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ATLA Convention
WhAssociation of Trial Lawyers of America When:Saturday, July 19 — Wednesday, July 23 Where:Hilton San Francisco, 333 O’Farrell St.; Hotel Nikko San Francisco, 222 Mason St.Registration: On-site registration begins today and continues through Wednesday at the Hilton Program:Event includes education programs; committee, litigation and section group meetings; an awards luncheon with Morris Dees, co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center; a reception at the California Academy of Sciences; an ATLA Political Action Committee Town Hall meeting; a reception honoring President-Elect David Casey; an ATLA membership business meeting and elections; and a closing reception and dinner dance. Information: www.atla.org Source : ATLA

Trial lawyers are massing in San Francisco over the next five days for what is likely to be their official entry into the political warfare of 2004. A cast of Democratic Party heavyweights — including at least three presidential hopefuls — will be on hand to plead for cash and support as they look to unseat President Bush and the GOP majority in Congress. To be sure, the Association of Trial Lawyers of America’s annual convention, which kicks off Saturday, is also a chance for attorneys to network and brush up on everything from railroad law to nursing home litigation. But politics — particularly irritation over congressional efforts to curb asbestos awards and state class actions — won’t be far from the agenda. “I think this weekend is really going to be the gearing up � for the 2004 campaign,” said Bruce Brusavich of Torrance-based Agnew & Brusavich and the president of the Consumer Attorneys of California. “The trial bar is going to have to play a much more activist role,” said ATLA President-elect David Casey Jr., to fight what he calls an “unprecedented assault” on the civil justice system that threatens to pre-empt states’ rights. “It’s something you’ll hear about in discussions in the cocktail party, and you’ll see action being taken in the formal meetings as well,” said Casey, a senior partner at San Diego-based Casey, Gerry, Reed & Schenk. Casey takes over the reins of the 60,000-member organization from the current president, Mary Alexander of San Francisco, at the convention’s closing gala Wednesday. In the meantime, the convention is likely to be dominated by discussion of a pair of Senate bills: One would set up a trust fund system to settle asbestos victims’ claims and put an end to traditional asbestos lawsuits; the other would give defendants new power to move many class actions from state to federal court. In March, trial lawyers were divided over asbestos legislation. A bill by Sen. Don Nickles, R-Okla., would have allowed only plaintiffs who met certain medical criteria to file asbestos-related suits. Alexander was among the opponents, and Steven Kazan, a senior partner at Kazan, McClain, Edises, Abrams, Fernandez, Lyons & Farrise in Oakland, was a vocal supporter. But the proposal currently on the table has changed. A plan by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, would prohibit asbestos plaintiffs from launching legal battles in the current civil system. Asbestos victims would be compensated through a privately funded account administered — in part — by judges appointed by the president. Now, Kazan and Alexander say trial attorneys have united against the legislation. “If you will look closely, you will now see that I am wearing the ATLA team jersey,” Kazan said. “Hatch has done what I had thought was impossible, which is that he has single-handedly reunited the entire plaintiffs bar,” he said. Trial lawyers are critical of the Hatch proposal’s $5 billion cap on insurers’ and manufacturers’ annual contributions to the fund. Opponents argue the cap will create an under-funded compensation system, which they say could lead to unreasonably small awards and delayed payments. ATLA members are also alarmed by a bill by Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, that would allow a defendant or plaintiff to remove certain interstate class actions to federal courts. The federal courts have been less hospitable territory for complex class actions, trial lawyers say. They contend state courts are faster and are more familiar with state civil laws. “We believe it will delay justice and take away the rights of people who have been injured by products,” Alexander said. But despite facing a hostile administration and Congress on most issues, ATLA members will have at least one political victory to celebrate. Their Senate allies have killed — at least for the time being — legislation that would have limited non-economic damages in health care liability suits to $250,000, similar to California’s cap. A recent attempt to break a filibuster on the bill failed by a substantial margin. In her farewell speech, Alexander said she “will be thanking everyone for a job well done in defeating this medical malpractice bill.” Though The New York Times reported that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., has promised to bring the bill up again, Casey doesn’t perceive that as much of a threat: “I think the vote indicates that it’s very unlikely that it will move in the U.S. Senate.” And the parade of congressional Democrats scheduled to speak is likely to help keep the bill from making a comeback. Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota, Sen. Barbara Boxer of California and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco are making appearances. Also slated to speak are a trio of presidential hopefuls: Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.; Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C.; and Rep. Richard Gephardt, D-Mo. Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe and former Clinton adviser and CNN “Crossfire” co-host James Carville are also on the agenda. Kerry and Edwards, who made millions as a plaintiffs attorney and has received much of his campaign cash from fellow lawyers, are scheduled to speak at a lunch for members who’ve given at least $1,000 to the group’s political action committee. Despite its Democratic leanings, ATLA is also trying a little bipartisanship this weekend. Casey, ATLA’s incoming president, said trial lawyers need to fight the perception that they exclusively support Democrats: “I think it’s more important than ever that ATLA reach out on a bipartisan basis.” ATLA created a Republican Trial Lawyers Caucus last year and has invited Rep. John Doolittle, R-Rocklin, to speak. “The ATLA people have been viewed as 100 percent Democratic. It’s not true,” said caucus Chair James Parkinson, a solo attorney in Palm Desert. “We’ve just never been very vocal as Republicans.” His caucus aims to identify Republicans in Congress who might see eye-to-eye with trial lawyers on their issues, he said. “It’s not that there are not Republicans that are supporting the plaintiffs trial bar,” said Peter Hinton, senior partner at Hinton, Alfert & Sumner in Walnut Creek and a member of the ATLA board. “There are. But they’re mostly being stifled right now.” Even so, of the $2.8 million ATLA’s PAC gave to federal candidates during the 2002 election cycle, 89 percent went to Democrats and 11 percent to Republicans, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research group in Washington, D.C., that tracks money in politics. Trial lawyers have to do more to illuminate the goals they share with a wider array of interest groups, from environmentalists to conservatives, Casey said. “We need to really reach out to the other side of the political spectrum,” and appeal to conservatives with a states’ rights argument. “It’s not just money,” Casey said. “A lot of it’s communication.”

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