“Republicans Rewrite Rules for Wisconsin Courtrooms”

That’s the headline in the April 1 Washington Spectator, but it’s not what you think.

It’s worse. So much worse. And as far as I can tell, only DailyKos has picked up on the Spectator’s story.

While the anti-union screech from the Wisconsin Republicans has attracted most of the attention, what these bad people have done to individual legal rights is equally horrifying.

And they did it less than one month after the new governor, Scott Walker, took the oath of office, after a one-day, 10-hour committee hearing run by Republican legislators.

[I’ve provided the bolding below, although what happened is so bold, my emphasis is gratuitous.]

The new law [the Wisconsin Omnibus Tort Reform Act] includes radical departures from the previous rules governing civil suits. One of the most drastic reforms puts state records of abuse or neglect in nursing homes off limits to attorneys representing individuals suing nursing homes.

Yes, you read that correctly.

With the passage of the tort-reform bill, Wisconsin becomes the first state in the nation to deny attorneys access to state records that document abuse of their clients.

Incident reports have also been placed beyond the reach of the Wisconsin Department of Justice, which conducts criminal investigations and prosecutions of nursing homes and assisted living centers.

Some criminal investigation that will be. But that’s not all. As a Spectator sub-headline states:

WALMART RULES — Another obstacle for individuals who try to recover damages is the shift of liability from the distributor to the manufacturer of a defective product…Under the new law … attorneys are required to pursue the manufacturer.

“How do you sue the manufacturer of a product that your kid got … when the factory is in Indonesia?” [Madison trial lawyer John] Walsh asked legislators at the January 11 hearing.

Christine Bremer Muggli, a plaintiffs’ lawyer, pointed out that instead of being able to sue the seller of, say, a defective bicycle made in China, “Today I would have to go to Beijing…Or rely on the International Court of Law at the Hague. When I exhausted all those remedies, I might be able to sue the distributor in Wisconsin.”

The new law caps punitive damages, which previously had no limits, at $200,000Punitive damages are intended to allow juries and judges to punish egregious behavior and create a disincentive for bad corporate (or individual) actors. Capping punitive damages was never discussed in the day-long committee hearing, but was added to the bill before it was brought to a vote.

The law defines a new standard for certification of expert witnesses, requiring a separate hearing for a process that previously was part of the trial … The state’s district attorneys and judges opposed this provision … Plaintiffs’ lawyers opposed it…

So the entire essential professional triumvirate that tries cases opposed this provision. Yet it was passed.

There is more. A 15-year statute of limitations protects manufacturers who exposed workers to asbestos or other carcinogens. Symptoms of mesothelioma, for example, often don’t occur until 20 years after exposure.

The article makes it clear that “political money from the far right” in effect bought Scott Walker’s governorship with huge campaign contributions. “Democratic donors were outspent by corporate interests in 2010—in particular by the business association, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, and the billionaire Koch brothers…”

“The Koch brothers decided to turn our state into a Petri dish,” [one plaintiff’s attorney] said.

And what did Scott Walker do to celebrate his and the Koch brothers’ victory over Wisconsinites? He “took a bus tour along the Wisconsin state line to unveil ‘Wisconsin is Open for Business’ highway signs.”



This entry was posted in Law, suits and order and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.