Texas lawyers confront their ugly side

The SE Texas Record Jun. 20, 2010, 2:59am

Addressing a problem is difficult when not everyone agrees there is a problem. When everyone does agree, however, it should be easy.

So why then is Texas unable to address the problem of barratry?

In Texas, barratry –- popularly known as ambulance chasing –- is a felony. Yet hardly anyone is ever prosecuted for this acknowledged crime -- a crime which occurs with great regularity even though the names of certain suspect attorney offenders reportedly are common knowledge in legal circles and beyond.

Recently, the Texas House Committee on Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence heard testimony about our barratry laws, ostensibly in an effort to improve enforcement of these laws. Tort reformers and trial attorneys both agreed that barratry is a problem in our state and that something needs to be done about it.

At the May 26th hearing, Corpus Christi plaintiffs' attorney Bill Edwards affirmed that lawyers engaging in barratry are "corrupting society" and should be punished.

Citing a Harris County attorney who filed 3,000 lawsuits in a single year, Jim Popp of Popp, Gray & Hutcheson called for an appraisal of the attorney review board and urged the district courts to take disciplinary action.

Mark Kincaid of the Texas Trial Lawyers Association complained that the language of the barratry statute is not broad enough and argued that all lawyers need to be held accountable.

Attorney Steve Mostyn recommended pressuring district attorneys to prosecute "swindlers."

Tort reformers echoed these sentiments.

What is the holdup?

Could it be that the unsavory tactics of some personal injury lawyers soliciting business from accident victims is glaringly similar to the practices of some plaintiffs attorneys seeking clients for class action suits against the manufacturers of guns, tobacco, asbestos, lead paint, drugs and just about everything else?

Is there a real difference between ambulance chasers and asbestos chasers -- other than the ability of the latter to enrich themselves to a far greater extent and thereby buy some "respectability?"

The answers might be found when the Texas legal profession takes a hard look in the mirror and sees the ugly beginnings of a "Dorian Gray" reflection as perceived by a mounting number of citizens.

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