Trial Lawyers Popping Champagne After Committee Assignments

by | Dec 13, 2016

Business owners and leaders across the state of Florida are in a state of despair over legislative committee assignments in both the Florida House and Senate, which they say are now under the control of lawmakers who are beholden to trial lawyers.

For an excellent rundown of the Florida Senate committee assignments, read Peter Schorsch‘s excellent take. Here’s an excerpt:

While conventional wisdom tells us trial attorneys won’t get jilted under Senate President Joe Negron (an attorney) and House Speaker Richard Corcoran (ditto), the appointments to several key Senate committees appears to have already given trial attorneys — and their interests — a leg up.

Need an example? Take a look at the Banking and Insurance committee.

Chaired by Sen. Anitere Flores, the nine-person committee has four members for whom the Florida Justice PAC played Daddy Warbucks during the primaries. One of those members? Gary Farmer, the former president of the Florida Justice Association, which prides itself on “upholding the civil justice system and fighting for consumer rights,” which sounds like a tossed-off Morgan and Morgan slogan.

But speaking of Morgan and Morgan, the situation in the Florida House isn’t looking any better for business owners. There, Representative Heather Fitzenhagen, a trial lawyer that has been featured in television ads for John Morgan’s law firm, has been appointed as chair of the House Civil Justice and Claims Subcommittee, and she’s now officially a member of the Judiciary Committee and the Justice Appropriations Subcommittee.

Fitzenhagen isn’t the only trial lawyer on the House side. Representative Danny Burgess has been appointed Chairman of the Insurance and Banking Subcommittee, is a member of Fitzenhagen’s Civil Justice and Claims Subcommittee, and like Fitzenhagen, sits on the Judiciary Committee. If you need to reach Rep. Burgess at his day job, just call him at 1-800-4-INJURY.

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Screen shot from Rep. Burgess’s website.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran declined to comment for this story, but several lobbyists, business owners, and leaders were more than willing to talk, albeit on background only.

“It’s appalling that our legislative leaders would put trial lawyers in control of committees that will have a direct control over laws that dictate how much money trial lawyers put in their pocket,” said one businessperson with interests in the outcome of several contentious bills this year. “I can’t think of a more obvious conflict of interest.”

An outraged business lobbyist expressed similar frustration. “I don’t understand how Republicans can keep on winning elections, and then let trial lawyers win all the important leadership races.”

But there are some in the business community who aren’t quite ready to declare a full-blown emergency, citing the uncertainty that always surrounds legislative session.

“No matter who is appointed, no matter who chairs any particular committee, there is never a wrong time to lead in the right way. Lawmakers are sworn to put their special interests aside and be true leaders, to do what’s right for the state of Florida, as opposed to only those who give them financial backing.”

While some say that kind of thinking is naive, this particular business leader assures The Capitolist that it’s not: “We hope for the best, but we’re always prepared for the worst.”

 

Follow @BrianJBurgess on Twitter.
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