Sunday, October 10, 1999

CAPITOL INSIDER


Second GOP try: Lose a lawsuit, you pay fees

BY MICHAEL HAWTHORNE
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Still smarting from a verbal body slam laid down by the Ohio Supreme Court, some Republican lawmakers are trying a different route to curb liability lawsuits.

        Reps. Gene Krebs of Camden and Pat Tiberi of Columbus are the chief sponsors of a bill that would require the losing side of a tort case to pay the winner's legal fees. (A tort is a wrongful act, injury or damage for which a lawsuit can be brought.)

        Mr. Tiberi, a candidate for Congress, said the bill would discourage people from threatening lawsuits in an attempt to win a quick out-of-court settlement.

        The lawmakers said their bill is modeled after British law, but they couldn't provide any examples of frivolous lawsuits that have been thwarted in that country because of it.

        Anne Valentine, incoming president of the Ohio Academy of Trial Lawyers, said there already are plenty of methods judges can use to weed out lawsuits that don't have any merit.

        “This is another attempt to slam the doors of justice in people's faces,” she said. “The average citizen, the aver age guy on the street, can't and won't afford the risk of losing.”

        Mr. Tiberi was the chief sponsor of a law that limited damages in product liability and medical malpractice lawsuits. In a caustic ruling handed down in August, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled the General Assembly overstepped its authority and struck down the law.

        “There clearly is a divide internally about how we proceed,” said Mr. Tiberi, the House majority floor leader. “This (new) bill is easy to explain, it's fair and it's something a supermajority of Ohioans support.”

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        The Enquirer reported last week that Peter Niehoff, the 13-year-old son of H.C. “Buck” Niehoff, chairman of the Hamilton County Republican Party, has given $26,275 to GOP candidates since 1986.

        State and federal laws require candidates to list the occupations and employers of their contributors. Most of the pols Peter has supported listed his occupation as “student,” with one notable exception.

        The campaign committee of Ohio Treasurer Joseph Deters put “best efforts” in the employer box after Peter Niehoff gave the former Hamilton County prosecutor $250 last October. That means the campaign tried but couldn't identify the son of one of Cincinnati's top GOP fund-raisers.

        Mr. Deters was the only statewide candidate last year to receive an “F” from Ohio Citizen Action, a watchdog group that measures compliance with the state's campaign finance law.

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        Lawmakers and reporters look pretty scary after some of the General Assembly's late-night sessions.

        During the last two weeks of the month, folks at the Statehouse are going to try to deliberately scare people.

        Tour guides in period costumes will tell ghost stories on Oct. 22, 23, 29 and 30, including “tales of strange happenings and unexplained occurances at the home of Ohio's state government.” (Insert your own punch line here.)

        For more information, call Gina Langen at the Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board, (614) 728-2130.

        Michael Hawthorne covers state government for The Cincinnati Enquirer. He can be reached at (614) 224-4640.

       



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