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Boston plaintiffs lawyer Alex MacDonald says he’ll raise $250,000 for Sen. John Kerry’s presidential bid by the end of July. And Kerry has Sen. John Edwards to thank for it. MacDonald, who says he hasn’t participated in political campaigning since he handed out fliers for Eugene McCarthy in 1968, raised more than a half-million dollars for Edwards’ failed presidential bid. Now, he is one of many in the plaintiffs bar pouring cash into the Kerry effort to unseat President George W. Bush after initially being mobilized by Edwards. “I have become an acolyte of the fine art of begging,” MacDonald says. After meeting Edwards at a small dinner party in Washington two years ago, MacDonald says his political “zeal returned like Halley’s comet.” The Democratic senator from North Carolina, a former trial lawyer who made millions from medical malpractice cases, raked in an estimated $10 million in contributions from plaintiffs lawyers before dropping out of the presidential race in March. Edwards’ loss has been Kerry’s gain, providing the presumptive Democratic nominee a ready-made network of fund-raisers and donors, many of whom, like MacDonald, had not been politically active prior to Edwards’ candidacy. Shortly after Edwards dropped out of the race in March, his fund-raisers gathered in Washington and were addressed by both Kerry and Edwards, who encouraged them to give to Kerry’s campaign. “It was an unambiguous declaration from John Edwards’ lips: The cause now was to support Senator Kerry,” says MacDonald. A partner at Boston’s Robinson & Cole, MacDonald says his strategy for raising $250,000 for Kerry is simple: He’ll throw a two-hour reception featuring Edwards at his firm’s offices in downtown Boston. The July 5 event will draw plaintiffs lawyers from across the country who will be in town for the annual Association of Trial Lawyers of America meeting. Edwards and Kerry both addressed group’s meeting last year in San Franscisco. Even in a profession notorious for its mammoth contributions to presidential campaigns, there are quarters of the plaintiffs bar that don’t usually donate, says Kenneth Rothweiler, a key Edwards fund-raiser who in March started gathering contributions for Kerry. “[Edwards] got a lot of people excited who had previously not been involved in political campaigns,” says Rothweiler, a Philadelphia personal injury lawyer and former president of the Philadelphia Trial Lawyers Association. The interest that Edwards attracted among trial lawyers could help to infuse more cash into an already record-setting campaign fund for Kerry, says Richard Gusler, a Raleigh, N.C., attorney who has known Edwards for two decades. He says he hadn’t been closely involved in a campaign since Sen. George McGovern’s failed 1972 presidential bid. Edwards “affected a large body of people who normally don’t give generally,” says Gusler, who raised more than $225,000 for Edwards. “I have trial lawyers who have never given money before for anyone, and they did for Johnny.” Kerry’s campaign has taken in $10.3 million from lawyers as of June 1, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. His campaign refuses to identify how much of that money came from the plaintiffs bar, but the Republican National Committee, using data compiled from federal campaign finance reports, claims the tally is approaching $1 million. With Edwards only recently out of the race, that number could rise dramatically. Kerry has also recruited some key players from Edwards’ campaign, including his former finance chair, Fred Baron. A former ATLA president, the Dallas attorney was named in May as co-chair of Kerry Victory ’04, a joint fund-raising entity between the Democratic National Committee and Kerry’s campaign. A prominent fixture in the presidential bids of the last three Democratic candidates, Baron, whose personal wealth is estimated by Forbes magazine at $21 million, made his fortune representing plaintiffs in asbestos litigation. Baron, who chairs 75-lawyer Baron & Budd, did not return calls for comment. Some former Edwards staffers, including his Senate and campaign chief of staff, Miles Lackey, speechwriter Wendy Button, policy director Robert Gordon, and communications director David Ginsberg, have also moved to Kerry’s campaign. IN THE GAME Kerry has attracted a strong group of trial lawyers on his own. Among them, Kirk Wagar. The 34-year-old managing partner of Miami’s Wagar, Murray & Feit hosted the very first presidential campaign fund-raiser for Kerry in his Coconut Grove, Fla., home in December 2002. The $500-a-plate dinner helped to propel Wagar, who had never before held a formal position in a political campaign, into the big leagues of Democratic fund raising. Wagar, a native of Ontario, Canada, who recently applied for U.S. citizenship, is now the Florida fund-raising chairman for the Democratic National Committee. Wagar says he became familiar with Kerry a few years ago through his involvement in ATLA, on whose executive committee Wagar serves. And as a Kerry fund-raiser, Wagar has looked to his contacts in the trial lawyer