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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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On issues such as the lawsuit abuse and medical liability reform bills, Cochran has tapped his Rolodex of socially conservative groups that frequently push their causes through the court system. He wants to enlist them in the fight to preserve the Seventh Amendment on the grounds that the federal government could one day infringe on their ability to sue.

Mark Meckler, co-founder and national coordinator of the Tea Party Patriots, said the tort reform issue is not “really on the radar right now.” However, Meckler, an attorney who says he does not know Cochran and does not interact much with lobbyists, speculated that his group’s membership might be sympathetic to Cochran’s pitch.

“Most folks in the tea party movement would say those things should be dealt with at the state level,” Meckler said. “It’s not for the federal government to be adjusting the legal system of individual states.”

But Rosario Palmieri, vice president of infrastructure, legal and regulatory policy at the National Association of Manufacturers, said even the staunchest states’ rights supporters and conservative Republicans can get behind the legal reform measures to stop frivolous lawsuits and to cap medical liability damages.

The manufacturers are lobbying for the two bills that Cochran and AAJ are fighting against.

“Legal reform is one of those critical priorities to create jobs,” Palmieri said. “Sensible reforms need to be addressed in order to help us create more manufacturing jobs.”

Cochran knows the jobs and economic message resonates with Republicans, but he is quick to retort that his clients don’t carry the blame for the recent recession.

“Trial lawyers and civil suits did not cause the major business disasters, the Wall Street crash, Enron,” he said. “It’s mystifying to me how the Seventh Amendment has been forgotten. The Founding Fathers loved local juries, they loved local suits.”

If you doubt Cochran’s conservative bona fides, he’ll tell you, for example, that he opposes the Democrats’ health care reform law. How does he want to scratch it from the books? “I want to kill it through lawsuits,” he said.

“I’m going to stand on the high ground of the Seventh Amendment and the Constitution and invite someone to push me off,” Cochran said. “And I’m not worried.”

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