Of Justice and Enterprise (Editorial)

This issue of Arkansas Business is packed with what we in the newspaper industry call “enterprise” reporting, chiefly Senior Editor Mark Friedman’s package of stories about the “judicial hellhole” that some in the legal profession call Texarkana and Editor Gwen Moritz’s list of Arkansas’ highest-paid nonprofit employees.

Enterprise reporting in the 21st century requires the equivalent of the 20th century’s “shoe leather”: excellent Internet and document search ability. As it did in the 20th — and 19th and 18th — 21st century enterprise reporting takes time, patience and perseverance, along with the willingness to ask uncomfortable questions.

Enterprise reporting of whatever century also tends to share this characteristic: It makes people question why a particular slice of the world operates the way it does. And the way the judicial system in Miller County has been operating should prompt a lot of questions.

As Friedman’s articles make clear — and as was first reported on extensively in Fortune magazine in January — three law firms have been exploiting a perceived loophole in federal law and a friendly-to-plaintiffs’-lawyers court system to force the settlement of class-action lawsuits. The lawyers have cashed in to the tune of $420 million in attorneys’ fees in just seven years, while it’s unclear just how much their clients — the plaintiffs, remember, the members of the class, the ones allegedly harmed — have been awarded because out-of-court settlements are often secret.

And while a decision last week by a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court may have crippled one aspect of the scheme, the question of whether cases are being ruled on and tried in a timely manner remains an issue.

We understand the David-and-Goliath burdens of plaintiffs’ lawyers confronting the vast resources of big corporations. But justice delayed is justice denied no matter who is seeking that justice. n