We’d like transparency from state lawyer common [commentary] | Columnists

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We need transparency from state attorney general [commentary] | Columnists

The role of Lady Justice is an enduring symbol in American law. She proudly represents fairness and balance in our civil justice system. These ideals are held high among attorneys general and state leadership alike; they are crucial for leading a sound state government that stands for its people.

Our courts should represent fairness and transparency, but somehow the true meaning has slipped through the cracks. Lawsuits have been clogging our courts with instances where fictitious harm occurred. Slowly, Lady Justice has been tarnished by the rust of frivolous litigation.

In Pennsylvania, we can point with pride to the diverse talent across our state. We are home to some of the top universities, health care systems and manufacturers in the country. Our state’s trajectory aims to grow, but it is hindered by a looming shield — lawsuit abuse.

Put simply, lawsuit abuse occurs when lawyers and plaintiffs issue meaningless claims against large companies and small shops, with the intention of scoring a handsome payout.

Although these cases might seem innocent at first, they have detrimental effects on Pennsylvania’s economy and families. Lawsuit abuse impacts everyday lives. The jobs we count on, the ability to create jobs, access to the health care we receive and the overall health of our communities are all impacted by what happens in our courtrooms.

Turning to a solution, it is crucial that we elect state leaders who are transparent in their work and can bring us closer to stopping lawsuit abuse.

The state attorney general is an important figure who can influence legislation containing good governing principles and help reform our civil justice system back to Lady Justice’s intentions.

In this vein, it is my hope that both of our state attorney general candidates this year — incumbent Democrat Josh Shapiro and Republican candidate Heather Heidelbaugh — will make transparency and good governance a central focus of their campaign platforms.

I hope, too, that our candidates pledge to pursue and support Transparency in Private Attorney Contracting legislation, just as many other states have done.

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It is crucial that Pennsylvania’s attorney general contracts with outside counsel are disclosed. We need to ensure accountability of the attorney general and precise oversight over contingent-fee contracts used in state litigation.

Pennsylvanians deserve to know if attorneys hired by the state are political supporters of the attorney general and the specific terms and conditions of their representation.

Adherence to this code also will make sure all settlements over $250,000 are deposited directly in the state treasury for appropriation — eliminating any misdirection of funds.

By enforcing transparency, Pennsylvanians will have visibility into how their tax dollars, hours, services and fees are spent in litigation.

With Nov. 3 right around the corner, I hope Pennsylvanians keep in sight the true values Lady Justice holds.

As I’ve stressed above, keeping balanced and fair courts for all parties in the courtroom keeps true to our founding principles. We need a state attorney general who will carry integrity through our courts and insist on transparency when Pennsylvania hires private attorneys to litigate on behalf of its people.

The next attorney general must be willing to stand up for proper disclosure of our state’s private attorney contracting.

Curt Schroder is the executive director of the Pennsylvania Coalition for Civil Justice Reform.