Brown: Warren a hired gun against asbestos-poisoning victims
The incumbent Bay State Republican senator sharpened his attacks on his Democratic challenger Warren’s legal work against asbestos victims at a Sept 21 press conference in his South Boston campaign headquarters.
“You see, Professor Warren is not just a Harvard professor, she is also a hired gun,” said Sen. Scott P. Brown, who won the 2010 special election to succeed Edward M. Kennedy Sr., in the upper chamber. Warren and Brown held their first debate the previous night.
“On the campaign trail and frequently last night, Professor Warren says she will always stand up for the workers against the interests of big corporations,” he said. “That’s a good applause line, but it not true.”
Warren received nearly $250,000 from the Hartford, Conn.-based Travelers Indemnity insurance company, he said. This legal work was in support of the insurance company fighting and denying claims of the victims of asbestos poisoning.
“Warren did in fact, work on behalf of Travelers in their fight against the interests of asbestos victims,” he said.
“Today, the asbestos victims Warren worked against are stuck with lifetime payments that total just one-fortieth of Warren’s personal payday,” he said.
“On the campaign trail and frequently last night, Professor Warren says she will always stand up for workers against the interests of big corporations,” he said.
“Warren talks about a rigged system, where big corporations can afford to pay high-priced lobbyists to do their bidding,” he said.
“Well, the system is also rigged for big corporations, who can pay high-powered attorneys like Elizabeth Warren to craft creative legal arguments to free them from their responsibilities to people they harm,” he said.
Brown said he called the press conference because he wanted to emphasize the issue, which was his final attack in the previous night’s debate.
“When I pointed out this fact, she denied it and said: ‘It’s just not true,” he said. “This is another case where Elizabeth Warren is trying to mislead the voters.”
In her press availability after the debate, Warren said it was not true that her work for Travelers was in any way against the interests of victims of asbestos poisoning.
Warren said, “I was working to protect an important principle of law and the sanctity of trusts.”
A clue that Brown’s attacks were gaining traction, his campaign put out a press release with excerpts from different media outlets referring to the story, and Warren’s weak response.
A better clue was that after Brown’s press conference, asbestos claims attorney David J. McMorris held a sidewalk press conference to refute the charge.
McMorris, who has personally donated more than $200,000 to the Democratic Party and its candidates, said Warren was on the side of the victims because she was preserving the bankruptcy estate against new claims.
This is a generous reading of her role.
In 1986, Johns-Manville, an asbestos supplier, settled its bankruptcy caused by the weight of claims against it for asbestos poisoning. In the settlement, the company set aside $770 million into a bankruptcy estate, a trust fund dedicated to satisfy claims that would survive the company. As a condition of the estate, the bankruptcy court absolved the company from all future claims.
Travelers was the company primary insurance company from 1946 to 1976, and it contributed $80 million to the estate.
In 1996, a number of asbestos victims led by Pearlie Bailey, approached Travelers for damages, arguing that the insurance company was cognizant of the asbestos risk and cooperated with Manville’s attempts to cover them up. Eventually, 18,000 people joined the lawsuit against Travelers.
The plaintiffs had two arguments. The first was that Travelers was guilty on its own independent of Manville and was then subject to separate legal action. The second argument was that Travelers was not covered by the bankruptcy court’s absolution of Manville, because its jurisdiction was limited to the creditor-debtor relationship.
Travelers hired Warren to help them avoid future claims, giving them the same protections to future or addition claims enjoyed by Manville. Travelers lost the round in the Appeals Court, but with Warren on its legal team, the Supreme Court voted 7 to 2 to deny Bailey’s claims.
Warren said if Travelers was exposed to claims outside of the Manville settlement, it would open the door the future claims on the Manville bankruptcy estate itself.
In this way, she was on the same side as the victims, by protecting Travelers, she was protecting the estate, which was paying claims to victims.
Another expert put forward by the Warren campaign they identified as Georgetown Law School’s Prof. Adam Levitin.
This Levitin quote was sent out in a Warren campaign backgrounder after the debate: “Elizabeth Warren’s pro-consumer bona-fides are second to none, and trying to twist her involvement in a Supreme Court appeal of a critical bankruptcy procedural matter into evidence that she is anti-consumer is just ridiculous.”