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April 2nd, 2013

Punishing Lawyers, Plaintiffs and Witnesses Who Conspire and Lie to Defraud Our Courts

It’s long overdue, but a nascent movement to hold accountable and punish those who pursue fraudulent lawsuits at the expense of taxpayers, consumers and jobseekers may finally be materializing.

A March 26 Wall Street Journal op-ed by attorney Matthew L. Lifflander, “The Economic Truth About Lying,” bemoans the lack of civil and criminal punishment for perjurers and others who conspire to defraud our civil courts, noting that, “[t]he immediate victims of the crime are other litigants, but the economic consequences of successful false testimony and other kinds of misrepresentation are passed on to the public directly by adding to the cost of goods and services.”

Lifflander adds: “For several years, I have made a habit of asking personal-injury trial lawyers about their actual experience with perjury or fraudulent documents in litigation. The consistent answer: At least 25% of cases, though some insist that the perjury and fraud rate goes as high as 50%.”

Lifflander’s op-ed suggests interesting reforms to reduce this costly lying and fraud, and a subsequent ATRA leter to the editor touts a law already on the books that CSX Transportation has “used successfully to punish two Pittsburgh-based attorneys and a discredited radiologist it caught bringing fraudulent asbestos claims in West Virginia. CSX went after the asbestos conspirators with the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO),” the ATRA letter continues, “and its landmark lawsuit and table-turning victory late last year can now serve as a model for other defendant companies tired of being targeted by unscrupulous parasites among the plaintiffs bar.”

Meanwhile in New York City, where taxpayers are held up by often unscrupulous personal injury lawyers to the tune of more than a half-billion dollars annually, the office of District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. has undertaken research, the so-called “perjury project,” to determine just how widespread lying and fraud in the courts are.

Furthering this focus on liars in our courts, a federal judge in Washington, D.C. ruled last Friday that the activist animal rights groups that brought a wholly “frivolous, unreasonable and groundless” elephant-abuse lawsuit against Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus will have to pay the defendant’s legal fees and costs, which the circus says exceed $20 million.  The plaintiffs’ had paid a disgruntled former elephant poop shoveler to shovel more poop in open court, but neither judge nor jury were having any of it.

And the U.S. Supreme Court is getting in on the anti-liar action, too, by cracking down on what Wall Street Journal editorial writers call “phony” rationales for class actions.  The high court’s recent decision in Comcast v. Behrendand its granting of certiorari for the appeal of a horribly reasoned class certification in Glazer v. Whirlpool, give hope to deep-pocket defendants routinely targeted by lying lawyers and their lying clients and witnesses.

These phony lawsuits cost all of us money, whether we’re taxpayers whose city, county or state are sued; consumers who are forced to pay higher prices when litigation costs are invariably passed on; or jobseekers struggling to find work as lawsuit-weary employers throw in the towel and take their operations and jobs overseas.

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