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The new head of the Rand Corp.’s Institute for Civil Justice is stoked. After nearly a year as acting ICJ director, Robert T. Reville, 37, received the permanent title in October. Greeting visitors, he can be suitably managerial, keeping his enthusiasm on a short leash. But there’s the unmistakable air of an �ber-grad student who has just snared a wondrous grant and is on the verge of Big Things. In his new office at Rand’s beachside headquarters in Santa Monica, Calif., he points to the half-empty bookshelves and says happily, “I’m still moving.” Yes, indeed. Reville moved up through the ranks, albeit quickly. In 1995, when Rand recruited him, he was a labor economist working as a research fellow at his alma mater, Brown University. Concentrating on a study area that others shunned as boring — workers’ compensation — he won national recognition as an expert on the effect of disability on employment. In 1999, he became the institute’s research director, and two years later he was its choice to replace the departing director, Allen Charles. A former colleague says the selection committee, faced with several equally skilled candidates, “could have chosen someone more seasoned, more blas�, but instead went with Bob, the kid in the candy shop — which is wonderful for the institute and for Bob.” THE INSTITUTE Rand is a child of World War II that started out analyzing rocket technology for the Air Force and evolved into a private, nonprofit study center. It employs nearly 1,700 part-time and full-time staff, working through a dozen research units devoted to health, education and other social and international issues. Secretaries of state are rumored to go to Rand’s palmy, peaches-and-cream complex for cram sessions with in-house experts before arms-control negotiations. The nation’s major newspapers unquestioningly cite Rand in their editorials. The head of the Los Angeles County Probation Department uses Rand statistics on recidivism rates to bolster his budget requests. The 25-year-old Institute for Civil Justice is one of the smaller units in terms of budget ($3 million annually). But its studies win a disproportionate share of Rand’s publicity — thanks in part to the national preoccupation with lawyers and litigation and, some would say, the lack of hard data to support or refute anecdotes. The institute’s mission is a lofty one: to help make the courts more efficient and equitable by supplying government and private decision-makers with the results of objective, empirically based, analytic research. Advocates on one side or the other of the tort reform wars may disagree with the results of individual studies — the plaintiffs’ bar is unhappy with a series of asbestos surveys that gives ammunition to defendants by questioning how compensation has been allocated — but are often at a loss when asked to name another think tank, private or government, that is a credible rival. OTHER THINK TANKS There are wannabes, especially on the right. The Manhattan Institute, the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation all aspire to move beyond their conservative labels and issue reports on policy issues that get the respect a new Rand study commands. At the other extreme are those who work for the Federal Judicial Center and the American Bar Foundation, academically impeccable but not necessarily focused on the headline issues that lawmakers are debating. Off on the sidelines, a few scholars sniff — not for attribution — that Rand’s researchers are glorified number crunchers who make glossy packages out of other people’s data. But Rand stands in the middle, delicately balanced on a pinnacle all by itself. At times the act is astounding. For example, using funding that comes largely from business interests and insurance companies — the same voices behind the conventional wisdom that damage awards are escalating out of control — the institute meticulously documented findings that over the last 25 years, tort verdicts have remained even with inflation. For the litigator, Rand’s work is particularly useful at the appellate level. Stanford Law Professor Deborah Hensler, who headed the Institute for Civil Justice in the early 1990s, points to Justice David Souter’s 1999 opinion on class certification, Ortiz v. Fibreboard, 527 U.S. 815, as an example of Rand’s clout. “The entire first paragraph is nothing but Rand cites,” she notes. “When you see that, you know it was in the lawyers’ briefs.” Over the past two decades, the institute has amassed dozens of appellate citations. For example: � A 1992 Scientology case out of California resorts to the institute’s 1987 study “Post Trial Adjustments to Jury Awards” to conclude, with some precision, that punitive damages are not out of control but rather subject to reasonable court modifications. � The Texas Supreme Court uses a 1981 study, “Court Efforts to Reduce Pretrial Delay: A National Inventory,” to weigh the authority of a trial court to appoint a master to supervise pretrial discovery in a wrongful-death case. � There’s a trend in state courts toward increasing employer exposure for discharging workers, says the Utah Supreme Court, citing the 1992 study “Labor-Market Responses to Employer Liability.” � Black plaintiffs receive less than white plaintiffs in medical malpractice cases, announces the West Virginia Supreme Court, holding up the Institute’s 1985 study “Deep Pockets, Empty Pockets: Who Wins in Cook County Jury Trials.” What more could a researcher want? PREDICTING GROWTH “I think ICJ will grow,” Reville says, noting that the structure of Rand encourages cross-pollination. Units “hire” researchers out of a pool, and a researcher may divide time between Justice Department studies on the one hand and reports about child welfare on the other. “When you think about it, nearly every issue has a civil justice component,” Reville says. “I see us working across units. I don’t think, in the past, the ICJ has fully realized the talent that is available here.” His hands play lightly over his desk as he speaks, feeling the talent. He glances at the space on the book shelves. A perpetual theme for Rand is how it maintains the freedom to follow facts wherever they lead while tapping donors who invariably have special interests. The independence issue is particularly significant for the institute, which is unique among the units of Rand in that more than half of its budget comes not from government contracts but from the private sector. Full disclosure is a first step, says Reville, pointing to the institute’s Web site. The biggest gifts in 1999-2000, donations of more than $100,000, come from pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. and the insurer State Farm — both major players in the tort reform movement, and the nemeses of trial lawyers. The plaintiff’s bar is represented in the next tier: a gift from the Association of Trial Lawyers of America (ATLA) in the $25,000-$99,999 category, cheek by jowl with corporate donors Dow Chemical and Exxon. Individual lawyers and judges — among them Terry Hatter, Joseph Mandel and Shirley Hufstedler — weigh in with contributions in the under $10,000 category. Specific projects were underwritten by Boston University, the California Department of Industrial Relations and eight other groups. Just the names of those with whom he is sharing space is enough to rattle Larry S. Stewart of Miami’s Stewart Tilghman Fox & Bianchi, a former ATLA president who also sits on the institute’s board of directors. “When you look at the work product, you see two types,” Stewart says. “There are those studies the institute decides on its own to undertake, and they are as objective as you can be, contributing meaningfully to the public debate.” But, he says, he has “less confidence in studies done at the behest of corporate sponsors” because “researchers have to be constantly vigilant to be objective.” Specifically, he has been vocal in criticizing the asbestos studies, and he prides himself on pointing out enough holes in a study about bad-faith insurance in California that it never went public. Ex-ICJ chief Hensler responds that donors and sponsors have never chosen the questions that researchers ask, much less influenced the answers they produce — “although it’s not for lack of trying.” It would be much easier to raise money if Rand’s scholarship were up for sale, she says, laughing. THE PERFECT SOURCE “We used to joke that the ideal source would be a rich old millionaire who was about to die. But I’ve come to believe there’s a plus in relying on the corporate interests. It kept us working on hot topics, rather than the airy-fairy things that academics might choose.” Reville says that sending out early drafts of studies and learning from the angry responses is a useful procedure that he intends to continue. “We learn a great deal from those 12-page-plus letters that accuse us of being biased one way or the other,” he says, adding that, ideally, he likes a dialectic that brings flak from one side in the first round, from the other side with the next draft, “and everyone satisfied, or everyone angry with us, in the end.”

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