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Why fighting judicial campaign money matters

In broken tort reform, buying elections, debunking the myth, ideology, medical malpractice, MI Supreme Court, propoganda, Uncategorized, undo tort reform on June 13, 2013 at 2:57 pm

In response to an article posted on Mother Jones (“Secret Money Is Now Swaying State Judicial Elections“), I posted the following:

There is a strong “Why should I care?” aspect to judicial buying.

Here is a scenario: you go to your local hospital with an emergency.  Through negligence or error you receive injurious care.  You wish to sue.  You shop your case to local attorneys first, but few

lawsuit lotto

lawsuit lotto (Photo credit: Shira Golding)

show even slight interest.  Small town lawyers need medical care too.  You call the big firm that funds the state’s hockey team.  Their nurse indicates that your case is “not a winner” and wishes you luck.

You find out that because of malpractice caps (put in place to protect innocent doctors from “runaway juries” and “slick lawyers”), counsel is hesitant to take any case that is not an outright slam dunk.  No gray area cases or ones which a jury could be swayed.  The cost of litigation is just too high.  Counsel has to find an exact equal physician to testify (their expert will be put on a mini trial within the trial) before the trial, submitting an Affidavit of Merit (these start at $1500 and go up, depending on the hired gun).  Then this expert must testify at trial, and already your case is running up quite a tab (a contingency fee for a capped case starts at $25,000–which sounds like a lot until you break it down into costs and fees).  So, Counsel picks only obvious winners.  Others get a smile and well wishes.  Merit has little bearing.
So, with the Statue of Limitations running (two years is typical so that physicians don’t have the “fear of litigation” looming over their heads), you push on, convinced that your bad doctor should be ferreted out of the system; that he should not be harming others like he harmed you.
In order to file your case, you will need to, six months in advance, file a Notice of Intent.  This gives the doctor six months (actually, it gives his insurance carrier–he will not have any direct contact with the case until called to testify–and few ever make it that far) to prepare.  Medical records are shared (HIPAA is automatically waived and your medical records are shipped around from insurance office to Defense Counsel to their own expert witness hired guns).  You give up all claims to HIPAA protections when you move to sue.
The six months pass and Defense (as they are now known–usually a well-healed firm from a large city on retainer by the insurance company) establishes their contingency case, reading to throw motions for dismissal as soon as the actual Complaint is files (the Notice of Intent is really a preview or draft of the Complaint).  The Complaint is filed and the Affidavit of Merit is supplied (if there is more than one defendant–say the physician and the hospital for lack of adequate oversight–the cost of this “pre-litigation requirement” moves into the tens of thousands).
Defense will immediately file a Motion to Dismiss, attacking the Affidavit of Merit (mini-trial even before the trial starts–Defense strategy is to have the case thrown out before a jury ever hears it).
Your small case, up against the best legal counsel in your state, will have many options for the judge to dismiss it.  The legislators in your state, fearing that “good doctors” will seek less litigious states, have enacted (often at the heading of the insurance lobby) “tort reforms” (think of “Hot Coffee”) that give the judge ample discretion to head Defense’s claims.
Elected judges, backed by a packed “tort reformed” legal structure, biases your legal claim from the beginning.  Upon appeal, additional panels of judges, also elected, will determine the validity of this structure.  An appeal to the State’s Supreme Court, also elected, will “rule” along party lines almost exclusively.
You are still injured, probably for life.  The bad doctor is still “practicing,” injuring others who, themselves, will have no legal recourse.
Insurance wins (the don’t lower their rates in accordance to the numbers of cases filed–only 1 in 8 of valid cases are even filed–and few of them make it to trial–fewer still result in a verdict for the injured party).
Bad doctors are not held accountable.
Injured patients will seek the medical care for their injuries available to them: most often at the public’s expense (Medicare/Medicaid).
And if the judges are elected, then the legislation that has also been “influenced” by campaign money, headless of legitimacy, stands.
Medical Malpractice is the 6th leading cause of death, ahead of victims of gun violence.
With a purchased judiciary, there is no justice.
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It’s good to be the king

In broken tort reform, buying elections, Campaign Finance, medical malpractice, MI Supreme Court, undo tort reform on April 15, 2013 at 10:03 pm
English: A Photograph of the Michigan Supreme ...

English: A Photograph of the Michigan Supreme Court building located in downtown Lansing, Michigan. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When Mel Brooks had that as a running rif in his “History of the World, Part 1,” it was the excesses of the French Court he was lampooning (skeet shooting serfs was one gag).   The saying, though, applies to the Michigan Supreme Court today, with no revolution in sight.

