- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 1, 2000

Columnist's case against litigation should be dismissed

The expression "regulation through litigation" is simultaneously catchy and vacuous, especially when uttered by those such as Pete du Pont ("From the statehouse to the courthouse," Commentary, Dec. 7), whose groundless claims actually serve to undermine the civil justice system.
&160;&160;&160;&160;&160;&160;Mr. du Pont attempts to make his case by way of the recent tobacco settlement. To assess the settlement as an example of "regulation through litigation" is simply wrong. The resolution of a legal dispute whether settled, as in the case of the tobacco litigation, or by jury verdict is not codified into state or federal law. A settlement is little more than each side's view as to the outcome of the case if it were to reach a jury.
&160;&160;&160;&160;&160;&160;The tobacco industry's settlement with the states and the District has not stopped tobacco manufacturers from discontinuing sales of their deadly products just as the $51.5 million verdict against the Philip Morris Cos. Inc. in March in San Francisco has not. A jury verdict in New York against gun manufacturers for negligently marketing and selling their products has not stopped the legal sale of handguns.
&160;&160;&160;&160;&160;&160;What this litigation has accomplished is to hold companies accountable when they profit from marketing dangerous products products they, more often than not, knew were hazardous.
&160;&160;&160;&160;&160;&160;Yes, many lawyers do routinely work pro bono, while others risk large financial investments to win cases with no guarantee of ever recouping their costs.
&160;&160;&160;&160;&160;&160;For example, Montana attorney Roger Sullivan spent five years working on his clients' case against two executives who cheated workers out of a profit-sharing arrangement at an aluminum plant. Mr. Sullivan and his law partner took out an $850,000 bank loan to pay expenses for the case. After the case was settled, Mr. Sullivan decided he could not justify the full fee sanctioned by the judge and gave most of it to the plant employees.
&160;&160;&160;&160;&160;&160;Likewise, there are lawyers who are willing to give back significant punitive damages or a portion of a settlement in exchange for commitments from defendants to make safer products. Many lawyers have donated millions of dollars for scholarships for college and law students or to charities, religious organizations and endowments.
&160;&160;&160;&160;&160;&160;While it may surprise Mr. du Pont, these well-meaning, substantial and worthwhile acts are positively shaping the legal landscape and making way for safe products.
&160;&160;&160;&160;&160;&160;RICHARD H. MIDDLETON JR.
&160;&160;&160;&160;&160;&160;Association of Trial Lawyers of America

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