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What do lawyers think of Sen. John Edwards as the running mate of prospective Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry? It depends entirely on who you ask. Attorneys and legal organizations across the country are giving reactions that range from ecstatic to downright wary. The choice of Edwards as the vice presidential candidate — and perhaps the vice president — will affect everything from the general image of lawyers to the makeup of the federal bench, they assert. Jon P. Christiansen, chairman of the national general commercial litigation group in the Milwaukee office of Foley & Lardner, said Edwards is likely to improve the public’s impression of trial lawyers. “The country has not had a trial lawyer as president or vice president since Abraham Lincoln and, before him, John Adams,” Christiansen said. “John Edwards projected an upbeat and positive message in the primaries and if this continues, it is likely to give a boost to the public’s impression of lawyers.” Len Niehoff, a litigation partner in the Ann Arbor, Mich., office of Detroit-based Butzel Long, agreed that Edwards represents the very best of trial lawyers. Niehoff said there has been too much focus on Edwards’ work on behalf of plaintiffs, and not enough on how his skills as a trial lawyer will benefit him in the debates. “John Edwards has already demonstrated the ability to express complex ideas in a direct and compelling way, which is what litigators do for a living,” said Niehoff. “It will serve him well on the campaign trail.” VIEW FROM IN-HOUSE In-house lawyers are more leery. Raymond Smerge, chief legal officer at Centex Corp. in Dallas, a home building, general contracting and financial services company, conceded that Edwards is an “able and skilled spokesman” who should do well in the debates. But Smerge said Kerry may lose support from the business community over his choice. “It will galvanize the business community to oppose the Democratic ticket because Sen. Edwards was a trial lawyer and identifies with plaintiffs firms,” Smerge said. Richard R. Davis, general counsel at Bessemer Trust Co. in New York, echoed Smerge. “Many members of the business community are disturbed at the direction that trial lawyers have taken us and so having a member of that particular part of the bar on a national ticket doesn’t bring us any comfort,” Davis said. Many attorneys agreed that an Edwards vice presidency would have a strong impact on the federal bench. “This is a vice president who, I think, we would expect to have a great deal of input into U.S. Supreme Court appointments and federal judicial appointments generally,” Niehoff asserted. Edwards has a passion for victims and justice, he said, so his influence would be felt in the selection of judges who would advocate for individual liberties. “That could be reflected in appointments within the office of the attorney general as well,” Niehoff added. Victor Schwartz, a partner at Shook, Hardy & Bacon of Kansas City, Mo., and general counsel of the American Tort Reform Association, agreed that Edwards would affect the federal bench, but he predicted less favorable results. “There are many, many plaintiffs lawyers who have made a lot of money — more money than they could spend in their grandchildren’s lifetime — who would like to be on federal courts,” Schwartz said. “With an Edwards vice presidency and a Kerry presidency they would be interested in a federal judgeship, and they would have contributed as much as they could [to the campaign],” Schwartz said. ATRA and the Association of Trial Lawyers of America (ATLA) squared off with predictable — and opposite — reactions. ATRA has characterized Edwards as a former trial lawyer who made millions of dollars off plaintiffs verdicts and a senator who opposed every “tort reform” bill put before him. “Edwards is as close to [plaintiffs lawyers] as the skin is to a banana,” Schwartz charged. Just as fiercely, ATLA celebrated Edwards as a defender of victims’ rights. Spokesman Carlton Carl said a Kerry-Edwards victory would bring relief from the Bush administration “and its financial supporters — the chemical and tobacco industry, the drug and asbestos industries, and others, who have consistently injured American families.” [Editor's note: See a related Legal Intelligencer story, "Edwards' Trial Lawyer Past Takes Center Stage," for more reactions from the legal community on John Edwards' candidacy.]

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