Reformer Trotter keeps on going
Scott Trotter is nothing, if not persistent.
The Little Rock lawyer last week saw his latest attempt to rework a part of the Arkansas Constitution rejected by the state’s attorney general. But he is reportedly working during vacation to get another draft to Attorney General Leslie Rutledge in short order.
Trotter’s name should be recognizable to most who follow constitutional reform. He has been in the thick of numerous battles, winning some and losing some.
He is most engaged now in what had been an Arkansas Bar Association proposal to compete against a ballot issue being referred to voters by the Legislature in the last regular session.
Whatever becomes of Trotter’s efforts, the Legislature’s proposal will be on the 2018 general election ballot.
If voters approve, it would limit contingency fees and awards of punitive and non-economic damages in civil lawsuits.
It would also change the powers of the Legislature and the Supreme Court when it comes to court rules of pleading, practice and procedure.
Both houses of the Legislature gave healthy margins to the measure (Senate Joint Resolution 8), which also drew strong support from the state’s business community.
Business folk, particularly those involved in delivery of health services, don’t like litigation that can cost them out the wazoo, when some injured plaintiff successfully sues. Limits on lawyers’ fees and on the damages that might be awarded in such cases have long been their goal.
Lawyers have, of course, resisted such change, particularly when it is proposed to be embedded in the state constitution.
Arkansas lawyers, through the state Bar Association, were headed in that direction again this year until a vote last month fell three votes short among members in attendance.
The failing vote came at a meeting of the bar’s House of Delegates, when they were considering a proposed constitutional amendment drafted by Trotter.
Trotter made some tweaks to the language and promptly took the revived proposal to the attorney general on his own.
He most certainly expects other lawyers to pitch in to collect the necessary signatures to get such an issue to the ballot. He will also need help to make the case, if the issue does go to voters.
For now, he must get something drawn that will pass muster with the attorney general’s office, which said last week that the latest version could mislead voters.
The present engagement is between Trotter and Rutledge, or the lawyers in her office, over legal language. It is about the popular name and the ballot title for the proposal that might reach voters, assuming Trotter is allowed to start circulating petitions and can gather enough of them.
Neither is certain to happen. Nor is it impossible that another bunch of lawyers, namely the seven sitting on the Arkansas Supreme Court, might not eventually scuttle the proposal anyway.
It is a given that a controversial ballot proposal, especially one that will be opposed by deep pockets in the business community, will see legal challenge if it gets close to going to voters.
That’s a bridge to be crossed down the line. Trotter’s job now, besides getting the attorney general’s stamp of approval on ballot language, is to find a way to sell this proposal to voters.
He knows better than most that there isn’t a lot of sympathy from the public for protecting how much an attorney’s fees may be.
Trotter insists that the proposal is about serving clients — meaning anyone who might have a just claim for damages in a civil lawsuit — and preserving the right of juries to make those determinations.
He has put several sweeteners into the proposal, most of them reflecting his reformer background.
Trotter would, for example, include provisions to impose stricter campaign finance rules and to raise the threshold for lawmakers to override a governor’s veto. He also wants to end the practice of lawmakers directing state money to projects, a practice that has resulted in criminal charges against a couple of former state lawmakers and others.
The sweeteners should bring additional constituencies into the debate and to the polls, again assuming Trotter can somehow get this proposal to the ballot.