Massaschusetts United States Senate Candidate Elizabeth Warren accused of Representing Travelers Insurance Company against asbestos victims by Senator Scott Brown. Boston Globe Columnist Joan Vennochi writes opinion column.

Real Facts and documentation needed for an accurate analysis beyond campaign statements from both sides.

Please note:  I am a former Inspector and Director of Industrial Safety for Massachusetts and not a backer of Scott Brown and yet to decide on Elizabeth Warren.

The lingering news Candidate Warren self proclaimed champion of workers is troubling especially representing an insurance company against asbestos contamination claims brought by workers or their families. Further, statements being made by the labor representive and for profit victims attorney appear to be partisan without full disclosure of their facts, involvement and documentation.

All details of  Elizabeth Warren billing hours, filings, and transcripts involved with this case should immediately be made public for objective analysis.

John Gatti Jr.

By Joan Vennochi-Boston Globe Columnist-September 21, 2012
Bottom of Democrat Elizabeth Warren left a big opening when she failed to tell her side of the story of the legal work she did for Travelers Insurance in a case involving asbestos victims. Republican Senator Scott Brown lost no time using that lapse against her. 

At a morning press conference following their first debate, Brown called Warren’s claim that she had actually worked for asbestos victims “outrageous.” Describing the Harvard law professor as a “hired gun”, he said Travelers retained her “to get them off the hook for settlements sought by victims of asbestos poisoning.” Warren, he charged, is trying to mislead voters into thinking of her as an advocate for the little guy, when “there is only one person who has taken the side of big corporations against working families and that’s Elizabeth Warren.”  

But David D. McMorris, an attorney whose law firm represents asbestos victims, including those in the Travelers’ case, said Brown is the candidate who is misleading the public. He called the senator’s attack on Warren “completely dishonest."
McMorris and several union representatives, including Francis Boudrow, the business manager of Asbestos Workers Union Local 6, spoke to the media after Brown’s press conference at his South Boston campaign headquarters. They were there to defend Warren and support her argument that she was helping victims, not hurting them, when she represented Travelers.

“He’s distorting her role,” said McMorris, in a telephone call after Brown’s press conference. “Clearly, he’s doing it on purpose. He’s a lawyer...He’s either a very lazy or inept lawyer, or he’s lying.”

But the case is complicated.

As reported earlier by Globe reporter Noah Bierman, Travelers hired Warren to represent the insurance company in its fight to gain permanent immunity from asbestos-related lawsuits; in exchange for that immunity, the insurance company said it would establish a $500 million trust for current and future victims of asbestos poisoning. Warren succeeded in that mission, successfully arguing Travelers case before the U.S. Supreme Court. She was paid $212,000 by Travelers from 2008 to 2010.

However, after she left the case, a separate court ruled that Travelers did not have to pay out the money and it never has. As one judge saw it, Travelers got “something for nothing.”

McMorris argues that Warren was hired “to defend the integrity of the settlement. She won.” What happened afterwards was out of her hands, he said.
That may be. But it’s now in the hands of an opponent who is making it clear he will use every weapon available to keep his job.

This OP-ED is from Assembly-member Michael P. Kearns of the 145th District in New York State whose office this site communicates on issues.  The same law proposal is needed in Masschusetts.

The general state of the law leaves one wondering, "Will there always be a battle between secrets and darkness against openness and light?" When the infection of secrecy spreads limiting accountability and transparency, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once famously wrote that, “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” Today the broader community in New York State is in need of a liberal dose of legal disinfectant or sunshine legislation.

Sunshine or disclosure legislation occurred as a response to numerous cases which involved stipulated settlements requiring silence or gag orders as a condition of the agreed upon pay out. Secrecy and gag orders harmfully impacting the broader public has a long history in the private sector, the health care sector, the clergy, college sports and now possibly in the public sector.

The history of secrecy agreements involving significant public harm included: 1) the prescription drugs Zomax and Halcion, the Shiley heart valve, and the Dalkon Shield intrauterine device, all taken off the market as too dangerous, but not until after many years and hundreds of secret settlements; 2) the Bridgestone/Firestone tire defect litigation ultimately resulting in the recall of fourteen million potentially dangerous tires and linked to the deaths of over 250 people in the United States, with scores of cases settled secretly; 3) the number of clergy sexual abuse claims, Catholic Church in Chicago archdiocese, after an investigation by Chicago Lawyer, was discovered to have an estimated 400 lawsuits that the Catholic Church had settled in the previous decade-almost all of them secretly; 4) high dollar Wall Street securities scandals, 5) scandals at special needs health care facilities, where a home administrator sexually abused a Down's Syndrome resident, the case settled and the administrator later admitted to sexually abusing over a dozen others and 6) finally, more recently, while it did not deal with secret settlements, the Joe Paterno, Jerry Sandusky- Penn State child rape and molestation cases, were allowed to flourish in a culture cloaked in secrecy and perhaps conspiracy.

The infection of secrecy and the consequent harm to the public may have spread to the public sector. The legislative or executive branches of government are principally charged with disseminating information for public consumption, formulating major social policy, or protecting public health or safety or property. The recent revelations in the New York State Assembly regarding Assembly-member Vito Lopez's alleged staff member molestations and the subsequent settlements outside the scrutiny of the New York State Assembly, underscore the need for sunshine legislation to prevent the potential for further future abuses and harm to the public in all sectors of society.

The State of New York needs a presumption of openness concerning court documents and settlement agreements, closely following the example set by the state of Texas in passing and signing its law into effect in 1990. New York State needs a law that will directly address and prohibit settlements by public bodies, public agencies and public organizations. I am asking that the People of the State of New York support a bill I am filing next week, which prohibits secret settlements by public bodies with the use of public or private funds, but also creates a presumption of openness which can be overcome after the prongs of a multiple part test are met.

In the play Julius Caesar, William Shakespeare wrote, "Where wilt thou find a cavern dark enough, To mask thy monstrous visage? Seek none, conspiracy. Hide it in smiles and affability." While conspiracy has a specific legal meaning, secrecy does not in many instances and far too many have smiled at this problem for far too long with too much harm being visited upon innocent parties. I hope that my colleagues and their constituents agree and support me in an effort to have this bill signed into a law in New York State.

Michael P. Kearns, Assemblyman 145th District

I read a column for Labor,Day in the Worcester Telegram about a Carpenter Union Official visting construction sites to verify rights of workers which is laudable,  Unfortunately, that union and adherence to worker and union rights bring a spotlight on their activities.

The Carpenters Union battle for workers rights is questionable.

When they replaced a roof on one of their owned buildings in Worcester, they utilized non union roofers. Two tenants moved out in protest-Plumbers and Sheet Metal Workers. Next, the other members of the Worcester Building Trades Union set up a picket line with a giant inflated "Rat Doll" in protest of their labor rights on behalf of the Roofers Union.

The Carpenters Union was a lead character in the destruction of the Massachusetts Secretariat of Labor in 1993 and failed initiatives and silence since on the lack of enforcement and administration to protect Massachusetts working Children, Men, and Women and the legitimate Employers who make up our state economy hard fought for centuries.

This Labor Day the emphasis should be on the fact that Massachusetts was once a proud national leader for workplace labor, employment, and safety rights that has now been diminished to that of a third world. The victimization continues of working Children, Men, Women, Legitimate Employers, and Taxpayers by the underground economy and employers who cheat and do not adhere to proper standards and worker rights. Workplace inspection enforcement is at an all time low that the Carpenters Union and allies continue their silence.

I challenge to be corrected.