Warning: Tobacco money can cause headaches, depression, and a deep-seated hatred of lawyers and politicians
Editorial written by on Tuesday, June 6, 2000
JEFFERSON CITY -- Last week the Missori Court of Appeals rejected Peter Kinder's lawsuit challenging the ability of Attorney General Jay Nixon to hire private lawyers on behalf of the state. At issue is the hiring of lawyer Tom Strong and others to assist with the tobacco litigation in 1997. Nixon argued -- and the court agreed -- that Attorney Generals have had the ability to appoint "special assistants" since the founding of Missouri.
To that I say: The law needs to be changed!
It's bad enough that Jay Nixon hired three-dozen trial lawyers under a contract in which they could have potentially earned over $400 million if the case had gone to trial. However, Tom Strong, a prominent Springfield lawyer, and his law firm, had donated $17,000 and participated in other fundraisers for Nixon's campaigns. Nixon did give back part of the contributions, $2,000, to silence critics in 1998. Nevertheless, the message is clear: Donate money to the Attorney General and receive a sweetheart deal in return.
Unfortunately the shenanigans in Missouri's Attorney General office are only the tip of the iceberg when compared to other states. The lawyers who represented Mississippi, Texas, and Florida received $8.1 billion (that's not a typo) by an arbitration panel even after a Florida judge ruled that a lesser amount was "excessive". Lawyers in other states received similar deal. Indeed, some lawyers received millions even though they didn't actually perform any work in litigating the case -- they merely signed their name to the roster of plaintiffs.
The "Good Ole Boy Network" is certainly alive and well. It's time for change. Missouri already has laws against nepotism; if a state official hires a relative they immediately forfeit their job. We need similar laws for what I call "nixonism" -- hiring people who previously donated money for your campaign. Nixonism should not be tolerated in any self-respecting democratic government.
We also need strong legal reforms that would put an end to this madness once and for all, but that might be too much to ask while the Democracts control statewide officies. Browse through Overlawyered.com and you'll never look at lawyers the same way again.
The ironic part in the tobacco litigation is that its supposed purpose was to force the tobacco industry to make amends for past injust actions. However, in the process of prosecuting Big Tobacco, the attorney generals and lawyers simply produced more injustices. Which just goes to show: Two wrongs don't make a right -- but they do make lawyers right wealthy.