing settlement money in a state account, then writing a multi-million dollar check to the private lawyers. As noted in the legislative Points of Light, the Mississippi Legislature’s enactment of the Transparency in Private Attorney Contracts Act this May also should help safeguard the public and protect the due process rights of defendants by requiring the private lawyers to keep detailed time records, placing reasonable limits on contingent fees, precluding private lawyers from being compensated based on the amount of fines they impose, and establishing an “Outside Counsel Oversight Commission,” comprising the governor, lieutenant governor and secretary of state.

…and…

Mississippi

  • Led by Mark Baker, Chairman of the House Judiciary A Committee, with key support from House Speaker Philip Gunn and Senate Judiciary A Committee Chairman W. Briggs Hopson III, Mississippi safeguarded state hiring of private lawyers on a contingent-fee basis (H.B. 211). Not surprisingly, current Attorney General Jim Hood fought final passage of the legislation with everything he had, including campaign communications designed to scare citizens and rally them against the much needed good-government legislation.

Jurisdictions that made the “Judicial Hellhole” list include California; West Virginia; Madison County, Illinois; New York City and Albany, New York; and Baltimore, Maryland.  Meanwhile Philadelphia; South Florida; Cook County, Illinois; New Jersey; Nevada; and Louisiana all made the “Watch List.”

You can read the full report here: Judicial Hellholes 2012/2013.


Judicial Finance Reports - Trial lawyers, Republicans, big money, the usual suspects

Wednesday, October 31st, 2012

Here are some various observations on the pre-election campaign finance reports filed by candidates yesterday for Mississippi Supreme Court and Court of Appeals.

The two incumbents in the races have raised the most: Bill Waller ($470K) and Mike Randolph ($429K). But Flip Phillips has raised the most of a non-incumbent ($415K). Here is a chart with the numbers from this filing period as well as total year-to-date.

Central District

Bill Waller - Waller isn’t campaigning blind. His report notes $15,537 paid to the Tarrance Group for polling.

Some contributions of note to Waller include: Mississippi Federation of Republican Women ($500), 2003 GOP nominee for Attorney General Scott Newton ($500), Northern District MDOT Commissioner Mike Tagert ($500), Jim Barksdale ($500), Palazzo for Congress ($1000), Bomgar CEO Joel Bomgar ($1000), former Appeals Court Judge and MSGOP Chairman Jim Herring ($250), Koch Industries of Kansas ($1000), Mississippi Association of Educators PAC ($5000)

Earle Banks - Banks has spent $36,200 on media, $2500 on signs and $14,000 to Zata3 which does polling and robo-calls. He also advertised in the Rankin County News - a Republican and likely Waller area of strength.

Some contributions of note to Banks include: former Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Chuck McRae ($1000); Democratic Senator John Horhn ($500); Democratic Senator Bennie Turner ($350); Democratic Representative Bryant Clark ($2500), former Democratic Secretary of State Dick Molpus ($500); Shane Langston ($5000); and each in for $2500 McCraney, Montagnet & Quinn; Hawkin/Gibson; Porter & Malouf; the Diaz Law Firm; Merrida Coxwell; Rebecca Langston; Casey Langston Lott.

According to the report, Porter & Malouf gave $2500 on October 9 and another $5000 on October 29 which would clearly break the campaign contribution limits. To be fair, sometimes that happens in a campaign and typically the campaign will return the amount above the limit (which is what I assume they did with a $2500 disbursement to Shane Langston) - or - the contribution should have been listed as coming from an attorney at Porter & Malouf instead of the firm.

Northern District

Flip Phillips - Phillips has placed $307K on television and billboards and has paid $11,500 to Public Opinion Strategies for polling.

Some contributors of note to Phillips include: former Democratic Congressman Travis Childers ($500); author and former Democratic Representative John Grisham ($5000); former chief-of-staff to Governor Ronnie Musgrove David Cole ($500); the firm of Democratic State Representative David Baria, Baria-Williamson PLLC ($500); Democratic state Senator Bennie Turner ($500); the Kitchens Law Firm ($1000) made up of three sons of current Supreme Court Justice Jim Kitchens; Tracie Langston ($5000); the Liston family: Brenda Liston (Homemaker - $5000), William Liston III (Lawyer - $5000), Jeanne Liston (Homemaker - $5000), William Liston (Lawyer - $5000); Ashley Ogden ($5000); Christie Ogden ($5000); and many of the names you see above on the report from Earle Banks: Timothy Porter of Porter & Malouf ($2500), Patrick Malouf of Porter & Malouf ($2500), Casey Langston Lott ($5000), Hawkins/Gibson ($2500), Merrida Coxwell ($2500), the Diaz Law Firm ($2500), Shane Langston $2500. Phillips also posted $5750 in 48-hour-reports.