The legal doctrine of Rooker-Feldman allows a state judiciary to be immune from federal oversight.  That is, a state court’s decision cannot be second-guessed by the federal court system…only the by the Supreme Court.

That is a fine system for upholding Jim Crow or enforcing Med Mal “tort reforms” (yes, I consider them to be of the same ilk).  Without a literal act of Congress (and good luck on that), a state judiciary can lay out a series of ruling that, because of stare decisis becomes the de facto law of the land.  If a case comes up through the appellate channel that challenges the precedent law-scape, just choose not to hear it. Because it takes 4 of 9 to hear a case, a stacked court (like the present Michigan Supreme Court) has virtual carte blanche to NOT hear any case that might upset the delicate balance that they have worked so hard over the last 20 years to erect.

With Gov. Rick Snyder‘s conservative appointment this last month, the “balance” of the court is now well in favor of keeping things exactly at the status quo

So, if you are too poor to sue, you better hope you live in a state that is NOT Michigan OR you physician you malpracticed on your ass lives in another state.  That way you can sue in Federal Court where they have determined that the Affidavit of Merit leads to injustice (as have numerous state courts–OK, LA, WA, IL, OH, NY, VT).

If you live in Michigan, and your physician was in Michigan, you either pay to play or you go home.  No other options.

If you appeal, you will be denied by stare decisis.  If you appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court, you get a one page letter stating “heard and denied” for your troubles.  Appeal that to the US Supreme Court, and you waste your time (they take up about 1% of the cases filed).

Forget about Federal Courts other than the Supreme Court of the United States, federal district courts will dismiss on Rooker-Feldman.

For the sitting Michigan justices, it is good to be the king.

For the insurance and medical groups who have financed their campaigns, who have paid over the years to have their ALEC laws enacted, it is really, really good to be the king.

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How expensive is it to file a Medical Malpractice claim?

In broken tort reform, debunking the myth, Get the Ca$h, ideology, medical malpractice, undo tort reform on May 9, 2012 at 7:31 pm

Inherent in any claim is the cost of bringing the action.  Who is going to pay is the question, cutting both ways, in every

The Barrister's Dream

The Barrister’s Dream (Photo credit: Bonnetmaker)

case.  Will the medical practitioner/institution pay its fair share for the pain, suffering and death it/they inflicted?  Will the plaintiff pay the cost of bringing suit in an environment where the odds are greatly stacked against her?  The real answer is too often on the latter.  The plaintiff, hurt, injured or dead (the survivors seeking justice) will, all too often, bear the costs of trying to obtain justice.

Please be advised that under Michigan’s ethical rules, all costs of litigation (copies, postage, deposition fees, expert fees) are the ultimate responsibility of the client, even under contingent fee arrangements.   All of our clients sign written detailed fee agreements (citation).

So, you walk into a Med Mal attorney‘s office, or are wheeled in or such, and immediately you are, gently it is hoped, brought up to realize a strict and brutalizing reality: if the stars do no align, you will be the one on the hook for the pleasure of the experience.

It is well thought, although incorrect, that the plaintiff attorney will bear the costs of bringing suit.  With that line of reasoning, the argument runs like this: since the costs of litigation are high, and the plaintiff’s attorney takes such cases on a contingency basis, then the plaintiff attorney will only take the “valid” or “non-frivolous” cases as the plaintiff attorney will be on the hook for all of the costs of bringing the case (copies, postage, deposition fees, expert fees).

That commonly held belief is incorrect.  Patients are victimized by their physicians and then by the judiciary.  Once bitten, twice bit.

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Stealthy wealthy: How Harold Simmons’ political giving has benefited his business empire – Sunlight Foundation Reporting Group

In broken tort reform, buying elections, Campaign Finance, Donors, Get the Ca$h, medical malpractice, propoganda on March 14, 2012 at 8:25 pm

I no sooner post about a curious super PAC donor then I see how one really rich guy can wage war against what he sees as an injustice to the social order and get his way.  Even though I disagree viscerally, I don’t have a billion dollars to counter his efforts.

I will quote at length from the article,  Stealthy wealthy: How

BUDA, TX - NOVEMBER 2:  Conservative supporter...

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

arold Simmons’ political giving has benefited his business empire – Sunlight Foundation Reporting Group, for it sums the situation up neatly.  Bill Allison writes:

In Texas, Simmons has contributed to limit the ability of plaintiffs to sue. Among the larger recipients of his largesse is the Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC, which in May 2011 celebrated Gov. Rick Perry’s signing of a bill it lobbied for that contains provisions–including requiring plaintiffs in tort cases that lose to pay the fees of those they sued–long sought after by business interests. Simmons gave the group $1.9 million between 2000 and 2011. Perry has gotten more than $1.3 million in support from Simmons in his gubernatorial and presidential runs. Simmons also contributed $100,000 to the Yes on 12 campaign, a ballot referendum that allowed the Texas legislature to cap damage awards for pain and suffering in lawsuits against medical providers; Texas voters approved the ballot initiative in 2003. (emphasis added)

Under the guise of being pro-business (which is code for anti-individual), such social engineering is achieved through the judicious use of large amounts of cash.

