As I write the name "Jerry Sandusky", my readers know exactly who I am writing about, don’t you? Are you equally familiar with the name "Daniel McCormack"? Never heard of him, have you?
In the wake of the Sandusky-Penn State-child abuse scandal, a settlement was quietly reached in a Chicago courtroom. Convicted pedophile and Roman Catholic Priest, Daniel McCormack, admitted to sexually abusing this plaintiff and 4 others when he plead guilty and went to jail in 2007. As reports of the Penn State scandal seem to indicate, this subsequent civil lawsuit claimed that church leaders failed to protect the children of the parish, even though they knew of McCormack’s predisposition to sexually abuse minors. It is a familiar theme in these Catholic Church abuse cases; I handled a similar case in the early 1980’s and faced a barrage of lies, smokescreens, cover-ups and other delay, deny confuse and refuse tactics until the case was settled, three long years after it was filed and eight years after the priest went to jail for his crime. The Church demanded a seal on the case; it wanted to cover-up the outcome. Hierarchy offered an additional sum of money for the seal. A previous incident was covered up in this manner and made it difficult for me (but, thankfully, not impossible) to uncover evidence of prior acts committed against four other boys in the early 1970’s and the Church’s cover-up of those acts. My client and I refused the money so that the public record of a criminal conviction and a civil award would follow the offending priest wherever he was placed. Subsequently, he was transferred to positions away from children and hounded by public knowledge of his prior acts until he finally retired in the late 90’s.
This type of conduct has been going on in the Catholic Church for over 40 years or more. Millions of dollars have been paid to victims and the Church is suffering financially and spiritually for it. It’s reputation is taking a severe hit and its hierarchy finally seems to be taking appropriate steps to clean up its act. That is a good thing, caused by years of litigation and millions of dollars in judgments and settlements paid to the victims.
Why am I telling you this? Because the logical extension of ‘tort reform’ (the bailing out of wrongdoers at taxpayer expense) may ultimately effect these cases. Because litigation has had a huge impact on the way Church hierarchy is now handling these situations, and the training and screening of new/current priests. The "abuse and transfer", the "look the other way", the "cover-up" policies of the past seem to be less prevalent today. Litigation did that; consistent compensation to victims did that. As usual in "corporate misconduct" cases (I recognize that the Church is not a "corporation", but its size and scope is consistent with one), cleaning up one’s act and making the public safer is a common reaction when the cost of safety begins to be too high a price to pay.
Tort reform is an anti-safety menace. It limits the awards victims can receive; it limits the amounts that the guilty must pay. If it is cheap enough to remain unsafe and to cover-up misconduct (and some corporations even profit from misconduct), why not do so? Even if you’re caught in the cover-up, the amounts you will be required to pay will be severely limited by the protections provided to huge corporate campaign contributors by mostly Republican politicians. And, if the victims are under-compensated, the American taxpayer must pick up the difference. In essence, tort reform is another corporate bailout at taxpayer expense. Why "personal responsibility", "limited government", "separation of powers" or "constitutional" Republicans would support such a scheme is beyond my comprehension. Well, no its not; it is fueled by one thing and one thing only: Campaign contributions from the wealthiest segments of our society, wealthy corporate interests and the US Chamber of Commerce, which has declared war on the civil justice system and the seriously injured victims of their negligent and deliberate conduct. Using terms like "frivolous lawsuit", "lawsuit abuse" and "jackpot justice", these corporate interests trivialize victims and their serious injuries, demonetize their lawyers, and portray the guilty corporate interests as the victims. Their conduct is despicable; an attempt to increase corporate profit at the expense of the injured and disabled in our society and the American taxpayer.
2012 is an election year; you can prevent the erosion of your civil rights, the erosion of the concept of holding one party fully responsible for his/her negligent or deliberate conduct toward another, and the increasing political concept of making the taxpayer pay the cost of negligence on behalf of the guilty corporation, hospital, clinic, manufacturer or producer. You can do so by becoming and informed voter and by voting in the public interest rather than the corporate interest. Find out where your local or state representative stand on these issues. Find our where your congressmen and senators stand. Do they stand with our citizens or are they apologists for negligent corporate interests? Where are they getting their campaign contributions? (That information is public record.) If the bulk of their campaign dollars come from corporate interests or the US Chamber of Commerce, if they are for restrictions on your right to sue for damages done to you and your family, consider voting for their opponents.
Losing elections, despite significant corporate financial support, will substantially lessen the corporate stranglehold on today’s politician. Most democratic candidates are forced to wage campaigns with far less money than most Republicans; the reason is that Democrats receive far less corporate contributions than do Republicans. But citizens, regardless of economic circumstance have one, absolute, equal, right in this country. It is a right that cannot be bought. It is the right to vote. Tell your elected or appointed representatives to stay out of our courtrooms. The framers of the Constitution recognized the dangers of buying justice in America; this is why they created the concept of separation of powers and three distinct branches of government, the executive, legislative, and judicial. A true conservative will tell you that the legislative branch has no business stepping into the management of the judicial branch, but that is what is happening. So why are conservative politicians lining up to vote against their own political philosophies? The answer is a simple, five letter, word: M-O-N-E-Y!
Mark M. Bello is the owner and founder of Lawsuit Financial Corporation where he is instrumental in providing cash flow solutions and consulting when necessity of life lawsuit funding is needed during litigation. Mr. Bello has thirty-four years experience as a trial lawyer and 13 years as an underwriter and situational analyst in the litigation funding industry. Mr. Bello is a sustaining and Justice Pac member of the Michigan Trial Lawyers Association, Justice Pac member of the American Association for Justice, Member of the American and Michigan Bar Associations, Member of the Public Justice Foundation, out-of-state member of the Mississippi Association for Justice and a business associate of the Florida Justice Association, Tennessee Association for Justice, Central Ohio Association for Justice and the Consumer Attorneys of California. He is also a proud member of the InjuryBoard.
Attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series. Mark Bello is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.