Filed Under: Trial Lawyers Addition: PHAI’s Lawsuit Lounge

This weekend trial lawyers and food cops will huddle at the second annual Public Health Advocacy Institute (PHAI) conference, plotting strategies to sue food companies and increase the cost of your favorite meals. After swapping niceties, last year’s confab conspired in a closed-door session “intended to encourage and support litigation against the food industry.” As PHAI begins its latest assault on the foods you love, our award-winning website offers the first in-depth profile of this growing legal shark-tank.

Every once in a while, PHAI actually denies trying to create the next huge payday for trial lawyers. But PHAI’s last conference was attended by attorneys from Rodman, Rodman & Sandman, a personal injury firm that gives out coupons; Habush Habush & Rottier, “Wisconsin’s oldest and largest law firms concentrating its practice in the area of personal injury law”; and Hancock Rothbert & Bunshoft (one of whose representatives wrote a paper titled: “Innovative Theories in Class-Action Litigation: New Wine in Old Bottles.”)

Here are a few of PHAI’s calorie cops and trial sharks gunning the engine of fat lawsuits:

Richard Daynard, the director of PHAI’s obesity initiative, was called “greedy” by other trial lawyers after Daynard sued them for a larger slice of the multi-billion-dollar tobacco litigation pie. In April, Daynard boasted to the New York Times that PHAI “will file suits against the food industry within the year.”

The group’s disgraced ex-executive director, Ben Kelley, stepped down last year shortly after we revealed his role in what the Los Angeles Times called “the biggest TV scam since the Quiz Scandals.” Yet PHAI still keeps him around, on its board of directors.

Two-time PHAI speaker John “Sue the Bastards” Banzhaf was spotted at last year’s conference scarfing down fudge brownies. Yet in true ambulance-chasing fashion, he asked another conference speaker if doctors might be a good target for lawsuits: “Can physicians who do not advise overweight or obese or morbidly obese patients to lose weight, to take reasonable efforts to help them do so, might ought [sic] to be subject to malpractice action?”

PHAI chairman Anthony Robbins thinks “public health is more like police work than it is about medical care.” At last year’s conference, he insisted: “food is a target of opportunity.” Along with Daynard and board member Wendy Parmet, Robbins offered encouragement in 2003 to “public health professionals who know that overweight and eating habits are not principally a matter of personal choice.”

Kelly “Big Brother” Brownell will offer this year’s keynote address.

Brownell’s friends at the litigation-pushing Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) may dominate PHAI’s conversation. The conference will feature three CSPI speakers (nine out of the 29 scheduled speakers have worked with this group in the past) including Margo Wootan, return guest Michael Jacobson, and Steve Gardner — listed as a representative of “Center for Science in the Public Interest Litigation.”

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