Chief Justice Joseph E. Lambert has appointed 12 Kentucky attorneys to a committee that will study mass tort and class action litigation cases. The Mass Tort and Class Action Litigation Committee will determine whether current court rules for attorneys and judges provide adequate safeguards against unethical conduct and whether rule changes may provide guidance to attorneys and courts dealing with complex litigation.
The committee will meet regularly to develop recommendations for the Supreme Court of Kentucky this year. The group met for the first time in September in the Jefferson County Judicial Center in Louisville and had its second meeting in January in the Supreme Court conference room at the Capitol in Frankfort.
"Unethical conduct by attorneys or judges undermines public trust and confidence in the judicial system," said retired Supreme Court Justice Martin E. Johnstone, who is heading the committee with sitting Supreme Court Justice Lisabeth Hughes Abramson. "This committee will look at whether the nature of mass tort and class action litigation lends itself more easily to abuse and, if so, what can be done to prevent it."
In addition to Justices Abramson and Johnstone, the Mass Tort and Class Action Litigation Committee is comprised of attorneys John Ballantine of Louisville, Mindy Barfield of Lexington, Steve Franzen of Newport, Stephen Frazier of Paintsville, Gary Johnson of Pikeville, Beth A. Lochmiller of Elizabethtown, Timothy Mauldin of Bowling Green, Charles Moore of Owensboro, Tom Osborne of Paducah, Peter Perlman of Lexington, Susan Pope of Lexington and Edward Stopher of Louisville.
At its January meeting, the committee heard from Howard M. Erichson, a law professor at Seton Hall Law School in New Jersey who is an expert in mass tort litigation, class actions and professional responsibility. He discussed the challenges involved with mass tort cases and offered some possible reforms.
Erichson is an editor of the Mass Tort Litigation Blog and an advisor to the American Law Institute's Principles of Aggregate Litigation group. He has taught and published extensively in the areas of civil procedure, comparative procedure, complex litigation and professional responsibility. A well-known expert on both mass tort litigation and legal ethics, Erichson has been called upon for his opinions by numerous media outlets, including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Boston Globe, Associated Press, Reuters, and National Public Radio.
Mass tort cases usually feature multiple plaintiffs who file suit against one or more defendants alleging an injury common to the group. Often filed or consolidated into class action lawsuits, mass tort cases involve complex issues of law and present special case management challenges for the courts.
Examples of mass tort litigation include asbestos claims, silicone implant claims and pharmaceutical drug lawsuits, such as the recent fen-phen cases. Alleged mismanagement of the settlement award in the Kentucky fen-phen litigation led to the federal indictment and temporary disbarment of three Kentucky attorneys. Attorneys in other states such as Texas, Ohio, California and Mississippi have also been accused of ethics violations for their role in class action litigation.