I am very proud to be called a trial lawyer. I know that trial lawyers have made a tremendous difference in a number of areas that are of concern to the public. For example, many products are safer today because of the dedication of lawyers who have represented victims of wrongdoing and abuse and have forced needed changes in Corporate America. Those changes would never have happened without the involvement of trial lawyers and the judicial system.
In addition, wrongful conduct, including fraud in corporate America, has been exposed through litigation. A prime example is the whistleblower litigation that has exposed massive frauds in government contracts. Payday lenders’ outrageous interest rates and huge fees of all sorts have been successfully challenged in the courts.
While there is much yet to be done, tremendous progress has been made on a number of fronts. I believe the area where results can be readily seen is in the automobile manufacturing industry. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration – or NHTSA – has been almost totally ineffective in regulating this industry. A prime example is in the area of safety-related recalls. As we all know, over 60 million vehicles with safety defects have been recalled in the U.S. this year. Over 20 million of the recalled vehicles were made and sold by General Motors. Millions of vehicles with the defective Takata air bags are now being recalled and that saga is far from over. None of this would have happened had it not been for trial lawyers and the courts.
As most of you should know by now, the Federal government does a poor job of regulating industries. I am not aware of a single industry that has been adequately regulated. I know from experience that the automobile, pharmaceutical, medical device, oil and chemical industries are not adequately regulated. In most instances, it’s sorta like the “tail wagging the dog.” The public – and unfortunately even the media – has been led to believe that government at both the national and state levels has overregulated industry and that it has cost jobs in the U.S. That’s a myth that has to be overcome every time a victim files a lawsuit against a corporation that is regulated by the government.
We have seen in case after case corporations putting their profits over safety. The corporate bean-counters actually do an analysis in many cases to see what it will cost their company to keep a product known to be defective on the market. The costs of litigation are weighed against the costs related to fixing a known safety problem. Prime examples of that sort of thing involve Toyota and General Motors.
It is absolutely essential to keep the nation’s courts independent, open, and accessible. Without an independent court system that is accessible, victims of corporate wrongdoing and abuse would be left without a remedy when they are damaged. Lawyers who are totally dedicated to helping victims obtain justice must also be available. Those lawyers must be willing to take on powerful interests. To represent clients effectively, a trial lawyer must possess both skill and courage. I know from experience that the arena in which trial lawyers work is no place for the weak of heart. We must also be willing to take risks and have the resources available that are required when taking on corporate giants. Perhaps the most important requirement for a trial lawyer is not to be afraid to lose in court.
The judicial system, while an essential part of government at both the national and state levels, has been under constant attack. Smart folks in corporate America coined the term “tort reform” years ago and set out to destroy the civil justice system. Sadly, trial lawyers and consumer groups were all “asleep at the switch” and allowed that term to set an agenda for the following decades. The use of the term “reform” indicated something in the court system was broken and in need of a fix. I have to give those who devised this strategy an “A-plus,” but that doesn’t make what they did right. In fact, it was morally reprehensible. Fortunately, trial lawyers and some brave politicians fought back and kept the judicial system alive.
The right to jury trial is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. However, corporate America has done its dead-level best to take this fundamental right away from the American people. I believe we have made a real mistake in not making our defense of the judicial system, a defense grounded on the Seventh Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. We could have learned a valuable lesson from the National Rifle Association.
Courts that are independent of undue influence and political pressures are absolutely necessary if justice is to be done when disputes arise between individuals and powerful corporations. Trial lawyers must take an active role in the political arena, be willing to take a stand for that which is right, and oppose all that is wrong in America.
The judicial system has been under constant attack by groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, The American Tort Reform Association and other groups that share a common agenda. Their agenda is to protect corporate wrongdoers in America. A prime example of how our opponents operate is the recent unjustified attack on the Alabama Supreme Court that received national attention. Our Court was singled out as being a bad court simply because it ruled in one case contrary to what one special interest in corporate America wanted.
If our nation is to remain strong and free, the American jury system must be protected and preserved. If the jury system is weakened, the American people will suffer. The jury is the one place where politics and political pressure should have no effect. We all have a moral duty to work hard to make sure our courts remain open for all people. This is a battle that requires each of us to get involved and to stay involved. We are facing opponents that are well-financed and dedicated to their mission. We must be just as dedicated and willing to engage in the ongoing battle. Ordinary folks depend on trial lawyers to fight the battle for them. It’s a battle they can’t afford to lose.
As I mentioned at the outset, I am very proud to be called a trial lawyer. Looking back over the years, I can say without hesitation that I tried my very best to make a difference. Hopefully, I have had some success in doing just that.
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