By: Miriam Rozen
Here's a political riddle: What does Republican U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina have in common with Democratic-leaning plaintiff lawyers, including Lisa Blue, Mikal Watts, Bob Hilliard and Wayne Fisher?
The answer: They'll all be in Houston on April 20 for a fundraiser for Graham, hosted by superstar plaintiffs lawyer Mark Lanier.
Lanier, who has amassed a pile of multimillion-dollar judgments over the years, has long stood out from most of his brethren by financially backing Republicans and rarely donating to Democrats. But that doesn't mean his interests don't align with those of other plaintiffs lawyers, especially when it comes to the threat of tort reform.
By hosting the fundraiser, Lanier highlights the leverage he may have to help derail the tort reform train now steaming through the nation's capital.
"As a lifelong Republican, I may better be positioned than a lot of plaintiff lawyers to catch the ear of Republicans and explain that the plaintiff position is often truly representing the Republicans' perspective, since they care about letting the local communities set standards, the right to a trial and about personal responsibility," Lanier said.
His bash for Graham comes as House Republicans advance tort reform proposals that, if they receive enough support in the Senate, would cap medical malpractice awards and limit class actions, all outcomes supported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups.
Graham, a former trial lawyer himself, holds a pivotal position as one of 11 Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which would consider such proposals and has nine Democrats. If Graham casts his vote with the Democrats, he creates a tie and could halt the progress of tort reform proposals getting to the full Senate for a vote.
In an email to invitees, Lanier wrote: "I believe the civil justice system is worth saving, and we are going to need solid voices in the Senate and House. No Republican is as solid on the right to a fair jury trial as Senator Lindsey Graham."
He added: "Our goal is to show Senator Graham an appreciation from both sides of the bar for what he can help do, especially with tort reform running rampant from the House."
Lanier also warned his prospective guests that other Republicans besides Graham would be at the party, including U.S. Reps. Ted Poe and Mike McCaul. Also on the guest list: Ken Starr, who served as special independent counsel investigating allegations against then-President Bill Clinton about his relations with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
Those boldface Republican names have not stopped the Democratic-leaning plaintiff lawyers from pledging to join the party, Lanier said.
The event will be held at Lanier's Houston home, where the trial lawyer—who is also a pastor—has built a theological library. Ticket prices for the event range from $500 to $5,400.