APRIL 19, 2002, 10 AM



R:    All right, here we go with hour number two of the Ron Owens program.  Meet Mary Alexander, she’s from Atherton.  She is the president elect of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America.  We’ll talk trial lawyers, we’ll also talk about the fact that she’s a founding board member of Trial Lawyers Care.  Now this is a little different, a nationwide group of attorneys helping the victims families of 911 and their helping for free. I didn’t think that lawyers did stuff for free but all do pro bono work, don’t they?

M:    We do, all lawyers are expected to do pro bono work and help people and it’s great to be on your show Ron.

R:    Well, Let’s talk a little bit before we get into trial lawyers in general, let’s talk about 9-11 and the like, everyone feels horrible about what happened on Sept 11, and all of a sudden people start to pull back and say wait a minute now. People are going to get rich as a result of this?

M:    You know, this was an attack on America , the first time since Pearl Harbor on American soil, this was such an extraordinary situation, very different, devastating magnitude to the country and to these the people. It was  important that these victims get compensated

R:    Of course but when you think about compensation, who do you think of, you say yeah, let’s get Bin Laden to pay but if you don’t get BL to pay,  who’s going to pay who’s going to end up compensating them?

M:    Well this was interesting. Two days after 9-11 the airlines went to congress and said bail us out, we only have so much insurance.  $3.2 B sounds like a lot of money until you think about how many people were on the ground and how many families were involved, it’s not enough with all the property included, we’re talking the whole world trade center included so they said, bail us out/limit our liability to 3.2 billion.

R:    OK

M:    My organization, TLC, said to congress, wait a minute, you can’t bail out the airlines and leave the families behind. We suggested setting up a system by which the government would compensate them.

R:    Now the federal government has a fund from which they can compensate

M:    Right.  A fund to compensate the victims and they make claims, and if they’ve lost a loved one or if they’ve been physically injured, the government compensates them.

R:    Now how do they determine who gets how much money?

M:    There’s a system set up, a claims system, and that’s where the trail lawyers came in.

R:    Exactly.

M:    Because you know it sounds simple, but it isn’t, to make these claims, and so it’s what we do every day.  We thought at the time, what is it that we can do as an organization to help.  We wanted to do something for 9-11.  We volunteered our time for free to help these victims make the claims.

R:    Of course now the problem when you talk about the victims is many of the victims are dead.  There are still people who are heroes from 911.  Alive or dead, you’re left with many of the families, the parents, the children of these people.  Go back to the other question and that is how much is one person’s life compared to somebody else’s?

M:    Well you know it is a difficult task.  Juries have to do that in courtrooms across America.  What the government has set up and we the government and the Justice Department in trying to set it up is,  there is a way in which you look at the wage earner, the father or mother involved, that was working -- how much they the family will lose over the lifetime of that person, and other factors.  There’s a structure set up within it and so that’s why they really need a lawyer to help them through all that.

R:    I would think, yeah because ok its one thing to say if it was a spouse ok so the spouse is living with that person and is dependant on that income, that’s one thing.  If you’re a mother or father who wasn’t living with them, it’s not like they’ve lost money, but they’ve lost their son or their daughter.  How do you figure out who gets what?  I know that’s what you do, but I can’t imagine how you do it.  Is there some kind of formula?

M:    The government would figure it out, and the person is Ken Feinberg, who’s been set up as the special administrator for this.  He will make the determination and they do have kind of a let’s call it a matrix set up to help him through it, but he has promised to look at each individual situation and make a determination.

R:    Then why would these people need attorneys such as the one you and others who are doing it for free if there’s this formula there.  Is it that the government’s not coming up with the money fast enough, there’s too much bureaucracy, what’s the problem

M:    One of the things is something you were mentioning.  Families all come in all different forms.  There are divorced parents and children by different marriages and it does get complicated, and only one person can be designated as a personal representative to make the claim.  So I’m not saying people cannot do it by themselves -- they can, it’s possible, but we think it would be very helpful with a lawyer to get them thought the paperwork, and we’re doing it for free.

