Guns, Politics, and Freedom
February 2, 1999

Trial lawyers and other vultures

By F. Paul Valone


The following ran in The Charlotte Observer on February 1, 1999 under that title “Trial lawyers and other vultures find new prey,” and in The Asheville Tribune the same month under its original title.


‘Look skyward and see a mixed flock of  radicals, shysters and mayors glide lazy circles above their latest meal, the gun industry.’


The Sam M. Gibbons Courthouse in Tampa has a problem.  Apparently sensing a certain kinship, 200 turkey buzzards have established residence, fouling the courthouse with droppings and rotten meat, even bumping against windows.  (Perhaps they’re anxious to try a case).


But take heart, Tampa; your vulture quandary pales beside that of American industry.  On the beat of heavy wings, The Big Vulture--aka the federal government--just settled upon the not-quite-dead tobacco industry, shoving aside state vultures.  (Wrap your beak around that $5 billion, Governor Hunt).


“Several senators vowed today to protect the money that their states won in lawsuits against the tobacco industry from what they described as the Clinton Administration’s plan to seize a share for the Federal Government,” proclaimed The New York Times. 


Defending her piece of carrion, Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison squawked, “The settlements belong to the states.”  Claimed victories notwithstanding, the triviality that tobacco plaintiffs have never won a judgment doesn’t deter vultures from screeching about what they’re “owed.”


Now meet Wendell Gauthier, leader-to-be of the free world.  Never heard of him?  He’s reportedly under investigation for brokering a New Orleans casino deal marred by patronage and general shadiness which flushed half a billion dollars of investors’ money down the loo and annihilated 2,500 jobs.


What qualifies Gauthier to run your life is neither leadership nor sterling character, but his unique talent for bleeding whole industries.  Described as a “pioneer of mass torts,” he claimed Dow Corning among his early victims.  While studies subsequently cleared breast implants of causing disease, Dow went bankrupt under $4.25 billion in claims.  Later boasting “I think we’re much better at guerrilla warfare than they are,” Gauthier assembled the 64-firm “Castano group” to besiege tobacco companies. 


Now look skyward and see a mixed flock of radicals, shysters and mayors glide lazy circles above their latest meal, the gun industry--against which scores of cities have either filed or threatened lawsuits to recoup alleged costs of gun violence.


Chicago, which bans firearms, accuses manufacturers of “negligent marketing” by flooding adjacent suburbs with guns intended for the city.  (Mayor Richard Daley doesn’t mention why “flooded” suburbs lack Chicago’s crime).


New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial says gun makers should use “smart gun” technology to prevent unauthorized use, blithely ignoring that such technology has yet to produce a reliable defensive firearm.  In stunning hypocrisy, Morial’s suit cites pawnshops for selling “unsafe” guns after he personally authorized a deal putting 8,000 “unsafe” guns confiscated by police back on the street.


Naturally, tobacco comparisons abound.  Left-wing law professor David Kairys slavers, “This area of law is where tobacco was 10 years ago: it’s ripe…There are…promotions out there that bring Joe Camel to mind.”


But Houston litigation lawyer Jay Brown likens gun suits to “a fat bird [without] wings.”  And Jack King of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is unimpressed: “Guns are not inherently dangerous until a human being takes them out of the box and loads them, and guns are protected under the Bill of Rights.  Those are two hurdles…the plaintiffs will have to leap, and I’m afraid they will be too high.”


Like tobacco lawsuits, however, gun suits aren’t intended to win judgments. Tortured arguments euphemistically called “new causes of action” are merely extortion, forcing companies to settle instead of spending billions on defense.  Philadelphia Mayor Edward Rendell, for example, suggested filing 100 suits in one day to “overwhelm” gun companies.


Judicial activists like Kairys (who eschews inconveniences like legal precedent) plan a dictatorial end-run around lawmaking: What they fail by legislation, they pursue through litigation.


Assessing that no industry is safe, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce joined gun manufacturers in opposing the suits.  Says Chamber representative Larry Kraus, “Our message will be simple.  First tobacco, then guns, and whoever you are out there, you are next.”


Castano member John Coale responds, “People kept saying that we would go after the alcohol or fast-food industries next.  But we’d never do that.  We enjoy liquor and meat too much.”  He neglects mentioning Castano lawyers who blatantly carry “unsafe” guns.


Using litigation blackmail, Gauthier and Kairys will eventually control you.  Only tort reform laws--limiting contingency fees and restricting people and governments alike from suing over products that function as advertised--will drive the buzzards away.


So contact trial lawyer and “People’s Senator” John Edwards and demand he demonstrate his professed freedom from special interests (particularly from lawyers’ huge campaign donations) by sponsoring a comprehensive tort reform bill.


Meanwhile, stay tuned as we investigate persistent rumors that anti-gun lawsuits are scheduled for trial at the Sam M. Gibbons Courthouse in Tampa…