While his harm is in Texas, and, arguably, the citizenship voted it in (the citizenry often votes against its own self interest), such activity occurs in Michigan.  Lower the dollar amounts and focus attention on electing the Supreme Court judges, and the mechanism is the same.

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Another Tort retort

In broken tort reform, Get the Ca$h, ideology, undo tort reform on November 1, 2011 at 6:53 pm

I have previously posted about writing a comment on a defense-attorney led site defending the documentary Hot Coffee.

I did it again.   My thoughts are too good to only post once 😉 , so here they are:

I think, by denigrating the main use of the Liebeck case in popular culture, that you are missing the point of both its use in the documentary and in political discourse. For just the very reasons you cite (it was, duh, coffee–nothing to sue over), that case has a special power. For those of your ilk, it embodies the over-reaching of those out for a free ride, meal ticket, or the like. In short, an abuse or misuse of the court.

For others, it is an example of how the courts act as a corrective agent against abuse, corruption, and incompetence (especially medical personnel). Without the correction of a good tort case, industry and business may well still be employing 10 year olds to pull the coal carts, attend segregated schools and the like.

Back to my point…the hot coffee case, suing for being stupid, is the distillation of talking points: until one learns more about it. Point is, the tort in that case worked. McDonald’s altered its practice (which had hurt 900 others to varying, shall I say it, degrees) to the point that such “accidents” (one of McDonald’s arguments–echoed here–was that with such a high number of servings that the accident rate was statistically insignificant: until it happens to you or to one you love) have been reduced.

What you fail to point out is that “tort reform” does nothing to mitigate such suits. Caps on damages, reduced statutes of limitations, affidavits of merit, pre-suit notices, witness requirements, etc., these work to bias a case toward the defense.

“Tort reform,” rather, provides defense with a ready stable of tactics and defences which to attack a case, shielding their clients from a frontal assault. It is defensive jujitsu.

So, with that, I wonder why, as defense counsel, you should complain so much… Nothing could be better for business than more examples of suing for being stupid.

Hot Coffee, torts and the Greater Good

In broken tort reform, debunking the myth, ideology, Think tank, undo tort reform on October 25, 2011 at 8:01 pm

It wasn’t until after I posted, what I thought was a rather eloquent comment, that I realized that the conversation over the documentary Hot Coffee over at the defense-attorney run site Abnormal Use had run itself out back in September and that, alas, my wise words were to go to waste.

So, I am reproducing them here:

I find both the initial “review” and especially the comments at times insight and always engaging.

A few items: a “review” turns to an apologetic when ideology intrudes. I fear this turns toward the latter.

The tort system, as one commenter has noted, works when a jury level-sets the community standard which, over time, settles into a remarkably fair system for recourse and redress. That is, if it is left to regulate itself. Already, at least in my state, there are court rules that define frivolous as well as the penalties for presenting one. Anything else is just biasing the judiciary, which helps no one.

But there it is, the communal tone that, yes, underlies my comments–the larger good should be noted. With “tort reform,” the right to redress malpractice (which is one of the only real means of eliminating harmful physicians) becomes harder, even to the point that rights are neglected, bad medicine continues and protective and beneficial policies and procedures go unaddressed.

Was the coffee too hot? No, the coffee, which is supposed to be “hot” was, actually, “scalding” (for those who work with the plain language of statute, this should not be too quickly overlooked).

I do not order scalding coffee, nor do I have a reasonable expectation of doing so. I have an expectation of getting hot coffee just as I have the reasonable expectation that when I see a physician I will receive care and aid. When this doesn’t happen, then my open avenue to recourse allows me, a single individual, to influence the system, however minute, toward a greater benefit for both myself and others.

Michigan Courts dead last in Judicial Independence

In broken tort reform, buying elections, Campaign Finance, Get the Ca$h, MI Supreme Court on October 19, 2011 at 7:18 pm

I came a little late to this report

(WHICH STATES HAVE THE BEST (AND WORST) HIGH COURTS?)

Unfairness for All

(published in 2008), but the information and methodology presented (see below) probably has not changed in the ensuing years.

