For Jeffrey S. Raynes ’76, 2005 was a year to remember. He was named one of California’s top 100 lawyers by The Daily Journal. The California Chapter of the American Board of Trial Advocates recognized Raynes as its 2005 Trial Lawyer of the Year, and he was elected to the International Academy of Trial Lawyers. Based in Redlands, Calif., Raynes has a highly successful practice as a medical malpractice attorney. Res Ipsa asked Raynes to give readers his front-line perspective on the complicated issues surrounding medical malpractice and tort reform.
When you were attending California Western, did you know you wanted to be a trial lawyer and how did the school prepare you for your career?
When I attended California Western I aspired to be a trial lawyer but thought that I would be a criminal attorney. I was fortunate to have an opportunity to clerk in the San Diego Federal Defender’s office and work for brilliant lawyers. In fact, one of those attorneys actually suggested the topic that I researched and published upon in the California Western International Law Journal. After a year of working in the criminal Federal Court I learned criminal law was not my area of interest. Instead, upon graduating, I joined a trial firm in Riverside, Calif., and was slotted into the section that defended medical negligence cases. Within four years, I was in private practice focusing on plaintiff’s work. California Western offered invaluable opportunities to develop a trial interest clinically, including the moot court experience, client counseling, and of course, publishing. The law school was focused on training lawyers and not simply teaching the rule of law. Like many of my classmates, I benefited greatly from the clinical emphasis of the program.
How will tort reform legislation currently being considered by Congress – from placing caps on non-economic damages to eliminating joint liability – affect Americans on a personal level?
Our leaders seem to concern themselves with describing tort reform as a “crisis.” If this is true, doesn’t it seem infinitely more sensible that the crisis is in the volume of tortuous conduct and not the amount of the verdict? The effects of tort reform are widespread and profound. Perhaps the first issue is the inherent distrust in all lawyers and particularly trial lawyers rooted in the words and message of our national leaders and local politicians. This attack is not warranted and results in a blanket mistrust of our profession.
Secondly, tort reform is never completely understood by the public. I focus my practice on the representation of plaintiffs in medical negligence cases. They are completely ignorant of the information that they learn in the initial interview, including the fact that California has the lowest cap on general damages nationally. Patients of certain larger HMOs have contractually waived their constitutional right to a jury trial promised by the Seventh Amendment of the United States Constitution. The damages awarded for future medical expenses or for loss of earnings may be paid periodically or incrementally. Look a client in the eye and explain that the death of a husband and father caused by medical negligence has a general damage cap of $250,000, and you will instantly understand the fundamental unfairness and inequities of certain tort reforms.
You recently made a $10,000 gift to support the Moot Court program at California Western. What motivated you to make this contribution?
I was honored by Cal-ABOTA, which is the California branch of the American Board of Trial Advocates, as the 2005 Trial Lawyer of the Year. This organization, which is composed of plaintiff and defense attorneys, is widely considered the most respected group of trial attorneys nationally. There are approximately 6,200 members nationally and perhaps 30 percent of those are in California. The organization honored me by donating $10,000 to the school of my choice for purposes consistent with the goal of the organization, which is to defend and preserve the constitutional right to trial by jury. California Western, under the leadership of Dean Smith and Professor Mario Conte, continues to offer a wonderful clinical experience in trial work both for law students and now in a master’s program. I wanted to contribute to the program to help students advance their skills and develop a thirst and zeal for trial work.
How are trial lawyers doing in articulating their positions in the ongoing national debate about tort reform?
Trial lawyers have a very difficult time articulating our position because of access and expenses associated with the communication. It really is not a “debate” in that very few politicians outwardly oppose tort reform for fear of its impact in the vote. There are groups of attorneys who donate significant sums of money to communicate opposition to the conservative agenda, but it is very difficult to compete economically with the strength of the efforts and finances of the right-wing opposition.
Do you have any idea how many fine trial lawyers donated their time to represent families and victims of 9/11? I was honored to represent two families. I, like many, donated time to assist these families. I know attorneys who traveled to New York to submit arguments in favor of their clients at their expense. Tort lawyers are responsible for many of the meaningful changes and safeguards in consumer law, and it is unfortunate, wrong, and terribly misleading to castigate them as being bloodthirsty or greedy.
Reference Article – America’s Tort Reform Debate