Thursday, October 11, 2001
Plaintiffs’ Bar Giving Less to Judicial Campaigns, Tort Reform Group Says
By a MetNews, Staff Writer
Candidates in contested judicial elections in major California counties were less reliant on plaintiffs’ lawyers for money in the last two election cycles than in the two previous periods, according to a study released by a tort reform group.
Plaintiff’s lawyers made up 29 percent, or $159,000 of total attorney contributions in contested judicial elections in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, and Sacramento counties in 1998 and 2000, the Civil Justice Association of California study said.
That percentage is down from the 1994 and 1996 campaigns when plaintiff’s attorneys made up 64 percent of all attorney contributions, giving $307,000, according to a previous study by the same group.
The study also showed that overall spending on judicial campaigns in those counties rose $600,000 from the $2.6 million raised for the 16 contested elections held in 1994 and 1996. Half of the $3.2 million raised in the last two elections came from the candidates, the report noted.
A leading plaintiffs’ lawyer, Consumer Attorneys Association of Los Angeles President Robert Fink, questioned whether any real conclusions could be drawn from the report.
“An accurate report has to be explained by the methodology and they just don’t do that here,” Fink said. “The purpose and meaning of this report is meaningless.”
Fink noted CJAC’s explanation that 25 percent, or $400,000, of the total non-candidate contributions came from sources would could not be identified.
“If you can’t identify [the contribution source], how can you come to any meaningful conclusions?” Fink said.
Fink also challenged how plaintiff’s attorneys were differentiated from other attorneys since many firms do both plaintiff and defendant work.
A spokeswoman for CJAC said Martindale-Hubbell and other internet resources were used to identify attorneys and firms as plaintiffs or non-plaintiff.
The leading consultant to judicial candidates in California, Cerrell Associates, Inc. chairman Joe Cerrell, said he was unfamiliar with the report, but that its conclusions are good news if they’re accurate.
“The do-gooders should be very happy that trial lawyers are putting less money into judicial elections,” Cerrell said. “The public should be pleased no one group is getting better access to judges through contributions.”
The increase in overall spending isn’t cause for alarm, Cerrell said, attributed the rise to normal inflation and increased costs in everything from newspaper advertising to postage. To be able to compete with increasing costs, judges must be allowed to take money from lawyers unless we want a world where only rich people can be judges, Cerrell said.
“In a perfect world no one should have his hat in hand and beg for money,” Cerrell said. “This, unfortunately, is not a perfect world.”
CJAC President John Sullivan defended the decision to limit the scope of the study to four counties.
“Certainly it’s not as good as looking at all the counties, but it covers most of the judges in the state,” Sullivan said. “It’s the best way we can compromise our workload.”
The study divided contribution sources into four categories: 1) candidate contributions to their own campaigns, 2) attorney/law firm contributions, 3) non-attorneys, including businesses, and 4) unidentifiable contributions. Attorney contributors were further divided into plaintiff’s attorneys and other attorneys.
Sullivan contributed the missing data to missing contribution reports and to the fact that individual contributions were under the $100 level and do not have to be reported.
The report used data collected from the registrar-recorder’s office of Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco counties and the California Secretary of State, Political Reform Division.
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company