- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 28, 2002

Mississippi, which had gained notoriety around the country as a haven for frivolous litigation, took two major steps to remedy the situation in October and November, as the legislature voted for new limits on medical-malpractice and product-liability lawsuits. But a $6 billion defamation suit lawsuit, filed by two jurors against the CBS program "60 Minutes" earlier this month for running an expose about the state's lawsuit-dominated culture, is a telling indication of how pervasive the problem remains.
Just two days before the Mississippi legislature approved the product-liability measure on Nov. 26, "60 Minutes" broadcast a segment showing how trial lawyers searching the state for the most favorable places to file suit often settle on rural, impoverished Jefferson County as their jurisdiction of choice. Even more disturbing were allegations made by a local florist who took an obesity drug, then complained of chest pains and was found to have a major heart blockage. The man, now a millionnaire, told CBS that he hit paydirt as a result of a court settlement with the drug manufacturer. He said that jurors award large settlements "because they felt as if they were going to get a cut off of it."
"The jurors benefit? Is that what you're saying?" replied "60 Minutes" correspondent Morley Safer. "They benefit after court, and everything is over with. Yes, sir," the millionnaire plaintiff said, adding that the payments were usually made "under the table." Mr. Safer noted that similar stories about "jackpot justice" in Jefferson County have abounded for years.
To put it bluntly, this constitutes bribery, and these are serious charges that cry out for investigation. But two of the jurors who heard the aforementioned obesity drug case decided to short-circuit the process by filing suit against "60 Minutes" for $6 billion in, you guessed it, Jefferson County Circuit Court.
But they didn't stop there. The duo also named Wyatt Emmerich, a Mississippi newspaper publisher interviewed by CBS who provided a blunt critique of why large companies are afraid to locate in Mississippi because they fear arbitrary, capricious local juries. Mr. Emmerich pointed out that more lawsuits are filed in Jefferson County than there are people who live there. "It doesn't matter if the FDA says a drug is safe. The FDA looks at the benefit and looks at the potential deaths and says, 'the benefit is more than the harm,' " he said. But then, lawyers go to Jefferson County and talk about the deaths. "And then you say, 'Can you believe these people died? It's time to send a message that they can't kill Mississippians' … The next thing you know, some pharmaceutical company owes $500 million in punitive damages."
Why do these messages resonate with people like the jurors in Jefferson County? "These are disenfranchised people," Mr. Emmerich said. "These are people who have been left out of the system, who feel like 'hey, stick it to the Yankee companies. Stick it to the insurance companies. Stick it to the pharmaceutical companies.' The African-Americans feel like it's payback for disenfranchisement. And [some whites] say, it's like, 'Hey, you know, get back at' revenge for the Civil War." As a result, "it's very easy to weave this racial conflict and this class conflict into a big money pot for attorneys."
In short, the lawsuit should be seen for what it is: a blatant attempt to prevent "60 Minutes" and Mr. Emmerich from blowing the whistle on the possible abuse of the legal system in Mississippi. This is one lawsuit that ought to be thrown out of court right away.

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