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House committee OKs bill to increase penalties for attorneys that case run

The Alabama House chambers. (FILE PHOTO)

On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee gave a favorable report to a bill, HB189, which increases the penalties for unscrupulous attorneys who aggressively seek out potential plaintiffs, by offering bribes, inducements, or by hiring a person to recruit potential clients.

The term used for this unscrupulous practice is case running.

“Under existing law, an attorney who gives, offers or promises to give a valuable consideration, including money, to another person for the purpose of encouraging that person to bring an action against another; or who employs another person to search for or procure clients to be brought to the attorney is guilty of a misdemeanor and is fined not more than $1,000, removed and disbarred from practicing as an attorney, and may be imprisoned for a term not exceeding six months. This bill would increase the criminal penalty by providing that the attorney would be fined not more than $10,000 and may be imprisoned for not more than one year.”

HB189 is sponsored by state Rep. Matt Fridy, R-Montevallo.

The House Judiciary Committee is chaired by state Rep. Jim Hill, R-Odenville.

Fridy said the legislation would increase the fine for case running. It would also mean disbarment if an attorney is caught engaging in the practice.

“This has become a bigger and bigger problem, particularly in the Birmingham area,” Friday said. “The trial attorneys I know are good people that operate in a very ethical manner. The purpose of this bill is to make an example of the few bad apples that are not doing it the right way.”

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“I support the bill, but I have never seen this prosecuted,” said State Rep. Prince Chestnut, D-Selma. “We all know who is doing this and some of them are the largest, most powerful law firms.”

“The same handful of large law firms get all of the wrongful death cases within a one-hundred mile radius,” Chestnut said. “If we do this, I want to see it done fairly and go after the big firms and not just a solo practitioner trying to make a living.”

HB189 received a favorable report from the House Judiciary Committee and now moves on to consideration by the full House of Representatives.

Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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