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Charlie and the Trial Lawyers
Governor Crist plots a comeback from Morgan & Morgan.


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Betsy Woodruff


So it’s no surprise that the firm’s abundant advertising dollars are helping Crist keep up his name recognition and likability. The firm has plastered dozens of billboards of Crist’s face throughout Florida, concentrated in the center of the state, which is an electorally essential region. Many feature public-safety messages, such as “Don’t drink and drive,” and the firm’s slogan, “FOR THE PEOPLE.” One, emblazoned with “IT’S ABOUT THE PEOPLE,” is just blocks from the governor’s mansion. (N.B.: Crist’s slogan when he lived there was “The People’s Governor.” Coincidence?)

“If the trial-lawyer firm is trying to position Charlie Crist to take a run as the Democratic nominee for our next governor, this is exactly what you would do to get his name out there,” said Mark Wilson, the president of the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

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He’s been in TV commercials for the firm, too, including one that looked a bit more like a campaign ad than anything else. In it, he bemoaned the miserable lot of teachers, saying they’re “overworked, underpaid, and, for some reason, never fully appreciated,” despite the fact that they’ve helped our country produce the world’s best medical professionals, scholars, and scientists. He concluded with, “To all our teachers, you have our deepest gratitude. Thank a teacher today. Morgan & Morgan. For our teachers.” This comes from a governor who, 60 days after stumping for legislation that would tie teachers’ pay to their students’ academic success, vetoed it under pressure from unions. That kind of schizoid policymaking agenda is just one example of why Democrats might not line up to get on the Charlie Crist bandwagon.

“Though the Democrats would very much like to win the governorship in 2014,” Wilson said, “I think that most Democrats realize that what we really want from our governor is somebody who says what they’re going to do and then does what they said.”

Sounds like a reasonable expectation. But if that’s too much to ask, you can settle for the guy who really, really wants you to drive safely.

“It’s a smart strategy for a law firm to use a celebrity trial lawyer like Charlie Crist to generate more business,” said Wilson. “I think what makes it a genius play on the trial lawyers’ part is that it’s also helping to remind people that Charlie Crist is out there and he cares, he doesn’t want you to text and drive.”

Depending on how you read judicial precedent, those billboards might be able to stay up during a gubernatorial race without counting as campaign contributions, since they will have already been up for a few years.

Jack Scarola, a prominent Palm Beach attorney, said that while shilling for trial lawyers might not necessarily be great for one’s reputation, the windfall might balance that out. “While there may be some downside in terms of the negative association with plaintiffs’ lawyers, there is also an offsetting upside in terms of the availability of potential financial resources,” he said.

And Crist has already benefited plenty from said financial resources.

“That’s the one consistency,” said Sid Dinerstein, chairman of the Republican party of Palm Beach County. “If there’s one thing Charlie believes in, it’s getting money from trial lawyers. And that will not change, going forward.”

His second-largest 2010 donor (after Morgan & Morgan) was Rothstein, Rosenfeldt & Adler, a now-defunct personal-injury firm that put more than $97,000 into his campaign. One of its partners, Scott Rothstein, had a cozy relationship with the former governor — for his 52nd birthday, he gave him a double-layer chocolate cake, along with $1,000 per candle for the state GOP. Rothstein helped him blow them out. Unfortunately for Crist, Rothstein wouldn’t have made for a good future employer — he’s currently serving a lengthy prison sentence for his role in a $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme.

If Crist tries a comeback, what does he have to lose? In terms of sheer shameless opportunism, it’s hard to see how he can go any lower. 

— Betsy Woodruff is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.



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