Saturday, July 19, 2003

Rights & Reason: The Battle for Seattle

The Washington Times produced this report on the latest attack by terrorist lawyers:
Trial lawyers plan to target school board members in Seattle who voted to extend a soda-machine contract with Coca-Cola Co. in elections this fall.

The board voted 4-3 Thursday night to approve a five-year, exclusive contract with the world's largest nonalcoholic beverage company.

However, it made changes to the deal that somewhat mollified the trial lawyers, who had threatened to sue for contributing to child obesity if the contract were extended.

While lawyers assess the likelihood of lucrative settlements in Seattle, others are researching suits and election campaigns against school boards using similar soft-drink contracts in Dallas, Houston and Boston, said George Washington University law professor John Banzhaf III, who is leading the obesity-litigation efforts similar to ones against tobacco companies.

The changes in the Seattle contract were a starting victory for trial lawyers, Mr. Banzhaf said.

"It's obvious we had a significant impact on the current contract, and it has now become a major issue for school board elections later this fall," said Mr. Banzhaf, who sent a legal notice earlier this month warning members of litigation.

Seattle lawyer Dwight Van Winkle said he may take up the case if he can find appropriate plaintiffs.
It's one thing for Banzhaf and company to raise the propriety of soft drink contracts in the context of a school board election (even an election where they have no vested interest.) It's quite another to use the threat of force to win the argument without democratic debate. That's precisely what happened in Seattle: Rather than wait for an election to persuade the public, the terrorist lawyers went right for the threat of legal action to force an accommodation.

If you need further proof of the Banzhaf Brigade's dishonest motives, consider this: If the school district is forced to defend its actions in court--keeping in mind signing a soft drink contract is not a recognized tort in any U.S. jurisdiction--the enormous costs of such litigation will ultimately be bourne by the school district's financiers, the taxpayers. Thus, Banzhaf is using the threat of judicial action to impose a tax on those communities that disagree with his views on what children should and should not be eating.

And before any trial lawyer sympathizers accuse me of trying to deny anyone their potential day in court, consider the statement above that no actual plaintiff currently exists in Seattle. It is the lawyers that are initiating the threat of action in hopes of obtaining an actual client later when needed. John Banzhaf, of course, has no standing to individually sue anyone in a Washington State court over the Seattle soft drink contract. Thus, he's manipulating the system to expand his personal jurisdiction beyond the express scope of the law. This is precisely the sort of conduct that the professional bars must regulate and stamp out.

Here's a suggestion: Any lawyer that threatens legal action without identifying an actual client should be fined $10,000 for the first offense, and thereafter face loss of their bar license for up to one year for each additional offense. It won't curb all the abuses of terrorist lawyers, but it would be a start, not to mention a signal from the judicial system that they're willing to defend their powers from the abuse of a renegade minority.

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