Civil litigation reform should reconcile competing interests

The op-ed by Sherman Joyce (“Congress overlooks plaintiff-lawyer abuses,” April 23) correctly states that ethically challenged lawyers, represented most egregiously by William S. Lerach, Melvyn I. Weiss and Richard F. Scruggs, must be reined in. As an attorney myself, I couldn’t agree more.

Balanced tort reform, as Mr. Sherman notes, must reconcile two competing interests. It must prevent extortion and, at the same time, provide a means of redress for legitimately aggrieved plaintiffs.

The class action system was designed, first and foremost, to achieve efficiency by aggregating common claims and to allow access to the courts for plaintiffs who might not be able to afford an attorney. And punitive damages, as a corollary of the class action system, are meant to punish reprehensible conduct by the defendant, something that doubtless acts as a deterrent.

As we all know, these two ideals are not always honored, but this does not in any way mean that we should abolish the system. On the contrary, it means we need to reform the system along the lines Mr. Joyce so sagely suggests.


Attacking tribal sovereignty

From Jared Hautamaki

As a former Congressional Black Caucus staffer, Native American attorney, and recent attendee of the Federal Bar Association Indian Law Conference, I am torn by the unnecessary divisions being caused by the CBC to relations between African Americans, Democrats and Native Americans (“Frank sides with CBC, holds fast on Cherokee funding,” April 21, and related articles).

Reps. Diane Watson (D-Calif.) and Mel Watt (D-N.C.) fail to grasp the very fundamental fact that tribes are sovereign nations, and under basic principles of sovereignty, as well as the Supreme Court precedent of Santa Clara Pueblo v. Martinez, tribes as nations are entitled to determine their own membership. While I am no fan of the decision to disenroll the Freedmen descendants, the Cherokee Nation is entitled to self-determination.

This principle of self-determination has undoubtedly created tensions within Indian Country, with tribes changing membership criteria in various instances for financial, cultural and other reasons, but it is a matter for Indian Country and not the Congress. While Congress has plenary power “to regulate commerce ... with the Indian tribes,” the trust relationship does not include meddling in tribal membership.

Attacking one tribe over issues of defining membership is an attack on the sovereignty of all tribes. The CBC risks years of cultivating relationships between the Democratic Party and Indian Country in one ugly misunderstanding over race and internal tribal politics. Tribes and Democrats make better allies than enemies, but I’m not sure that relationship will survive the CBC’s misinformed and misguided attack on basic principles of tribal sovereignty.

Gaithersburg, Md.

You’re the cure

From Daniel W. Jones, M.D., American Heart Association president

The current economic climate will force many of us to make sacrifices that will impact our quality of life. 

There are some things we can certainly live without. But when it comes to our health, we cannot afford to underfund programs and initiatives that could prevent disease, reduce the mortality rate and prolong the life of a heart or stroke survivor. Cardiovascular disease remains the nation’s No. 1 and most costly killer.

And there is no reason to believe that it will lose that dubious distinction in the near future.

More than 600 advocates and heart and stroke survivors from across the country will meet with their representatives today for the American Heart Association’s Lobby Day, “You’re the Cure,” on the Hill. The message? Increase funding for the National Institutes of Health and the CDC’s Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention program and cosponsor the Fitness Integrated with Teaching (FIT) Kids Act, legislation to amend the No Child Left Behind Act to make physical education a priority in schools. With a strong financial commitment, Congress could provide a healthier tomorrow for our children and help find a cure for a disease that’s been No. 1 in our nation for far too long.