The Trial Lawyer Plot to Deputize State AGs as America's Food Police

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February 19, 2014

by Lisa A. Rickard
President, U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform

State attorneys general as America’s “food police”?

It appears some enterprising plaintiffs' attorneys are hoping state AGs will deputize themselves as such, according to a recent Politico report.

According to that article, “lawyers are pitching state attorneys general in 16 states with a radical idea: Make the food industry pay for soaring obesity-related health care costs.”

These suits, they say, will help recoup money to help plug states’ budget holes — while helping to trim America’s unhealthy waistlines.

Could it simply be, however, that the lawyers are seeking a big, fat payday?

Our organization has been warning for years about the growing relationships between state attorneys general and the plaintiffs’ bar.  In many cases — such as this one — these private attorneys pitch litigation to the attorneys general who, in turn, hire the attorneys to file the lawsuits on a contingency-fee basis.

The attorneys, of course, get a large cut of the settlement. 

From pay-to-play ethical concerns, to lack of oversight by state legislatures, to the question of whether the attorneys’ financial interests outweigh the best interest of taxpayers — these arrangements raise a host of troubling questions.

These very questions were at the heart of a research paper we released last year, which demonstrated how these contingency-fee arrangements "pose a substantial risk that outside counsel will inflate the amounts sought in lawsuits in order to maximize their own potential take in litigation – rather than the public good."

As I told Politico, “Pay-to-play relationships between [plaintiff’s attorneys and attorneys general] that exchange campaign contributions for lucrative government lawsuit contracts mean the food industry has a big target on its back.” 

Turning our state attorneys general into food police who will, in turn, deputize private plaintiffs’ attorneys to file lawsuits against American employers is a dubious idea.

We hope the state AGs will reject this latest advance by the plaintiffs’ bar, and that the taxpayers will demand more accountability where these attorney general-plaintiffs’ attorney relationships occur.