Toxic Justice

Lawyer Fred Baron says he's one of the good guys, fighting a war against evil asbestos manufacturers. But some former employees claim his firm is a factory that mass-produces lawsuits by implanting memories and inventing testimony.

The former paralegal recalls being asked to falsify product-ID information the very first week she was on the job.

"They were having me fill out the product IDs [forms that the paralegals had gathered from clients]...There was a man, he was some sort of contractor. He had absolutely no exposure to asbestos--none. There was nothing in his work history."

As she scanned the paperwork, Russell Budd walked by the office she was working in. "I got up and walked out and said, 'I don't know what to do. This man has not had exposure at all.' He looked at me and said, 'Oh you're a smart lady. Be creative,' and he turned and he walked away."

She says she then went to her immediate supervisor, who she recalls also told her to "fill it in, make up stuff."

"I was shocked," she says.
When she refused to fill in product names, the supervisor simply took over the file, she says. "I don't know what happened to the case after that."

Says Budd: "I don't understand how a person that has never been exposed to asbestos would have an asbestos-related disease. It just doesn't make any sense."

The former paralegal, who left the firm in the mid-'90s, says that Baron & Budd's "girls" operate in a results-oriented pressure cooker: "If you don't produce, you don't win. You don't get money. You don't get bonuses and the [annual] trip to Colorado and all the perks."

Eads-Tone, who spoke from her home in the Casa Linda area, her husband and five Chinese pugs sitting nearby, says that around the firm, "lying" was not a word that was tossed around.

"When somebody's deposition was coming, you were never told to tell people to lie or anything," she says. "But you were told, 'Look, we have this product ID. Make sure they stick to it.'...It was sort of like 'Work with 'em. Work with 'em to identify this stuff, and don't leave until you get the ID.' OK, you can interpret that any way you want."

Eads-Tone spent most of her time at the firm dealing with medical records, but when work piled up, she also was enlisted in the effort to get clients to identify asbestos products.

Overall, she says, workers in asbestos plants and insulators "really did know the products...But when you got the electricians and the carpenters and the brick masons...They didn't work with the products that much."

These clients needed aggressive coaching, she says.
"When you were talking with the guy, you would say, 'We know this product was there.' This is where you'd get them to implant false memories. We knew in many cases from insulators that certain products were on the job site. So you would say, 'Joe Smith says that Celotex was all over the place when they'd saw that thing in half. They say, 'Oh yeah. I'd be under it.' You'd say, 'You know, it was Celotex they were cutting,' and they'd think, and they'd think, and they'd go, 'Yeah...Yeah, it was Celotex.'"

Eads-Tone says there was tremendous pressure in her section to get results. "There is a lot of pressure to get [clients] not to cave under at deposition or at trial. A lot, a lot of pressure."

Once the clients' work history sheets listing where and what products the clients worked with were done, she recalls, "That is the story. There were occasionally guys who would crash at their depositions, and if that happened, the paralegal would get beaten up for not doing her job. I heard them get chewed out for that."

Eads-Tone also says she clashed at times with her supervising attorney, Brian Weinstein, when she defended an unbiased doctor and resisted employing "whore docs," doctors who would tie almost any lung abnormality to asbestos exposure. "There were a couple of pathologists that would say everything is asbestos-related," she says.

And she says she witnessed how, as the pool of very sick clients shrunk, the firm lowered the bar on which cases it would take.

"Initially [in the late '80s], if somebody just had pleural plaques [benign spots on the pleura, or lining of the lung] or something like that, they wouldn't take the case. Later on that's all they had...Later on they made these into cases. I could see the shift during my period [with the firm]."

Eads-Tone says her supervisor, an office manager, told her when she left the firm that she could not be trusted to "do whatever it takes" to make a case. She agrees. "I wasn't willing to do whatever it takes."

Though both Baron and Budd dispute it, internal Baron & Budd documents obtained by the Observer appear to track what these former paralegals say about how the firm's product-identification process works.

A document titled "P.I.D Study Sheet," which was written by Baron & Budd paralegal Judy Bruton, gives information that is similar to the Lynell Terrell "Preparing for Your Deposition" memo. Like the much longer Terrell memo, the "Study Sheet" contains detailed information on the different types of asbestos products that existed, their color, packaging, and common uses, and identifying information about specific products.

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