Showing posts with label ICJL. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ICJL. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

More Poison Toys for All the Girls and Boys

Buried in last week's back pages was an announcement by Wal-Mart that it has once again flooded the American market with lead-poisoning toys from China. This time, it was lead dinosaurs.

Earlier this year, Wal-Mart announced that it was recalling over 60,000 baby bibs tainted with lead. That's right, those little things wrapped around babies necks that you always see them sucking on.

Wal-Mart alone has had to recall over 60 products recently, including cough medicine for kids, teether books for tots, cribs that resulted in infant deaths, defective car seats, and atleast a half-dozen lead-poisoned toys.

Of course, Wal-Mart isn't the only corporate culprit, just the biggest. Major recalls have been issued in 2007 for poisoned dog food, toothpaste made with anti-freeze, and more lead-painted toys from China than I can count.

All of these announcements have created severe recall fatigue for the press and the public.

They also create a big hurdle for the Illinois Civil Justice League, which is calling for restoring immunity to big corporations under the Wrongful Death Act for grief, sorrow and mental suffering in wrongful death cases.

The flood of recalls also creates a great issue for Congressional candidates running in the hotly-contested open seat races in Illinois and across the state.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, charged with protecting us all, has come under fire from many sides. So much fire in fact, that this week the director of this "toothless tiger" asked Congress to expand the scope of her agency, making it illegal to sell recalled products and giving customs the authority to seize products that don't meet voluntary industry standards.

The second is a big one, because industry often argues that it can "police itself," and sets up industry standards in lieu of mandatory federal standards. Then of course, they ignore them.

This makes a great issue for Congressional challengers in Democratic primaries and against Republican incumbents, because Congress is under fire for slashing funding for the CPSC over the last three decades. Also, attacking cheap foreign imports capitalizes on people's economic worries about job losses overseas.

This week, USA TODAY'S Editorial page wrote:

Our view on consumer protection: Unsafe products overwhelm emaciated safety agency

Stripped of staff and authority, CPSC struggles to keep up.

What links the cases is not just dangerous products and companies that did not move to quickly recall them, but the tragically ineffective response of the government agency responsible for acting when companies do not: the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

Begun in 1973 in a wave of consumer protectionism, the commission is overwhelmed and understaffed. It investigates barely 10%-15% of the reports it gets of product-related deaths and injuries. Its staff has shrunk to about 400, from a peak of 978 in 1980. The huge recalls of lead-tainted toys from China this year revealed that the agency's primary full-time, small-parts toy tester is a guy named Bob.

There's plenty of blame to go around for CPSC's deterioration. A succession of presidents and Congresses, hostile to the burden the commission can place on business, have limited its power and budget. The results can be tragic.

Emphasis added.

What, if anything, do you think Illinois can be doing?

Here's some of my ideas:

- Set up an e-mail alert system for parents through the Attorney General's Office to share information of product recalls.

- Require retailers to post notices on their entrances for all product recalls of anything that was on their shelves in the last six months.

- Expand Illinois definition of joint liability to hold retailers more accountable for deadly products imported from overseas.


Wednesday, August 22, 2007

ICJL: There They Go Again

The new scorecard from the Illinois Civil Justice League shows just how extreme and out of touch their pro-insurance industry, pro-polluter, anti-corporate responsibility agenda really is.

Looking at the positions that the ICJL has taken on legislation, even by their own admission of the measures' impact, their scorecard should make us all wary of their extreme agenda:

Bills the ICJL opposes:

HB 511-FOIA Public Settlements.
This bill would make municipality and public agency settlements public under the Freedom of Information Act.
[yeah, why SHOULD taxpayers know where their money is going?]

HB 1121-Judicial Campaign Financing .
Establishes the Illinois Public Campaign Financing Fund as an alternative source of campaign financing for Illinois Appellate and Supreme Court candidates.
[Hmmm...wonder why the ICJL, which has given millions to Republican, pro-insurance industry judicial candidates, is for allowing big money to influence judicial campaigns?]

HB 1798-Wrongful Death Act-Damages.
This bill allows the plaintiff to sue the defendant for damages under the Wrongful Death Act for grief, sorrow, and mental suffering.
[Ironically, the ICJL didn't oppose GOP legislation passed a couple of years ago that provides the same compensation if someone kills your pet, but opposes wrongful death benefits if someone kills your kid. Murnane must be a dog lover.]

