Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Oregonian’s Astonishing Argument Against Legal Justice For Corporate Wrongdoers

The Oregonian's Astonishing Argument Against Legal Justice For Corporate Wrongdoers

After years of watch-dogging the increasingly extreme right-wing Oregonian Editorial Board, we didn't think we could possibly be surprised by anything Erik Lukens & Co. crank out. But after reading this morning's editorial, we were quite literally left speechless.

Opposition to HB4143If you've been paying attention to the O's right-ward lurch, you know that they've become champions for causes like tax cuts for the rich and handouts for big corporations—while also cheering for ugly attacks on working people.

Today, though, they went beyond the pale with their objection to House Bill 4143, which would put unclaimed class action settlement funds into Legal Aid (legal help for low-income people), rather than back into the pockets of the bad-acting corporations.

Legal Aid provides representation on civil cases to low-income Oregonians, helping them through cases like domestic violence and housing discrimination. The service makes sure that everyone has meaningful access to the legal system.

Right now, if class action funds aren't claimed, they go right back to the corporation that caused the harm. Oregon is one of only two states that allows this to happen. Lobbyists for large corporations have been waging a fierce campaign against HB4143, because why should they actually have to pay for the damage they've caused?

The Oregonian Editorial Board isn't merely opposed to changing this law. They claim that voting against this bill—standing up with the lobbyists for malfeasant corporations like oil and tobacco companies—is an act of courage.

Oregonian Headline

Why is the Editorial Board so opposed to such basic fairness? A couple of highly convoluted reasons:

1. It would change the law. "HB4143 would take a weed-whacker to these rules (dozens of lines would be deleted) and create a nebulous alternative process that would allow the state to assume the role of the damaged party and snag all of those unrequested damage awards."

Uhhhh, right. That's what legislation does. It changes existing laws and creates new ones. That's the point. In this case, the change is to fund Legal Aid for low-income families by preventing corporations from recycling class action settlement funds.

2. It would apply to lawsuits currently in progress. "If Malfeasor Manufacturing is going to end up paying the state of Oregon for damages the buyers of its faulty widgets choose not to collect, it deserves to know this from the start. The company's defense might proceed differently under that scenario than under the state's existing rules."

Preposterous! And besides, should we really lose any sleep over making sure a corporation who's caused millions of dollars of damage is actually paying up? We send legislators to Salem to fight for Oregonians, not the profit interests of large malfeasant corporations and their lobbyists.

Further, where was Erik Lukens' concern for not changing the rules midstream when he was loudly advocating for cuts to the pensions of retired public employees?

3. The funds go to a good cause. Seriously—that's one of the reasons the editorial board opposes HB 4143. "Working legal aid into the debate was pure genius. As introduced, HB4143 would have directed the money to the state general fund, but promising to direct the money, instead, to legal services for low-income Oregonians created an almost irresistible good guy/bad guy narrative. Anyone who opposes HB4143, the thinking goes, would rather protect Big Tobacco and Big Oil than help little guy. This line of reasoning will echo in ad hominem attacks directed at any senator who has the courage to vote against the bill."

Got that? Because the bill funds a cause that nearly everyone supports—by holding harmful corporations accountable—it should be voted down. There are some Olympic-level intellectual gymnastics happening over at the Oregonian.

"It takes courage to do the right thing when doing so is highly unpopular."

Actually, in this case, voting against this bill is highly unpopular specifically because it's the wrong thing to do. Considering how diametrically opposed the Oregonian Editorial Board is to the political values of the paper's readership, and considering how far the Oregonian's circulation has plummeted, you'd think the paper would be more concerned with the plight of the struggling many, rather than a few deep-pocketed corporate lobbyists.

At least someone over at the SW Broadway paper hasn't forgotten what actual courage is. Columnist Steve Duin turned in a piece over the weekend that actually hits at the heart of the fight here:

House Bill 4143 is the best idea to come out of the Legislature in recent memory. It remedies a flaw in class-action law and funds a legal-aid system that can't provide the poorest Oregonians with the help they need.

But the bill is being chewed up in a political system that is designed to be adversarial, not productive, and one that celebrates, year after dreary year, all that is stubborn and self-serving and dull.