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A Democratic Courtroom Cronyism Scandal Even the NYT Can’t Ignore

Here’s one Democratic scandal you don’t know and the most surprising thing is that the New York Times broke the story. Either there was a lot of arm-twisting or it’s really juice. My vote is on the latter.

Back in 2014 the New York Times reported on the cozy relationship between trial lawyers and attorneys general, but couldn’t resist a jab at Republicans since it’s mostly a scandal among Democrats.

Much as big industries have found natural allies in Republican attorneys general to combat federal regulations, plaintiffs’ lawyers working on a contingency-fee basis have teamed up mostly with Democratic state attorneys general to file hundreds of lawsuits against businesses that make anything from pharmaceuticals to snack foods.

Before the New York Times can in good conscience tell you about a wholly Democratic scandal, it must remind you that Republicans aren’t perfect either. Maybe it’s in their stylebook?

The New York Times explains that trial lawyers will scan public records and news stories looking for potential cases.  Then they lobby attorneys general for bringing a state case against a business so their firm can be hired for the work. The lawyers typically get a 20 percent cut of the winnings and the state keeps the rest of what defendants were ruled to pay. It’s ambulance chasing, but it happens in city and state government buildings.

Not surprisingly, trial lawyers are big donors to attorney general campaigns. From the Times:

While prospecting for contracts, the private lawyers have also donated tens of thousands of dollars to campaigns of individual attorneys general, as well as party-backed organizations that they run. The donations often come in large chunks just before or after the firms sign contracts to represent the state, campaign finance records and more than 240 contracts examined by The Times show.

It’s not hard to convince the public that trial lawyers can’t be trusted. But, shouldn’t the public at least be able to trust their elected attorney general? Cases brought forward lead with potential revenue to the state and trial lawyers rather than on abundance of evidence of wrongdoing. Are they acting as servants to the public or servants to trial lawyers?

One state that should be shopping around for a new attorney general is Pennsylvania. Attorney General Kathleen Kane seems to treat the office as a combination PR agency and trial lawyer slush fund.

Trial lawyers and their cohorts in the attorney general offices are going after legitimate businesses for political gain. Linda Singer persuaded Kane to bring a case against a Pennsylvania-based nursing home chain. The initial evidence in bringing the case forward was based on what the New York Times says is “a software program, that estimated resident harm based on the ratio between nurse’s aides and residents.”

This is like being mailed a speeding ticket only because you have a car. Sure, you could fight it, but it will cost you.

Rather than allow legitimate oversight by the state’s Department of Health and other entities, Kane is butting in on behalf of trial lawyers.

Kane is mentioned in the New York Times story about courtroom cronyism and is currently under investigation for leaking classified grand jury information to the press, and then lying about doing so. Indictment charges could include perjury, false swearing, and obstruction of justice. If there’s a minimum requirement for a state’s highest legal advisor and chief law enforcement officer, it should at least be “Not a liar.”

But, Kane isn’t backing down. She said she wouldn’t resign if indicted and that she’s running for re-election in 2016. The editorial board of the Philadelphia Inquirer thinks that the only thing she can be counted on “is to make the wrong decision.” Last week in an editorial calling for her resignation if indicted, the board writes:

If indicted, Kane deserves the presumption of innocence. It will be up to a judge and jury to decide the case. But should she continue in her job as chief law enforcement officer in Pennsylvania?

The simple answer is “No.”

Any official action she takes could be tainted by the charges she might face. The perception – in an office already known for playing politics – could be ruinous.

How brazen do you have to be to be named in a Democratic scandal that got the attention of the New York Times, be under investigation for leaking grand jury information, and then run for re-election? Kathleen Kane-brazen. Not only does she think she deserves another term, but she also sings the siren song of the female Democrat caught red-handed – the Republican men are out to get me! The second stanza is hiring the Democrats’ political Gloria Allred – former special counsel to President Bill Clinton, Lanny Davis.

Davis told The Washington Times, “This railroad train seems to me to be driven by some men with grudges, men who are bitter and angry at being exposed and professionally embarrassed – men who have political agendas to railroad Kathleen Kane out of office and destroy her career.”

Too many public officials treat their office as something that is deserved rather than earned. Rather than be held accountable, they turn to tired clichés of invisible boogeymen out to get them. Officials like Kathleen Kane use the illusion of serving the public, but really engage in courtroom cronyism to line their campaign coffers and further political aspirations. The public’s last recourse is their vote.

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