Josiah Coleman - Coleman has placed $110K on paid media. Some contributors of note to Coleman include: Mississippi Association of Educators PAC ($1000); former MSGOP Chairman Clark Reed ($500); Palazzo for Congress ($1000); Haley’s PAC ($1000); Koch Industries of Kansas ($1000); MS Federation of Republican Women ($500); Retzer Resources - former MSGOP Chairman & Ambassador to Tanzania Mike Retzer ($1000); Kelly Segars ($1000). Former Governor Haley Barbour is a big get for Josiah. A more interesting story from this report is the contribution from Segars, an Iuka physician who formerly served on Phillips Campaign Finance Committee and now has apparently retracted from that position to back Phillips’ opponent.

Southern District

Mike Randolph - Randolph spent $184K on media advertising and $16K on yard signs. A few noteworthy contributions include: Mississippi Federation of Repubican Women ($500); 2007 GOP nominee for Attorney General Al Hopkins ($250); Palazzo for Congress ($1000); Friends of Billy Hewes ($500); Koch Industries of Kansas ($1000).

Tal Braddock - Braddock received a $2000 loan from Strategic Financial Resources, LLC / Joseph Leland Speed.

Court of Appeals

EJ Russell - Russell spent $400 on radio advertising with WMPR and $800 on signs. She received $500 from MS Federation of Republican Women.

Ceola James - James…is still in the race.

A Final Thought

Trial lawyers are providing the bulk of contributions to Flip Phillips and Earle Banks with many of the same names on both reports, but the campaigns have mirror messages. Flip says his opponent lacks legal experience; meanwhile how many cases has Earle Banks been on as the attorney of record? Earle complains about the large amount of campaign funds his opponent has raised; meanwhile Flip is out-raising everyone but the incumbents. So if the issue isn’t experience and the issue isn’t “big money” then what could be motivating the supporters of Phillips and Banks?

The motivation is what it has long been in supreme court races in Mississippi. Banks opposed tort reform in the legislature. Phillips has argued that damage caps in tort reform are unconstitutional. The issue of the constitutionality of most of Mississippi’s tort reform has yet to have been addressed by the Mississippi Supreme Court. This race, despite the smoke and mirror attacks against Waller and Coleman, is really about the future of Mississippi’s business climate and lawsuits.


Court’s punt on damages shifts attention to Northern District campaign

Friday, August 24th, 2012

The Mississippi Supreme Court’s decision to decline to answer the U.S. Fifth Circuit on whether Mississippi’s cap on non-economic damages is Constitutional postpones the inevitable: an eventual answer. Justice Mike Randolph wrote on behalf of the majority, “The constitutionality of a statute is not to be addressed ‘abstractly, speculatively, or in the manner of an academic discussion’ but rather in the context of its clear application.”

One day a case with clear application will be decided by the Mississippi Supreme Court. That day will come after this November’s elections in which three seats on the Court are being contested, a fourth - Justice Leslie King - has no opposition.

In the Southern District, Justice Randolph faces Gerald Talmadge Braddock. I wrote back in July:

Challenging Randolph is Gerald Talmadge Braddock, a Vicksburg native practicing law in Hattiesburg where his firm specializes in “serious personal injury, matrimonial law, and criminal defense.” Braddock lists his “area of expertise” as “DUI cases, Mass Tort Litigation with major pharmaceutical manufacturing companies, personal injury claims, criminal defense.” On his web site, Braddock notes he is the youngest lifetime member of the Mississippi Trial Lawyer Association (now called the Mississippi Association for Justice) where he says he serves on the Board of Governors.

Braddock recently opened a Gulf Coast office to focus on litigation regarding the Deep Horizon oil drill disaster. Last month he said on his Twitter account, “If somebody said ‘Free Money In Mississippi’, there would be a riot. Well, I’m saying it, ‘Free Money In Mississippi From the BP Oil Spill’”.

Randolph’s campaign is well funded, supported by all sides of the legal community, well organized and should be successful over Braddock who has struggled to gain financial support or build a grassroots network.

In the Central District, Chief Justice Bill Waller, Jr. faces State Representative Earle Banks. As I wrote last month, the nature of the district makes this race competitive, despite Waller’s fundraising and organization advantages. Banks consistently opposed tort reform in the legislature, there is no indication he would change his mind on the Court.

A victory by Braddock or Banks would create a seismic shift on the Court in favor of trial lawyers. But for those supporting Mississippi’s tort reform including the caps on non-economic damages, the greatest concern should be the open race in the Northern District.

