Don't make taxpayers fund abuse of legal system
The great American humorist Mark Twain once wrote that "I can't do literary work for the rest of this year because I'm meditating another lawsuit and looking around for a defendant." Unfortunately, a narrow band of anti-free-market special interests have taken Twain's satire literally, spending their considerable time and money to ensure that businesses devote their resources to protracted court battles, rather than projects that get Floridians back to work. Lawsuits can be weapons. And for years, special interest groups have wielded legal challenges against taxpayers and businesses without fear of being held responsible for the merits of their case. Too often, the sole purpose of this litigation is to derail projects, companies or entire industries. In a groundbreaking decision, Florida's 1st District Court of Appeals recently ordered two of these so-called environmental groups - 1000 Friends of Florida and the Martin County Conservation Alliance - to repay taxpayers for legal fees that resulted from what the court described as frivolous litigation.In "Court deals blow to smart growth" (Dec. 17), the editorial board of The Tampa Tribune decries the ruling, saying the court has made it "financially risky" to engage in such litigation in the future. True to form, the special interest groups behind the lawsuit also predicted the ruling would have a chilling effect on future litigation. Good. Taxpayers have been footing the bill for this type of frivolous, dead-end litigation for years while interest groups abuse the legal system with impunity. Allowing special interests - even self-proclaimed "environmental" groups - to use the legal system as an all-expenses-paid weapon against prosperity, while treating taxpayers as a piggybank, is poisoning Florida's business climate. For example, anti-free-market groups such as the Sierra Club have aimed new legal challenges at Florida's farmers, resulting in the federal EPA imposing draconian and scientifically bankrupt regulations on one of our state's largest industries. Economists predict that the cost of these new regulations could soar into the billions. Several years ago, Sierra Club litigation temporarily halted work in some of Florida's most important limestone quarries, resulting in the layoff of hundreds of workers. 1000 Friends of Florida and the Martin County Conservation Alliance may not be as fanatical as the Sierra Club, but they operate on the same basic model: Sue first; ask questions later. After years of clogging up the courts with frivolous lawsuits and then sticking taxpayers with the bill, the appeals court ruling finally gave anti-free-market interest groups a taste of their own medicine. In the past, these groups have faced no consequences for bringing dead-end litigation, the primary purpose of which is to drag companies through the legal gauntlet, saddling them with costly delays and legal fees along the way. Special interest groups should give ample consideration to the merit of their cases before bringing taxpayers to court in the future. The prosperity of our state depends upon diversifying our economy, strengthening existing industries and attracting new, high-paying jobs. That future requires a safe, stable and strong business climate. - which is threatened daily by out-of-control litigation orchestrated by anti-free-market forces. We can only hope the court's decision will have as deep a chilling effect on frivolous litigation as this litigation has so often had on job creation.
Ryan Houck is executive director of Citizens for Lower Taxes and a Stronger Economy.
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