TORTELLINI….A couple of years ago Stephanie Mencimer wrote an article for us called “False Alarm,” about the myth of America’s “lawsuit crisis.” She has since turned the article into a book, Blocking the Courthouse Door, due out in December. (I’ll be reviewing it for an upcoming issue.)

As with all good book authors these days, she’s created a blog to help promote the book. It’s called The Tortellini, and today she tells us about one of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s more transparent efforts to pretend he was solving California’s budget crisis after his election in 2003. The idea was to skim off 75% of all punitive damage awards to the state, supposedly raising $450 million:

When the so-called “split-recovery” law lapsed in July, it had generated exactly zero dollars for the state coffers. No surprise there. Punitive damages are really rare. The Bureau of Justice Statistics found that of the 356 civil trials that resulted in punitive damages in 2001 in the nation’s biggest counties, only nine resulted in an award larger than $10 million, and that’s before they were appealed. The median award was a mere $50,000. There weren’t enough punitive damage awards in the whole country to fill California’s budget gap.

That’s our out-of-control tort system for you. And as Stephanie points out, everyone who voted for the California measure, Democrats and Republicans alike, knew perfectly well it wouldn’t raise any money. But it sells well with the rubes, doesn’t it?

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