Major battle brewing over state AG hiring outside trial lawyers

Liability & Insurance Week
Monday, June 6, 2005

The ability of a state attorney general to bring in outside counsel on a contingency fee basis is the subject of a major battle now underway in Rhode Island.
Tort reform advocates have targeted the case of Rhode Island v. Lead Industries Association (Rhode Island Supreme Court Docket No. 2004-63-M.P.) to press their point that the practice of bringing in outside counsel in certain disputes—this one being a public nuisance complaint brought against manufacturers of lead paint—creates unacceptable conflicts of interest.
The United States Chamber of Commerce and the American Tort Reform Association have filed a joint brief with the Rhode Island Supreme Court urging it to ban the state from “contracting out” its police powers. A separate brief was filed by the Washington Legal Foundation, a public policy organization.

Joanne Doroshow, executive director of the Center for Justice and Democracy, blasted the challenge to the Rhode Island agreement.
“The Chamber of Commerce has made it very clear that it objects to any aggressive enforcement of laws by state attorneys general, not simply actions by outside counsel who assist them,” she said.
“In cases like those brought against the tobacco industry, the lawyers’ fees were paid by the defendant wrongdoers, not the state,” Doroshow said.
“Consumer protection and attorney general law enforcement are essential to a vibrant and fair economy,” she added, “and if an AG needs the assistance of outside counsel to successfully pursue a case, it is perfectly appropriate for them to do so, and we are safer as a result.”

For a copy of the complete article, contact CJ&D

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