SB 20-Jury Expansion.
This bill would include Illinois taxpayers who claim an Earned Income Tax Credit into the list of potential jurors.
[God forbid we let poor people on juries]

SB 222-Judicial Campaign Reform
This bill would establish guidelines for the public financing of Illinois Supreme Court and Appellate Court campaigns. It also sets mandatory contribution limits with respect to all judicial election campaigns.
[Yeah, see HB 1121 above]

SB 486-Class Action Residual.
This bill provides that residual funds left over from paying the class in a class action settlement shall be distributed to one or more charities by court approval.
[I can only conclude that the ICJL's position is that if Wal-Mart manages to drag out lawsuits resulting from their distribution of tens of thousands of lead-tainted baby bibs across America long enough that the children actually die before the case is settled, then Wal-Mart should be rewarded by getting the money back. That's corporate irresponsibility, ICJL-style]

SB 747/SB 1027-Services Rendered
This bill, referred to as the "Plaintiffs' Windfall Bill," is similar to legislation introduced last year. It would require that defendant's pay to the plaintiffs the full bill for expenses, even if the plaintiffs themselves received a discount on those expenses. In essence, it allows compensation to the plaintiff (and their lawyers) for amounts which were not actually lost.
[Instead, the ICJL wants to reward negligent defendants when an injured citizen gets a discount from their hospital]

SB 1296-Liability Remaining Parties
This bill changes the formula for determining apportionment of fault by dividing fault only among the remaining parties in the case. It excludes parties who have settled prior to trial from the equation, allowing for plaintiffs to sue the deepest pockets after settling with those more at fault.
[Instead, the ICJL wants defendants to remain on trial even after they've been dismissed from a case, and even allow juries to award damages against them, Sounds fair to me. Not.]

SB 1501-Class Action Residual
This bill is similar in nature to SB 486. Provides that after class members are paid, any residue plus interest shall be paid to nonprofit organizations that benefit the class or facilitate healthcare services in Illinois.
[See SB 486 above.]

The ICJL agenda is so extreme that not even the Republican Party supports it.

In the Illinois Senate:

Not ONE single Republican scored 100%, or even above 85%.

Minority Leader Frank Watson only scored 83%.

Converting their scores to grades, here's how Senate Republicans faired:

A (90-100%): 0
B (81 - 89%): 5
B- (80%): 4
C (71-79%): 1
C- (70%): 0
D (61-69%): 3
D- (60%): 1
F (59% or lower): 4

Over in the Illinois House:

Only one Republican scored above 80%, and House Minority Leader Tom Cross earned a B-.

14 House Republicans scored 25%, including those well-known "Friends of Trial Lawyers":

- Bill Black (17%, and tied for the lowest score of any Republican)
- Beth Coulson (25%)
- Roger Eddy (25%)
- David Leitch (25%)
- Bill & Jerry Mitchell (25%)
- Ruth Munson (25%)
- Rich Myers (20%)
- Aaron Schock (25%)

I guess we now know why the ICJL required a 75% or better to score as a "Friend of Fairness", but lowered the bar for "Friend of Trial Lawyer" arbitrarily to 15%. Calling 14 House Republicans "Friends of Trial Lawyers" probably wouldn't have gone over too big with Tom Cross.

Republican-turned-Democrat Bob Pritchard's score of 67% was better than 35 of his former House Republican colleagues.

And finally, the grades for House Republicans:

A - 0
B: 1
B-: 1
C: 8
C-: 0
D: 2
D-: 2
F: 31


Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Sound of Silence

The silence from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and their front group, the Illinois Civil Justice League is deafening.

They often complain that our courts are clogged by frivolous lawsuits.

They often say these lawsuits are nothing more than an attempt to shake down deep-pocketed defendants.

They like to argue that these massive, multi-million dollar lawsuits are imposing a tax on every working family.

Then comes this case:

Lawsuit against Splenda settled

The makers of Splenda and Equal on Friday settled a lawsuit over Splenda's disputed advertising slogan -- "Made from sugar so it tastes like sugar."

The settlement came right after the jury in Philadelphia announced it had reached a verdict.

Chicago-based Merisant Co., which makes Equal, accused Splenda of confusing consumers into thinking its product was healthier and more natural than other artificial sweeteners. Splenda's marketer, McNeil Nutritionals, countered that it simply has a better product backed by superior advertising.

A McNeil spokeswoman said the amount of the settlement wouldn't be announced.

