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March 6 2012

Elizabeth Warren: The Victim's Friend?

Charlotte Hays

As we all know, Elizabeth Warren, architect of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and Senate hopeful, is the consumer’s best friend.

But wait—the Washington Free Beacon is reporting on a lucrative episode in Ms. Warren’s past that would not bring a smile to Erin Brockovich’s face:

Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren publicly supports a consumer protection platform, but records show she received more than $100,000 to help suppress personal injury lawsuits against an insurance company accused of misleading the public about the dangers of asbestos.

In 2008, according to her financial disclosure records, Warren received $73,625 from Simpson, Thacher, & Bartlett LLP, the New York law firm representing the Hartford, Conn.-based Travelers Insurance. The following year, she received $94,772 in “non-employee comp” from Travelers, and in 2010 she was paid $43,938 in non-employee comp by the insurance company.  Travelers also paid her husband $1,000 in 2009, according to Warren’s financial disclosure records.

Warren worked for Travelers on asbestos-related litigation. Her financial disclosure reveals that she served as a consultant to Travelers on Travelers Indemnity Co. v. Bailey, a 2009 Supreme Court case. In the case, Travelers petitioned for immunity against personal injury suits related to its onetime client, the bankrupt asbestos manufacturer Johns Manville Corp. Johns Manville filed for bankruptcy in 1982; Berkshire Hathaway acquired the company in 2001. Travelers served as the company’s primary liability insurer until 1976.

Warren wrote a Supreme Court brief for the insurance company criticizing the “enterprising” lawyers of the asbestos plaintiffs and saying that the lawsuits were part of a “global strategy developed by the asbestos plaintiffs’ bar.”

The Beacon asked a Warren aide about the candidate’s asbestos work:

Warren campaign spokeswoman Alethea Harney told the Free Beacon, “Elizabeth served as a consultant for Travelers because she wanted to ensure that all victims got a fair shake and had an equal chance for compensation. That’s why she supported all insurance proceeds being put in a trust rather than fighting lawsuit-by-lawsuit until the money ran out.”

It is very difficult to find a rationale for this response. Travelers, according to the story, was well aware of the health dangers from asbestos, but Warren was instrumental in the company’s obtaining “binding immunity” against new lawsuits, helping to end the “asbestos litigation crisis.”

If you heard her on Charlie Rose, you probably didn’t expect this:

“We have to come back to the notion that government really has a function in America. It has the function of creating kind of these basic safety—think about how the world—how well markets have worked,” Warren said in a 2009 Charlie Rose appearance. “My favorite example is toasters. You know there were two ways you could have gone in the toaster market. If you had no safety standards, there would be a way to make profits. Take out the insulation. Because the insulation costs money, right? Use the cheaper wiring. And if one in every five toasters bursts into flames, too bad. Customers can’t tell the difference. You’ll make nice profits.”

Well, it looks like Ms. Warren has made some nice profits.

 

 

 

 

 

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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