Push to end tort reform may be behind lawyers support TN justices

By Chris Butler | Tennessee Watchdog

NASHVILLE — Tennessee lawyers likely want the state’s recently enacted tort reform laws overturned — and that might explain why they’re going out of their way to help three state Supreme Court justices up for a retention vote.

No one knows for sure how the Tennessee Supreme Court justices would vote if and when the matter comes before them.

But one could argue that members of one Nashville law firm, Dodson Parker Behm & Capparella, have an incentive to see tort reform overturned.

With certain exceptions, the new law placed a $750,000 cap on non-economic damages and caps punitive damages of two times the compensatory damages, or $500,000, whichever is greater.

POLITICAL PARTNERS?: Justice Clark and Margaret L. Behm enjoying the 2014 Women’s Final Four in Nashville.

Two members of the firm, Margaret Behm and Elizabeth Sitgreaves, appear actively involved in an effort to help Justice Cornelia Clark win retention.

Another member of the firm, Donald Capparella, recently helped an elderly couple win a $2.7 million judgment in Shelby County Circuit Court for injuries and damages sustained in an automobile accident.

A Memphis lawyer involved with the case, R. Sadler Bailey, who is not a member of the Nashville firm, publicly stated the case could lead to state Supreme Court action.

“In other states, high courts have struck down as unconstitutional attempts to take such decisions away from juries,” Bailey told Business Wire.

“This case could provide an opportunity to present the issue to the Tennessee Supreme Court.”

How does Capparella feel on the matter? He didn’t immediately return Tennessee Watchdog’s messages Tuesday seeking comment via phone and email.

Behm and Greaves also didn’t immediately return messages left Tuesday seeking comment.

Tennessee Watchdog received information showing Behm helped host a $500-per-guest fundraiser for Clark at a Nashville residence last month.

While Behm didn’t return messages seeking confirmation of the event, a Facebook page advocating Clark’s retention has at least two photographs of the two women together at different events.

While that doesn’t necessarily translate into an endorsement, Sitgreaves’ interest in retaining Clark and Justices Gary Wade and Sharon Lee is more evident.

Sitgreaves is listed as a primary contact for the Coalition for Fair Courts, which has a stated mission of recognizing “the quality of our current appellate judiciary.”

Sitgreaves uses her personal Twitter page to campaign on Clark’s behalf and to showcase a photo of her with the three justices at a recent event.

TWITTER: Elizabeth Sitgreaves poses with three Tennessee Supreme Court justices up for retention and others at recent a judicial event.

As Tennessee Watchdog previously reported, lawyers in Tennessee are blasting Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey’s attempts to unseat the three justices. They say politics and money have no business tainting the judiciary.

Some lawyers have called it an act of big business and the Koch brothers trying to buy the election — even though one of the most outspoken laywers, Lew Conner, told Tennessee Watchdog he had no proof of what he was saying.

Ironically, Conner and other lawyers have hosted huge fundraisers on the justices’ behalf.

Former Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat, appointed the three justices. If voters remove even one, that will allow Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, to replace that person, likely giving Republicans a majority on the court.

One of those lawyers, James Wright of Knoxville, told Tennessee Watchdog last month that “lawyers have a special role when issues come up to be able to try to inform the public as to what’s happening.”

“There is a special role in this situation where maybe uniquely we might understand the issue better than the public might have an ability to understand what’s going on.”

Contact Christopher Butler at chris@tennesseewatchdog.org. or follow him and submit story ideas on his official Facebook page.

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