John Edwards: A Workingman's Nightmare
By Lowell Ponte
FrontPageMagazine.com | July 28, 2004
SOME “TAXES” ARE INVISIBLE, hidden in the higher prices of things we buy. One such “tax” is huge, costing the average American family of four at least $2,884 every year in the higher price tags of everything from hamburger to health care.
This government-imposed burden is higher in America than in any other industrialized nation on Earth. Call it the “Lawsuit Tax,” the huge cost that lawsuits and the threat of lawsuits adds to everything.
One member of Congress has done more to increase this secret tax on Americans than has any other lawmaker. John Edwards is a Democratic U.S. Senator from North Carolina, elected to his first and only term in 1998 with massive financial backing from his fellow trial lawyers.
Edwards was picked by 2004 Democratic candidate Senator John F. Kerry of Massachusetts to be his vice presidential running mate. If Kerry and Edwards are elected on November 2, this invisible “Lawsuit Tax” on American consumers will likely skyrocket as the trial lawyers who now own the Democratic Party and its candidates take control of the entire Executive Branch of the U.S. Government.
John Edwards was born in 1953 in Seneca, South Carolina. The first in his family to attend college, he earned an undergraduate degree from North Carolina State University in 1974 and a Juris Doctorate from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1977. He began his career as a lawyer by defending record companies accused of selling illegal copies of Elvis Presley recordings.
After moving to Raleigh in 1981, Edwards became a plaintiff’s personal injury lawyer, eventually specializing in cerebral palsy patient lawsuits that blamed their mothers’ doctors for causing this medical condition by waiting too long before performing caesarian sections to give birth to his clients. In one famous case Edwards swayed a jury and won a multimillion-dollar judgment by dramatically playing the part of the unborn child struggling in the womb.
Because of the courtroom success of Edwards and trial lawyers who have imitated him, doctors who used to perform caesarian sections in six percent of births now deliver 26 percent of babies by C-section. The procedure adds enormously to the expense of delivering a baby, as well as to prolonged healing, pain and injury to mothers. And as ABC “20/20” anchorman John Stossel reported, the old rate of cerebral palsy among children has not declined in the slightest. This suggests that Edwards built his entire career and $70 million fortune on a wrong assertion, perhaps even a lie. The failure to do caesarian births apparently never was a cause of cerebral palsy; had it been, its incidence would have declined measurably as caesarian births jumped more than fourfold.
But we now live in an age where lawyers play doctor, second-guessing medical experts, playing Monday morning quarterbacks, throwing out whatever dramatic statements can sway a jury even if untrue and preying on parents and others who refuse to accept less than a perfect medical outcome. Some parents prefer to blame the doctor, instead of a defect in their own genes or behavior during pregnancy or plain misfortune when a child is born with cerebral palsy or other problems. (The first trial lawyer steps have already begun, however, to file lawsuits against parents by their children – in one case, a lawsuit by a grown child arguing that his parents should have aborted him rather than given birth to a son with his medical problems.) As John Stossel noted, lawyers acknowledge that most doctors act expertly and responsibly, yet 76 percent of American obstetricians have been sued because, as one trial lawyer told Stossel, “that’s why they have insurance.” And doctors, vaccine makers and others on whom our health depends are quitting because the lawsuit risk and increased insurance cost it causes is becoming intolerable.
During 20 years playing doctor as a trial lawyer, Edwards was involved in 63 cases and secured more than $152 million in verdicts and settlements, pocketing a third or more of that money himself and amassing a fortune of as much as $70 million. Edwards was welcomed into the Inner Circle of Advocates, a society of 100 personal injury lawyers who had won cases of over $1 million. Most call themselves advocates for the poor, injured and powerless. Critics call them ambulance chasers who use their injured clients to persuade empathetic juries to render million-dollar judgments against doctors and companies, up to half the money from which goes not to the injured but to these lawyers.
In 1998 Inner Circle and other trial lawyers, including Edwards himself, put up 86 percent of the more than $9 million this political neophyte used to narrowly defeat incumbent Republican U.S. Senator Lauch Faircloth, a 70-year-old hog farmer, by 52 to 48 percent. Prior to his election Edwards had shown little interest in politics, not even bothering to vote in many elections. As a U.S. Senator, Edwards’ disinterest continued. Although assigned to the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, for example, he seldom attended its meetings unless some important witness brought out network television cameras or an issue before the committee was of special interest to the Association of Trial Lawyers of America (ATLA).
Democratic Party bosses understood that John Edwards was not the Senator from North Carolina so much as the Senator from America’s trial lawyers, a special interest group eager to block any tort reform that might limit lawyer income and to enact rules and regulations that would open new realms for lawsuits. According to the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics, since the 1990 election cycle lawyers have made political contributions of more than $470 million, with more than 71 percent of this money going to Democratic campaigns and committees.
Trial lawyers have become the Daddy Warbucks of the Democratic Party and one of the biggest players at its table of power. Their Senator, John Edwards, has from the outset been groomed to become the first trial lawyer President. In 2000, despite having only two years’ experience in any political office, this fledgling Senator was on the short list and was almost chosen to be the Vice Presidential running mate of Al Gore. People Magazine of the leftwing Time-Warner-CNN media empire declared Edwards “the sexiest politician” in the country.
In 2001 Edwards launched his New American Optimists political action committee, a 527 Leadership PAC to aid “Democratic candidates who support a reform agenda for giving people a greater control over their futures,” i.e., who might support an Edwards presidential bid in 2004. More than 70 percent of its contributions came from trial lawyers, their law firms or family members.
In fact, with rare exceptions such as Hollywood impresarios Steve Bing and Haim Saban and the investment firm Goldman Sachs, virtually every penny of Edwards’ political contributions from 1998 into 2004 has come from trial lawyer-linked sources. (Contributors have included low-paid staffers in law firms, one of whom admitted that she had been promised a $2,000 reimbursement for her donation to Edwards, an apparent laundering of an illegal campaign contribution by her bosses.)
Edwards’ presidential run in 2003 and 2004 flew via “Learjet Lawyers Airlines,” almost every day using the private corporate jets of six wealthy trial lawyer law firms. The campaign laws that politicians wrote for themselves required Edwards to reimburse this customized luxury travel at only the cost of a first class airline ticket for each flight. But even at this absurdly low bargain-basement price, his campaign reimbursed a single law firm $138,000 for the use of its jet aircraft.
That law firm is Baron & Budd P.C. of Dallas, Texas. Its controversial founder Fred Baron, who in 2000-2001 was President of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America (ATLA), chaired the finance committee for Edwards’ campaign. (Baron is now co-chair of the Kerry-Edwards Victory ’04 Committee.)
Frederick M. Baron, now one of America’s wealthiest and most successful trial lawyers, was born in 1947 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa and raised in Rock Island, Illinois. At age he 15 moved with his newly-remarried mother to Smithville, Texas east of the capital Austin. He attended the University of Texas Austin in that most leftward of that state’s cities, earning his undergraduate degree in 1968 and Juris Doctorate there in 1971. In law school his mentor was Harvard-trained torts professor W. Page Keeton, who saw lawsuits as a way to change society.