R:    Yeah if you’re going to get the lawyer for free, why not.  We’ll talk a little more about 9-11, the victims, the families, the compensation.  Maybe you’ve got some questions and also want to talk a little bit about lawyers in general.  Among other things Mary Alexander, who is the president-elect of the Association of Trial Lawyers, is someone who got pretty big victories.  There happened to be a product liability over a bicycle, you got 13.3 million.  Sometimes people say whoa, 13.3, lawyers ugh too much money.  We’ll get her reaction and an explanation as to how much, so stay with us 808-0810 if you’d like to join us so stay with us 808-0810, the Ron Owens program, KGO. It’s 10:13.



R:    Ron Owens, KGO.   Mary Alexander, president elect of Association of Trial Lawyers, when do you become president?

M:    In July I become president of Association of Trial Lawyers of America.

R:    That looks good on a business card, doesn’t it, that does look good.  Mark calling on his cell phone it’s 580.  Good morning, welcome to KGO.

CalleR:    Yes, thanks for taking my call, nice to talk to the lawyer.  I’m just wondering if the Trail Lawyers Association has any guilt about what these 13.3 million dollar settlements do to the U.S. economy.  For instance, you can buy a lift ticket for skiing in Europe for about $26-29.  The same ticket here is almost $60, and the lift areas will tell you, rightfully so, that a very, very large portion of that goes because if some kid decides to ignore the sign, ski go off course run into a tree, and kill himself, his parents will go out and get a lawyer who will certainly go for the throat try to get 10-15 million dollars.  I mean it’s terrible that this person lost their life, but they made that decision.  What about these lawyers -- do these people really need 13 million dollars to make a point to the bicycle company?

R:    Well, let’s find out about the case.  You know it’s a totally legitimate question, one I would have asked, but I’m glad you asked.  Let’s talk about that.  You got 13 million in the case.  What are the circumstances?

M:    A woman -- picture her walking into Yosemite park, renting a bicycle.  She rode down a hill at the park.  The brakes didn’t work.  She couldn’t stoop or slow the bike.   She crashed into a tree head first, breaking her neck, and she was paralyzed from the neck down, on a breathing machine for life.  The jury listened to the facts of the case about how they didn’t warn her, about how they had an accident on that very bike earlier that day and they knew that.

R:    On that same bike

M:    That same bike.  And they put it back into circulation, and they rented it to her.  Jury heard that evidence and how they didn’t put up a sign about how they’ve had many accidents of people from around the world coming to that same place, that same hill, having accidents.  And then they heard about what her life was like being paralyzed from the neck down, not to be able to walk across the room, never to be able to hold a child, never to even reach for a glass of water, total life care for the rest of her life on a breathing machine, and what it’s going to cost to make sure that breathing machine works to keep her alive -- and the jury decides that that was what was fair compensation, keeping in mind that it was the fault of this company and no fault of hers.

R:    You’re a good lawyer, you got you got me going on that one there.  But let me ask you about another case that I see you’ve got here, a pedestrian that was hit by a city bus. You got 4 million dollars for that.

M:    Right.  A young woman was crossing the street over in the Haight area and a bus was making a left turn.  Bus driver wasn’t looking, he was looking to his right.  Something got his attention, he continued to make his left turn -- hit her, she stumbled and fell.  The rear wheels ran her over in the middle, crushing her.  She lived but she had a lot of difficulty in walking and is unable to work, so that kind of compensation for those terrible injuries for a negligent driver is fair.

R:    I guess the problem that I have with that is I live in the city.  I pay my taxes.  In essence I wound up paying for that, didn’t I?

M:    Well I think we need to take care of our citizens when the city is negligent and does something that it shouldn’t and injures one of our own.  Could have been one of us, our loved ones.  A citizen -- the city should take responsibility.

R:    But the city is us.

M:    The city is us and …

R:    I’m not supporting that meanie driver. There’s no way I could do that.

M:    Well, no, and so we have to take responsibility when we say it’s -- it’s the city, and  we have to take our own responsibility for what our employees do.

R:    Mary let’s take it away from you and the specific victories you have had but just in general trial lawyers have had the perception that they should go for the big, big money.

It winds up costing all of us as the previous caller said. Is there a counter to that?

