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Street Talk: Lobbyist Opposes Tort Reform From the Right

Bill Clark/Roll Call
Lobbyist Andy Cochran hopes he can persuade tea party activists to oppose tort reform on the grounds that the government should not limit their freedom to sue for damages.

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Andy Cochran is a tea party-supporting, religious, anti-abortion, trial-lawyer-loving conservative Republican.

Seriously. “Trial-lawyer-loving” was no typo.

The Reagan-administration-appointee-turned-lobbyist has a long list of conservative credentials. Armed with writings from the Founding Fathers and a fervor for the Constitution, Cochran is reaching out to Hill Republicans, conservative scholars and tea party activists to try to persuade them to oppose tort reform efforts making their way through Congress.

He’ll reference the Magna Carta and even the Bible when arguing for the right to sue and receive damages. “Moses said, if you take your neighbor’s property, you owe, essentially, punitive damages,” Cochran said.

He started, devoted to the Seventh Amendment, which defined the right to a jury trial for civil matters.

But Cochran’s effort is about a lot more than his passion for the judicial system. His biggest client is the trial lawyers’ lobby, the American Association for Justice, which last year paid him $200,000 to help make the case with Cochran’s fellow conservatives.

“We’re up against corporate America spending millions and millions and millions of dollars trying to promote a message that it’s wrong to seek redress,” AAJ CEO Linda Lipsen said. “And the more venues that we can get our message out, the better. Andy is appealing to a group that really cares about fairness and making sure everybody gets a fair shake.”

Cochran said his website isn’t about ginning up business or even solely to promote his clients’ interests. “I want Americans to support the civil litigation process.”

But he and the trial lawyers will have an uphill battle persuading Congressional Republicans, who have long supported legal reforms, to abandon such measures as the Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act and a bill that would cap medical liability damages, the Help Efficient, Accessible, Low-cost, Timely Healthcare Act.

Cochran, a 1982 law graduate of Notre Dame University, said he’s finding supporters.

“It’s resonating at the grass-roots level,” he said. “It’s also resonating with Republican staff and Members.”

He recently recapped on his blog an interview that Rep. John Duncan (R-Tenn.), an attorney, did on Christian broadcaster Terry Lowry’s “What’s Up” show. Cochran quoted Duncan as saying, “I have faith in the people — I have faith in the jury system. It’s one of the most important elements of our freedom, and it was so recognized in the Constitution, was felt to be so important, it was specifically put into the Constitution in the Seventh Amendment. And I’ll tell you, it’s a very dangerous thing to take away rights like that from the people.” Duncan’s office could not be reached to confirm the quotes.

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