- Trial lawyer who co-chaired the Kerry-Edwards Victory ’04 Committee
- Former President of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America
- Developed new areas of health-related litigation (i.e., toxic and chemical exposure), particularly for diseases associated with asbestos
- Major donor to the Democratic Party
Frederick M. Baron, one of America’s wealthiest and most successful trial lawyers, was co-chair of the Kerry–Edwards Victory ’04 Committee. Prior to that, he chaired the finance committee for the 2004 presidential campaign of Senator John Edwards (D-North Carolina).
Baron in 1977 co-founded the law firm Baron & Budd P.C. of Dallas, Texas. A former President of Trial Lawyers for Public Justice, in 2000-2001 he served as President of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, known today as the American Association for Justice. He is currently a Board of Directors member of the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy; a member of the Products Liability subcommittee of the American Law Institute; an Advisory Board member of Texas Citizen Action; a Trustee of the Democratic National Committee; and a Texas Advisory Board member of the Environmental Defense Fund. In 2001 Forbes magazine named Baron as one of America’s top plaintiff’s lawyers. In 2002 he left Baron & Budd along with his wife, Lisa Blue.
Born in 1947 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Baron attended the University of Texas (UT) at Austin, where he earned his undergraduate degree in 1968 and his Juris Doctorate in 1971. While at UT, Baron heard a campus speech by consumer advocate Ralph Nader, became “totally proselytized,” and moved to Washington, DC for six months to work for him.
“My whole shtick in law school was that I thought everything ought to be regulated by the government,” Baron told the _Dallas Observer_in 1998. “And I was one of these really left-wing guys that thought that every agency ought to control every piece of our lives.” But in legal practice, he said, he soon recognized that regulatory agencies did little to change things. He also saw that he could earn a great deal of money by filing toxic tort lawsuits in the name of advancing a Naderite agenda.
Baron is credited with having developed new areas of health-related litigation (i.e., toxic and chemical exposure), particularly for diseases associated with asbestos.1 The Baron & Budd website asks potential asbestos plaintiffs to contact the firm and includes a five-page list of lawsuits that have previously resulted in settlements and court judgments adding up to more than $529 million — about 40 percent of which (more than $211 million) went to the law firm.
By 1998 Baron was expanding beyond the courtroom and celebrity (one of his clients being Karen Silkwood, subject of a major motion picture about a radioactivity whistleblower), and into politics. In 1996 he used his enormous wealth to contribute $89,000 in “soft money” to the Democratic Party and more to its candidates. In June 1998 he co-hosted a benefit for President Bill Clinton that raised $500,000, and days later Clinton was a guest at Baron’s vacation home in Aspen, Colorado.
In the 1998 election, Baron friend and fellow trial lawyer John Edwards, with huge backing from the legal profession, narrowly defeated an incumbent Republican to become U.S. Senator from North Carolina. “To see a guy like [Edwards] come out and say, ‘I am a trial lawyer and proud of it,'” Baron told National Journal in 1999, “has emboldened a lot of us trial lawyers to get more active in politics.”
In June 2000 Baron was elected President of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, a major donor to the Democratic Party. Between 1991 and 2004, Baron, his wife and others linked to his law firm donated nearly $2.5 million to Democratic candidates and committees.
With heavy backing from Baron, his coterie of other wealthy trial lawyer friends, and their fleet of corporate jets owned by six law firms (including Baron’s), the Edwards 2004 presidential campaign was launched with Baron as head of its finance committee. Edwards came in second but, at the urging of both Baron and Ralph Nader, was picked by winner John F. Kerry as his vice presidential running mate. Baron was named co-chair of Kerry-Edwards Victory ’04 Committee.
On August 8, 2008, Baron revealed that he secretly had given monetary assistance to Rielle Hunter, the woman with whom John Edwards recently had carried on an extramarital affair. Baron claimed that he had paid Hunter directly with his own money, not using campaign funds.
1 “What began 25 years ago as a crusade for justice for injured workers has transformed over time,” wrote Christine Biederman and fellow reporters in the August 13, 1998 Dallas Observer. “Asbestos is no longer used commonly in the workplace, and a host of workplace reforms have been enacted. Many of the largest asbestos manufacturers are bankrupted by lawsuits, and after a quarter century, many of the seriously ill workers have died or received settlements. Yet the flood of cases continues, fueled by workers with less obvious signs of injury and a huge, profit-fueled, settlement-driven litigation industry.”
Senator John Kyl and Yeshiva University Law School Professor Lester Brickman have suggested that a large fraction — perhaps as high as 80 to 90 percent — of recent asbestosis and mesothelioma claims against companies are specious. Even Clinton-appointed U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer in 1997 wrote in one opinion: “Up to half of asbestos claims are now being filed by people who have little or no physical impairment.”