Are unwanted solicitations annoying? Sure. But should they be criminal? No, said the House Judiciary Committee this morning, as it failed Sen. Denny Altes's measure to prevent trial lawyers and chiropractors from using accident reports to solicit business. Actually, the bill would be better described as the bidding of Fort Smith trial lawyer Joey McCutchen, who argued for it futilely for about half an hour.
Originally this was a really bad bill, as it unconstitutionally restricted access to accident reports to all but a few people. The newest version
erased that part and made it a crime to use information obtained from an accident report to scrounge up clients. But the committee was still unconvinced that the new version provided an equitable application of the law. Rep. Steve Harrelson summed up this argument in a question to McCutchen: "Have you considered expanding this to all public documents?"
Sen. Altes briefly argued that people who have undergone accidents should not be harassed with phone calls and junk mail. But sympathy for the client was not much of an issue for McCutchen, whose support might seem odd considering that he's a member of a group the bill targeted. Though he professed that the bill was an attempt to clean up trial lawyers' image, McCutchen's tirade against lawyers who pay runners to track down potential clients suggested that he may be upset about being undersold.
The proceeding did have some entertaining fireworks. Using a dramatic term very, very loosely, McCutchen said, "We have had George W. Bush in the White House for the past eight years and he has demonized trial lawyers. That's a tragedy."
It also emerged that McCutchen was once arrested for picketing a George W. Bush speech. This is likely the only time you'll see the deep-red Altes team up with such a flaming Dem.
(Cross-posted on The Legislative Beat