by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
We can thank Eric Hoffer for one of the greatest lines in public policy: “Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.”
The California-based law firm Sher Edling pitched the idea of a municipal lawsuit against major energy producers to top officials within the city of Miami that would seek to extract compensation from oil companies for present and future damages due to the effects of climate change, according to emails obtained through open records requests.
The new documents add to the findings previously reported by the Washington Free Beacon that showed Sher Edling selling the idea to officials in San Francisco.
Sher Edling is representing many government clients in suits such as this across the country, usually on a contingency fee basis, meaning the firm won’t be paid unless it extracts some kind of monetary settlement from the companies or win a damages judgment in court.
The contingency fee nature of the suits has led to vocal criticism from some Republican former top law enforcement officials who say the arrangement is inviting ethical problems.
Dan Lungren, a former congressman and former attorney general for California, says AG offices are among the most powerful in government with their ability to prosecute, and one of the checks on their power is through how deeply funded they are by their state legislatures. Engaging outside attorneys to develop and deploy contingency suits expands their powers in ways that were not intended.