Trial lawyers are concentrating on the Senate, with the top 15 firms giving $236,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and $54,000 to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., a former trial lawyer who faces a potentially difficult re-election. Reid collected $978,000 from the legal industry as a whole between January and June.
Trial lawyers have suffered an image problem lately — worse than the usual one that prompts all the lawyer jokes. Their political standard-bearer, former Sen. John Edwards, admitted to cheating on his cancer-stricken wife, and is being investigated for his presidential campaign’s $100,000 payment to his mistress.
Last spring, four senior partners of Milberg Weiss, formerly New York’s pre-eminent class action securities firm, were fined and imprisoned for bribing plaintiffs in cases that had netted them $250 million in fees. (The firm since reorganized, and its remaining partners and employees have made $36,537 in political contributions this year, all to Democrats.)
And Dickie Scruggs of Mississippi, a master trial lawyer and architect of the billion-dollar tobacco settlement in 1998, received a seven-year prison sentence earlier this year for bribing a judge.
Trial lawyers make their living as populists, inciting public anger in juries against faceless, greedy corporations. But what happens to their populist image when they become yet another outstretched hand, begging Uncle Sam for yet another bailout?