Goodbye to a Plaintiffs Powerhouse

A memorial service was held at Sparkman/Hillcrest Funeral Home in Dallas on Nov. 3 for Fred Baron, who died Oct. 30 after battling multiple myeloma, a blood cancer. He was 61. Baron, known for his representation of plaintiffs in asbestos litigation, was praised as one of the nation’s leading plaintiffs attorneys and political boosters and credited with single-handedly reviving the Democratic Party in Texas. Seated in the front row at the service was former presidential candidate John Edwards; Baron had been one of the former U.S. senator’s closest political advisers. Also in the overflow crowd of hundreds of people were members of Congress, current and past presidents of the American Association for Justice (formerly the American Trial Lawyers of America), a former Texas lieutenant governor and a former Texas attorney general. Brent Rosenthal, a partner in Baron & Budd, eulogized his old boss, saying that working with Baron was like working with Forrest Gump, the movie character played by Tom Hanks who came in contact with many historic people and events: Rosenthal dined with former President Bill Clinton at Baron’s home, shook hands with U.S. Sens. Barack Obama and Joe Biden, and even met his personal hero, Eagles lead singer Don Henley, because of Baron. “It all seemed surreal,” Rosenthal said. “But Fred was always the biggest man in the room.” [See "Remembering the Real Fred Baron."]

Moving to D.C.?

Ron Kirk, former Dallas mayor and current partner in Vinson & Elkins in Dallas, traveled nationwide as a surrogate on President-Elect Barack Obama’s campaign. But he laughs loudly when asked about recent news accounts on KERA radio mentioning his name as a possible Cabinet-level appointment in the new administration. Those suggestions, Kirk says, are made “not by me.” Kirk, however, doesn’t rule out a possible role in an Obama administration. “If he asks me to serve, I will have to seriously consider it,” Kirk says, but adds, “I spent my entire 40s in public service, and now I’m taking care of my family and my practice.” Kirk notes that the most likely possible move for him would be to V&E’s Washington, D.C. office, presumably since, as a legislative and government relations lawyer, his access to an Obama administration would be more valuable in that city. As the first black mayor of Dallas, Kirk says Obama’s biracial heritage is significant. “He was raised by two white people from Kansas. His very nature and his life experiences make him able to handle the situation he has been put into,” Kirk says. He argues that, although racism persists in pockets of the country, Obama can be buoyed by the positive statement made by a majority of Americans in electing an African-American president. Speaking from his own experience, Kirk says, “You focus on the fact that a whole bunch of people bet on me rather than worry about those people who still may not be there.” For Obama, the challenges the nation faces will overshadow the race issue. “If he gets the economy turned around, everyone will think he is a rock star; they won’t care if he is black or white.” Kirk also warns about raising expectations. “I tell black audiences we should have a hallelujah good time, but we should not put this man on such a pedestal that he cannot reach those lofty goals. He is just one man.”

Sparring With Cisco

Cisco Systems Inc., a defendant in a Longview patent lawyer’s defamation suit, has asked the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas in Tyler to force the lawyer to provide documents in support of his claims that a blog posting caused him mental anguish and damage to his reputation. But Eric Albritton, the lawyer who filed the suit, argues in his opposition to Cisco’s motion that the discovery Cisco seeks is “unnecessary, unreasonably cumulative, overly broad and sought for the purpose of harassing.” The filing of the motion to compel on Oct. 14 and of Albritton’s opposition to that motion on Oct. 31 comes in Albritton v. Cisco Systems Inc., et al., a defamation suit pending before U.S. District Judge Richard Schell. Albritton, a solo practitioner, alleges in his original complaint that on Oct. 18, 2007, then-Cisco in-house lawyer Richard Frenkel posted anonymously on the Internet false allegations that Albritton and T. John Ward Jr. conspired with a clerk for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District to “alter documents to try to manufacture subject matter jurisdiction where none existed” in a patent suit. Specifically, Frenkel alleged in an anonymous post on the Patent Troll Tracker blog that Albritton and Ward, a partner in Ward & Smith in Longview, convinced a clerk to change the docket in ESN v. Cisco to reflect an Oct. 16, 2007, filing date. Frenkel alleged in the blog that the filing date was significant, because the ESN patent at issue in ESN’s suit was not issued until that date. Frenkel outed himself as the Patent Troll Tracker blogger in February. Ward filed his suit on Feb. 27 in the 188th District Court in Gregg County but subsequently filed Ward v. Cisco Systems Inc. in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas. Albritton filed his suit in Gregg County Court-at-Law No. 2, but Cisco removed it to the federal court in the Eastern District of Texas. Albritton alleges in his original complaint, filed June 16 in federal court, that defendant Frenkel did not withdraw his allegation that Albritton conspired to alter court documents, a felony offense, until the blog was taken off the Internet in February. In its motion to compel, Cisco alleges that Albritton has refused to produce medical records and documents related to his finances that are relevant to his mental anguish claim. Charles “Chip” Babcock, lead attorney for the defendants, says, “We’re just saying that the evidence related to business reputation and mental anguish is discoverable.” Babcock, a partner in Jackson Walker in Houston, says his clients are entitled to get documents that Albritton might use at trial and documents the defense might use. But Albritton argues in his opposition to Cisco’s motion that he has not made a claim involving lost earnings, lost earning capacity or medical expenses as a result of the defendants’ alleged tortious conduct. The discovery that Cisco seeks is not relevant to any claim or defense in the case, Albritton contends. Henderson solo James Holmes, Albritton’s attorney, says, “What they’re asking for is exhaustive, comprehensive discovery, without any kind of limits, into his medical records and financial records.”