Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Predatory dirt bag lawyers destroying our businesses and also destroying jobs at the same time

Dirt bag lawyers out to destroy business: Biden & Partners
How they're making Delaware a mecca for the tort bar

Joe Biden debates Sarah Palin tomorrow night, so expect to hear a lot about how he and Barack Obama will change Washington. Moderator Gwen Ifill might want to ask the Democratic Vice Presidential nominee how that message squares with the story of Mr. Biden, his son, and the lawsuit lobby.

A remarkable political fact of Mr. Biden's career is that his top campaign contributor is SimmonsCooper, a law firm in Madison County, Illinois, of all places. Aficionados of tort law will understand. SimmonsCooper is a big asbestos player, and Madison County was until recently one of America's meccas for jackpot justice. But the story gets better: Mr. Biden has been helping the tort bar turn his home state of Delaware into a statewide Madison County.

SimmonsCooper made hundreds of millions of dollars on asbestos cases in Madison County, but that started to change in 2004. The business community helped to elect conservative Lloyd Karmeier to the Illinois Supreme Court. Madison County Circuit Judge Daniel Stack also took over the asbestos docket, was determined to clean house, and began dismissing suits filed by residents outside his jurisdiction.

SimmonsCooper and other firms started shopping for a new legal goldmine. And where better than Delaware? Many companies incorporate there, which means a list of defendants usually includes a Delaware target. Beginning in mid-2005, SimmonsCooper began transferring its suits to Bidenland.

The trial bar's strategy has been to overwhelm Delaware's once-sensible legal system, taking advantage of rules that pressure companies to settle. In the 22 months following SimmonsCooper's first asbestos filing in Delaware, the state was hit with 412 suits, primarily from SimmonsCooper and fellow asbestos giant Baron & Budd.

According to the Madison County Record -- a legal journal that has doggedly followed this story -- clerks in Wilmington were "working nights and weekends to keep up" with the filings. The trial lawyers drew sympathetic judges that have already overseen big verdicts against defendants, primarily Detroit auto makers. Plaintiffs have obtained certain procedures that raise the costs of defense, and restrict defendants' ability to take discovery.

To keep the jackpots coming, the tort bar has focused on reshaping Delaware's political and judicial landscape. SimmonsCooper knows all about this, having spent a fortune on judicial and county board elections in Madison County. The trial bar poured money into the 2004 re-election campaign of Democratic Governor Ruth Ann Minner, who happens to control judicial appointments in Delaware. Some 24 national asbestos and plaintiffs attorneys -- including Dickie Scruggs, since convicted of bribery -- contributed the legal maximum in the run-up to Ms. Minner's victory. SimmonsCooper has also contributed nearly $35,000 to Jack Markell, the Democrat running to replace Ms. Minner this fall.

Also up for special attention was Beau Biden, son of Senator Biden. SimmonsCooper needed a local firm to file its Delaware suits, and it settled on Bifferato, Gentilotti and Biden, where Beau was a partner. This gave young Beau a share of the firm's asbestos winnings. Beau Biden was also widely known to have political ambitions, and SimmonsCooper donated $35,000 to help Beau get elected state attorney general in 2006. Meanwhile, SimmonsCooper employees have funneled $200,000 in campaign donations to the senior Biden.

"Delaware is fast becoming asbestos lawsuit central," says Steve Hantler, president of the American Justice Partnership Foundation, and a former Chrysler assistant general counsel. "A tsunami of lawsuits being filed by the SimmonsCooper firm, along with the flow of campaign dollars to Delaware politicians is quite the troubling coincidence."

Mr. Biden is one of the tort bar's staunchest allies in Congress, blocking reform at every opportunity while trying to defeat conservative judicial nominees. His quid pro quo with SimmonsCooper in Delaware helps explain why asbestos suits continue to weigh down the courts even after tens of thousands of cases have been shown to be invented. The "change" lawyers will believe in if Mr. Biden makes it to the White House is cold, hard cash.