Opinion

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Millions spent to influence elections and juries 

By Curt Schroder

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New reports from the American Tort Reform Association reveal the lengths to which Pennsylvania’s plaintiffs’ attorneys will go to tilt the scales of justice in their favor. Courtesy of plaintiffs’ attorneys massive spending on political contributions and legal advertising, Pennsylvania has gained a reputation as one of the nation’s worst judicial hellholes. The commonwealth is plagued by nuclear verdicts (verdicts over $10 million) and an unpredictable and non-uniform civil court system. One needs to look no farther than the significant number of medical malpractice cases that are currently flooding the Philadelphia court system in search of jackpot pay days. The result is irreversible injury to our economy and health care.

The first study found that since 2017, the state trial bar’s political action committee and the Philadelphia Trial Lawyers’ Association’s PAC (the Committee for a Better Tomorrow) have amassed more than $15.3 million in contributions. According to the report, the campaigns of state Supreme Court Justice Daniel McCaffery and Pennsylvania Superior Court Judge Maria McLaughlin have been the top two recipients of plaintiffs’ attorney contributions, receiving $1.8 million and $1.1 million, respectively, since 2017. Millions of more dollars went to other successful candidates. The report also notes that due to Pennsylvania’s campaign finance laws, it is difficult to track the full impact that trial lawyers have on the commonwealth’s political environment.

The ATRA report provides a valuable service in identifying the big contributors to these PACs and the candidates who have benefited most from their largess. But this is not the whole story. The trial bar PACs also give to other trial bar-related committees, such as Pennsylvanians for Judicial Fairness, PA Fund for Change, Fairness PA, Forward Together and DT PAC. These PACs in turn donate the trial bar money they have collected to various candidates. This increases the actual amount of plaintiffs’ attorney contributions to candidates. This “shell game” of trial bar contributions makes it difficult to track all of the contributions being made with plaintiffs’ attorney money.

For example, the DT PAC takes contributions from the plaintiffs’ lawyers PACs mentioned in the report and gives contributions to Republican candidates who presumably do not want to be seen as taking trial bar political contributions. Candidate campaign finance filings only show contributions from DT PAC and not where the money originally came from.

As stunning as the figures are in the ATRA report, they do not include plaintiffs’ law firms and plaintiffs’ attorneys that directly contribute to candidates. Thus, the actual amount of contributions from the plaintiffs’ bar is even greater than indicated in the report.

The second analysis focuses on legal services advertising in the state’s 11 media markets. The results show that in 2023 alone, $161.9 million was spent on more than 1.4 million local legal services advertisements – including print, digital, radio, outdoor and spot TV. It probably comes as no surprise that Morgan and Morgan holds the top spots in advertising dollars spent and number of ads.

As noted in an ATRA press release announcing the reports, “The top legal services advertisers in Pennsylvania wield substantial financial clout, collectively spending millions to saturate the advertising space. However, what is perhaps more alarming is the crossover between top advertisers and campaign donors, highlighting influence not only in the political sphere but in shaping public perceptions.”

Unlimited contingency fees collected by plaintiffs’ lawyers fund these ads. The ads bring in more clients to generate more fees to fund more ads and on and on it goes. Lawyer advertising also serves another more sinister purpose. These ads poison the pool of potential jurors by planting ideas that certain products are harmful, justice equates to large cash settlements or verdicts, and other notions that jurors take into the courtroom with them.

One way to put an end to this vicious cycle would be to enact contingency fee caps. If plaintiffs’ attorneys can spend $161.9 million in Pennsylvania on ads, they can afford to cap their fees so they take home less and their client takes home more.

These reports highlight a very disturbing trend in the commonwealth, a trend that needs to be reversed to right-size the state’s legal climate. Doctors, hospitals, places of employment and you cannot continue to bear the cost of runaway nuclear verdicts that are fostered by campaign contributions and advertising. Changes are long overdue to bring fairness and balance to Pennsylvania’s civil justice system. ••

Curt Schroder is executive director of the Pennsylvania Coalition for Civil Justice Reform.

Letters to the Editor

Kudos to the champs

In a world too full of gloom and doom, it was refreshing to read Mark Zimmaro’s report about the historic win by Academy of Palumbo’s girls’ flag football team. The Griffins won the first championship game in that sport on May 20 (“Palumbo wins PPL flag football title,” May 29).

It was certainly impressive to read how this unique sport was finally sanctioned by the Philadelphia Public League, and how the Griffins dominated the sport with a perfect record all the way to the first title game. 

Such experiences most certainly prepare female student-athletes for all kinds of future challenges. They learn how necessary it is to work as a team; how important to persevere with hard work; and how satisfying to become leaders in a historic endeavor. 

It was also inspiring to read how this unique sport has been sponsored by the Philadelphia Eagles since its inception in 2022. Kudos to the Griffins and the other all-girl teams for making history and creating a new adventure for high school athletes. 

Gloria C. Endres

America’s graduates are depending on us

Every year millions of talented young men and women graduate from America’s schools and look for job opportunities. Over the last 35 years America’s national leaders saw that industries were moving manufacturing and other services to foreign countries. 

They saw that the well-being of American workers, America’s graduates and the businesses that employed them were being affected in a negative way. Why was there no action to resolve these issues for more than 35 years? Elected leaders did remain focused on raising taxes and expanding regulations on American-based businesses, which accelerated the loss of industries and the jobs needed for American workers.

The loss of manufacturing in America meant that American workers lost millions of jobs not only in manufacturing, but management, ordering supplies and scheduling production, packaging, shipping, sales and service, advertising, as well as research and development of new products, all needed to help bring American made to the stores where we shop.

The Buy American Made Campaign continues to stress the urgency of elected and business leaders, American workers, educators and America’s consumers to work together and take a firm position on restoring industries and jobs in America. We all face distractions throughout the year, but I’m sure we all agree that it’s now time to tune out the negative attitudes and tune in to positive efforts that will restore jobs for American workers, and our present and future graduates, so everyone can support themselves.

For over 35 years we have been walking up a steep hill and it’s time for elected leaders, business leaders, American workers, educators and America’s consumers to openly discuss the goal of helping restore industries in America, because we need to restore America’s economy and the well-being of all Americans.

Your comments and suggestions are always welcome. Email them to Michael@AmericanWorkersRadio.com.

Michael Blichasz

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