Josiah Coleman, a defense attorney from Oxford, has been endorsed by the Mississippi Association of Realtors, the Mississippi Medical PAC, BIPEC and the Mississippi Manufactures Association. The Mississippi Republican Party endorsed Coleman and this week an e-mail from GOP National Committeeman Henry Barbour and former GOP Chairmen Brad White, Arnie Hedermann and retired Judge Jim Herring (a Fordice appointee formerly on the Court of Appeals) endorsed Coleman and blasted his opponent Flip Phillips:

But while business organizations are rallying around Josiah, his opponent – Flip Phillips – is attempting to conceal his liberal Democrat ties. The truth is Flip Phillips is the former President of the Mississippi Trial Lawyer’s Association and has contributed upwards of $15,000 to Ronnie Musgrove, Jim Hood, Chuck McRae and the Democrat National Committee. He also led the legal effort to overturn the tort reform that helped stop trial lawyers from making Mississippi a legal hellhole.

Phillips is not just a practicing trial lawyer, he is a philosophical advocate for the plaintiffs bar and his election to the Court would not just be a vote but a clever voice of persuasion to move the Court away from the established balance. From my column in June:

Coleman’s opponent is Richard T. “Flip” Phillips of Batesville, a former president of the Mississippi Trial Lawyers Association (now Mississippi Association for Justice). Early in the campaign, Phillips, a well regarded and successful attorney, was being presented to many in the business community as a candidate they could support. But his view of the civil justice system, as discussed in an article published in the Mississippi Law Journal in 2001 titled “Class Actions & Joinder in Mississippi” is exactly the opposite of what state business interests want in a judge.

Phillips wrote, “the fundamental purpose of civil litigation today is shifting from a strictly compensatory purpose to regulatory or punitive purposes.” At a symposium discussing the article, he argued Mississippi became “lawsuit central” in the country not because of the excessively high verdicts, but rather, because the rest of the country was not as enlightened as Mississippi. Rather than reform lawsuit abuse in Mississippi, he seemed to argue the rest of the country should become more like the Magnolia State. In another presentation Phillips argued the elected branches of government have failed to do their jobs and “regulation by litigation” could address policy issues involving tobacco, guns, insurance, health care and product liability.

Because the constitutionality of damage caps could come before the Court, Phillips and Coleman can’t address the issue in the campaign. However, in a 2009 case from DeSoto County, Phillips represented a plaintiff against a construction company who won a $30 million judgment: $13.7 million in noneconomic damages. Because of the damages cap, the trial judge reduced that portion of the verdict to $1 million, leaving $17.2 million for the plaintiff. Phillips appealed arguing the damage cap was unconstitutional and asked the Court to strike it down. The plaintiff and the construction company settled before the Court had an opportunity to decide the issue.

The Court’s decision yesterday not to answer on the constitutionality of Mississippi’s non-economic damage caps should focus attention on the race in the Northern District. While it is unknown how the Court will rule when the question finally and fully comes before it, the perspective of Phillips is clearly known as he has argued before the Court it is unconstitutional.


InJustice producer: “I don’t come up with solutions. I bring awareness”

Wednesday, June 13th, 2012

Last week I wrote about the film “InJustice: A Film About Greed & Corruption in America’s Lawsuit Industry” which interviewed a number of Mississippians and featured the wrongdoings of other Mississippians. The film was screened in Jackson, Mississippi as part of a nationwide tour. Here is a quick video recap of the reactions.

As a follow up to my column (read here: ‘InJustice’ and state’s trial lawyers) I was able to sit down with Brian Kelly, the film’s producer, before the screening.

Kelly’s background includes 27 years in network filmmaking including senior roles at Discovery and Investigation Discovery. What peaked his interest in this subject was an article from Reader’s Digest on the silicosis case thrown out of court in Texas when Judge Janice Jack determined many of the medical records were falsified. Kelly said the article provided a great outline for a film including trial transcripts and story action.

Kelly explored that case along with Milberg Weiss scandal involving among others William Lerach and Mel Weiss, and of course in Mississippi the Scruggs Scandal. Of Lerach, Weiss and Scruggs, Kelly said, “The film is not meant to bash lawyers…[these lawyers] had one thing in common when we finished the film, they were all in jail.”

With the Scruggs Scandal, Kelly said what bothered him the most was how attorney Johnny Jones described the Scruggs legal strategy as a stool with three legs: politics, public relations and the law. He said when looking at how politics and public relations played into the cases he thought, “Wait. Isn’t this supposed to be about justice?”

He said the film cut a lot of “man on the street” interviews for time sake, but generally the response was “that’s just lawyers; that’s what they do.” He said that apathy is troubling and it is difficult for anyone or any business to do the right thing if they’re afraid of getting sued by lawyers who use the law as a club and a threat.

That fear of uncertainty extends beyond big companies, and the apathy in the average citizen toward certainty in the law diminishes confidence in the legal system.

Kelly asked, “If you’re IBM and you can’t get justice, how can a single mom going into court in Jackson, Mississippi get justice?”

