David Baria Op Ed 

Contributions and donations are part of the political process, both in the election of federal and state representatives and in the election of judges. Trial lawyers, bankers, doctors, pharmacists and nursing homes all contributed to candidates during the 2002 elections.

So, why are trial lawyers singled out and targeted for participating in our democracy?

Because trial lawyers uncover the shady, illegal and sometimes criminal conduct of businesses. We shine the light on their dirty deeds and hit them where it hurts the most - their pocketbooks.

Trial lawyers have historically been on the front lines fighting to protect our rights as citizens. So, it follows that trial lawyers support and contribute to the candidates we believe will protect the rights of Mississippians -- the right to a trial by jury, the right to freedom of speech and freedom of the press, the right to open, accountable government, the right to vote, and the right to contribute time, money and sweat equity to help those who think the same way. And, yes, trial lawyers contribute to judicial candidates who will apply the law in a fair and impartial manner.

Our members are criticized for exercising the same fundamental right to participate in our elections as every other citizen of this state. Many people and groups vilifying trial lawyers for openly supporting candidates are the same ones who happily donated millions of dollars for covert, unreported campaign spending by unregulated third parties on behalf of judicial candidates they supported.

The U. S. Chamber of Commerce and its cover group, Law Enforcement Alliance of America, spent over $4 million in unreported contributions to influence our recent elections. It spent over $1 million here during the 2000 judicial elections. And, it will likely use its unreported and unregulated contributions to flood every available media outlet next year during our state elections.

On the other hand, our duly reported contributions are used by the Chamber and its minions to divert public attention from their own efforts to protect corporate wrongdoers under the guise of "tort reform."

In light of the dozens of recently exposed business frauds that have cost each American family $60,000, and the dumping of pollutants into water systems and soil around the country, trial lawyers will not cease from their responsibility to require accountability through the legal system.

We are not surprised that we would now be under attack for trying to exercise our basic freedoms in this democracy. Rather, we want the public to examine carefully the amounts of money that the pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies, health care providers, and the U.S. Chamber have dumped into Mississippi's political and legal process.

Ask yourself this question: If forcing corporate accountability and balancing the power of the large corporations and insurance companies is important to Mississippi, would you rather have a lawyer on your side fighting for you, or allow corporate America to police itself? Enron and Worldcom, Monsanto and Dow, and the dozens of others business disasters should have taught us all something by now! They will not police themselves.

Trial lawyers throughout time have been obnoxiously loud proponents of democracy. It is a role we relish. We advocate and litigate against the tyranny of government, challenge corrupt business practices, fight to keep citizens involved, and support candidates who share these common goals and values.

Today, we are being attacked for contributing to judicial candidates while exercising our basic freedoms in this democracy.

Trial lawyers may be under assault right now, but we will continue to celebrate and energize our democracy by being full participants in it.