Merisant was seeking more than $200 million from McNeil -- at least $183 million for unfair profits since 2003 and compensation for at least $25 million in lost sales.

The active ingredient in Splenda starts as pure cane sugar but is chemically altered to create a compound that contains no calories, according to McNeil. The final product contains no sugar.

That’s right. Splenda is made from sugar. And no one is disputing that it tastes like sugar (as a user of Splenda, I can tell you it tastes alot more like sugar than Equal, which tastes like the rancid extract of dirty sweat socks to me).

But Equal didn’t like the fact that they were getting their butt kicked in the free market, with Splenda cornering 60% of the artificial sweetener market in just a few short years, so the makers of Equal filed a $208 million lawsuit.

Now, Splenda is also being sued by sugar makers.

To me, this case seems to fit the definition of a frivilous lawsuit. And the infamous McDonald's case is dwarfed by this $208 million lawsuit.

Where’s the t.v. ads and press releases from the Illinois Civil Justice League blasting corporate America for filing frivolous lawsuits? Where’s the think tank study showing how Equal’s frivolous lawsuit is driving up the cost of Splenda – now found in over 4,000 consumer products – for hard working families?

Meanwhile, the ICJL is running t.v. ads about how many lawsuits are filed in Illinois each year. I wonder how many of those lawsuits are by businesses suing each other, just like this case?


Wednesday, April 04, 2007

ICJL touts new study by Big Tobacco, Oil and Drug Companies

Earlier this week on Illinoize, the Illinois Civil Justice League's Ed Murnane was touting a new study by the Pacific Research Institute, which he says backs up his claim that we need to restrict citizen access to the courts.

Not surprisingly, the Pacific Research Institute's work is funded by Big Tobacco, Big Oil, and Big Drug Companies.

According to SourceWatch, the Pacific Research Institute's major financiers include:

Altria (Parent company of Phillip Morris)
Chevron Texaco
ExxonMobile Corporation
PhRMA (umbrella group for the pharmaceutical industry)

The PRI's donors includes another group that I'd never heard of until now: White House Writer's Group.

Again, from SourceWatch:

The White House Writers Group (WHWG) was founded in 1993 by "five former White House speechwriters", many colleagues from the George H.W. Bush Administration. [1][2]

Media Transparency calls WHWG "an umbrella firm of former ghostwriters for Republican presidents and bureaucrats now at the service of anyone willing to pay." [3]

Gee, anyone wanna bet that the WHWG's client list includes Big Tobacco, Big Oil, Big Drug Companies, or all three?

As for the study itself

You've got to give style points, but no credibility points, to a study that includes a foreword from Haley Barbour. For those of you who've forgotten the pre-Katrina past of Mississippi's current GOP Governor, he's grateful. You see, Haley Barbour isn't just the former chair of the RNC and a defender of the old ways of the South, he also posed for a widely disseminated photo with modern era segregationists. That lapse in political judgment (and Barbour's subsequent defense of it) left such a stain on Barbour's political career, most folks plum forgot that before he became RNC chair, Barbour was a DC lobbyist who's firm made millions lobbying for big tobacco.

Barbour is so deep in the pocket of the tobacco industry that he vetoed a bill as governor that would have lowered grocery taxes by raising the tax on cigarettes (Mississippi has one of the highest grocery sales tax rates in the country).

To paraphrase the Chicago Tribune, Barbour is so deep in the pockets of the Tobacco Industry, he's lint.

But, God Bless Katrina, Barbour is now quietly campaigning for the VP slot on the Republican ticket in '08.

The moral of the story is this: If you want to pass off your tobacco industry propaganda as "a thorough and comprehensive study by economists," don't include a foreword by the segregation-loving, tobacco lobbying, ultra-conservative governor of Mississippi.


Wednesday, March 28, 2007

How Over the Top is the ICJL?

Backed by the insurance industry and out-of-state big business interests, the Illinois Civil Justice League continues it's hard campaign to try to justify its continued existence. As I listen to their "the sky is falling" rhetoric, I'm reminded of a recent interview with Republican pollster Frank Luntz, who said interest groups do a disservice to themselves by adopting extreme positions and over-the-top rhetoric, mainly in an attempt to try to justify their existence and keep the cash flowing in from their extreme backers. Luntz was talking about groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), but he could have just as easily been talking about the Illinois Civil Justice League (ICJL).

