Archive for June 9th, 2008

Washington Post columnist has David Ignatius published a great op-ed last week regarding the downfalls of high-profile plaintiffs’ class action lawyers Melvyn Weiss and Dickie Scruggs.  The column appears in the June 5 edition of the Post under the title Reining in the Kings of Tort and in the June 6 edition of the Indianapolis Star under the title The Case of the Runaway Class Action Lawyers.  Mr. Ignatius points out that the recent bribery, illegal kickback, and other scandals involving class action lawyers are tarnishing an image of plaintiffs’ lawyers as the “good guys” fighting for the common man against corporate greed and corruption.  He analyzes the possible motivations underlying these scandals and their impact on popular myths about class action lawyers as champions of the people created by authors like John Grisham and the works of consumer advocates like Ralph Nader.  He observes that men like Weiss and Scruggs were probably not motivated by greed–they both had more money than they could spend.  More likely, they became so zealous in their belief that they were protecting the interests people who had been the victims of harm that they began to “cut corners.”  The end justified the means. 

Scandals like those involving Weiss and Scruggs and abuses of trust of other so-called consumer advocates like former New York Attorney General and Governor Eliot Spitzer don’t mean that all plaintiffs’ lawyers and consumer advocates are greedy, unethical egomaniacs (see my earlier commentary here).  However, they do expose over-simplistic popular conceptions of who is a hero and who is a villain.  As important as recognizing that plaintiffs’ class action lawyers are not all heroes is the recognition that not all corporations are out to exploit, defraud, or otherwise harm the public.  Just as plaintiffs’ class action lawyers are human beings with real human flaws, large corporations are run by human beings with real human compassion.  Hopefully it doesn’t take reading Mr. Ignatius’s column for most people to appreciate those realities, but his column does serve as an important reminder.  Real life is not like a John Grisham novel.

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