Saturday, January 3, 2004

Lawyers pay for attack ads

Householder hit over asbestos case rules

By Jordan Gentile
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

COLUMBUS - A television commercial that tags Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder "Cold-Hearted Larry" was scheduled to run during Friday night's Fiesta Bowl football game featuring Ohio State University.

Lawyers for asbestos victims are furious at Householder for pushing a bill that would restrict money damages for asbestos cases and make it harder to sue the companies they say are responsible.

A group called the Committee to Protect Ohioans created the ads to "point out all of his shortcomings," said Tom Bevan, a Northfield attorney and treasurer of the committee.

The bill would require plaintiffs to get medical examinations before their cases can be decided. It would also give protection to out-of-state companies who might be sued.

Last weekend, the committee slammed Householder in an ad that ran in southwest Ohio during the Bengals-Browns football game.

That spot avoided the asbestos issue. It called the speaker "Tax-Hike Larry" for supporting a sales tax increase and accused him of wasting thousands of public dollars on expensive office furniture and a plasma television screen.

Bevan said his group targeted the Cincinnati area with both sets of ads. "We picked the areas where we thought he had a lot of support."

Householder dismissed the spots as an "absolutely personal attack" and compared the asbestos-injury group to a kid on the playground who throws a temper tantrum because he didn't get his way.

"This is a small group of elite attorneys who are upset because their way of life is coming to an end," Householder said. "They've made millions on the backs of Ohioans, and these guys don't want the gravy train to end."

The asbestos bill was created in response to an avalanche of recent asbestos-related lawsuits. Forty-thousand cases are pending.

The bill's supporters say the state could weed out false claims if some of the plaintiffs are given medical evaluations.

But critics argue that a state law requiring such evaluations would be unconstitutional. They also say the bill's protection of out-of-state firms amounts to a gift for big business.

The Senate passed a bill last year that limits asbestos lawsuits, but the package included other reforms, which were rejected in the House.

Householder pushed for a new bill that included some of the more controversial protections for business.

Gannett reporter Leo Shane III contributed.

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