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:
- Kodrin v State Farm: a Writ with its wits about it
- The Jawbone of an Ass: Unbridled Arrogance and Regulatory Capture at the NAIC
- Cat scratch fever strikes insurance industry – State Farm has bad case
- The House is Burning Down and Methuselah is Bitching a Blue Streak
- Hello! Hello! Is this the party to whom I am speaking?
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:
- Conduct previously thought was Civil could be made as Criminal by the Insurer’s Conduct.
- Corporations must have a coordinated defense. Somebody in the insurance corporation must know all the facts and the “big picture.”
- Insurance Corporations must pursue facts in “dogged” manner and in the face of overwhelming obstacles.
- 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.
- Prepare for media attention. Cannot sit idle with “no comment” while awaiting resolution from the judicial system.
- 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.
- Respond to the media. You cannot sit idle waiting for resolution to tell your story.
- “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.