M:    You know what we do as trail lawyers is take bad products off the market.  For example, Firestone/Ford only came out because of lawsuits.  The companies didn’t come forth and say oh we’ve been hearing about this in Saudi Arabia for years and it’s been happening in Venezuela.  They kept it a secret.  It was lawsuits that finally brought out that there were hundreds of families in their SUV’s, their Ford Explorers, going down the road on a family trip and the tire explodes, the vehicle rolls over, and people are killed.  That kind of thing comes out because of lawsuits.  I like to think that trial lawyers and our lawsuits serve as agents of social good, that they can make a difference.  Bad products off the road make a difference in our highways, and in other products from our families to keep them safe.

R:    Boy you’ve got a tough job.  You’re putting a good face on lawyers here.

M:    You know what, that’s what we do every day.  And if I could point out, when we formed Trial Lawyers Care, this organization to take care of 9-11 victims, some of our detractors said, my goodness, lawyers doing this, what’s the hitch.  The thing is that we do this every day, and we decided that we want to do this for these victims of 9-11.  What we do every day to help people.

R:    Did you say also that the lawyers got together right after and called for a moratorium on lawsuits?

M:    We did.  The first day on 9-11 we were all shocked by what happened and after checking on family and friends, the officers of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America got on the phone.  We said, what does it mean for the country?  We called for a moratorium and sent out a press release and we sent out e-mails to our members and called for no lawsuits and you know what?  We had an absolutely outstanding reaction from our members.  We got 700 e-mails saying thank you for doing this, this was the right thing.

R:    How big is this organization, the Association of Trial Lawyers?

M:    60,000 members across the country.  Trial lawyers that represent people every day in the courtroom.

R:    If they don’t pay their dues,  do you sue ’em?

M:    These are good folks.

R:    808-0810 is our telephone.  Mary Alexander is here.  Among other things, we go back to 9-11 to talk a little bit because obviously now she’s got boned up on terrorism.  With that in mind we’re going to talk right after the 10:30 news with General Barry McCaffrey.   You might remember him as the Drug Czar.  Now he is a national media consultant on the war on terrorism.  He’s West Point’s distinguished professor on National Security.  Get his thoughts on terrorism and 9-11.  Stay with us, the Ron Owens program on KGO.  It’s 10:23.



R:    10:26.  It’s Ron Owens with Mary Alexander, president elect of the American Trial Lawyers Association.  We’re talking about 911 families victims and the like.  Tom in San Jose says I don’t know why the victims need to be compensated.  Didn’t they have life insurance and pensions?  Aren’t the survivors eligible for Social Security benefits?  I think too many companies and people see 9-11 as a cash cow.  Mary?

M:  You know the bills went on, the mortgage had to be paid, rent had to be paid when Mom or Dad was killed on Sept 11.  When these people do go through the system --  by the way there have been 1800 families who have requested our free help in the system and 2500 lawyers who have volunteered to help -- when we they go through the system the government has set it up that life insurance will be deducted and other things like that will be deducted from any total that they receive.  So that has been taken into account.

R:    How about this one from Jeff in San Jose who says, what about the families of the victims from Okalahoma City?

M: That’s a good question and you know today is the 7th anniversary of Oklahoma City. That was a terrorist attack on our soil (by a U.S. citizen), not like Osama Bin Laden, but you know I wouldn’t disagree if they got folded into this system.   I think that the victims of terrorism -- an attack on America, an attack on all of us is devastating -- and these people should receive just and fair compensation.  It’s a form of justice that they receive from us.

R:    In Santa Clara, George, good morning, welcome to KGO -- Ron Owens/Mary Alexander.

CalleR:    Good morning.  I want to make a point that you note the system isn’t really fair. You got windfall court cases for some people and then you got some other victims who get nothing.  The only people who win are the lawyers.  Why don’t we set up a system where more victims get more and lawyers get a lot less money?  For instance, under the Americans with Disabilities Act you got lawyers going around suing businesses for tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of dollars.  Why don’t you have a system where a citizen can complain and say, hey they’re not abiding by the ADA, and instead of suing them for 100,000, you say you need to correct this in the next 60 days or you’re going to get sued.  But no, the system is the lawyer immediately goes in there like Clint Eastwood and immediately sues them for $200,000 and don’t even give them chance to effect and the only people are the lawyers which is nothing more than a tax on everybody.

