- The Washington Times - Monday, April 21, 2003

Republicans are pressing legislation to rein in lawyers, who are among the Democratic Party's most generous donors.
Last week two Republicans introduced a Senate bill that would cap lawyers' proceeds in massive settlements, such as the 1998 settlement between states and tobacco companies. Several other Republican initiatives, such as medical-malpractice reform, are also moving through the legislative process.
Lawyers topped the list of campaign contributors to the nine Democrats running for their party's nomination to challenge President Bush in 2004. They gave Democrats more than $5 million in the first three months of this year, according to figures released this week by the Federal Election Commission.
"If we gave contributions to Republicans, this would not be an issue," said Washington attorney John P. Coale. "This is purely political."
The debate over tort reform is expected to become even more contentious as the 2004 presidential campaign gets under way.
One Democratic candidate, North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, was a successful personal-injury lawyer before his election to the Senate in 1998. He often boasts of his big wins.
He and other lawyer-funded Democrats want to defeat President Bush, who as Texas governor ushered litigation reforms into courtrooms and has since made reforming medical malpractice lawsuits a top agenda item.
"It's really gotten quite serious," said Ken Hoagland, spokesman for Texans for Lawsuit Reform. "It's beginning to resonate with the public as predatory litigation has begun denying people access to health care all over the country."
Earlier this month, three doctors for the Toronto Blue Jays resigned after the Canadian Medical Protection Association dropped coverage for doctors dealing with teams in American sports leagues.
Perhaps no place will be more of a political battleground for this debate than Mr. Bush's home state.
"We are a microcosm of what's coming in this presidential election," said Mr. Hoagland.
Texas lawyers who made millions before Mr. Bush's reforms took effect still have plenty of money. And they're investing it in Democratic presidential candidates, especially Mr. Edwards.
Texas has been the fourth-most-generous state this year to Mr. Edwards' campaign. He raised more than $1 million in Texas, much of it from lawyers. Last year many Texas lawyers wrote checks to Mr. Edwards' political action committee for $25,000 or more.
"In the abstract, Republicans may think this is a good issue," said Jennifer Palmieri, spokeswoman for Mr. Edwards. "But behind each case there is a person who was hurt, and on the other side there is a business that had hurt them. Sen. Edwards is always going to be on the side of people."
Mr. Bush got a political lesson last year when he went to Mr. Edwards' home state to release a government report on the need for medical-malpractice reform. The report not-too-subtly mentioned one of Mr. Edwards' enormous victories and referred to it all as the "legal lottery."
Mr. Edwards wasted no time setting up an interview with the father of the child he represented in that case who said he didn't feel like he'd won the "lottery" when he visited his son's grave.
"If they want to make that an issue, bring it on," Miss Palmieri said. "We'd love to have that debate."

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