Kelly said the film is about abuse in the legal system by specific individuals and does not deal with policy issues. “I’m a film maker. I don’t come up with solutions. I bring awareness,” Kelly said. He said if the film somehow makes things better, that’s a great thing. But it doesn’t keep him up at night trying to change the world because that isn’t his job: “I doubt I’m going to change policy. State legislators: that’s their job.”

As to a follow up film on legal abuses, Kelly said there is a great appetite for more, “I feel like there’s another movie ready to be made.” But he wouldn’t elaborate on his next project, he said, until it has the green light for production.

Kelly said his favorite part of this project is connecting with the viewers. In television, his feedback essentially was make a show, get the ratings, make another show. Now he gets direct interaction from e-mail and social media, as well as in the screening tour questions and answers and watching an audience react.

As to suggestions that this film is an answer to the movie “Hot Coffee” he said he was unaware of that production until after he had finished “InJustice.” He said sometimes people are better able to dismiss a film they don’t like if they label it. So some people call this a “tort reform” film and put it in that box so they don’t have to confront it.

But you can confront it anytime you want, now, even if you missed the screening. The film is available for purchase as a digital download ($4.95) or DVD ($13.20).


RR: Gallo’s radio family; The judicial pendulum

Thursday, October 29th, 2009

Doing a little catch up this week, so here are my two most recent columns.

Fans of Super Talk Mississippi may find my interview with Paul Gallo interesting. From a cotton farm in Shaw, Mississippi working for his first-generation American parents, to Chicago, to general manager of the Super Talk flagship station, whether discussing his colleagues or audience he always speaks of “family.”

You can read the column online at the Madison County Journal: Perry / Gallo’s radio family

Last week I wrote about the Mississippi Supreme Court. Some say it swings like a political pendulum and that in 2008 it had become too friendly to civil defendants and needed to be moved back toward the plaintiff / trial lawyer position. I suggest rather than a pendulum, the Court should be a plum line - flush with statute and the Constitution.

You can read the column online at the Madison County Journal: Perry / Judicial pendulum swings


RR: Barbour’s politics rooted in jobs

Thursday, October 1st, 2009

Governor Haley Barbour has been on a roll lately pushing his message of jobs through smart energy, health care, and tort reform policies.  I write about it in my column this week, but below are links to some of the items I discuss.  You can read the full column at The Madison County Journal online: Perry / Barbour’s politics rooted in jobs


Tort reform needed in health care reform debate

Friday, September 4th, 2009

Lex Taylor, Chairman of Mississippians for Economic Progress, has authored a piece on the necessity of tort reform as a component of health care reform.  Here are some excerpts:

Don’t take my word for it. Democrat Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus wrote in a health care reform paper, “Careful reforms of medical malpractice laws can lower administrative costs and health spending….A serious effort at comprehensive health care reform, then, should address medical malpractice.” Baucus argues tort reform would lead “to improved patient safety” and move physicians “away from the costly practice of defensive medicine and toward the best quality care.”

Before our reforms, Mississippi witnessed a decrease in available medical care because malpractice insurance rates discouraged new entrants to the medical field, encouraged seasoned physicians to seek early retirement, and made specialty practices (like OBGYNs) cost prohibitive. Following the passage of the Mississippi Tort Reform Acts of 2002 and 2004, the frequency of medical liability litigation diminished and Mississippi’s largest medical liability carrier reduced premium rates and issued premium refunds in the double digits annually. Mississippi, like other states that limited noneconomic damages, witnessed insurance premiums plummet and doctor shortages dissipate.

Physician shortage is a real threat to America’s health care. The Association of American Medical College predicts a doctor shortage of 124,400 by 2025. If you believe there are 46 million Americans currently unable to receive medical care that will enter the health care marketplace with President Obama’s reforms, then you can agree we will need more physicians or we will all face severe shortages. Medical malpractice reform opens the door to more doctors. Without tort reform, we’re sure to see patient lines getting longer.

Civil litigation reform can improve the climate of health care practice in America as it did Mississippi. Doctors practice less defensive medicine thus lowering overall industry costs. Patients and doctors have improved patient relationships. Lawsuit abuse no longer pushes doctors into early retirement removing valuable experience and expertise from the medical field. More doctors mean greater choice, opportunity and patient access.

A fair health care reform bill should consider federal limits on non-economic and punitive damages, limits on lawyers’ fees, elimination of joint liability to ensure only those at fault pay, shorter statutes of limitation, mandatory pre-litigation filings, and “safe harbors” for doctors in compliance with the same protocols required in government backed coverage.

We cannot sue our way toward lower health care costs. Tort reform will lower health care costs, reduce waste, enhance the quality of care, encourage new doctors to address patient access, and increase choice and competition. Health care reform without tort reform is no reform at all.

You can read the full column online at the Madison County Journal: Taylor / Tort reform critical to health reform


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