They advanced on the state Capitol like Imperial Stormtroopers attacking a rebel base. More than 200 attorneys embarked on a million billable march to confront what they see as the evil empire: the Republican-controlled Legislature.
The cause was truth, justice and non-interference of monetary damages awarded by juries “¦ among other things. Last week’s Oklahoma Bar Association Day at the Capitol provided drama and verbal sparing, but evidence remained doubtful that the hostile sides could come together to work on solutions for so-called “tort reform.”
When the state GOP gained majority of the Senate in November, it made it clear lawsuit reform would be high on the priority list, and Republicans have followed through on the promise. Several bills ” including capping attorneys’ fees, limiting the amount of non-economic damages, restructuring judicial nominations and one that just about changes everything concerning civil litigation ” have made their way through the Legislature.
The lawyer march did turn what was going to be a boring day at the Capitol ” where the highlight of the Senate session was the unveiling of a new painting ” into a high-stakes game of “Yo Mama.”
LEGION OF ATTORNEYS
March 17 started at the OBA headquarters, just a couple of blocks south of the Capitol on Lincoln Boulevard. The legion of attorneys got instructions on what the day entailed and how to go about talking with legislators.
“At the end of the day we have a reception with beer and wine, but frankly, this is a whiskey day,” John Williams, OBA executive director, told the gathered troops.
Simultaneously, OBA board president Jon Parsley was conducting a press conference at the Capitol to make it clear the “bar” was being raised.
“The Legislature is attempting to prune the branch of the judiciary with a saw whose teeth have been sharpened with untruths and partisan politics,” Parsley told reporters.
He announced the OBA would oppose several tort reform bills, and said he believes there is no evidence for such reform.
“When the Oklahoma Bar Association asked for proof of frivolous lawsuits, none was produced,” Parsley said. “Some of the supporters of this legislation know Oklahoma does not have a tort crisis.”
As the press conference ended, Senate President Pro Tem Glenn Coffee, R-Oklahoma City, responded to Parsley’s fighting words by holding an impromptu press conference. He didn’t hold back his displeasure with OBA and Parsley.
“This was puffery and a (public relations) attempt to try and muddle the message,” Coffee said in response to Parsley’s remarks. He went on to use phrases like “jackpot justice” and said attorneys were just full of “greed and lining their pockets.” Coffee is an attorney himself.
MARCH OF THE JUDICIARY
Shortly afterward, the march of the judiciary commenced. They made the short trek to the Capitol under a warm and bright sun, spent some time getting through the metal detectors, but eventually made it to the fourth floor and Coffee’s office. However, the leader of the Senate was still out to lunch, his secretary told the mob. Actually, he was across the hall sitting in his seat on the Senate chamber floor waiting for the day’s session to start.
At that point, the attorney herd filed into the gallery of the chamber and took up nearly every seat. During the introduction part of the session, Democrat leader Sen. Charlie Laster, D-Shawnee, asked all the attorneys to stand and be recognized. Coffee just smiled.
When session ended, another attempt was made by the attorneys to meet with Coffee. But he was tied up with other meetings.
During his press conference a few hours earlier, Coffee told reporters the OBA needed to be held accountable and come to the negotiation table.
“I’ve offered to meet with the (OBA) president and the board anytime,” Coffee said.
But by the end of the day, the meeting never took place.
Back at OBA headquarters, dozens of attorneys and legislators, even a few Republicans, grazed on shrimp and downed a few drinks. The surge was over. But for the attorneys, the tort reform Death Star was still intact. “Scott Cooper