BY ARNOLD HAMILTON
When will Okies catch a clue?
The Legislature’s so-called tort reform efforts – conceived by silk-stocking corporatists and executed by their wholly-owned subsidiary, the Oklahoma Republican Party – have two goals:
1. Padlock the courthouse door so big business, doctors and other “haves” can operate with impunity – eliminating any fear the common man [or woman] can be fairly compensated for being wronged.
2. Undercut trial lawyers who are the biggest donors to the Democratic Party.
Tuesday’s House session ended – once and for all – the charade that this is about stopping a tidal wave of frivolous lawsuits and jackpot justice.
[Check the facts: there is no tidal wave of either in ultra-conservative Oklahoma, where few ever bother to file a lawsuit.]
How was the charade exposed? By a case of industrial-strength hubris by Rep. Colby Schwartz, R-Yukon, author of HB 1570.
Schwartz’s bill – approved on a 56-38 vote, pretty much along party lines – would require a plaintiff in a civil lawsuit to first submit an expert’s affidavit, stating that the facts support a finding that the defendant was professionally negligent.
It’s the legal equivalent of a poll tax: Before anyone could file a lawsuit alleging they were harmed by professional negligence, they would have to dig deep into their pockets to hire an expert to conduct a mini-trial to determine the frivolity of the legal exercise.
It would come as no great surprise that such an initial outlay, probably into the thousands of dollars, may be sufficient to dissuade most folks from even bothering to sue – no matter how aggrieved they are.
But here’s the really revealing part of the Schwartz’s [and the GOP’s] scam: It would prohibit the plaintiff from using the expert’s affidavit at trial.
In other words, the injured party – already gambling on a favorable verdict – would have to spend even more money to hire more expert witnesses to provide the same testimony.
So this is all about good government? And fairness? And stopping frivolous lawsuits?
Get real – this measure would lopsidedly tilt the playing field toward big business and the silk-stocking powers-that-be.
Two Republicans joined 36 Democrats in opposing Schwartz’s scam: Reps. Lisa Billy of Purcell and John Trebilcock of Broken Arrow deserve kudos for standing against what is almost certainly unconstitutional, not to mention fundamentally unfair.
My guess is, Schwartz’s bill – a poster child for bad public policy – will sail through the Republican-controlled Senate.
Then? Democratic Gov. Brad Henry has vetoed it before. Will he have the courage to veto again? And will Democrats have the courage to fight the GOP’s populist charade and stand firmly behind the veto?
More to the point: Will hard-working, honorable, fair-minded Oklahomans ever wake up to the reality the corporately-owned legislative majority could not care less about the vast majority of state residents?
Okies, beware. Your nightmare may be just beginning.
– Arnold Hamilton is editor of The Oklahoma Observer