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When Al Gore announced his choice of Senator Joseph Lieberman as his running mate, it was hard to imagine a group that had more reason to be disappointed than the nation’s trial lawyers. In Lieberman the vice president has picked a man who is unsurpassed among Senate Democrats in his support of tort reform, a crusade that offends plaintiffs’ lawyers both philosophically and economically. Gore also passed over Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, a former trial lawyer, who was on the VP’s short list. “Joe Lieberman is the most effective Democrat in the Senate” on tort reform, said Victor Schwartz, a partner at Washington, D.C.’s Crowell & Moring and counsel to the American Tort Reform Association. “If it were not for Joe Lieberman, there would never have been a Biomaterials Access Act.” The Biomaterials Access Assurance Act, passed in 1998, gives partial immunity to companies supplying raw materials or components for medical implants. BREAKING WITH THE PARTY Lieberman, whose state of Connecticut is home to several major insurance companies, has frequently broken with his party to support tort reform bills, including a 1996 products liability bill that was vetoed by the president. “I have supported just about every tort reform proposal that’s come along the track in my 11 years here,” acknowledged Lieberman at a press conference last summer. Veteran consumer activist and Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader agrees but looks at it a little differently. “Joe Lieberman never met an immunity bill for corporations that he didn’t like,” he said. In a recent position paper, Nader criticized the receptiveness of Texas Governor George W. Bush and the Clinton administration to what Nader calls “a wrongdoer’s coalition,” made up of insurers and the tobacco, automotive, oil, chemical, and health care industries. If elected, he hopes to repeal all the state and federal tort reform measures in place. Nader, whose name is spoken with something approaching reverence by many personal injury and consumer lawyers, would seem an attractive choice for many of them. But he hasn’t made much headway. Although many tort lawyers grumbled over the choice of Lieberman, most said they will still vote for Gore, whose record on tort reform they consider vastly better than that of Bush. CONVENTIONAL CHOICE At a recent convention of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, held before Lieberman’s selection, leading trial lawyers urged their colleagues to vote for Gore over Nader — and to contribute generously. Most appear to be listening. As of July 1, Gore had raised more than $5 million from lawyers (trial lawyers and others), compared with a paltry $15,000 for Nader. Joseph Jamail Jr., the legendary Texas plaintiffs’ lawyer who won $11 billion for Pennzoil against Texaco, said that he has seen Bush’s tort reforms up close and wants to make sure the governor doesn’t make it into the White House. As for Lieberman, he says, “I’m not that thrilled by anyone who doesn’t worry about the rights of negligence victims, but we really don’t have much room to dance.” “I think trial lawyers are so anxious to see the vice president elected, I doubt very seriously if [the selection of Lieberman] will make one bit of difference,” says ATLA President Fred Baron of Dallas’ Baron & Budd. “As much as we all admire Ralph, a vote for Nader is tantamount to a vote for Bush.” “I always thought a vote for Ralph Nader was a vote for Ralph Nader,” countered the Green Party candidate.

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