By Brad Hendricks, previous ATLA President
* Originally published in the ATLA Docket, Summer 2003.
There are a great many attorneys in Arkansas who are angry and frustrated because of “tort reform,” and they should be. We now face the challenge of transforming that anger and frustration into a comprehensive political response.
As members of ATLA, you understand what the emergence of term limits has caused. You have seen what the money and power of the insurance industry can do when there are too few attorneys in the legislature. You know the extent to which our legislators have been deceived about what controls malpractice liability premiums, and you know that the people of Arkansas have been victimized by this special interest legislation.
The question is what are you going to do about it?
You are the backbone of our organization, and IMPACT is your political voice. There are two things, which this arm of our organization needs, and needs now. We need members and friends who will run for political office, and we need your serious, long-term financial commitment.
We must raise a substantial amount of money, and we must do it very quickly. I urge you to make a pledge to the ATLA Tort Reform Challenge Fund. You can do so by filling out the card sent to you by David Williams, Chip Welch and our President Q. Byrum Hurst. When the members of the ATLA Board of Governors call on you to contribute to ATLA, I’m asking you to dig deep. We are not quitters. This battle has just begun, and we need everyone in our organization to jump in the fight. We are going to continue to have to play defense, as the tort deformers are never satisfied. But we can’t stop there. It’s time to go on the offensive.
We are imploring our members to run for office against those who are bent on destroying our civil justice system. If you have considered running for political office, this is the time.
A law degree was once a virtual prerequisite to holding political office. But because of term limits, our Senate Judiciary Committee during the last session had a grand total of two members who are attorneys. Consider for a moment what that means to our clients, to our profession, and to the people of Arkansas. It’s an outrage. There is only one thing that we can do about it, and that is to put lawyers back in the legislature to bring some balance and understanding of our civil justice system to the legislature. To do so we need candidates and money to support them. We need an energetic rally among our membership. We need your involvement. We need your support.
We will soon announce a series of “town hall meetings” around the state for ATLA members. We urge you to attend. These are not fund-raising meetings. These meetings are for the purpose of exchanging information about the events of the last legislative session, and to discuss our preparation for the next attack upon us, our profession, and our clients.
Proponents of so-called “tort reform” no longer hide the fact that their strategy is to keep chipping away at the rights of victims until big business is insulated from any realistic exposure to jury trial where ordinary, working Arkansans decide issues of basic fairness. One “tort reformer” recently stated the following to an Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reporter: “We have always viewed the process as incremental.” Flush with victory in the last session, the lackeys for big business crowed about how Act 649 was “a good start.” Gutting the judicial and legislative wisdom developed over the course of the history of this nation is a good start? Obviously, they are never going to be satisfied.
There is much that we can do, but we have to do it now. There is a special session that will begin in September. We must act now. Everyone must get involved. Help us find viable political candidates who are willing to run. Come to our meetings around the state so that the ATLA leadership has the benefit of your experience and observations. Get involved in political campaigns. Contribute all that you can to ATLA, and encourage others to do so. Find out everything that you can do to help, and then do it.
The Arkansas Trial Lawyers Association is the only organization which exclusively represents the interests of injured victims and your interests as well. No longer can any attorney sit on the sidelines and expect that someone else is going to protect their interests and the interests of injured Arkansans. In order to turn back the vicious attacks in the legislature, every member must now be an active member in ATLA. If the principles for which this organization stands are important to you, then you are needed in this fight.
Summer 2003 ATLA DOCKET