Cheap ambulance chasers are bad enough, but far worse are those high-powered plaintiffs attorneys who chase big bucks by manufacturing the impression that a catastrophe has occurred. Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee will consider the judicial nomination of one of those sleazy profiteers. John J. “Jack” McConnell Jr. has no business getting within hailing distance of a federal judgeship, and the committee should dismiss him.
Mr. McConnell has built a net worth of $15 million - with an additional $35 million due in deferred compensation - via corporate-bashing class-action lawsuits that push the limits of claimed liability beyond all reason. In turn, he and his wife have donated almost $700,000 to Democratic Party groups and candidates over the past two decades, including 19 current senators (three of them on the Judiciary Committee).
But it was a major case that Mr. McConnell lost that showed how far beyond the pale he was willing to push legal standards in search of another huge payday.
After serving as a major 1998 campaign supporter for rising Rhode Island Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse (who is now a senator on the Judiciary Committee), Mr. McConnell persuaded Mr. Whitehouse to let him lead a lawsuit on behalf of Rhode Island against several paint manufacturers. Seeking billions of dollars, the lawyers wanted to make manufacturers liable for lead poisoning found in children in the late 1990s even if the paint purported to be responsible for the poisoning had been produced decades before - even if it was unclear which companies made the paints in question and even though state law made homeowners or landlords responsible for allowing access to peeling lead paint.
Industry sources have noted that the U.S. Departments of Commerce, Interior and Agriculture, among others, recommended lead paint for its durability well into the 1970s but that most paints used for interior purposes began substituting titanium for lead as early as the 1940s. Trying to prove corporate guilt in such circumstances was nonsensical.
On Feb. 7, 2009, the Providence Journal - just months after endorsing the liberal Barack Obama for president - weighed in. It blasted the “state’s preposterous scheme to raid the coffers of paint companies, with the help of liability lawyers who were pushing a novel - make that ludicrous - interpretation of nuisance law. Anybody could make a mistake, but this one violated basic precepts of law crucial to a just society.”
This came after the Rhode Island Supreme Court squashed the suit, adopting the view that Mr. McConnell’s legal theory would be as absurd as it would be to hold brewers or cell-phone companies liable for accidents caused by drunk or distracted drivers. “The state has not and cannot allege any set of facts to support its public nuisance claim,” the court wrote.
Left on the hook were Ocean State taxpayers, who had to pay the $242,000 in legal fees for the paint companies vindicated in the case. There’s no reason why Mr. McConnell, the political wheeler-dealer lawyer who took those taxpayers on such a wild ride, should be given a lifetime position as a federal judge.