Lawyers on a panel sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's legal arm said today that they want to find better ways to investigate and sanction trial lawyers for alleged misconduct.
The lawyers, all specializing in tort defense, expressed frustration with how courts and state bar regulators have handled misconduct cases in recent years. The handling of such cases varies widely among states, they said, given that misconduct is almost always addressed at the state level.
“We’ve not done a good job in our profession of policing ourselves,” said James Stengel, head of the litigation practice at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe.
“You tend to see these matters pursued very slowly. They take a very long time,” added Jonathan Drimmer, a partner in the Washington office of Steptoe & Johnson.
They spoke today at an annual legal conference sponsored by the Chamber’s Institute for Legal Reform. Held at the Chamber’s downtown Washington headquarters, the business-backed conference is addressing an array of issues related to class actions and other litigation.
The American Association for Justice, which represents plaintiffs’ lawyers, is using the conference as a chance to highlight the Chamber’s own use of litigation — which the association says is hypocritical given the Chamber’s support for limiting lawsuits by others.
At the conference, defense lawyers cited several cases of alleged misconduct by plaintiffs’ lawyers. In 2005, for example, U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack in Corpus Christi, Texas, effectively halted litigation related to silica because of what she called evidence of malfeasance by doctors and plaintiffs’ lawyers.
While there have been state disciplinary actions against medical professionals, none of the lawyers in the silica litigation has been sanctioned, said Daniel Mulholland, who was also on the Chamber panel. Mulholland is a partner at Forman Perry Watkins Krutz & Tardy in Jackson, Miss., and was on the defendants’ steering committee for the silica litigation.
“Lawyers do a worse job of policing themselves than even the doctors do,” Mulholland said.