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We're all in this together.

Florida, Nevada, Oregon, Wyoming: These four states are just the latest battlegrounds in a nationwide campaign by powerful corporate interests to eviscerate the civil justice system. The tort "reform" ballot initiatives in those states would drastically restrict consumer rights. Bear in mind that in the next election cycle, it could easily be Louisiana, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina.

In Florida, the initiative would so severely limit contingent fees that lawyers' ability to take on responsibility for representing seriously injured victims of medical negligence would be significantly restricted. The Nevada, Oregon, and Wyoming measures would cap noneconomic damages in medical malpractice actions, making fair compensation impossible and eliminating access to the courts for many.

These four states need the help of the entire trial lawyer community, and ATLA is committed to working with our affiliated state trial lawyer associations (TLAs) to develop joint strategies to communicate a pro-consumer message to the public and policy-makers.

As I write this, we don't know the outcome of these votes. What we do know is that attempts to weaken civil justice will continue around the country. Efforts are already under way to place anticonsumer and antipatient initiatives on the Arizona and Washington ballots in 2005, and many other states are potential targets.

When citizens' rights are eroded in even one state, rights in all states are at risk. California's Medical injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA), enacted in 1976, became a dark cloud that moved cast across the country. Medical associations and their allies in the insurance industry still cite MICRA as the purported model for medical negligence "reform" elsewhere. When Indiana enacted its pernicious med-mal cap, calls for similar legislation were heard in neighboring states like mine. As a longtime member of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association, I know well how hard members and staff of the state TLAs toil in their capitals to protect our clients' rights.

As ATLA president, I know that an important part of this organization's national mission is to help ensure the success of our state affiliates. To further that goal, President-Elect Ken Suggs and I recently organized a meeting of what we call the Partnership Task Force, where ATLA leaders and representatives of the National Association of Trial Lawyer Executives (NATLE)--led by its president, Kay Shields of Boise, Idaho--explored how ATLA and the stale organizations can work better together. Like any successful partnership, this one depends on a sense of shared purpose and a recognition of the partners' many different talents and perspectives. At the meeting, we reviewed existing programs and discussed how we might further enhance our communication and cooperation.

Ready to help

The state association face many challenges, and ATLA programs are available to help them:

* The Partnership for Progress grant program provides flexible financial assistance; the state organizations can use the funds as they deem best. Many TLAs use this support to fund staff development or increase activity in government affairs.

* The ATLA State Affairs department, led by Bob Lembo and Roselyn Bonanti, monitors legislative activity in the state capitals and conducts legislative and public policy research for state TLAs. State Affairs works with ATLA's Public Affairs and Media Relations departments to provide the states with fact sheets and political strategies ATLA has developed for fighting federal legislation, which often closely resembles bills pending in the states. State Affairs also serves as a link between the TLAs and other ATLA departments for coordination of joint activities, notably fired-raising and accounting.

* The Center for Constitutional Litigation (CCL), ATLA's law firm, led by Bob Peck, has helped many states challenge tort "reform" statutes and other attempts to restrict access to the courts, arguing that they violate state constitutional provisions. CCL has won major victories protecting consumer rights in Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, and Utah.

* Ed Lazarus, former ATLA senior vice president for State Affairs, now works as an ATLA consultant, meeting with TLA members and staff to address message and related research needs as they arise in individual states.

In accordance with our mission, ATLA is constantly working on Capitol Hill and in the courts to protect our clients' rights. But ATLA's leaders and staff recognize that the challenges the state TLAs face are nearly identical to those faced by our national association. We applaud the achievements of the state organizations, acknowledge their sacrifices, and recognize the need to pursue a common cause.

The Partnership Task Force meeting laid a solid foundation for stronger ties and better cooperation between ATLA and the states in the future. As Dwight Eisenhower once said, "Our real problem ... is not our strength today; it is rather the vital necessity, of action today to ensure our strength tomorrow."

Together, we will not fail.
COPYRIGHT 2004 American Association for Justice
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Title Annotation:nationwide campaign by powerful corporate interests to eviscerate the civil justice system
Author:Smith, Todd A.
Publication:Trial
Article Type:President's Page
Date:Nov 1, 2004
Words:780
Previous Article:Hearsay.
Next Article:Challenge to paperless voting in Florida OK to proceed.
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