New business-backed group challenges Georgia’s trial lawyers

The U.S. Supreme Court in Washington. (AP/Susan Walsh)

The U.S. Supreme Court in Washington. (AP/Susan Walsh)

The never-ending tug of war between corporate groups and the state’s trial lawyers under the Gold Dome has a major new player.

A new business-backed organization called Georgians for Lawsuit Reform emerged this year to press for changes to the state’s litigation rules – and has quickly become a new adversary for the state’s trial bar.

Georgians for Lawsuit Reform is headed by Kade Cullefer, an attorney from Columbus who once worked for Sonny Perdue’s legal team. Chaired by the top attorney for SunTrust Banks, the group aims to bring a “fair, equitable and balanced” legal environment.

 



 

It will eventually file friend-of-the-court briefs to weigh in on legal disputes and back political allies with financial support. But it is already making its mark early in the legislative session by advocating for proposals long sought by some business boosters.

First up is House Bill 192, a measure sponsored by state Rep. Beth Beskin that would make it harder for plaintiffs to win lawsuits targeting the board members of financial institutions.

It’s an answer to a 2014 Georgia Supreme Court ruling that could allow members of a failed bank’s board of directors and other officers to be held personally liable for the bank’s losses if they were found to be negligent in their fiduciary responsibilities.

The group also has designs on changes to Georgia’s discovery laws and to resurrect parts of the 2005 “tort reform” law that were overturned by the state’s top court.

“There’s a lot of work to be done, but we’ve got big ambitions,” said Cullefer. “Our hope is to make the legal climate fair for all citizens.”

It presents a new challenge for the state’s powerful trial attorney lobby, which has enjoyed a much friendlier relationship with Gov. Nathan Deal than his predecessor.

William Clark, the top lobbyist for the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association, said he hasn’t heard of the group. He added, though, that it sounds like a U.S. Chamber-backed “mouthpiece” that is “determined to undermine the constitutional rights of Georgia citizens.”

(Cullefer won’t say where the group’s funding comes from or how much it has raised, although he said it has “strong local support.”)

Consider the fight over Beskin’s measure an early test for the nascent group. Clark aims to stop it dead in its tracks.

“In the wake of the largest series of bank failures since the Great Depression, and after watching corporate scandal after corporate scandal unfold, now is hardly the time to lower the accountability of corporate directors and officers here in Georgia,” said Clark.


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