When Sen. Paula Dockery needed friends to help derail Central Florida’s commuter-rail deal, she did something once unthinkable for a Republican legislator: She appealed to the state’s trial lawyers. Dockery was up against a phalanx of powerful opponents, reports the Orlando Sentinel. So she seized on a little-noticed element of the $650 million deal — an agreement to give contractors who would run the 61-mile commuter-rail system immunity from lawsuits — to get the attention of the Florida Justice Association, the lobbying arm of the trial lawyers.
The lawyers saw this proposed protection from big jury verdicts as an attack on the rights of injured parties. In the end, the defeat of commuter rail was not just about the power of the trial lawyers. It was a classic illustration of the way Tallahassee works, how personal relationships and legislative agendas can intertwine to form improbable but functional coalitions. But for the lawyers, it was nonetheless a signature win. “It seems to be, under the current administration, more acceptable for legislators to stand up to corporate America when access to the courts is threatened,” says FJA president Frank Petosa.