President Obama on Wednesday nominated Rhode Island's most prominent trial lawyer and a generous campaign contributor, John J. "Jack" McConnell, to be a U.S. District Court judge. McConnell is the managing partner at Motley Rice (bio) and was one of primary figures behind the tobacco lawsuits of the 1990s.
McConnell also joined then Rhode Island Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse in dreaming up the public nuisance suit against paint manufacturers. In 2008, the state Supreme Court overturned the 2006 verdict against Sherwin-Williams Co., NL Industries Inc. and Millennium Holdings, but not before cities and states produced a wave of copycat lawsuits seeking to twist traditional public nuisance law into a new, all-encompassing brand of product liability law.
Mr. McConnell and his firm helped pioneer the practice of soliciting public officials to bring lawsuits in which the private lawyers are paid a percentage of any judgment or settlement. The law firms front the costs of litigation and are compensated if the suit is successful. But such contingency-fee arrangements inevitably raise questions of pay to play. And private lawyers with state power and a financial stake in the outcome of a case can't be counted on to act in the interest of justice alone.
So, yes, McConnell is a transformative political figure, which is not what one normally asks for in a trial judge.
- Providence Journal, "Providence lawyer McConnell tapped for U.S. court seat"
- Providence Journal, "A mixed review for R.I. nominess"
- Legal Newsline, "Obama nominates free-spending plaintiffs lawyer"
- Ed Whelan, National Review Online, "Buying a Judgeship?"
- Earlier Point of Law posts.