Merlin makes introduction and SLABBED welcomes Shelia Birnbaum

Posted on September 22, 2009 by Chip Merlin (posted to SLABBED with permission)

Sheila Birnbaum: The Attorney Behind State Farm’s Katrina Scruggs Defense Explains How Major Corporations Can Use the Civil Justice System to Thwart Consumer Rights

I enjoy good lawyering. Corporate America has the best lawyers defending their actions and figuring out how they can be unaccountable for their bad acts. A formidable New York Ivy League trained lawyer, Sheila Birnbaum, is one of those lawyers. I give her, Corporate America, and especially State Farm, all the credit they deserve for showing that they can beat State Farm’s customers and their attorneys in the appellate courts of America. Birnbaum implied that large corporations have greater influence over federal courts of appeal in her webinar with the Washington Legal Foundation last year.

The Washington Legal Foundation is one of those “ultra conservative” tobacco, manufacturing, and insurance interest dominated “think tanks” that espouses legal theories that limit consumer interests. Insurance defense firms and lobbying groups use these groups for propaganda. They try to get their board members appointed to government and judicial positions. Unless you are supported by one of these groups or you represent those product manufacturers, you could not dispute me. This group is as much anti-consumer as communists are anti-capitalist.

These groups use their vast financial resources to substantially affect our laws, even though they have no vote or legitimate need to affect public policy and the rights of millions of consumers. They hire the most highly paid lawyers, like Sheila Birnbaum. So long as these corporate interest groups are allowed to use their money to influence politicians and the media, Americans will always have the problem of their government ultimately working for the corporations and against their best interests. British Tories were the “corporate interests” at the time of the American Revolution, and corporations represented by lawyers like Birnbaum are the new American Tories of the twenty-first century. Their law firms pretend to do good while they rake-in millions from corporate representation, public relations advertisements, political support, and corporate propaganda. Individual and consumer interests have much less affluent financial political help. Guess who is winning?

Over the weekend, I came across a webinar by the Washington Legal Foundation featuring Sheila Birnbaum. I first thought that Slabbed would have noted this. But, I search the term “Birnbaum” on Slabbed search and found the following five posts:

None of these were what I found on the video I reviewed. Instead, the video was quite revealing regarding the impressions of Ms. Birnbaum. The main points in her webinar start at minute thirty-eight and end at minute forty-four in the webinar. (Click here to view the video). (SLABBED has confirmed link is working, check site information on settings if you have difficulty viewing)

My impression from her primary points of the Webinar regarding the State Farm Katrina litigation were:

  1. Conduct previously thought was Civil could be made as Criminal by the Insurer’s Conduct.
  2. Corporations must have a coordinated defense. Somebody in the insurance corporation must know all the facts and the “big picture.”
  3. Insurance Corporations must pursue facts in “dogged” manner and in the face of overwhelming obstacles.
  4. Must be willing to persevere after a loss at a trial level to get to judges willing to listen to the legal issues that could be won. She mentioned the Fifth Circuit which most now think is dominated by jurists appointed by interests that support corporations rather than individuals.
  5. Prepare for media attention. Cannot sit idle with “no comment” while awaiting resolution from the judicial system.
  6. Cannot be cautious but pro-active. Example: Go to the Federal Courts where they gave injunctions to State Farm that may not have been given by State Courts.
  7. Respond to the media. You cannot sit idle waiting for resolution to tell your story.
  8. “Luck” is important. Scruggs’ problems with unrelated bribery charges helped State Farm’s perception in Court and the media.

I am not a person loved by insurance companies trying to escape accountability for harming others. They wield significant financial resources not unlike those that many in this Country were trying to escape from at the time of our Country’s formation. State Farm may have found comfort in a worthy advocate from New York. Yet, many long-time State Farm customers along the Mississippi Coast know exactly where they stand when it comes to promises of “being there,” when ads require reality rather than just hype.

7 thoughts on “Merlin makes introduction and SLABBED welcomes Shelia Birnbaum”

  1. Shelia Birnbaum fact check—
    Date of Haag updated report January 2007.
    Date of Birnbaum lecture September 2008.

    “In Mississippi there was a 30 foot storm surge. The highest ever recorded in Coastal communities since records were kept.” Shelia Birnbaum

    Fact- The flood elevation height given by Ms. Birnbaums assertion is not confirmed by any official flood elevation report. Only the private Haag report, which missed the mark by 5 to 6 feet on the only measurement they noted in their below report to be above or at 30 feet, had flood levels at or above 30 feet.

    Get the flood level wrong and you get the flood claim wrong when you adjust by remote using flood level data generated by Haag. Tim got the Waveland flood level wrong by 5 feet. That is way to much of mesurement error to use in a speach about how plantiff’s tried to stick insurance companies with their flood damage. The very data she starts the speach off with is wrong by a measure of 5 or 6 feet. I haven’t checked the rest of the speach but so far she has made a great case for how the private wind insurance carriers defrauded the fed’s? I think so. But come up with your own conclusion. Read the Haag report and then listen to speach. It will not be two minutes in before she makes the case for insurance fraud on the part of State Farm(against the NFIP).

    Haag Damage Survey Verification Study—-
    From page 5 table 3.
    Comparison of storm surge heights measured by

    Haag with respect to those in FEMA-1604.
    Location Haag report— USGS—–FEMA 1604 report
    Waveland 31 ft ________25.1_____ 26.2
    Bay St. Louis 27 _______27 _______26.7
    Pass Christian 25 24.6 25
    Gulfport 22 24.3 23.5
    Biloxi 20 22.5 21
    Ocean Springs 19 21.3 20.5
    Pascagoula 17 – 18
    East Pascagoula 15 – 16.8
    Slidell, LA 15 16.8 15.3
    *Above water level.

  2. I understand Sheila is quite the unassuming type which no doubt covers a keen intellect. One wonders what kind of personality type it takes to reach her level of excellence.

    I suspect she doesn’t get her hands too dirty, that is the function of the lower price help after all.


  3. Yeah, like the time I kept my hands clean when I was spray painting my patio furniture only to discover I had a nice pair of fashionably taupe feet.

  4. No, “lower price help” isn’t a “bad” thing – it’s just that they like to be recognized in the scheme of things. Speaking from the trenches Sop, I know exactly what you are talking about…except I did have the benefit of being positively recognized…..most of the time anyway.


  5. On the flip side it is in the lower price help where legal ethics are most often compromised. We’ve profiled many of them type of lawyers too. A large client with plenty of repeat business can enforce their will more easily on smaller firms even if that “will” conflicts with professional ethics. That is true in my line of work too.

    My experience is most people do not have the strength of will to resist the gold regardless of the profession.


  6. That’s right, Sop. I’m too tired to re-iterate what I just wrote as a comment on Chip’s Blog yesterday, so I’m going to cut & paste it – here it is:

    “I agree w/you, Mr. Poe. It works both ways. We could even say the same about the MEDICAL field though and why doctors are so “entralled” w/their chosen profession.

    “IN THE BEGINNING” (i.e., when one is in law and/or medical school) barely scraping by, hanging by a thread (some students anyway)and also “hanging” by the notion that “ONE DAY” they’ll be able to “help people.” Well, “IN THE BEGINNING” they did help people, however, once they acquired their experience and those incomes got BIGGER, their “HELP” becomes more expensive and those they helped before may not “make the cut” now.

    Those were the “IDEALISTIC DAYS.”

    That’s, IMHO, as my friend at SLABBED would say. Hey Sop!


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