Oklahoma trial lawyers blast state Legislature

Chris Rizo Mar. 17, 2009, 1:11pm

Jon Parsley

OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. - The president of the Oklahoma Bar Association said Tuesday that state lawmakers are waging an assault on the civil justice system.

At a state Capitol press conference, Oklahoma Bar Association President Jon Parsley outlined the state trial lawyers' legislative agenda.

"Today, the Oklahoma Bar Association announces its opposition to legislation that proposes to interfere with the selection of fair and impartial judges," Parsley said. "It opposes legislation that would hamper the rights of ordinary citizens to have their day in court. It further opposes having the Legislature determine the amount of damages that can be awarded in every case."

He also said the trial bar opposes fixing attorney fees. "We believe in free enterprise and trust the market place...not the Legislature interfering with the constitutional right to contract."

Parsley blasted state legislators for employing what he called partisan politics to erode civil protections for Oklahomans.

The Oklahoma House this session passed legislation that would require potential plaintiffs to obtain a certificate that their lawsuit has merit before they can file it.

"The (U.S.) Constitution provides that the tree of liberty has three distinct and separate branches -- executive, legislative and judicial," he said. "The Legislature is attempting to prune the judicial branch with a saw whose teeth have been sharpened with untruths and partisan politics."

Parsley said he is speaking out because he, like other lawyers, is bound by professional oaths to protect and defend the constitution.

"Our duty requires that we speak out when the anchor of our democracy is threatened," Parsley said, according to remarks posted on the OBA's Web site.

He said some lawmakers are pushing tort reform measures in the Sooner State even though there is no epidemic of frivolous lawsuit filings in the state.

He pointed to a 2006 survey that found that 90 percent of Oklahoma trial judges believed there was no litigation crisis in the state.

"If there was proof of an epidemic of frivolous lawsuits, the Oklahoma Bar Association would not be waiting for legislative action -- we would be taking action much quicker than the Legislature," Parsley said.

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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