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Oklahoma Lawsuit Reform – True Litmus Test for Conservative Oklahoma Republicans

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As we might expect, many politicians promise many things to get elected and then do the polar opposite once they get to the Capitol. Instead of doing the people’s work, they sip on wine and cheese at fancy fund raisers lining their coffers for the next election cycle. They become career politicians who promise a lot and deliver a little. Once elected to state office, most politicians view reelection as a given, thus they do as they please without regard to the people.

In 2010 the Republican party swept into power in Oklahoma with above all, the promise to adhere strictly to the United States and Oklahoma Constitutions. Were they lying? Evidence from the very first day of the legislative session seems to suggest that the Oklahoma Republican leadership forgot their constitutional pledge from the moment they stepped foot into the Capitol. They crammed through draconian rules making government less transparent presumably so they cannot take responsibility for legislation that fails to adhere to the Constitution and in fact tramples on the Constitution like no state before us.

As I’ve written extensively about the past week, the Oklahoma Republican Establishment leadership with coffers full from big insurance and big business, made their first priority of business to try to secretly cram through so called “lawsuit reform” designed to benefit their super sized donors while leaving average Oklahomans and small businesses in the lurch. These bills not only harm average Oklahomans (I challenge anyone to name one area an injured Oklahoman will be helped) but also trample on the 7th Amendment as well as Oklahoma’s Constitution’s promise to provide civil justice without “prejudice.”

I will freely admit that my beloved profession has not often helped itself in the public eyes. We are ethically charged to be advocates for our clients and often times the public does not like who we represent (ex: rapists and murders) and sometimes do not like the outcome (jury verdicts in civil cases or acquittals in criminal cases). While it is understandable to not like the outcomes at times, we should remember that the lawyer is playing the exact role our forefathers envisioned when they guaranteed every citizen due process and the ability to have a criminal and/or civil question decided by a jury of their peers. While unpopular at times, this role is of the utmost importance in a truly free society unbridled by a government interference into our basic rights.

As such, I view these proposed tort reform bills brought forth by the Oklahoma Republican establishment a true litmus test for those of us who adhere to the Constitution. See, a true constitutionalist cannot pick and choose which parts of the Constitution he or she supports. We must view each word, each paragraph and each amendment as equally important regardless of our personal predisposition regarding the effects of those words.

For example, almost every Oklahoma constitutionalist would say they adamantly support the 2nd Amendment. In that support, they will typically espouse at least two reasons why they do not want that Amendment violated by any branch of government. First they will say our forefathers wrote it and viewed it as an inalienable right. Next, they will inevitably discuss gun rights as it relates as a deterrent to crime and/or a tyrannical government.

Now before I discuss the 7th Amendment (it’s the one being trampled on by the Oklahoma Republican establishment leadership) and its importance as analogized to the 2nd Amendment, I want to point out that both were drafted by James Madison.

Now, armed with the above knowledge, I believe that the 7th Amendment serves the same purpose as the 2nd Amendment and should be supported with the same vigor by all constitutionalists. First, our forefathers wrote the 7th Amendment and as such viewed it as an inalienable right. Second, civil lawsuits and a jury of one’s peers serves the same purpose of deterrent upon individuals and business from breaking our laws. It gives each and everyone the ability to not only seek compensation when unjustly harmed, it also serves as a deterrent that keeps those willing to commit unlawful and wrong acts from acting without regard to the consequences.

The tort bills proposed by State Senator Anthony Sykes (obviously a liberal given his selective constitutionalism) are an affront to the Constitution and morally reprehensible. They are not based upon a need, they are not based upon reason and they are not justified by any equitable measurement. Instead, they are an open gift to the Oklahoma Republican Establishment’s big donors.

Please ponder the above and please make your voice heard by calling State Senator Anthony Sykes, Senator Brian Bingman, Governer Mary Fallin and all your elected officials and tell them to adhere to their campaign promise to follow the Constitution and get politicians and their special interests out of the courtroom. I want to leave you with a paragraph of an email that I received from a fellow trial lawyer regarding these bills:

Republicans today tell us that they are against big government and for family values. These bills make it clear that what they are really for in all respects is big business and big insurance. The take the power away from a jury, who are generally not subject to lobbying by special interest groups, and put it in the hands of the politicians who are lobbied daily. That’s not less government, it’s more. I don’t see a single Oklahoman that will benefit from these bills, other than those already at the very top of the heap, and maybe the politicians they help to elect.