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Bench Hopefuls Get Lawyers' Donations

BY Stan Bailey
by Stan Bailey on 10/6/00.

MONTGOMERY - Plaintiff trial lawyers are using the Alabama Democratic Party to funnel big bucks into the campaigns of Democrat candidates for state court posts, a pro-business group said Thursday.

Toby Roth, director of Alabama Citizens for a Sound Economy, said nine Alabama plaintiff's law firms have given $1,971,100 this year to the State Democratic Executive Committee, which has passed on nearly $1 million to Democratic judicial candidates.

Roth conceded that insurance and other business interests are pouring similar amounts into the campaigns of Republican candidates for the same posts.

Roth said campaign finance reports show that the Montgomery law firm of Beasley, Allen, Crowe, Methvin, Portis & Miles gave the most money, $387,200, to the Democratic Party.

Next were Hare, Wynn, Newell & Newton, $320,500; Cunningham, Bounds, Yance, Crowder & Brown, $312,000; Pittman, Hooks, Dutton & Hollis, $198,000; Emond & Vines, $165,000; Marsh, Rickard & Bryan, $127,000; Morris, Haynes & Hornsby, $ 102,000; Langston, Frazer, Sweet & Freese, $100,000; and Wilkes & McHugh, $ 100,000.

Two trial lawyer political action committees, PRO-PAC and TRIAL-PAC, gave a total of $31,000, and other plaintiffs' firms gave $128,400, Roth said.

The Democratic Party, he said, passed on more than $232,000 in cash and services to Judge Sharon Yates of the Court of Civil Appeals, the Democratic candidate for chief justice; $59,000 to Justice Ralph Cook, Democrat seeking re-election; $175,441 to Justice John England, Democratic appointee to the Supreme Court seeking election to a full term; $299,770 to Democrat Supreme Court nominee Joel Laird; and lesser amounts to three Democrat candidates for Court of Civil Appeals posts.

Roth said justices backed by plaintiff lawyers struck down a package of laws passed in 1987 to control big-money verdicts in punitive damage cases. Candidates backed by those same lawyers, if elected, could strike down three laws that were passed by the Legislature last year to control punitive damage verdicts, he said.

Phillip Kinney, executive director of the Alabama Democratic Party, said the three laws Roth referred to were passed by a Democratic governor and Legislature and are a "dead issue" in this year's election.

"We're proud of our fundraising efforts. We're glad we can help our candidates, which is what a party is supposed to do," Kinney said.

Montgomery attorney Jere Beasley said he and other members of his firm gave money to the Democratic Party but had nothing to say about which candidates got it.

"We have not discussed with them who gets the money," Beasley said. "We paid taxes on every dollar of that money, and Roth's group is tax-exempt. It's against the law for them to be trying to influence an election."

Roth said his group neither endorses nor gives money to candidates. "We're merely providing information," he said.