Enter Senate Bill 1296. According to the ICJL, SB 1296:

would establish that if multiple parties are responsible for causing an injury or loss, it makes no difference which of the multiple parties is most responsible. It will be the party with the "deepest pockets" or most money who pays. It doesn't matter who is mostly at fault, it matters who has the most money.

The insurance companies backing the ICJL are the same guys who claimed that requiring insurance companies to cover preventative services like mammograms would drive up the cost of health care, so I don't take anything they say at face value. So, I read the bill. Here's what SB 1296 actually says. All that it says:

The apportionment of fault under this Section only applies to the parties still remaining in the case at the time of the final determination by the trier of fact. It does not apply to the defendants or third party defendants that have been dismissed for any reason, including settlement.

In other words, a jury can't find someone guilty -- apportion blame and demand payment for damages from them -- if they are no longer on trial because they've been dismissed from the case or have already settled.

Now, I'm no lawyer, but I took several classes on democracy in college and consider myself fairly well versed on the democratic ideals of justice. And, for the life of me, I can't understand how the ICJL can argue that a jury should be able to find someone guilty and sentence them if that person is not on trial because they've been dismissed from the case. Somewhere tucked away inside all of our Constitutional Rights regarding due process, I think we're entitled to know that we're on trial and be represented by counsel before a jury finds us guilty.

I also can't understand how the ICJL can argue that a jury can find someone guilty for something and demand restitution, when that individual has essentially already pleaded guilty and accepted punishment. Don't we call that "double jeopardy"?

Speaking of PETA

The ICJL finds itself making some very strange bedfellows in it's opposition to House Bill 1798 as well, which amends the Wrongful Death Act to hold murderers, drunk drivers, and others who unlawfully take a life accountable for the grief and sorrow they've caused under Illinois' civil laws. The ICJL believes that if you take a life, you should only be liable for the victim's lost wages and medical expenses (if they lived that long), so that killing a minor, a senior citizen, or a poor person will cost you nothing.

Here, I do have some expertise. My best friend was murdered when we were only 17 years old. The State's Attorney struck a plea deal with the two guys who broke into his house and stabbed him to death for Second Degree Murder, 14 years. The Ringleader was out in seven, and later had his record expunged by Gov. Ryan. Because of Illinois' arcane Wrongful Death Act, his family received no restitution for the lifetime of pain they got, including returning home day after day to the scene of their own son's murder. I got to be a pallbearer my senior year of high school.

I mentioned PETA earlier, and ironically under Illinois law, you are entitled to restitution for grief and suffering if someone kills your pet. I humbly submit that people deserve at least the same consideration as animals.

(before the PETA folks freak out on me, the bassethound with the knife in his head is a Halloween costume, and I love dogs. In fact, I put PETA a step above the ICJL.)


Monday, March 12, 2007

Who IS ICJL/Deep Pockets Illinois? Follow the Money.

The Illinois Civil Justice League has launched a new propaganda campaign, "Deep Pockets Illinois," aimed at thwarting the passage of Senate Bill 1296. If you believe ICJL's Ed Murnane, the world is about to come to an end.

I'll have more about the bill later, but before we get into the nitty-gritty of why the ICJL claims that legislation that merely codifies 20 years of judicial practice will bring the world to an end, I think it's fair to take a deeper look at just who's behind the ICJL and their political arm, JUSTPAC.

According to the ICJL, they are "a coalition of Illinois citizens, small and large businesses, associations, professional societies, not-for-profit organizations and local governments." Unfortunately, there's no way to verify that claim because nowhere does the ICJL disclose who actually funds them.

Fortunately, the ICJL's political arm, JUSTPAC, is required to disclose where their money comes from. So I went to the State Board of Elections website, and low and behold......

  • More than half of JUSTPAC's funding comes from outside of Illinois;
  • Fewer than 100 donors to JUSTPAC come from Illinois, but
  • Nearly one-third of in-state donors have direct ties to the insurance industry;

And where does JUSTPAC's money go? Since 1994, JUSTPAC has given:

  • $2,094,662.60 to 80 Republican candidates in Illinois.
  • $500.00 to one Democrat.

Draw your own conclusions about who's interests JUSTPAC is looking out for. I believe that "he who pays the piper calls the tune," and if you:
  • Live in Illinois, and
  • don't work for the insurance industry, and
  • Aren't a GOP candidate for office
JUSTPAC isn't working for you.


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