- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 28, 2001

Senate Republicans are planning to introduce legislation that would limit the fees trial lawyers can charge their clients in civil cases.
The proposal, whose working title is the "clients' bill of rights," is being spearheaded by Sen. Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican.
"It will be coming," Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, said. "It's an issue we might want to have considered on one of the bills this fall. We're developing the language. I love the idea."
But Democrats, who receive hefty campaign contributions from the trial lawyers' lobby, are raising objections.
"I think it would be very difficult to infringe upon the right to access to courts," said Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat. "We ought to protect people's rights as they relate to holding businesses and individuals and, for that matter, the government, accountable."
Mr. Lott said he envisions the proposal limiting the fees from jury awards and civil settlements to "not more than 10 percent per lawyer." Traditionally, plaintiffs' lawyers take one-third of a client's award; they get nothing if they lose a verdict.
The issue likely would provoke a fierce response from the trial lawyers' lobby. Lawyers and law firms ranked first among 80 industries in campaign donations in the 2000 election cycle, giving a total of $108.2 million, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks money in politics.
That total was nearly double the amount given by lawyers to politicians in the previous two-year cycle, and 69 percent of it went to Democratic candidates. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat, led all congressional candidates last year, with more than $1.4 million donated by lawyers and law firms.
A spokesman for the Republican Study Committee, a group of about 60 conservative House members, said the proposal to limit trial lawyers' fees "is certainly something we'd be interested in working on."
The fees earned by trial lawyers have provoked renewed criticism in recent years with class-action lawsuits in tobacco and asbestos cases resulting in windfalls to attorneys in the hundreds of millions of dollars. One of the most celebrated trial lawyers is Mr. Lott's brother-in-law, Dick Scruggs.
A Senate Republican aide said, "Next to the labor unions, there's nothing more important to Democrats than the special-interest money from the trial lawyers. We want to make sure the American people understand that, and that Republicans are working to protect their rights from being exploited."
The idea of a "clients' bill of rights" is also a payback of sorts by Republicans, who believe Democrats duped voters by naming their bill to regulate managed-care companies a "patients' bill of rights."
"If you ask [voters] 'Are you for the Bill of Rights?' Yeah, they're for the Bill of Rights," Mr. Lott said. "'Bill of Rights' is a great term. It's the new term. It may be even supplanting 'reform.' The passengers' bill of rights, the patients' bill of rights. … What about the 'Clients' Bill of Rights' not to be overcharged by their plaintiff lawyers?"
Mr. Daschle said he has heard such talk before and says conservatives are being hypocritical.
"This is an ongoing debate," he said. "I find it oftentimes very amusing that these so-called 'states' rights advocates' are willing to completely eliminate states' rights when it comes to decisions like this. There are states that have already set limits and have made these decisions, but they want to override those states and come right to the federal government for assistance in this regard, which I think is a double standard that I think they have difficulty explaining."

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