Patrick Lynch’s Smelly Deal in R.I.’s Lead-Paint Suit

by Hans Bader on November 5, 2007 · 2 comments

CEI rated Rhode Island attorney general Patrick Lynch the fifth-worst attorney general in America in its The Nation’s Top Ten Worst State Attorneys General, largely for his role in allowing campaign contributors to shake down the paint industry by bringing a multibillion dollar nuisance lawsuit against it for selling lead paint back when it was legal.

Legal Newsline and PointofLaw now report on paint companies’ challenge to provisions in the sweetheart deal that one company took to get out of the lawsuit. In exchange from being removed from the suit, that company agreed to pay $1 million to Attorney General Lynch’s alma mater, and $2.5 million to a hospital that the trial lawyers hired by Lynch had previously pledged to pay out of their own pocket. The company’s lawyer also made political donations to Lynch. As one ethics watchdog put it, “it does not pass the smell test.”

Meanwhile, the remaining companies faced the full brunt of billions of dollars in costs to remove lead paint from Rhode Island buildings (even though intact lead paint is not a health threat and is not required to be removed by Rhode Island lead paint statutes. Moreover, those three paint companies were collectively held liable “without proof that the three companies produced paint that is now on Rhode Island buildings,” noted the Providence Journal).

The trial lawyers hired by Lynch have a conflict of interest that gives them every incentive to pursue the most expensive remedy, rather than the one that is best for public health, since they will be paid on a contingency fee, in proportion to how expensive the remedy is. (Never mind that such contingency fees effectively circumvent state constitutional requirements that only state legislatures, not state attorney generals, can appropriate public funds (see pp. 14-15 & fn. 141 of CEI’s Ten Worst AGs report), and have been banned by executive order in the federal government).

And the Rhode Island courts have every incentive to uphold an excessive and unjustified award against the paint companies, since the law firm hired by Lynch to sue the paint companies is the biggest campaign contributor in Rhode Island politics.

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