Reformer Trot­ter keeps on go­ing

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - EDITORIAL PAGE - Brenda Blagg Brenda Blagg is a free­lance colum­nist. E-mail com­ments or ques­tions to bren­da­jblagg@gmail. com.

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.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.