DALLAS – A couple of Texas’ most well-known toxic tort litigators had a few choice words after watching the unveiling of "Unsettled," a documentary that offers a glimpse “Inside the Strange World of Asbestos Lawsuits.”
The screening of the in-progress film, produced by Paul Johnson, took place Sept. 20 at the University of North Texas College of Law.
Law Professionals from all walks of life were in attendance, including professors, students and a handful of prominent trial lawyers, who were all privy to a heated discussion between expert panelists following the viewing.
The film largely focuses on the struggles of California attorney Michael Lampe, who for the better part of the decade battled a law firm that he argued wrongly sued his client's car dealership, Lampe Dodge, for asbestos exposure.
Throughout the film, Lampe maintains the dealership never used asbestos products and did not exist during the plaintiff’s alleged exposure. When the law firm refused to dismiss the claims, Lampe fought back and won. He then initiated a malicious prosecution suit against the firm but settled before the case was called up for trial.
Following the screening, guest panelist Jeffrey Simon, an asbestos litigator with Simon Greenstone, pulled no punches, saying the documentary was “poorly produced” and a “call for” more tort reform legislation.
Simon also raised queries concerning Unsettled’s funding, questioning whether the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which owns the Record, sponsored the film.
Johnson assured him the Chamber did not supply any funds.
Simon, however, was not alone in his contentions.
When it was his turn to speak, panelist Charles Siegel, head appellate attorney for Waters Kraus & Paul, called the film a “political hit job.”
Siegel added it “would be nice” if filmmakers instead focused on defense attorneys for a change and the companies that hid asbestos dangers from the public.
Other than Lampe’s story, Unsettled had other focuses, delving into:
- The 2014 Garlock Sealing Technologies case, which exposed attorney “double-dipping” in bankruptcy asbestos trusts;
- The Terrell memo, a purported “cheat sheet” revealing how Baron & Budd attorneys coached up clients on how to identify asbestos products and exposures that they might not actually remember and might never have been exposed to in the first place;
- The campaign contributions Democrats receive from trial lawyers; and
- The large cut asbestos attorneys apparently take for themselves, allegedly extracting inflated fees and costs from settlements while simultaneously emptying asbestos trusts.
As the panelist discussion winded down, Johnson said he wanted his film to raise the following question: “At the end of the day, are lawyers taking too much money away from sick people?”
Without receiving much of a response, he asked Simon and Siegel if there was more asbestos attorneys could do to police the “bad actors” and if there was a better way to handle asbestos litigation so more money would go to those truly injured by asbestos products.
Johnson expects his “niche” film to be released sometime in November and hopes to reach law students and law professionals.