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News
June 11, 2008

Trial Lawyer Scandals and the Deafening Silence from the Plaintiffs? Bar

When a major scandal breaks, the media spotlight becomes intense and those seen as representing the interests of the industry or profession exposed by the wrongdoing usually feel the heat.

But this tried-and-true formula doesn’t seem to hold when it comes to the recent scandals of some of the country’s biggest plaintiffs’ lawyers.

Steven Malanga, editor for RealClearMarkets, writes that even as super plaintiffs’ lawyers Mel Weiss, Bill Lerach, Dickie Scruggs and others head to jail or stand trial for their unethical and corrupt lapses, there’s comparatively little attention being paid to these scandals.

In his column titled, “The Trial Bar Behind Bars,” Malanga suggests that while some in the public eye continue with the worn-out bashing of so-called “corrupt” corporations, “the biggest misdeeds seem to be piling up in front of the trial bar, although they barely elicit outrage or calls for reform.”

He writes of the recent sentencing hearing of Mel Weiss, former partner in securities class action powerhouse firm Milberg Weiss:

Just a few dozen newspapers carried mostly brief stories of Weiss’ sentencing, and the paper of record, the New York Times, dumped their version on page three of its business section, even though the paper once called Weiss’ firm the King of Torts.

Contrast this with the “more than 1,000 stories” that ran within a few days of the Enron scandal, and the regular front-page exploits of the then-New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer’s near-decade-long anti-business crusade.

One can debate whether or not the media is treating the trial bar’s recent corruption scandal with kid gloves.  However, no one can dispute the fact that the trial bar has not been forced to answer publicly for the misdeeds of some of their most notorious (and successful) members.

A check of the American Association for Justice (formerly the Association of Trial Lawyers of America) Web site reveals no statements denouncing these former Kings of Tort and their now admitted-to crimes. And to our knowledge, the trial bar has not been called to answer publicly in any news report for the corrupt acts of its most prominent members and funders. 

To be sure, the rank-and-file plaintiffs’ lawyers are likely aghast at these scandals. Why would the average plaintiffs’ attorney who is genuinely working in the interest of his or her clients want to be tainted by the transgressions of people like Bill Lerach, Mel Weiss, and Dickie Scruggs?

Perhaps its time for those representing trial lawyers to stand up and speak out publicly against the scandals that are damning to their profession. And surely it is past time for some in the media to ask them to comment about the scandals toppling some of their biggest members.

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