Does the U.S. Constitution guarantee a right to a civil jury trial?
It does. Very clearly ? in the Seventh Amendment.
But Andy Cochran believes that most Americans don’t have a clue.
“I know the vast majority of Americans don’t know that the right to a jury trial for civil lawsuits is in the Constitution,” said Cochran.
Is that from polling, or just a guess?
“No, that’s a guess,” Cochran says. “I should do polling. But I know from my mail, my e-mail, the blank stares I get. I’m very confidant that the majority of Americans don’t recognize that as a Constitutional right.”
Cochran is a rare bird in Washington, D.C.
He’s a lobbyist.
He’s a Republican.
He’s a conservative.
And he’s against tort reform.
His biggest client?
The trial lawyers.
The trial lawyers association ? now called the American Association for Justice ? is his biggest client.
They pay him $200,000 a year to persuade Republicans and conservatives to back off tort reform.
He’s set up a web site ? it’s called 7thamendmentadvocate.org.
And he has convinced the trial lawyers to sponsor a Christian radio program.
It’s called The What’s Up Program with Terry Lowry.
If you go to the show’s web site, the first article that comes up is titled ? “Tort Reform ? Legitimate Crisis or Big Business Bullying?”
Cochran says the Bible makes the case for civil litigation.
He cites scripture on his web site.
“Moses, for example, specified punitive damages if you take your neighbor’s property,” Cochran said last week.
And then he fast forwards to 1215 to the Magna Carta.
“Article 39 of the Magna Carta protects the right to a jury trial for civil and criminal cases,” Cochran says.
Cochran admits that those Constitutionalists within the Republican Party have lost the 30 year battle to the Corporatists.
He says the Corporatists have hijacked the issue. But now he sees the possibility of a civil war within the Republican Party.
“That is very possible,” Cochran says when the question is raised during the interview. “Go back to a Tim Carney column in August 2010 from the Washington Examiner. It’s titled ? ‘K Street vs. Main Street Republicans.?'”
“I am pro business. I love the business side. I want to see low taxes. I don’t want a big FDA. The whole bit.”
“The point of disagreement is when state courts are pre-empted on everything from financial services, to drug and device regulation ? across the board.”
“Republicans have bought into pre-emption too much and too often. And by the way, they should realize that the final frontier of pre-emption is international pre-emption of all American law. They should fear that the Chinese or other economic powers will demand pre-emption of American law.”
“A civil war is possible over a number of issues, including this one.”
Ten years ago, Cochran worked for Congressman Michael Oxley on the House Financial Services Committee.
“I was there for three years,” Cochran said. “I was active in the Sarbanes/Oxley Act, terrorist financing, corporate accounting scandal, Patriot Act ? and other
oversight issues under the committee’s jurisdiction.”
“When I was on the committee, I was very involved in terrorist financing investigations and reviews,” Cochran said. “When I left, I began a homeland security/counter-terrorism type practice. One of my clients was the law firm Motley Rice of Charleston, South Carolina.”
“Motley Rice, in addition to being involved with asbestos and tobacco class actions, is one of the firms that represented American terrorist victims in civil litigation against terrorist financiers. They represented 9/11 victims and still do. They represented victims of Libyan terrorism. They are part of the small terrorism victims bar.”
“Through them I was introduced to the ATLA ? now the American Association for Justice.”
Cochran says that if Republicans study the history of the right to civil lawsuits, they will understand his point of view.
“I have posted on the web site an open invitation ? I will buy anyone the best dinner in Washington ? wine, dessert and cigars included ? if you show me one pro-tort reform quote by a Founding Father.”
“There is a segment of the Tea Party that applies Tea Party Constitutional principles only to budget spending and not to other parts of the Bill of Rights. And they say ? we are all for tort reform.”
“But this is why I’m here. I think the Seventh Amendment is the most unknown, ignored and endangered amendment of the Bill of Rights.”
“The Founding Fathers were trial lawyers. They were not for allowing federal bureaucrats to take over decisions that could be made by local juries.”
[For the complete q/a transcript of the Interview with Andy Cochran, see 25 Corporate Crime Reporter 20(11), May 16, 2011, print edition only.]
Russell Mokhiber edits the Corporate Crime Reporter.