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Trial lawyer membership on the skids

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Membership in the nation's largest trial lawyers' association has fallen by half over the past decade, a candidate for a top office in the American Association for Justice says.

"[Instead] of increasing our numbers, AAJ continues to shed members at an alarming rate. Ten years ago, AAJ claims 50,000 members. Today AAJ member numbers are less than half that -- a time when our fight requires that our numbers multiply," wrote Los Angeles attorney Simona Farrise in her candidate's statement for the office of AAJ vice president.

Farrise, founder of the Farrise Law Firm, is challenging noted trial lawyer Lisa Baron Blue of the Baron & Blue Law Firm in Dallas, who currently serves as AAJ's secretary. Both firms specialize in asbestos litigation. (Baron Blue's statement of candidacy)

Members attending  the AAJ's annual convention at the Chicago Hilton will vote for officers for 2012-2013 on July 30. Officers' terms last for one year.

Both lawyers have set up websites promoting their candidacies, a recent phenomenon for AAJ elections; the sites include social media tools like Twitter and Facebook, lists of endorsements and information about candidate events in Chicago: http://farrise4justice.com/ and www.votelisabluebaron.com/

Materials at the websites reveal details about internal disputes at the trial lawyers' organization that rarely make the public eye. Farrise, for example, paints the AAJ as undemocratic because it has limited voting for officers to attendees at the national convention, although she acknowledges new rules for electronic voting. Under a section of her candidate statement, "One member/one vote" she promises to end the "poll tax" of attendance requirements.

As a dues-paying member you can vote in AAJ elections whether or not you also pay the "poll tax" of registering for and traveling to the annual convention. AAJ's last election had only 400+ voters.
Both candidates highlight their years of service to AAJ and other lawyer groups. Their partisan activities also figure prominently in their appeals for support.

Baron Blue touts her fundraising for Democratic candidates and vows to organize attorneys for polling disputes.

I have led successful efforts to assure that pro civil justice candidates receive the support they need.  Decades before I was part of AAJ officers  team, I spearheaded fund raisers for friends of civil justice.  This past year I was asked to take on the AAJ responsibility to raise money for the Democratic Congressional Campaign and exceeded the goal set for me by Linda Lipsen and my fellow officers by over $100,000.

Providing monetary support and organizing fund raising activities is not enough to assure that the justice system is protected.  Over the last 2 years, states have passed discriminatory measures which will impede voting rights. ...  Last election, AAJ helped mobilize lawyers throughout the country to work at the polls and provide legal assistance to those exercising their voting rights.  This year, we must be more strategic and involve many more of our lawyers since the problem has grown exponentially.

Baron Blue and her late husband, Fred Baron, have long been major donors to Democratic candidates.

Farrise promotes her activism in a section of the website, About Simona:

Simona has served the cause of Justice with AAJ for more than 16 years.  She has given more than $150,000 to AAJ directly, as well as for political candidates and party committees supported by AAJ, This financial support extends to  legislative fights to defeat the FAIR ACT (asbestos) and H.R. 5 (tort reform, medical malpractice) and sponsorship of AAJ conventions, events and forums.

Mary Alice McLarty of McLarty Pope LLP in Dallas is expected to rise to president of the organization, succeeding Gary M. Paul of Waters, Kraus & Paul LLP in Los Angeles. Two years ago, McLarty also bemoaned AAJ's plummeting membership to win election for vice president, saying she would work to fix things. (Point of Law post)

(Returning to POL after a hiatus, I again note my contributions are all my own and do not reflect the views of my employer)

4 Comments

Carter,

Let's assume that everything you've written is accurate. AAJ's membership has plummeted, and there has been some internal squabbling. This is something that, unfortunately, happens every day to a multitude of American business organizations. If there is a point to your post beyond celebrating somebody else's bad news, it is far from evident. But maybe that is the point.

Andy Barovick

I am one of the members who failed to renew. After 34 years of paying dues and fighting the good fight, we have been so emasculated by "tort reform" and Republican hypocrisy, that I can't justify paying dues just for the sake of supporting a good cause. While "ATLA" was oblivious to the change in the public discourse financed by the Chamber of Commerce and the insurance industry, the needs and rights of our consumer and victim clients were being eviscerated.

Whatever AAJ's staff and officers have been doing for the past 30 years, it has done nothing for my clients. It has most likely preserved certain rights and claims at a national level, however, while it was fighting those battles, the war in Michigan--and to a lesser degree nationally--has been lost. Perhaps this result was inevitable, however, it seems to me that the exercise of good judgment and skilled public relations in response to the Chamber's well-financed and hypocritical warfare, could have preserved more of our clients' rights and attained a higher level of discourse on the value of civil justice, human rights and intellectual honesty.

I finally concluded that AAJ was doing nothing for my clients and that it should be supported by the true beneficiaries of AAJ's policies: the attorneys who have benefited from the preservation of their clients' civil rights. That certainly doesn't include Michigan Association of Justice members.

Interest in AAJ membership by honest lawyers will only come when the AAJ membership dissociates the organization from lawbyers (lawyer-lobbyers) like Lisa Blue-Baron who is infamous in Texas for having used her psychology training to create false memories in her clients that is used in the form of affidavits and testimony to defraud state and federal courts in asbestos litigation in what is now known as the Baron & Budd Asbestos Memorandum Scanda.

Blue-Baron's interest in the state and federal political apparatus, including the AAJ, is focused on election/appoint commit the honest services fraud of selective non-prosecution of her as quid pro quo for Blue-Baron's support of them maintaining their government lawbyer jobs.

My 2 cents. Work accidents have plummeted over the past 10 years which takes away the worker comp work and 3d party cases . A handful of big class action attys sop up all the big products cases. The trial lawyers joined themselves to the hip of the Democrats; this gives the GOP no incentive to consider reasonable proposals to preserve civil justice.

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Isaac Gorodetski
Project Manager,
Center for Legal Policy at the
Manhattan Institute
igorodetski@manhattan-institute.org

Katherine Lazarski
Press Officer,
Manhattan Institute
klazarski@manhattan-institute.org

 

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