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Foiled again

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The cruel trap laid for Arkansans by the Chamber of Commerce, the Medical Society, the Farm Bureau and their mercenary cronies is now being systematically dismantled, rendered harmless by the Arkansas Supreme Court. The monied interests behind "tort reform" had planned on skinning the common people without interference; the Court has intervened, insisting the people be given a chance.

Last week, the Court unanimously ruled unconstitutional a provision of the "tort reform" law that declared some doctors eligible to give expert testimony in medical malpractice cases (essentially, those doctors on the side of the defendant), and others ineligible (those on the side of the victim). The law violated the separation of powers doctrine of the Arkansas Constitution, the Court said; only judges can decide who is permitted to testify. Legislators had hoped to protect errant physicians from retribution. The Supreme Court decision means that negligent and incompetent doctors will not be allowed to hide behind friendly witnesses after all.

This is the fifth time the Supreme Court has thrown out a portion of the "tort reform" law enacted by a captive legislature in 2003. Last December, the Court ruled that the legislature had exceeded its authority by attempting to impose a $1 million limit on punitive damages. A $42 million award was upheld in that case.

The fixers who'd planned on immunity from lawsuit for their misdeeds are now howling mad at being held accountable. In coming years, they'll spend great sums on judicial elections, most likely — that has been the pattern in other states — and encourage unscrupulous conduct by judicial candidates, hoping to install judges friendly to them. Independent Arkansas lawyers and judges are now studying ways to lessen the impact of big money and big lies in judicial races. More power to them, which is to say, more power to the people.

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