March 24, 2008

Clinton & Leahy in Pocket of Trial Lawyers?

Two pieces caught our attention during the long holiday weekend. One, by George Will, calls for a much-needed pay raise for federal judges. The other, an editorial in Friday’s San Francisco Examiner, posits that generous campaign contributions to Democrats are behind Congress’s lack of interest in the apparently widespread use of kickbacks by plaintiff’s attorneys looking to shake down American companies. These felonious kickback schemes have “a severely detrimental effect on the administration of justice across the nation,” noted the Justice Department on Thursday, as Mel Weiss of Milberg Weiss pled guilty to conspiracy charges involving about 150 securities class action lawsuits. Milberg Weiss partner William Lerach, who also pled guilty, explained that the firm paid kickbacks because “everybody was paying plaintiffs.”

The Examiner reasons that
“the silence on Capitol Hill may have something to do with the fact that Milberg Weiss and its four former partners were extremely active and generous donors to Democrats in Congress … [N]ine of the most reliable congressional opponents of proposals to curb class-action lawsuit abuse received substantial contributions from Milberg Weiss. … Most of the recipients — including the top recipient, Sen. Hillary Clinton — refuse to answer questions about what they plan to do with the dirty money. If the silence is to be broken, it should start with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy and House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers — after they rid themselves of the nearly $8,000 they got from Milberg Weiss, that is.” (emphasis added)

In his column yesterday, George Will makes an important point about judicial pay. The precipitous decline in the salaries of federal judges – in inflation-adjusted dollars – has contributed to a dramatic drop in the percentage of judges coming from the private sector and a concomitant near doubling of the number coming from government jobs. This trend, says Will, “tends to produce a judiciary that is … more of an extension of the bureaucracy than a check on it.”

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