Pa. Bar opposes reform measure, draws ire of members

By John O'Brien | May 13, 2011


HARRISBURG, Pa. (Legal Newsline) - The Pennsylvania Bar Association is fighting the end of joint and several liability, and in doing so lost the membership of the attorneys in a Harrisburg law firm.

The Bar is opposing the Fair Share Act, a long-running idea in Pennsylvania's General Assembly that would end joint and several liability, which requires a defendant to pay the share of a verdict that a co-defendant can't afford, no matter what percentage of liability is assessed to both.

It is up to the paying defendant to seek repayment from the non-paying one. If the non-paying one has no assets, the paying defendant gets nothing after footing the bill.

Thomas, Thomas & Hafer this month pulled the PBA memberships of its attorneys. The PBA had sent an "Action Alert" to its members urging opposition to the bill.

"We simply will not continue to contribute our time and dues to an association that insists on taking positions contrary to the interests of our clients and hostile to the growth of business in our Commonwealth," said TT&H managing partner, James K. Thomas II.

The Fair Share Act cleared the House by a vote of 112-88 and is sitting in the Senate Judiciary Committee. House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, said the bill will keep employers and jobs in Pennsylvania, save tax dollars and help hospitals remain open.

It was originally passed in 2002 and then-Gov. Mark Schweiker signed it into law. It did away with the doctrine, though a defendant that was found at least 60 percent liable was still on the hook for the whole amount if its co-defendants couldn't pay.

However, Democratic Rep. William DeWeese mounted a legal challenge to the way the bill was passed. It was coupled with legislation regarding DNA sampling and in 2006, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled the bill should have been focused on a single subject.

With Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell in office, the bill was never reinstated. He vetoed the legislation in 2006. Now, former Attorney General Tom Corbett, a Republican, is occupying the Governor's Office, and passing the Fair Share Act was one of his stated priorities during his campaign.

Turzai said he was proud of Thomas, Thomas & Hafer for standing up to the PBA.

"Pennsylvania already has one of the most hostile-to-business tax and regulatory environments in the country. Until today, I had not realized we had a hostile state bar association as well," Turzai said.

"I hope other lawyers and firms follow the example set by TT&H and resign their membership since, clearly, the bar association does not speak for all of its members."

From Legal Newsline: Reach John O'Brien by e-mail at jobrienwv@gmail.com.

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