St. Louis Record

Friday, September 20, 2019

Legislator leading charge against Missouri venue reform gets big bucks from lawyers


By Record News | Mar 15, 2019

Sens. Sifton and Emery

JEFFERSON CITY – In four years lawyers gave $373,391 to campaigns of state Sen. Scott Sifton (D-Affton), whose amendment to a joinder bill would grant trials to plaintiffs in courts where the Supreme Court ruled they don’t belong. 

Sifton inserted a grandfather clause effective Feb. 13, the date the Supreme Court ruled that an injury plaintiff must sue where the injury occurred. 

The clause provides that anyone who sued before that date and obtained a trial date before Aug. 28 could proceed to trial without transfer. 

Sifton’s amendment would also allow current plaintiffs from other states to remain in Missouri if a statute of limitations has run where the claim belongs. 

Sen. Ed Emery (R-Nevada) prefiled the joinder bill on Dec. 31, aiming to stop the practice of packaging claims from Missouri and elsewhere. 

It provides that plaintiffs might be joined only if each one could separately file an action in that venue independent of the claims of any other plaintiff, and provides for transfer of a claim from an improper venue to one where venue could be established. 

It further provides that, “If no such county exists in the state of Missouri, the claim shall be dismissed without prejudice.” 

As of the end of last year, Sifton’s campaign had raised $1,836,235 since Jan. 1, 2015. 

Lawyers supplied 20 percent of it. 

They contributed more than all other individuals who identified their occupations, with the bulk of contributions coming from corporations and committees. 

Mesothelioma firm Simmons Hanly Conroy of Alton, llinois, gave Sifton $10,000 in 2015 and $20,000 in 2016, his campaign year. 

Four Simmons lawyers gave him $2,000 each and one gave him $1,000 in 2017, bringing the firm’s total to $39,000. 

Plaintiff firms generally treated Sifton more generously than corporate firms, yet corporate firm Husch Blackwell, where Sifton is a former partner, ranked second to Simmons. 

Husch Blackwell gave Sifton $10,000, and co-workers there gave him $9,875. 

He got $12,500 from St. Louis firm Schlichter, Bogard, and Denton.

The firm’s website states they aggressively represent individuals injured by wrongdoing, especially in railroads, pharmaceuticals, and finance. 

Sifton got $10,000 from Langdon Emison of Kansas City, whose website states they have taken on the world’s largest corporations for 30 years. They state they obtained more than $700 million in verdicts and settlements. 

Sifton got $10,000 from Robb and Robb of Kansas City, whose website states they won more than $1 billion in verdicts and settlements from crashes of helicopters, airplanes, trucks, and buses. 

He got $10,000 from Strong Garner Bauer of Springfield, whose website states they brought 130 cases to conclusion in 11 years at an average of a million each or more. They state they handle big tobacco, big auto, drug companies, trucks, railroads, and deaths by propane and gas. 

Mesothelioma lawyer Ben Schmickle of Kirkwood gave Sifton $7,500. 

Corporate firm Polsinelli of Kansas City gave him $2,500, and lawyers there gave him $3,725. 

Stephen Tillery’s class action firm in St. Louis gave him $3,500, and Christopher Hoffman of the firm gave him $2,500. 

St. Louis injury firms Brown & Crouppen and Simon Law each gave him $6,000. 

Mesothelioma lawyer Andrew O’Brien of St. Louis gave him $2,600, and O’Brien’s firm gave him $2,500. 

Onder Law of St. Louis, leader in talc litigation, gave him $2,500, and so did Onder paralegal Mari Evans. 

Mesothelioma lawyer Randy Gori of Edwardsville, Ill. and the Gori Julian firm each gave him $2,500. 

Injury firms Shamberg Johnson Bergman of Kansas City and Zevan Davidson of St. Louis each gave him $5,000. 

Injury lawyers suffered a setback on Feb. 13, when the Missouri Supreme Court transferred a case from St. Louis city to St. Louis County. 

Justice Brent Powell wrote that the central issue was whether permissive joinder might extend venue to a county when, absent joinder, venue in that county would not otherwise be proper for each claim. 

“It cannot and does not,” Powell wrote. “This is evidenced not only by our Court’s rules but also nearly 40 years of this court’s precedent.” 

He quoted Missouri law that venue for all actions alleging a tort in which a plaintiff was first injured in the state shall be in the county of the first injury. 

The decision matched the purpose of Senate sponsor Emery so well that he deleted much of his text and replaced it with an express adoption of the Court’s ruling. 

On Feb. 26, the judiciary committee carried Sifton’s amendment and sent the bill to the Senate floor. 

On March 4, the Senate passed it, 24-7. 

The Senate sent the bill to the House, where Rep. Glen Kolkmeyer has sponsored a companion bill. 

The House judiciary committee set an executive session March 26. 

Sifton organized a committee for a statewide campaign last November. 

He named it Show Me Leadership. 

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