community for contributions. Wagar has personally given more than $50,000 to Democratic candidates and the Democratic Party since 2001 and says that in this election cycle, he’s pulled in lawyer friends who previously raised money for Edwards, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean. “We don’t have anybody sitting on the sidelines,” he says. Wagar has raised at least $100,000 for Kerry, according to Kerry’s campaign Web site, although Wagar won’t specify exactly how much he has brought to the candidate. At the heart of Kerry’s trial lawyer network is another Florida lawyer, Rodney Margol. A longtime friend of Kerry’s, the Jacksonville attorney has raised more than $300,000 for Kerry in Florida. Now stationed full-time in Kerry’s Washington campaign headquarters, the 53-year-old Margol was named co-vice chairman for finance for the Democratic National Committee in March. Margol declined to comment, and Kerry’s campaign did not return calls requesting comment on this story. Another strong trial lawyer ally for Kerry in Washington is John Coale, who has raised at least $100,000 for the candidate. Coale, known for his representation of plaintiffs in tobacco and asbestos cases, is a mass-tort specialist and helped shape the $206 billion settlement in 1998 between 46 states and the major tobacco companies. “Kerry has just about a perfect record on issues that interest lawyers and trial lawyers,” Coale says. “He didn’t need any help in bringing on trial lawyers.” TOEING THE LINE Plaintiffs lawyers have traditionally thrown huge financial weight behind Democratic candidates. In the current election cycle, they have given about 90 percent of their campaign contributions to Democrats, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The primary reason is the traditional Democratic opposition to tort reform legislation, which could have a severe impact on personal injury litigation. Tort reform usually refers to proposals to limit damage awards and claims brought by personal injury lawyers. Kerry has rarely directly addressed tort reform, says Anthony Sebok, who teaches torts at Brooklyn Law School and has written about tort reform and the presidential race. “Kerry has been careful not to make this a prominent issue,” Sebok says, adding that like President Bill Clinton, Kerry has not associated himself closely with the plaintiffs bar. But as have most Democrats, Kerry has maintained relationships with trial lawyers and his voting record shows strong support for the plaintiffs bar. In 1996, he voted against the Common Sense Product Liability Reform Act, which would have put a $250,000 limit on punitive damage awards in product liability cases and which was vetoed by then-President Clinton. But last year, Kerry was absent for a vote to end the Democrats’ filibuster of the Class Action Fairness Act, which would have moved jurisdiction for the largest multistate class actions to federal court. The Republicans fell one vote short of breaking the filibuster then, but could win approval for the re-introduced bill after a handful of Democrats agreed to change their votes this spring. Tort law typically is a matter of state common law and legislation, but recent Republican congressional initiatives have sought to impose uniform limits on damages applicable to all states. In May, Congress passed a bill that includes a $250,000 cap on noneconomic damage awards in medical malpractice cases, the second time in a year the House has tried to put a ceiling on such awards, while the Senate has rejected similar measures. Lester Brickman, a professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York, says that although tort reform remains largely a state issue, such federal legislation — along with a prospective presidential approval or veto — explains the plaintiffs bar’s support of Kerry. Despite the partisanship, Republicans are not unified on tort reform, Brickman says. ATLA has seized on that, establishing the Republican Trial Lawyers Caucus last year. Composed of ATLA members, the group has chairs in all 50 states. The group targets what ATLA spokesman Carlton Carl says is 30 percent of the association’s members who usually vote for Republican candidates. DREAM DATE? Edwards and another former plaintiffs lawyer, Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, are rumored to be potential running mates for Kerry. Former Edwards fund-raiser MacDonald is among those in the plaintiffs bar pushing for Edwards on the ticket. “I will be singularly dismayed and disappointed if the Massachusetts senator does not realize that the senator from North Carolina is his perfect complement,” MacDonald says. Miami’s Wagar says putting Edwards on the ticket wouldn’t be for the purpose of further boosting Kerry’s campaign take. Cardozo Law professor Brickman, however, thinks adding Edwards would have just that effect. “If he’s on the ticket, you can reasonably predict that the amount of giving from trial lawyers will double or triple,” Brickman says. “They will unzip their wallets like they never had before. This would be unprecedented.”

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