Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi spoke at the Heritage Foundation today on the state’s successes with tort reform, an event hosted by former Attorney General Ed Meese. During the Q&A period, Meese asked the governor about the effects of the 2004 tort reforms on the state’s trial bar. In response, Gov. Barbour alluded to the criminal prosecutions and convictions involving Mississippi’s most prominent trial lawyer, Dickie Scruggs. It was an interesting exchange and a useful corrective to any schadenfreude legal reformers might occasionally indulge in.
BARBOUR: I don’t think it was related to the tort reform, but as you know, some of the more prominent plaintiffs’ lawyers in my state got into trouble. …
I hate it. It’s bad for the court system, it’s bad for everybody. One of the things I really believe is, the public has to think the legal system is on the up and up. I mean, that’s just really, really important.
Once in my career, I was the deputy chairman of the International Democrat Union, which despite its name – Democrat and Union – is the organization of conservative parties of the world that President Reagan started with Mrs. Thatcher and Chancellor Kohl. And I was struck by how much people in other parts of the world realized the importance of the rule of law in America. And it is not that way everywhere. There are advanced countries that are very prosperous that don’t have nearly the confidence, faith and commitment to the rule of law that we do.
And for us, an advantage for us is the little guy generally believes that the court system is on the up and up.
All of sudden we get judges getting convicted of taking bribes and lawyers, good lawyers – they may have been plaintiffs’ lawyers and they may be on the other side from me, and politically and everything else – but they’re good lawyers. To me it’s sad, ’cause it’s bad for what we all ultimately want in America, and we do want the rule of law, and we want a system that let’s us progress.
But the tort reform battle and the actual enactment of tort reform I don’t think had any role in that. It was other stuff. Most of the litigation had actually started before.
MEESE: I understand that. I have always felt that, to some extent at least, the tremendous amount of money that came to be involved, and the way that the trial lawyers were holding their seminars and dealing themselves, led to the arrogance that led to people like Dickie Scruggs and Bill Lerach to have the bribes and so on…that the money in effect was so great for these trial lawyers that it almost corrupted the system and that’s what led to some of these things that we’ve talked about.
BARBOUR: It’s maybe a monetary takeoff on “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
Barbour is really one of the best public speakers we’ve seen, certainly among those who speak in informal settings, using the vernacular.
Heritage has posted an .mp3 of the day’s events, which also included a good discussion with the Pacific Research Institute’s Lawrence McQuillan and Ohio Rep. Bill Batchelder, House Republican leader and former appellate judge. The exchange transcribed above is near the end of the audio.
UPDATE: I’ve got more from Barbour at Shopfloor.org, including this wonderful line: “If they want a demonstration project, come on down to Mississippi, I’ll show you a demonstration project.”