Nader Assails Barbour Over New State Lawsuit Limits

Presidential hopeful Ralph Nader used a Mississippi whistle stop Thursday to criticize a new state law that sets limits on lawsuits.

Republican Gov. Haley Barbour signed a bill Wednesday that changes where lawsuits can be filed and limits damages that can be awarded. The bill was passed during a recent special legislative session and becomes law Sept. 1.

About 50 Mississippians - including some too young to vote in the last election and some lifelong Republicans disenchanted with President Bush - awaited Nader. Both supporters and the curious listened to his speech at a downtown Jackson restaurant/nightclub.

Nader upbraided Barbour for celebrating during the signing ceremony over a bill that "destroyed the rights of citizens whose lives were ruined by doctors.''

Nader, a nationally known consumer advocate who ran for president in 2000, said Barbour had never produced evidence of frivolous lawsuits or proof that the state was a dumping ground for such lawsuits.

Nader commended members of the Legislature who fought against placing the new caps on damage awards.

The American Tort Reform Association last year called Mississippi a "judicial hellhole'' because of large jury awards. Barbour said the new lawsuit limits will improve Mississippi's business climate.

Barbour's office responded to Nader's speech with this comment from spokesman Pete Smith: "A good sign that Mississippi has passed fair tort reform bill is Ralph Nader not liking it.''

If Nader wants to get on the ballot as an independent in Mississippi, he must submit a petition with certified signatures of 1,000 registered voters by Sept. 3, said David Blount, spokesman for the secretary of state's office. Nader supporters were passing a petition for signatures during the speech Thursday.

Home builder Dan Womack, dressed for work in overalls, took his construction workers, business partner and son Clinton, 18, to see Nader at Hal & Mal's restaurant.

"The Republicans' disdain for the environment and the debacle in Iraq are enough to make me hear what Nader has to say,'' said Womack, who grew up in a blue-collar family. "There may not be a right-wing conspiracy, but there is a right wing idiocy.''

Undecided voter Charlie King, 28, said friends "warned me straight up I would waste my vote if I cast it for Nader.''

King is anti-abortion, which is at odds with Nader's policy.

"But soldiers are dying in Iraq, so I felt a moral obligation to hear all the candidates.''

Nader drew loud applause when he called for a tariff on corporations outsourcing jobs.

"George Bush is the mayor of Baghdad, he's turned his back on domestic issues,'' Nader said.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)