Group Would Decimate Jury System, Consumer Access to Court
Common Good, a self-professed "legal reform" organization in the midst of a "radio tour" to promote changes in the law it claims will benefit average citizens, is in fact a stalking horse for powerful corporate interests, according to a report released by the non-profit, non-partisan Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR).
Founded by corporate defense attorney Philip Howard in 2002, Common Good claims it wants to "overhaul America's lawsuit culture" and "draw the line on who can sue for what." However, Howard is a partner at Covington & Burling, where partners are compensated, on average, $655,000 annually. Covington & Burling has represented a Who's Who of corporate interests against less powerful and less affluent clients.
"Common Good is trying to rally public opinion to force changes in the law that would further entrench the advantages that corporations currently hold in the courtroom while whittling away individual legal rights, including the 7th Amendment guarantee of trial by jury," according to FTCR's report.(Click here to read the report.)
"The Truth About Philip Howard's 'Common Good'" cites Howard's numerous corporate ties. For example, Covington & Burling represents every major US tobacco company and helped the tobacco industry formulate the Whitecoat Project, a campaign to minimize second hand smoke as a public health issue. The firm funneled money from its tobacco industry clients to "tort reform" groups across the country and helped orchestrate the tobacco industry's tort reform agenda. Covington & Burling has also counted as clients Enron, the pharmaceutical industry, health care corporations and oil companies.
FTCR's report also examines the outlandish claims in Howard's speeches and books. For instance, Howard barely conceals his disdain for suits brought on grounds of discrimination. "Trivial perceived slights have' become a preoccupation of some African Americans," he writes.
The report unmasks the "let's get back to common sense" image Common Good tries to present. The group "seems dedicated to an altogether different principle: the principle that corporations and the corporateers who run them should not be held accountable. That principle goes against the deep American belief that individuals should take responsibility for their actions," FTCR finds.
Common Good and Howard have been using their image as a reform group to promote changes in state and federal law. The powerless came under fire when Common Good tried to limit contingency fees in a dozen states, a move which could deprive the poor of legal representation. Also central to Howard's agenda is weakening the jury system. Though trial by jury is a 7th Amendment guarantee, Howard would remove juries from the courtroom. He touts the superiority of judges over jury, claiming that average people are too unpredictable to make important legal decisions: "If you let every case come down to the vote of the jury you never know where you stand."
Common Good's agenda has reached Congress as S. 1518, the "Reliable Medical Justice Act." The bill, under the guise of improving the medical justice system, would provide federal funding for states to strip health care consumers of their legal rights.
"Far from trying to clean up a messy legal system for the common good, Howard is trying to rally public opinion to force changes in the law that will help the corporate interests he and his law firm, Covington & Burling, have served for many years," concludes FTCR.