Friday, December 03, 2004

Cal Supreme Court backs Lawyers' Fees

The California State Supreme Court narrowly ruled yesterday that lawyers who file cases that achieve a public benefit are entitled legal fees to be paid by the defendant. Examples cited in the LA Times article involve false advertising by DaimlerChrysler and racial and sex discrimination in the Los Angeles Police Department. Both cases were settled before going to trial and though neither led to large monetary awards, both led to substantial changes in the way the defendant do business.

The usual hue and cry erupted about the corrosive influence of trial lawyers and how decisions like this will increase the number of businesses fleeing California. The problem is, these objections, as well as the dissent by Justice Ming Chin, reduce the concept of justice to a line on a corporate balance sheet. If doing the right thing is expensive and inconvenient, according to these critics, if it will cost DaimlerChrysler extra money in legal fees for those who sued them because they claimed their trucks could tow three times the load they actually could safely tow, if it will cost the Los Angeles Police Department $1.7 million to pay the attorneys who uncovered and forced them to end their discriminatory practices, then that's too great a burden for businesses and municipalities to take on. Never mind the cost to the public of allowing these practices to continue.

In a more nearly perfect world, there would be no need for private attorneys to bring such lawsuits, not only because businesses and governments would, out of a heightened dedication to the public good, either not engage in such practices in the first place or end them of their own accord, but because our federal, state, and municipal governments would regulate, monitor, and end such practices on our behalf. We do not live in such a world, though. In the world we live in, government is fleeing from the responsibility of protecting the people from the greed and irresponsiblity of corporations and government itself. I'm grateful that there are private trial lawyers who are willing to fill the void and look out for their interests. This ruling will help ensure that they continue to step up to the plate for us.

Justice Chin said that this ruling puts California out of step with the rest of the United States.

Thank God.
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