Saturday, June 24, 2006

Candidate's reform talk may be adding insult to injury

Candidate's reform talk may be adding insult to injury
By Eric Zorn
Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune
Published June 22, 2006

You'd think that Republican U.S. congressional candidate Peter Roskam would have the common sense to keep his yap shut about the issue of lawsuit reform.

Roskam, a state senator from Wheaton who is running for the west suburban 6th District seat being vacated by retiring GOP lion Henry Hyde of Bensenville, sent out a news release this week boasting that "more than two dozen doctors joined [him Monday] in a door-to-door effort in support of his position on lawsuit reform. ... Roskam has named lawsuit reform as a top priority."

Trial attorneys as bogeymen is a solid, familiar, business-friendly, conservative position, for sure.

Republicans frequently invoke the scary image of predatory lawyers who take out full-page "We get results!" ads in the Yellow Pages; lawyers who beckon victims of "slip and fall injuries, medical negligence ... dog-bite injuries, wrongful death [and] defective products" to "put our experience to work for you. ... No fee unless you collect."

Lawyers like--boo!--Peter Roskam.

I borrowed the above verbiage from an ad for Salvi, Roskam & Maher, a Wheaton personal-injury firm and proud member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum, a national organization of attorneys "who have won million and multimillion-dollar verdicts and settlements."

Roskam earned $615,000 last year from his work as a PI lawyer, according to campaign disclosure statements. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Our civil justice system gives the little guy a fighting chance when big guys with deep pockets do him wrong.

Occasional outrageous verdicts notwithstanding, the civil courts have a long-term remedial effect that makes us all healthier and safer.

It's just that Roskam carrying the banner for lawsuit reform is like a Hummer owner driving around with a Greenpeace sticker on his bumper.

Given that limiting the pain and suffering component of awards, as Roskam supports, isn't exactly an issue of raging concern these days, you'd think Roskam would have avoided giving his Democratic opponent, Iraq war veteran Tammy Duckworth, such an easy opportunity to raise her eyebrows.

"We believe the real problem in the system is frivolous lawsuits like those that Peter Roskam solicits in his Yellow Pages ads," said Duckworth campaign manager Jon Carson, whose camp provided the images of the ads. "We need to look for ways to stop these lawsuits on the front end, maybe by setting standards for the advertising."

Carson called upon Roskam to release a full list of his clients "so we can see what role he has or hasn't played in the reduction of frivolous suits."

Roskam spokesman Ryan McLaughlin branded Duckworth's line of attack as "dirty politics" and said that, "bottom line, groups that support lawsuit reform support Peter Roskam. ... Yeah, he's an attorney, but [as a state legislator] he has never voted against reform."

Though Roskam was against reform before he was for it.

In the mid-1990s, he and law partner Al Salvi, then a state representative, formed the Sir Thomas More Justice League.

It was a political action committee aimed at raising money from trial attorneys and others opposed to tort reform measures then moving through the General Assembly.

Terrence Lavin, former president of the Illinois Bar Association, recalled Wednesday that Salvi and Roskam promised, "We will never, ever vote for tort reform," when they asked him for a $25,000 donation.

When Roskam decided to vote for tort reform under pressure from Republican leadership, he and Salvi (who voted "present") returned many of the donations to their PAC. It was an all but open acknowledgement that the Sir Thomas More Justice League had been a votes-for-cash enterprise all along.

Many of the adjectives that come immediately to mind begin with the letters "sl."

Yet it was an old story, really--a malodorous tale from the last millennium--until Roskam made it new again this week by offering himself as the man who can clean up the mess he says has been made by his own profession.

You'd think he'd try to steer the political conversation as far from the Sir Thomas More Justice League as the rules of engagement would allow.

You'd be wrong.



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