Md. lawyers fight bashing from GOP Their fact sheet disputes claims of Bush, Quayle

September 11, 1992|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Staff Writer

Are lawyers running the country into the ground?

Not guilty! says the Maryland State Bar Association, which is sending out a fact sheet to dispute Bush administration figures that suggest lawyers and their lawsuits are the root of many evils.

According to President Bush and Vice President Dan Quayle, the United States has 70 percent of the world's lawyers despite having only about 5 percent of its population.

Objection! says the state bar association.

The fact sheet uses estimates from University of Wisconsin Professor Marc Galanter, who says the country has 25 to 35 percent of the world's lawyers.

"We're not taking sides in a political contest," said MSBA President Roger A. Perkins. "But if anyone keeps making misstatements about the legal profession, we need to speak out about it.

"Figures have been thrown about, first by Vice President Quayle, then by President Bush. Their statistics are misleading and incorrect. We felt the need to speak out rather than have the legal profession used as the whipping boy for the '92 campaign," Mr. Perkins said.

David C. Beckwith, a spokesman for Mr. Quayle, said the vice president stands by his figures.

"You can argue about whether it's 35 percent of the world's lawyers or 70 percent or whether excessive litigation costs $30 billion or $300 billion. The fact is, it's costly, it's inefficient and it's slow. The courts are clogged with suits that shouldn't be there," Mr. Beckwith said.

James E. Henson, an Ellicott City attorney, said he is not bothered by the lawyer-bashing.

"I think there are some lawyers -- like some presidents and vice presidents and doctors -- who don't measure up to the standards of their office," Mr. Henson said. "If the shoe fits, wear it."

Mr. Quayle started the furor at the American Bar Association's convention last year when he said that a flood of lawsuits was hurting the nation's economy. The president followed, attacking lawyers during his nominating speech at the Republican National Convention.

The ABA has tried to refute those numbers with its own fact sheets. Now local bar associations are coming to the defense of the country's 800,000 lawyers, said Maryland bar spokeswoman Janet Stidman Eveleth.

The state bar's fact sheet counts eight "myths" about the legal profession that have emerged from the Quayle-chaired President's Council on Competitiveness.

1l The Maryland bar counters that most injured Americans don't file lawsuits when they are injured; personal injury and property-loss suits make up only 1.8 percent of the caseload in state courts; and the cost of medical malpractice insurance accounts for only 0.74 percent of the nation's health-care costs.

Mr. Perkins said that reforms are needed in the court system, but that he'd prefer to explore faster ways to resolve disputes and simplify the lengthy process during which each side in a legal battle seeks information from the other.

"I don't want to say the court system is in good shape or great shape, because there's a need for improvement," he said. "One think that irks me is that I keep hearing about frivolous lawsuits. Lawyers aren't going to file lawsuits they don't think they're going to get money from.

"That, for me, is just a red herring, a false term."

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