Kia Franklin

In Pre-Caucus Raucus, Obama Jabs Edwards and Trial Lawyer Profession

The Iowa caucus is tomorrow, and the candidates aren't holding any punches. Poll results show Obama, Clinton, and Edwards fighting neck and neck to win Iowans and inspire them to get out the vote. I also read that the candidates are expected to spend $200 per voter to affect its outcome.

In this environment, aggresive tactics and hard-hitting critiques of their opponents are to be expected. As a matter of fact, when the candidates aren't putting up their best fight, they face criticism for being too nice or diplomatic.

But it would be nice if these political jabs were based on something other than pure personal attacks that do nothing but play into the conservative agenda. Like Obama's quick jab at the trial lawyer profession, interpreted as a challenge against successful former trial lawyer and competitor John Edwards. According to WaPo, in a recent speech Obama emphasized to voters that he's "a normal person" who was squarely middle class until winning his Senate position. He reflected on how he could have taken lucrative career opportunities but that his dedication to public service prevented him from doing so. "That's why I didn't become a trial lawyer," he adds.

To my pleasant surprise, this comment has generated a good little bit of 'net-based broo haha among the left. For instance, Kos at DailyKos and TPM Cafe ask whether Obama's criticism is really meant to suggest that because Edwards was a trial lawyer he is less commited to public service. TPM Cafe includes a link, courtesy of the Edwards campaign, to a video statement by Sandy Lakey, Edwards' former client whose daughter was seriously injured by a faulty drain cover. (See here) They say this is the best response to Obama's challenge.

Obama's remarks not only assault a profession that is driven by representing "normal people"-who he claims to be and represent-in legal battles against Goliath-like opponents like big businesses; they also just don't make sense politically. For someone whose appeal is largely based on his fresh perspective and willingness to advocate for the average person, his attack of Edwards looks suspiciously stale and similar to those made in the last election.

Atrios succinctly critiques this move by Obama as something that looks like pandering to the conservative right. Alas, Obama's not alone among the candidates in his willingness to vilify trial lawyers. In fact, actually a while back I wrote about remarks made by Edwards which, ironically, appeared to advance the tort "reform" agenda more than hilight the importance of our civil justice system.

In this sense one could say that the attack on civil justice is a bi-partisan effort among the candidates. It's not just the trial lawyer remark, it's the willingness to accept what the right has said about the civil justice system, and to operate from that framework. Obama's quick willingness to suggest that the profession is antithetical to public service is just symptomatic of that problem.

By the way, a cursory little search for pro-civil justice statements among the candidates yielded very little meat. (Anyone got anything on this? Please feel free to share links in the comments section) It's like this isn't an important issue for them unless they're using it to attack one another or to jump on the tort "reform" bandwagon. Oh, how I'd love it if we could get the candidates talking about how we can improve the civil justice system for real people, so that they can use it more effectively to protect and advocate for themselves. (Stay tuned on this... more to come soon.)

Kia Franklin: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 4:42 PM, Jan 02, 2008 in Presidential Election
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I have dealt with many many trial lawyers over the years and a good percentage (albeit not a majority) of them are below pond scum in my opinion. Until the trial bar does a far better job of policing their own, they will continue to be held in low esteem by the public, and correctly so

Posted by: Paul W Dennis | January 3, 2008 12:11 AM

The problem is not how the trial bar is "policing their own"--the problem is the disingenuous attack on the profession. Okay, every profession has sharks, even the teaching profession has sharks. So let's get over that. But tort deformers make a point to blindly demonize all trial lawyers in order to undermine the tremendous good the profession does, not because they are seriously concerned with trial lawyers' morals/ethics (they sure were quiet about enron), but because they're afraid of trial lawyers' political influence and impact on the bottom line for businesses that are injuring people.

Posted by: Kia Franklin | January 3, 2008 10:45 AM

I am not a member of any tort reform groups although I have much sympathy with their aims. I am a member of H.A.L.T which seeks greater access to the courts and reform of legal ethics and the regulation of attorneys and I sometimes contribute to Institute For Justice, the only group in this country that cares at all about individual rights aganst the encroachment of government

And yes, the problem is that the bar does a deplorable job of policing its own, and the attacks against the trial bar are usually justified. The former ATLA is every bit as much of a big business as Merck, Exxon or Walmart, and should be regarded with exactly the same degree of distrust

Posted by: Paul W Dennis | January 3, 2008 7:12 PM

Kia: Torts are in utter failure in all its goals.

Most cases are weak. Technology drives safety, not land piracy. Each lawyer destroys a $mil in economic value. There is total, self-dealt immunity for rent seeking. Trials are contest between fairy tales, without any relation to reality. The word, evidence, is a set of bizarre delusions, when used by the land pirate. You have been indoctrinated to believe the supernatural. The core of duty is foreseeability. Yet, you refuse to give me tonight's lottery lottery numbers. You are far more likely to be correct about the numbers than about the next negligent act. Lawyers consume most of any payout. They turn down most injured plaintiff for irrelevant reasons, except presentation during the contest of fairy tales. Lawyers are the primary reason for excess prices and out sourcing. Business startups would double, but for land piracy. Our economic growth should be 9%, instead of 3%. The lost growth is due to lawyer theft in torts. The Chinese and Indians will buy this country at their growth paces.

Yet, you get all huffy at any loving criticism of the land pirate business.

I propose lawyer control statutes, and statutory exclusion of all lawyers from all responsible government positions.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | January 4, 2008 8:33 AM