R:    All right, good question… an answer from Mary?

M:    When someone is injured through no fault of their own and there is a wrongdoer, I think the wrongdoer ought to take responsibility.  As a society we should say to the wrongdoer, you have to pay.  If they don’t, guess who has to pay -- it’s the people.  These people go on Medical or Social Security.  I don’t think the wrongdoer ought to get off the hook.  I think that the person who perpetrated it ought to be paying, not us.

R:    Yeah, but his point is -- he’s using the ADA as an example --- there are people who go around and specifically are looking to find places to sue.

M:    You know what I think?  There ought to be access for people who are handicapped into buildings and I think that buildings ought to be equipped and they ought to do it.  If they don’t, they ought to be held responsible.  Now it’s not to say that somebody can’t make a claim against them to do it without a lawsuit and that’s done all the time.  But if they don’t and they don’t follow the law, they ought to be help accountable.

R:    Got lots more questions calls and General Barry McCaffrey as we continue with Mary Alexander, president elect of the American Trial Lawyers Association on the Ron Owens program, KGO.  First though, at 10:30 a look at news from the KGO newsroom.



R:    10:45 Ron Owens, KGO radio.   Mary Alexander, president elect of the American Trial Lawyers Association.  Mike In Santa Cruz, good morning.

CalleR:    Yeah good morning Ron. Yeah I had a question for your guest.  You know I do believe that I don’t have a problem with large settlements from lawsuits.  I do believe businesses need to be held liable if they’re marketing a faulty product, and I think the only way to hit a large corporation is in their pocketbook.  However, I am currently holding a can of compressed air that you use to clean electronic devices, computers and such, and it has three little like stick figure pictures on it telling me that I’m not to stick the pipe from the can into my ear, into my nose, or into my mouth.

R:    Good Ideas

CalleR:    Now it doesn’t show that I’m not to stick it into my eye. I know as a 44-year old college educated male that if I stick this thing into my eye and blow one of my eyeballs out, I can find an attorney somewhere to sue the company.  I’d like to know, the public perception is that there are all too many lawyers out there that want to litigate away any kind of responsibility and common sense.  So I would like to suggest an answer, would she be in favor of some kind of penalty system that would get lawyers that perhaps bring up too many frivolous or harassment lawsuits?

M:    You know we already have a system in place which is -- and a lot of people don’t realize this -- that before a case can even get to trial, there are motions.  A judge looks at the case, can throw the case out if it does get to court.  A judge reviews jury decisions.  It can go up on appeal, it’s reviewed in an appellate court.  There is a system of balances that is already in existence to do the kind of thing your talking about.

R:    But in the process of doing it, if I can jump on what he’s saying, you’ve still got lawyers putting in lots of hours through going through this complicated process so lawyers are making money on this.

M:    Well those are the lawyers working for the corporation.  Most lawyers are not paid by the hour that represent the people.  But what’s important here is that we make sure that people who do wrong are held accountable and that we keep that system so that that the corporations that make the Firestone tires that explode as someone’s going along, that when someone pollutes the water with chromium, like the Erin Brokovich case where a corporation makes something which makes people in the community sick, that they are held accountable when they make pharmaceutical that damage the heart valves to the people are then dying or living debilitated lives, that those corporations can be held accountable.

R:    What percentage of lawyers are the good guys the way you’re describing them right now and what percentages of those are just out for the buck?

M:    You know I think that the lawyers that I represent as president elect of Association of Trial Lawyers of America are people who seek justice for their clients, seek justice for victims and for their families, and they stand for helping the voice to the voiceless and power to the powerless.  These are the kinds of people that everyone wants on their side when they have to fight against Goliath, when they have to fight against the corporations. I think those are the good guys

R:    All right.  Here’s something that comes from Jeff in Salinas, it’s a fax.  I’ve got an e-mail from Tom in Meddelow Parkway that asks the same question.  It’s something I’ve advocated, it’s something I can’t believe you go along with, but there all the two of them and I are all saying:  Could you ask Mary if she supports the concept of loser pays or some other form of tort reform to help do something about the proliferation of lawsuits and frivolous lawsuits?

