Commentary Magazine

A Thought Experiment

One of the most prominent tort lawyers in the country, Melvyn Weiss, was sentenced yesterday to 30 months in federal jail after pleading guilty to paying plaintiffs to file class-action suits. He must report by August 28th. His former partner Bill Lerach, equally well known, is already in jail for the same crime, serving two years.

Richard Scruggs, perhaps the most famous and certainly one of the richest tort lawyers in the country (he made hundreds of million in the tobacco settlement case), recently pled guilty to the attempted bribery of a judge. He will be sentenced July 2nd and faces up to five years.

To be sure, these stories have all been covered in the mainstream media, usually on page 12. But they have been treated as separate stories, with no dots connected. But let’s do a simple thought experiment. Suppose that the CEO’s of three very well-known Wall Street financial firms had pled guilty to major felonies with regard to the conduct of their businesses over the course of six months and were all headed to the slammer or already checked in at Club Fed. Do you think that the New York Times et al. would have handled the matter in the same way? Or would there have been no end of “news analyses” and chin-pulling editorials about the ethical swamp that Wall Street has become as its denizens shamelessly lust after Mammon?

The same experiment, of course, might be run regarding Congress. Committee chairmen (at least when Democrats control Congress) love to drag the likes of oil company executives and bank chairmen before the cameras to explain themselves and be lectured to by their self-appointed moral superiors in Congress. (No sniggering, please.) But there hasn’t been a peep out of Capital Hill over a trio of nationally famous and felonious tort lawyers.

Just a wild guess, but I suspect the fact that tort lawyers are one of the top two funding sources for Democratic candidates might have something to do with this.

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