WASHINGTON — A king of class action lawsuits is proposing a novel way to deter future attacks on the Capitol: sue one or more of the rioters and saddle them with millions of dollars in damages that could follow them for the rest of their lives.
Anyone from a Capitol visitor to a journalist, staffer, police officer or a member of Congress could be a plaintiff.
"You can hold any one rioter liable for the damages of all the rioters," George Washington University law professor John Banzhaf said.
Banzhaf's been called a legal flamethrower. He and his students have won big judgments over the last 50 years on cases ranging from potty parity to a former vice president taking bribes. The Jan. 6 rioters at the Capitol are his latest target.
"I think juries in Washington are not going to be sympathetic to the people who took over the Capitol," he said.
Federal prosecutors have charged 135 people so far. Investigators said hundreds more surged into the building.
But The Washington Post reports the Justice Department may not charge all of them.
"I think that's wrong," Banzhaf said. "I think they shouldn't get off scot-free."
But a class-action lawsuit against the rioters could send a powerful message. Anyone who was terrorized at the Capitol -- even potentially the police officers who battled the insurrectionists -- could sue any of the rioters for all of the damage.
According to Banzhaf, each of the rioters could be held liable for all of the damage, from the property destruction to the emotional suffering inflicted on the people who feared for their lives.
"If you're facing a multimillion-dollar judgment which will follow you the rest of your life and result in garnishment of your wages, possible loss of your house and other possessions, I think a lot of people are going to think twice before they decide, 'Yeah, let's have a riot,'" he said.
Long prison sentences might send the message, but if that doesn't work, Banzhaf said hit them in the wallet.
He said the same kind of class action suit could be filed against racial justice protestors who may have rioted and destroyed buildings and property over the summer.
"I think whether it’s a right-wing riot or a left-wing riot, they should be punished," he said. "The criminal law isn’t doing it, so civil law can come in."