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Allies for justice.

"You must cultivate unity, cooperation, and mutual trust."

--SATHYA SAI BABA

The executive director of the Minnesota Association for Justice (MAJ) told me recently that the American Association for Justice's two-day workshop on communication changed his organization. In fact, MAJ did not have a communications director before the session, and it might not have hired one without guidance from AAJ and leaders of state trial lawyer organizations (TLAs) in developing a comprehensive communications plan.

He spoke of the positive coordination between AAJ, which helps craft pro-civil-justice messages, and his state organization, which then adds local flavor. "We're all in this together," he aptly noted.

Nationwide, the state organizations and AAJ are helping to tell the same story about the need for a fair and effective civil justice system. Together, we are reaching a wider and increasingly receptive audience.

In recent years, AAJ has stepped up efforts to work with state organizations. In addition to coordinated communications workshops, conventions held concurrently with the National Association of Trial Lawyer Executives, and cosponsored seminars, there are positive synergies to be realized in the areas of community outreach, politics, litigation, and legislation.

AAJ and state TLAs are working together every day, in a more targeted way, to communicate our message, to secure justice in courtrooms and legislative halls, and to help pro-civil-justice candidates win elections:

* The Alabama Association for Justice and AAJ coordinated a response to the Christian Coalition's attack on a judicial candidate who received political contributions from trial lawyers.

* AAJ helped the New Hampshire Association for Justice craft its long-range lobbying and political strategies.

* In the 2006 elections, AAJ and state organizations worked to secure victories for 14 of 18 trial attorneys running for Congress.

* In this year's elections, AAJ provided strategic assistance to state organizations in gubernatorial, attorney general, and other state races.

* AAJ and the Mississippi Association for Justice achieved a striking success in winning four of five recent primary races and in effectively responding to tort "reform" messages.

Campaign in the courts

AAJ has worked to coordinate litigation efforts to promote access to courts and preserve the right to civil jury trials. AAJ's Amicus Curiae Program provides briefs to the U.S. Supreme Court and other federal and state appellate courts in cases affecting trial lawyers and their clients across the country. At the trial level and on appeal, AAJ retains the Center for Constitutional Litigation (CCL), a national law firm dedicated to challenging laws that block access to justice, and designates cases for free or subsidized assistance.

CCL regularly coordinates with state organizations to challenge the constitutionality of federal statutes that impede justice. For example, CCL worked with the Florida Justice Association to challenge the constitutionality of the federal Graves Amendment. This amendment--a middle-of-the-night addition to the 2005 transportation bill--overrides state law imposing vicarious liability on rental car companies. In September, CCL scored a major victory in a case brought by the firm of AAJ stalwart Ira Leesfield when a federal court declared the amendment unconstitutional.

CCL also partners with state TEAs to challenge oppressive state laws. For instance, CCL is currently working with the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys in an omnibus challenge to state workers' compensation legislation that reduces benefits for workers who fail to follow company safety rules and exempts a host of new activities from coverage.

By working together, AAJ and state TLAs can more effectively prevent legislative attacks on a citizen's right to a day in court. State organization members have offered congressional testimony to personalize the impact of federal legislation that may prevent accident victims from taking action against railroad companies or show how secrecy in litigation keeps vital health and safety information from the public.

AAJ's State Affairs department helps coordinate state legislative efforts--whether it's assembling a 50-state survey of bad-faith insurance laws or coordinating efforts to promote a referendum in Washington state to protect consumers against unfair insurance practices. If your state needs assistance, please contact AAJ State Affairs at (202) 965-3500, ext. 228, or state.affairs@justice.org.

All these examples illustrate the power of AAJ and state organizations working together to "cultivate unity, cooperation, and mutual trust." There is certainly more to be done. I propose we make it a New Year's resolution to continue strengthening our relationship to build a stronger alliance for justice.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:President's PAGE
Author:Peterson, Kathleen Flynn
Publication:Trial
Date:Dec 1, 2007
Words:717
Previous Article:Hearsay.
Next Article:In 2007, new Congress set stage for progress on civil justice issues.


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