Bush unveils reforms to curb 'love affair' with costly lawsuits


WASHINGTON -- Resuming its politically popular offensive against lawyers, the Bush administration unveiled its controversial legal-reform legislation yesterday, appealing to Americans to end their "love affair" with litigation.

The most controversial element of the plan involves civil cases. On an experimental basis, winning parties would be allowed recover legal fees from the losing side. Other recommendations would require federal courts to promote mediation and arbitration as alternatives to expensive court trials. To encourage early settlements, someone intending to file a lawsuit would be compelled to notify the other party at least 30 days in advance.

In Florida, for a speech to a national grocers' group, President Bush promoted the measure with a complaint that the legal system is hurting the United States' international competitiveness.

"Let's stop America's love affair with the lawsuit," Mr. Bush told a grocers' convention in Orlando, Fla. "If we're as good at rewarding success as we are at suing each other, we'd be way ahead of the rest of the world."

In Washington, Vice President Dan Quayle laid out the legislation with a broadside at the American Bar Association, suggesting that the ABA would conduct a "disinformation" campaign against the administration's plan.

The bar association had no immediate comment on the administration's proposal, but there was no shortage of opposition. Critics say the proposals would mainly benefit big businesses and would not make the legal system more accessible to low-income persons -- a widely acknowledged problem.

"Not a single one of its 11 substantive sections helps the little guy at the expense of the big guy, and most of them do just the opposite," said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen, a consumer group affiliated with Ralph Nader.

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