Taking to task the ranking put out each year by the Chamber of Commerce (the largest provider of republican court campaign money in Michigan), this study does NOT ask senior lawyers at large companies (Fortune 500) which states they like and don’t like (which are pro-business leaning and which are not).  The CofC:

… surveys ask senior lawyers at corporations that earn more than $100 million per year in revenues to grade state court systems, from A to F, and aggregate their responses.

No, this survey tabulated independence on how often a judge, affiliated with a stated party, went along with or dissented from that stated party.  That is, how much did they go along with their party (please note that a judge is SUPPOSED to vote as an independent arbiter of the law, NOT to be a representative of a political party).

According to the numbers, Michigan Justices vote in lock-step (I assume that the Democrats are just as bad as the Republicans on this).

Overall, it doesn’t make Michigan look good in a national survey…

At least the Parties are getting their monies worth.

Michlib Exclusive: Michigan Campaign Finance Network Exec. Dir. Rich Robinson (part 1 of 3)

In broken tort reform, buying elections, Campaign Finance, Donors, Get the Ca$h on August 23, 2011 at 5:40 pm

Rich Robinson, over at the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, presents some important reasons why the money in judicial politics makes for interesting justice.

 

George Bush Half-Truths to Control Courts: Discussions Medical Liability Reform | Political Video | George W. Bush Video Archive

In broken tort reform, debunking the myth, medical malpractice on December 11, 2009 at 10:22 pm

Ahh, the good ole days when boys who owned wanna-be ranches were able to pull the wool over everyone’s eyes:  sure there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, read-my-lips-no taxes, tort reform will save the economy, health care costs will be lowered by preventing injured people from being able to go to court…  Scary bedtime stories, no?  Well, seems Bush really was a true believer, or at least he seemed to believe everything he said.  Too bad no one else does anymore…  For those of you who don’t believe me, check out the creepy video below.  Can anyone give a shout-out to the white supremacist look-alikes in the crowd here?  That ought to tell you a bit about this clip before you even start. (Cause every good ole white boy knows that the women, poor, injured and ethnic minorities have no place in the courts, big ole important places where the “real” business is done right?)

Is this a KKK rally?  Just curious.

Based on a tip from Tom Baker’s book The Medical Malpractice Myth,” I found some video of then President Bush (43) arguing the following:

Many of the costs that we’re talking about don’t start in an examining room or an operating room. They start in a courtroom. (Applause.) What’s happening all across this country is that lawyers are filing baseless suits against hospitals and doctors. That’s just a plain fact. (Applause.) And they’re doing it for a simple reason. They know the medical liability system is tilted in their favor. (Applause.) Jury awards in medical liability cases have skyrocketed in recent years. That means every claim filed by a personal injury lawyer brings the chance of a huge payoff or a profitable settlement out of court. That’s what that means. Doctors and hospitals realize this. They know it’s expensive to fight a lawsuit, even if it doesn’t have any merit. And because the system is so unpredictable, there is a constant risk of being hit by a massive jury award. So doctors end up paying tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of dollars to settle claims out of court, even when they know they have done nothing wrong.

He was, as we shall see, exactly, oppositely wrong.

For live footage, click the following: George Bush Discusses Medical Liability Reform | Political Video | George W. Bush Video Archive.

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The Players: a Scribe to produce content: Mr. Patrick J. Wright

In broken tort reform, buying elections, ideology, MI Supreme Court, propoganda, Think tank on December 8, 2009 at 11:41 pm

We have already identified that a good, and inexpensive way to lobby the highest state court is to align, enlist or adopt an advocacy group (PAC, special interest…all really just IRS labels). We have also seen how one, lone writer can wrap up ideology in the form of editorials.

It is one such scribe which will be today’s focus: Mr. Patrick J. Wright.  He is:

is senior legal analyst at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, where he directs the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation. He joined the Center in June 2005 after serving for three years as a Michigan Supreme Court commissioner, a post in which he made recommendations to the court concerning which state appeals court cases it should hear.

We have heard about the Mackinac Center as an arm for “free market” legislation.  That is fine.  It is a free country.

I would note that when filling ones staff with experts, it is a good idea to find ones whose legal experience mirrors ones ideological profile.  That is, hire the ones who have said what you wish to say.  Assure pedigree.  Mr. Wright is the right person for this Right job.  In fact, if one is looking to influence the highest state court, find a person who worked for them, at a lower-level job (reading through the cases and making recommendations on which ones to take up) during the time that you wish to match ruling-wise (the 2003 court was very  conservative, pro-business and all about upholding “tort reform”).

Once on staff, free him up to write to his heart’s content.  You might even get him to land editorials for national news outlets.  His opinion, because it is just that, need not be grounded in fact.  In fact, facts may even begin to muck up a good argument, so be wary in employing them.

Once you have the right man for the job, produce the content, influence the vote, and let the right party win.