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July 06, 2004

Kerry taps Edwards -- has Trial Lawyers, Inc. entered the race?

The big news of the day is that presidential contendor John Kerry has tapped fellow senator John Edwards of North Carolina to be his running mate. As most Americans are aware, Edwards grew up the son of a textile mill worker but rose to the ranks of multi-millionaire as a trial lawyer. Yet as I detailed in a column in National Review Online this January, Edwards's accumulation of wealth wasn't quite in sync with the Horatio Alger image he likes to portray: "Some of Edwards's biggest wins — including a jury verdict of $6.5 million (reduced to $2.75 million on appeal) and a settlement of a reported $5 million — came from cases suing doctors, hospitals, and insurance companies over infant cerebral palsy allegedly due to botched deliveries."

My column, and others on the topic, sparked much discussion on "what Edwards knew and when he knew it" -- i.e., was the asphyxiation-causes-cerebral palsy theory really discredited when Edwards argued it? And if the science were truly ambiguous, wouldn't Edwards have an ethical obligation to include it in arguing the best possible case for his clients? For a summary of the various debates, see our editor's entry on on February 2. Those looking for more background should check out earlier entries at, including those on January 20, September 16, and earlier (Ted Frank offers a complete list here).

See also the cogent comments of PointOfLaw contributor David Bernstein, who notes that most jurisdictions actually require that attorneys try to advance junk science, as a matter of "legal ethics." I tend to agree to a significant extent with David's reader, who opined that "I see no unfairness in begrudging Edwards (or anyone else) if you think they're doing (and profiting from) bad and destructive (albeit currently legal) things, or in demonizing them if you think they're doing really bad and destructive (though currently legal) things." John Edwards chose his career path -- and more importantly (yes, there are good and honorable plaintiffs' lawyers) -- he chose his cases. He, in other words, decided to take on heart-wrenching cases with big payoffs, even when such cases were highly dubious, at best.

Posted by James R. Copland at 10:46 AM | TrackBack (3)

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