The state Lawsuit Reform Alliance said in a report today that state trial lawyers spent more than $20 million in contributions since 2006 for elected officials in Albany, Gannett’s Haley Viccaro reports.
The group said the state Trial Lawyers Association and the state Academy of Trial Lawyers spent about $6.3 million lobbying for elected officials. They made about $14.6 million in contributions from political action committees and individual donors.
“The trial lawyers are the largest special interest group that most people have never heard of,” said Tom Stebbins, executive director of the Lawsuit Reform Alliance, an Albany-based group. “This report shows the outsized influence the trial lawyers have in Albany.”
Tort reform has long stalled in Albany, and critics said it’s because lawmakers themselves often are hired by private law firms. In particular, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, serves as “of counsel” at a powerful Manhattan-based, personal-injury law firm. Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, R-Nassau County, is also “of counsel” at a Long Island law firm.
On disclosure forms in 2010, 47 legislators said they earned income as a real-estate agent or a landlord, and 45 were lawyers, a report from NYPIRG found.
The trial lawyers contributed 77 percent to the campaigns for members of the state legislature in the most recent session. Their contributions included 94 percent of the Senate and 69 percent of the Assembly, the Lawsuit Reform Alliance said.
Stebbins contended that because of the trial lawyers’ contributions that push for laws to block legal reform, people in New York spend more money on healthcare, taxes and insurance compared to other states.
“As we put together the report, the sheer breadth of the contributions was shocking,” Stebbins said in a statement. “Republican or Democrat, upstate or downstate, Senate or Assembly, the trial lawyers’ money is everywhere.”
There was no immediate comment from the state Trial Lawyers Association.
Updated: Michael Jaffee, president of the Trial Lawyers Associations, said the report is funded by corporate interests.
“The 3,000 members of the New York State Trial Lawyers Association are proud to fight for the rights of workers hurt on the job, patients injured by unsafe hospitals, and consumers hurt by dangerous products,” he said in a statement. “The corporate interests behind this report are spending many tens of millions of their corporate profits to stop injured victims from ever having their day in court.”