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Don Jacobs
Don Jacobs
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Initiative Limits Attorney Fees in Oregon

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It looks like Kevin Mannix and Bill Sizemore are at it again. The initiative process in Oregon is supposed to exist so the voice of the people can be heard. If citizens can gather enough signatures from registered voters, an indication many feel strongly about an issue, a measure can be put on the ballot. This grass roots process allowing citizens to bypass the legislature and have a voice in passing laws directly is touted as an important consumer right. Unfortunately, like a lot of good ideas, this one ended up being used as a tool by special interest groups to enact their own agenda. Although originally banned, the law changed to allow for paid signature gatherers. Instead of having groups of concerned citizen volunteers working to gather signatures, anyone with several hundred thousand dollars can hire paid signature gatherers to put anything they want on the ballot. It now happens every year. Over twenty ballot measures alone were paraded forth by the same group of people in 2007. These are not citizen groups. There is no groundswell of interest in their measures. They just conjure up new laws they think will benefit them and their circle friends. The more simplistic the better. Three strikes you’re out. Mandatory jail time for all criminals. Forget what judges, police and prosecutors want. Forget about how we are going to pay for all the new jails without raising taxes. It doesn’t matter. If you oppose these simplistic one size fits all laws you are labeled soft on crime. The latest great idea from this group is a law that limits what an attorney can charge as a contingent fee. You’d think there was a host of complaints about lawyer fees from clients. Check with the Oregon State Bar. All complaints are public. Complaints from clients about contingent fees are extremely rare. Rules are already on the books prohibiting lawyers from charging excessive fees. If the Bar Association finds an excessive fee the money is refunded and the lawyer can lose his license. So why do we need this new law? Is it to put more money in the pockets of their clients? Hardly. What it is designed to do is make it hard for you to get a lawyer unless you can afford to pay by the hour. The measure has no limitation on what an insurance company or corporation can pay their lawyers, just on what you can pay yours. That sounds fair. This should really level the playing field. It’s difficult enough to take on an insurance company, a government or a corporation. With this new law you now are told you don’t get to spend as much as they do on legal fees. What a great idea.