Trial Lawyers and Breitbart Unite
The Trump era is producing strange alliances. Witness how trial lawyers are lining up behind Breitbart-backed Roy Moore in Alabama’s Senate GOP primary runoff later this month.
President Trump and Mitch McConnell have both endorsed Luther Strange, Alabama’s former Attorney General who was appointed temporarily to fill Jeff Sessions’s seat. But former White House aide Steve Bannon’s Breitbart team is trying to oust Mr. Strange to stick it to Mr. McConnell, whom they blame for the failure to kill ObamaCare, among other GOP crackups. Never mind that John McCain killed reform, and Mr. Strange voted for every repeal bill put up for a vote.
Mr. Moore, a former state Supreme Court chief justice, is a favorite among evangelicals. In 2003 he was removed from the bench after defying a federal court order to remove the Ten Commandments from the state Supreme Court. While voters returned him to the state’s high court in 2012, he was removed again for flouting the Supreme Court’s Obergefell ruling that legalized same-sex marriage.
Some Republicans like Sarah Palin admire Mr. Moore’s defiance even if it evinces contempt for the Constitution and rule of law. Trial lawyers value his disregard for judicial precedent and arbitration, which limits plaintiffs’ ability to sue in court.
In 2001 Mr. Moore argued in a dissenting opinion that the Federal Arbitration Act doesn’t preclude plaintiffs from trying disputes in state courts even though the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled otherwise. He opined that federal courts have misconstrued the law. Alabama-based plaintiff attorney Jere Beasley of Beasley Allen called Mr. Moore’s dissent “the strongest thing I’ve read against arbitration.”
Beasley Allen spearheaded nationwide asbestos litigation and the recent wave of torts against talcum powder, including the $417 million awarded by a California jury last month against Johnson & Johnson . Mr. Strange’s predecessor also employed Beasley Allen as outside counsel on the state lawsuit against BP for the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. The law firm was set to receive $140 million of the $2 billion settlement until Mr. Strange in 2011 scuttled the agreement. “I’m not going to give any law firm 15% to 20% of the money due the people of the state of Alabama,” Mr. Strange said.
Plaintiff attorneys ranked among Mr. Moore’s biggest patrons in 2012, making up about 20% of his haul, according to local news reports. Mr. Beasley and his partner, Greg Allen, both contributed $5,000 to Mr. Moore’s campaign in July. According to Alabama Local News, Mr. Beasley sent three emails to his firm’s employees encouraging them to vote for Mr. Moore in the Aug. 15 primary and Sept. 26 runoff because the election is “important to our firm and our clients.”
Mr. Moore is the only candidate “who is supportive on issues that are good for consumers and victims of corporate wrongdoing and abuse,” Mr. Beasley wrote. “The request is made in the best interest of people in Alabama who may need the courts to remain open, independent and fair.”
By that he means receptive to jackpot judgments that enrich lawyers, if not their clients. Washington’s “blue slip” tradition lets Senators veto potential judicial nominees from their states, and trial lawyers hope Mr. Moore will block judges who have upheld arbitration agreements. He could also help Senate Democrats block tort reforms that have passed the House this year.
Trial lawyers have a history of co-opting Republicans in the South, so their support for Mr. Moore isn’t surprising. But the Breitbart-trial bar alliance does speak volumes about the faux conservatism of certain self-styled populists.