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No verdict required on Thompson the lawyer

Today’s Washington Post has a front-page story about Fred Thompson called “No Easy Verdict on Thompson The Lawyer: Cases Indicate Willingness to Defy GOP Orthodoxy.” The title is just plain silly. A lawyer’s duty is always to his client, not to any political orthodoxy. Had Thompson not been willing to “defy GOP orthodoxy” when necessary to promote his client’s interest (as where he argued against a search that found incriminating evidence), he would have violated the rules of his profession. Moreover, most of the legal positions the Post actually cites (e.g., having a client invoke the Fifth Amendment, winning reinstatement for an employee) do not defy any political orthodoxy.
Thompson’s legal career as described by the Post has no implications for this election. We simply see an able lawyer fulfilling his ethical obligation through vigorous and often successful representation of those who put their trust in him.
The interesting part of the article consists of Thompson’s Senate voting record on tort reform. Here, Thompson seems to have deviated at times from the usual conservative position. According to the Post, he “routinely voted against legislation aimed at shrinking the size of fees that attorneys could collect and rejected limits on medical malpractice lawsuits.” The American Conservative Union reports that Thompson batted .500 on tort reform issues it focused on — twice he voted as the ACU wanted and twice he did not.
In my practice, I’ve been on the corporate defense side in litigation at least 95 percent of the time, and I’m no fan of the plaintiffs’ bar. Nonetheless, there are two sides to the issue of tort reform. I know for a fact that big tort awards sometimes spur corporations to undertake reforms and corrections they otherwise would get around to much later, if at all. Moreover, there may be federalism issues associated with tort reform, as when federal law attempts to regulate state court awards. In fact, as Captain Ed points out, Thompson consistently voted for tort reform where it related to federal claims. The Post fails to point this out.
That said, further analysis might well show that some of Thompson’s tort reform votes were at odds with my thinking, as they were with the ACU’s. But occasional deviation from conservative “orthodoxy” in this one area is unlikely to cause me (or most other conservatives) heartburn.
JOHN adds: Has the Washington Post run any stories on whether Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards departed from “liberal orthodoxy” in their Senate voting records? Just wondering.
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