Page 22


RALPH NADER, the consumer advocate who is so highly regarded by political writer William Greider, called it “private lawmaking.” Greider would call it an example of “mock democracy,” the new politics that guarantees the exclusion of most Americans from the debate. And it was private, not secret. Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock all but admitted his intention to limit public participation in the debate over the state’s products liability and forum non conveniens legislation, the terms of which were decided in private meetings that included Bullock’s staff, and representatives of the Texas by Texas Lawyer reporter Walter Borges why so few were allowed to participate in the closed don’t attempt to call everybody in on every issue. If I did, I’d have to rent the Austin Municipal Auditorium.” !Producing a privately arranged deal with corporate opponents seriously damages any present and future coalitions with other citizens groups,” Nader wrote on January 9, in an angry letter to Texas Trial Lawyers Association President Dan Bowen, one of the few participants in the discussions on the bill. By January 26, when pro forma public testimony was heard by the Senate Economic Development Committee, Nader’s predictions were playing themselves out. “We have been told by lawyer interests that the working people can take it or leave it, that it’s either this one or a worse one” said Texas AFL-CIO President Joe Gunn. “I do know that many of you have made commitments to support this bill. I believe those commitments were made prematurely, without knowing the full truth about the terrible consequences of this bill. If the working people of Texas had been consulted, or even considered, earlier, then you would not be in this position. And we would not be in this position, either.” Other public interest organizations, the Consumers’ Union and Public Citizen, did not openly attack the Trial Lawyers but did testify against the bill. Gunn is also correct when he describes the new forum non conveniens legislation in the context of NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement currently awaiting 60 days of debate in the U.S. Congress. Known as the Alfaro Bill after Domingo Castro Alfaro, who along with 81 fellow Costa Rican banana plantation workers was rendered sterile by exposure to a chemical manufactured by Shell Oil and Dow Chemical and filed suit in Hciuston the forum non conveniens reform would certainly limit foreign plaintiffs’ access to Texas courts. Such a limitation \(equity and justice set aside, because anyone who tries to drag around such concepts in the new corporate state quickly national corporations to produce their goods in Third World countries, where there is no private tort system like the one gradually being dismantled in this country. Had there been a real debate on this issue, some legislator might have quoted the opin ion of Texas Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Doggett. In 1990, Doggett, a member of the 5-4 majority, wrote that Alfaro et al. had a right to sue Shell “in a court three blocks from its world headquarters.” In his opinion, Doggett observed that the Costa Rican workers earn approximately one dollar per hour and “clearly cannot compete financially with Shell and Dow in carrying on litigation.” With a $1,500 cap on what a Costa Rican worker rendered sterile can collect in his own country, “just one trip to Houston to review the documents produced by Shell would exceed the estimated maximum possible recovery in Costa Rica.” Doggett describes the attitude of corporate executives in terms that make them appear contemptuous of working people: “The refusal of a Texas corporation to confront a Texas judge and jury is labelled “inconvenient,” when what is really involved is not convenience but connivance to avoid corporate accountability.” When the court handed down its ruling in 1990, the business community promised to set things straight in the Legislature. This session’s Alfaro bill is their second attempt and it is all but guaranteed to be successful. One result of limiting foreign employees’ of American-based multinationals access to the U.S. judicial system \(forum non conveniens is the lowering of multinationals’ cost of doing business in Third World countries, which can only make it more appealing for companies to abandon the United States. Because the U.S. tort system is not yet so badly eroded that a worker’s reproductive capacity is valued at $1,500, the Alfaro bill, once passed, can only make louder what H. Ross Perot described as “the great sucking wooshing sound of jobs headed south.” In fairness to the Lieutenant Governor, it must be noted that the Senate over which he presides is not the same body that served as the last line of defense against similar assaults on the civil justice system three sessions ago. Because a two-thirds vote is required to bring a bill to the floor in the Senate, progressives could once coupt on 11 votes to block bad legislation. Those 11 votes are no longer there. Consider the fol rift THE TEXAS ‘O server FEBRUARY 12, 1993 VOLUME 85, No. 3 FEATURES On a Budget Brink By Ernesto Cortes Jr. 8 Simple Murder By James Harrington 9 `Outed’ by the Army: A Soldier’s Story By Zsa Zsa Gershick 10 Zoe, We Hardly Knew Ye By James McCarty Yeager 12 DEPARTMENTS Dialogue 2 Editorials 3 Books & the Culture Sonnets to Human Beings Book review by Pat LittleDog 13 All the Pretty Horses Book review by Michael King 1 5 Rockspring Book review by Dave Oliphant 16 Franklin’s Crossing Book review by Bryce Milligan 17 Journal Border Blaster; 5th Circuit Upholds Civil Rights; Guatemala Update Various correspondents 18 Afterword Me and Paul Tillich and Dad By Tim Griffin 22 Political Intelligence . 24 Cover illustration by Michael Alexander lowing changes, as a result of both elections, and Democratic Attorney General Dan Morales’ failure to respond to his wake-up call on redistricting: Republican Dan Shelley has replaced Democrat Gene Green, Republican Jane Nelson has replaced Democrat Bob Glasgow, Republican Jerry Patterson has replaced Democrat Chet Brooks, Republican Florence Shapiro has replaced Democrat Ted Lyon, busi EDITORIALS Downward, ho! THE TEXAS OBSERVER 3 ‘”-“”1!;,,*4–!411410000%** …0,-,Aveopevoid.00#?.*90000” ,