M:    You know a lot of people think there are too many frivolous lawsuits.  I’m not for frivolous lawsuits.  But what people don’t keep in mind is how important it is to be able to go after corporations.   I hear a lot about the McDonald case.

R:    Yeah

M:    And that

R:    The hot coffee one that one

M:    The hot coffee case.

R:    Yep. Yep.

M:    And you know what people don’t realize when they use that as an example of a frivolous lawsuit?  She was holding -- she was not moving in her car -- was holding the coffee cup in her lap and trying to put the sugar into it when the car wasn’t moving and the lid came off she spilled it into her lap.  She had 3rd degree burns.  This coffee was so hot it was like acid burning through her flesh.

R:    You expect coffee to be hot, Mary.

M:    No this coffee was so much hotter than all the other brands.  You know why they made it hotter? So they could make more money and get more coffee out of the grounds. My point is that the jury listened to all these facts and what they said to McDonalds is we think you should pay one day’s profit on the coffee for what you did here and you should turn your coffee down.  It was too hot to even to be drunk at that temperature, no reason to be that hot no reason to put people at this kind of risk. What’s important is that we keep in mind people who are injured by products through no fault of their own like pharmaceuticals, our children keep the dangerous cars off the road but we need to have a mechanism for doing that.

R:    Yeah but let me go back to the concept of loser pays let, let me bring it home I will start off by doing something that I’m not supposed to do because the lawyers say I’m not supposed to talk about this thing.  There was this ridiculous, frivolous lawsuit that was filed against me.  It was an arm-wrestling thing.  They wanted a million and a half dollars.  I didn’t do a damn thing.   I’m lucky I got lawyers from ABC Disney -- didn’t go anywhere, wouldn’t go anywhere -- couldn’t: there’s no substance.  What if I didn’t have any lawyers?  What if I didn’t have the company behind me?  Then I got to go out, hire myself a lawyer to defend myself against what is obviously a frivolous lawsuit.  Loser pays would have prevented it.  Loser pays there is no way I would have been sued.

M:    Well you know what you’re talking about, it was the system that helped you out of it you had…

R:    The system was that I had ABC and Disney attorneys they, they…   Are you kidding me, you want to go up against… ooh I wouldn’t.

M:    Well you were lucky to have them

R:    I was.

M:    But the point I’m making is, that case did go away because the system allows you to do it.

R:    But what if I wouldn’t have had the ABC Disney attorneys?  I would have had to hire somebody.  I’d have had to pay them hundreds of dollars an hour.

M:    If you won they would have to pay you for your costs. The system we have now is they have to pay you for any costs and under certain circumstances the experts and so forth.

R:    All right, let’s send it out on a more positive note, and that’s what you’re doing for the families for 911.  There are families here in the Bay area you’re representing.

M:    First of all, by the way, I want to say how proud I am of my brother-in-law, Barry McCaffrey, and it was great to have him on here.  He’s coming to tomorrow for the opening of my office and what we’re doing about trial lawyers care.   I am representing two Bay area families.   One will be here tomorrow, Alan Mennie, whose daughter was an ensign in the navy working at the time in the Pentagon when the plane crashed into the Pentagon.  One of the sad things about it for this family was, she only moved to that side of the building two weeks before.  There was a long time when they were not, it was days before they knew.  The second family is Darryl Boodly and his 20-year-old daughter who was a student at Santa Clara on flight 93.  That’s the one that crashed in Pennsylvania and everyone on that flight were heroes that brought the plane down, probably headed to the White House or the Capitol, and they were heroes.  Just yesterday they heard the tape.  The families and Darryl went back and heard the tape from 93 and they are all heroes and I’m doing what I can to help them.

R:    You’re doing what you can.   Here to talk about lawyers is president elect of American Trial Lawyers Association.  You did well.  Thanks for coming on.

M:    Thanks.  It was great to be with you, Ron.

R:    She’s Mary Alexander.  We’ll be back to wrap it up.