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October 17, 2008 8:00 AM

Litigator of the Week: Baron & Budd's Fred Baron

Posted by Ed Shanahan

By Alison Frankel, The Am Law Litigation Daily

Fred A day after we learned the sad news of Fred Baron's end-stage multiple myeloma, we thought it fitting to salute the plaintiffs lawyer who, perhaps more than any other lawyer in America, shaped (and profited from) the modern mass tort. However you view Baron's pioneering work, it's hard to overestimate the impact he's had on American civil litigation.

Start with asbestos, which is where Baron's career began. A University of Texas graduate who always cited Ralph Nader as his inspiration, Baron began handling an asbestos case against Pittsburgh Corning as a newly minted lawyer in the early 1970s, when it seemed a quixotic mission. It was through the perseverance of lawyers like him and Ronald Motley that asbestos manufacturers were eventually forced to acknowledge their liability and begin paying damages to people injured by their product. "I would probably say that he and Ron Motley were the leading pioneers in asbestos litigation," Joe Rice of Motley Rice, told us yesterday.

Smart, exuberant, and boyishly handsome, Baron charmed juries and outmaneuvered an ever-widening universe of asbestos defendants, eventually becoming one of the wealthiest plaintiffs lawyers in the country. "I think I am the luckiest human being that ever walked on the face of the earth. I get to do exactly what I want to do," Baron told Texas Lawyer in a comprehensive 2007 review of his career. "I really had a great law practice, but as a consequence--and I don't exactly know how it happened--I made a lot of money."

His success was not without controversy. Baron's firm, Baron & Budd, commoditized asbestos plaintiffs work. It innovated such practices as enlisting thousands of clients with minimal injuries and bundling their cases for settlement with those of much more seriously injured victims. In the 1990s Baron's firm was embarrassed by the exposure of a memo that seemed to suggest that the firm coached witnesses to lie in depositions. And as more and more companies with tenuous links to asbestos were crushed under the weight of asbestos claims, Baron--who had by then given up asbestos litigation for more complex toxic tort cases--was prominent among the lawyers whom tort reformers accused of corrupting the civil justice system.

Yet Baron believed passionately in that system. In the early 1990s he split with Ron Motley over the question of class action settlements as a vehicle for resolving large numbers of personal injury claims. Baron insisted that every tort victim had an individual right to sue. His challenge to an asbestos class action settlement engineered by the Motley firm ended up before the U.S. Supreme Court, with Baron paying for Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe to argue that the deal was unconstitutional. The Court's ruling in Amchem was the beginning of the end of the movement toward personal injury class actions settlements. Baron once told us that he considered the Supreme Court challenge, which cost him $4.5 million in out-of-pocket expenses, to be one of his proudest accomplishments as a lawyer.

Baron was also active in the organized trial bar's political efforts. As a leader of the group then known as the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, he spearheaded opposition to congressional tort reform efforts. Baron stepped up his political engagement after leaving Baron & Budd in 2002 to work on the presidential campaign of Senator John Edwards, a fellow trial lawyer. (Baron and his wife, Lisa Blue, herself a very successful plaintiffs lawyer, later sued Baron & Budd for allegedly failing to pay Baron and Blue their share of firm profits.) Most recently, as Texas Lawyer has reported, Baron has thrown his influence and money into a grassroots effort to reclaim the Texas state judiciary from judges elected with the support of tort reform groups.

According to Baron's son Andrew, Fred Baron has only has days to live. On his Web site, Andrew posted a letter he sent to the CEO of the pharmaceutical company Biogen requesting that his father be permitted to use the Biogen drug Tsabari, which has not won regulatory approval, to treat his cancer. In a bit of irony, famed Texas trial lawyer Mark Lanier, who is reportedly representing the Baron family, even pledged to Biogen that the company would not be sued if anything went wrong. But Biogen has rejected the Barons' request.

This is not an obituary. We're hoping that Baron beats the odds. But in a season when most people think of Fred Baron as the man who paid John Edward's mistress, Rielle Hunter, to move out of North Carolina, we wanted to remind Litigation Daily readers of all that this litigator has accomplished in his truly remarkable career.

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Thank you so much for your wondeful article. If worked for Fred for 17 years and there was never a more generous employer who truly believed in what he was doing for the plaintiffs. Fred cared more about his employees than any employeer I've ever seen - and he showed his appreciation in his many, many generous gestures - an annual ski trip, great benefits, treated us with respect and never allowed the staff to be mistreated by any lawyers upper management. He and Lisa both are in a class of their own, untouchable in my opinion in their kind and generous natures.

Please keep Fred and his family in your prayers.

I had the pleasure to work for B&B for 12 years. We all had a common goal fighting for our clients. Fred did make a lot of money but what many people forget is that Fred also shared that weatlh with many,many charities. He and Lisa have a charitable foundation. He was a generous employer, and as an employee you always knew your work was to give people a voice for those that didn't have a voice. Fred is not only a great lawyer he is more importantly a great man. Fred and his family are in my prayers.

Fred Baron is one of the finest men that I have every
known. I was privileged to have worked for Fred at Baron and Budd for 20 years. He was always, always kind, thoughtful, caring and generous beyond measure. He
believed in the work that he
did for our clients
and he fought and won many battles for them. He was our
fearless leader and was respected by all that worked
for him and by all the plaintiffs that he represented.

My thoughts and prayers are
with Fred, Lisa and their
family.



Fred is the most positive person I have ever meant. He believes in America and the jury system. Unlike CEOs of some of the major companies in America who have gotten rich when companies fail, he got paid when he was successful. For Fred it was not about money, it was always about the people and those of us who know him, understand this about him. My thoughts and prayers are with him.

I worked for Baron & Budd for almost 19 years, some of the best of those years on non-asbestos cases. Fred was the friendliest, most caring employer I have had in the 40 plus years I have worked. He provided great benefits for the employee group. He always made sure you had a great time on the ski trips and at holiday parties or other events. He is a rare, compassionate, wonderful human being in the truest sense.

I am honored to have worked at Baron & Budd for 15 years, and to have known Fred Baron during that time.

Fred is a great and inspiring leader, with a uniquely charismatic and compelling personality. He is frank, passionate and enthusiastic about everything in life, and earnestly worked for his clients.

Fred provided an unparalleled employment opportunity to many people over the years, with a generous and caring spirit. He was universally respected and admired, and was the soul of the firm.

My best wishes to Fred, Lisa and the family.

I am honored to have worked at Baron & Budd for 15 years, and to have known Fred Baron during that time.

Fred is a great and inspiring leader, with a uniquely charismatic and compelling personality. He is frank, passionate and enthusiastic about everything in life, and earnestly worked for his clients.

Fred provided an unparalleled employment opportunity to many people over the years, with a generous and caring spirit. He was universally respected and admired, and was the soul of the firm.

My best wishes to Fred, Lisa and the family.

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