Lisa Blue: The Queen of Torts

Texas trial lawyer power couple and former Democracy Alliance members used wealth to push Democrats leftward, protect John Edwards
Blue (Facebook)

Blue (Facebook)

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Editor’s Note: Details of the WFB’s Democracy Alliance exposé can be found here.

The millionaire trial lawyer who helped keep John Edwards’ affair and lovechild with Rielle Hunter under wraps was also a member of the Democracy Alliance, a secretive liberal cash clearinghouse.

Lisa Blue, a millionaire Texas trial lawyer with extensive ties to Washington lobbyists and the Obama administration, joined the group with her husband, the late Fred Baron, according to documents obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

The Barons were drawn to the group by the prospect of pushing the party farther to the left.

“This is the brain trust of the progressive movement,” Blue said. “The goal was to pool your money with like-minded people, so you can accomplish more with your contributions—there’s only so much you can do with your own budget.”

Blue detailed the inner workings of the secretive group during a phone interview with the Free Beacon. She ended her membership following Fred’s death in December 2008, which left her free of the Democracy Alliance’s media embargo.

Blue attended several Alliance conferences to listen to various liberal interest groups, such as the Center for American Progress and Media Matters, pitch future projects.

“We heard a lot of speakers. You had your choice of panels to attend. You were free to explore your interests,” she said. “But Fred was really involved [with the Alliance] … he made the decisions about how the money was spent.”

Blue cut her teeth suing construction and industrial companies for asbestos exposure. The suits earned her and her husband Fred Baron substantial wealth—wealth that found its way into Democratic coffers.

The Barons have donated more than $1.4 million to Democratic candidates and affiliated groups since 1990. Blue continued to pump money into left-wing efforts after Fred Baron’s death in 2008, including a $5,000 donation to President Obama in 2011.

The lucrative donations do not include the couple’s off-the-books assistance to disgraced Presidential candidate John Edwards.

Fred Baron left behind his legal career and his post as president of the powerful Association of Trial Lawyers of America to serve as Edwards’ financial chair during the former North Carolina senator’s 2004 and 2008 White House runs. The couple used its considerable wealth to cover up Edwards’s affair with campaign “videographer” Rielle Hunter. The Barons shelled out $800,000 to keep Hunter out of the spotlight, including money for private jets, shopping sprees, and her move out of North Carolina, according to public reports.

The tale of the Barons’ cold treatment of Edwards’ cancer stricken wife Elizabeth, who died in 2010, represented the height of the dramatic federal case against the disgraced former senator. Elizabeth Edwards’s confidante, former Edwards spokeswoman turned Obama deputy communications dinner Jennifer Palmieri, broke down in tears while testifying that Elizabeth had pleaded with the power couple to stop shielding her husband.

Blue chose politics over her longtime relationship with the dying woman, according to Palmieri.

“Lisa was saying [to Elizabeth] that you’ve got to hold your friends close and your enemies closer,” she said. “Rielle was a loose cannon and we just didn’t know what she would say to the press.”

A jury acquitted Edwards in May. Blue did not take the stand and has avoided the media spotlight since the trial.

Her husband’s death, along with Edward’s exposure, led Blue to withdraw from national politics, including the Alliance.

“The only reason I haven’t gone back since Fred died is because I decided to focus locally,” she said.

Blue has supported troubled politicians at the local level as well as the federal level. She donated $5,000 to Dallas Democratic Commissioner John Wiley Price, who was later arrested by the FBI on allegations of bribery, money laundering, tax evasion, and fraud.

Blue also used her connections at the Alliance to support her late-husband’s local political legacy, the Texas Democratic Trust. That group attempted to rebuild the state party from the ground up over a period of five years, operating along the same lines as Peter Lewis’s advocacy groups in Colorado.

“Fred promised Texas Trust that he would do certain things and that was one of his last wishes,” she said. “He was a man of his word.”

The Trust was able to turn several Lone Star State counties blue, and made steady gains in the state House through the Barons’ financial heft and political connections, according to director Matt Angle.

“She made some sizable contributions to the Trust and got others to follow her,” he said. “We didn’t really do anything of substance with the Democracy Alliance … but some DA members contributed money to us and supported our efforts.”

Blue’s local influence derives from her Dallas mansion—the city’s 14th-largest home—which she has turned into the hub of Texas’ Democratic machine. She rents out the $16 million, 15,000-square-foot mansion and nine-acre estate to host about “35 events a year, many of them Democratic fundraisers,” and uses her connections to celebrities to help increase attendance. ZZ Top performed at her birthday party. Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith is a frequent guest.

She has stepped up those efforts in recent years, a move which required the hiring of a “home administrator” to organize the events with the aid of an independent website, baronhousedallas.com.

“To facilitate the innumerable civic functions they host, the terraces and gardens were planned with large parties in mind, the largest of which are accommodated in canvas tents on the terrace and garden to the west so that guests can enjoy the house on their way to the party without disrupting the order of the interiors,” the website states.

The lush accommodations and lucrative campaign hauls for Democrats have not stopped Blue from decrying the role of money in politics. She supports the Alliance’s decision to anonymously pump tens of millions of dollars into Democratic super PACs—a move she blames on the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn campaign finance limits.

“I think it’s a necessary step. If you don’t have the foundation of the presidency and the Senate, then these other groups are going to fall,” she said. “Citizens United was a terrible decision and it was an issue of buying politicians. It’s a sad state of affairs.”

The Alliance’s guarantee of anonymity allows such wealthy contributors to publicly condemn their own giving habits, said elections expert Jay Cost.

“The Democratic Party cultivates this image as the ‘party of the people,’ but you run into problems when you look at their financial backers and see billionaires like George Soros,” he said. “They are the politics of privilege … so you have organizations like Democracy Alliance and Super PACs to create a smokescreen.”

The source of Blue’s fortune has also attracted scrutiny.

Mr. Baron pioneered asbestos lawsuits, spawning a multi-billion dollar legal industry that earned him the nickname “King of Torts.” His firm pocketed $45 million in 2000 from a $150 million settlement. A leaked memo revealed that the husband-wife duo coached witnesses to develop “false memories” of asbestos handling and instructed older workers to lie about seeing warning labels on materials.

“These witness preparation techniques were also used to steer clients away from identifying products of manufacturers such as Johns-Manville which had entered bankruptcy and were paying only a fraction of the value of claims,” Yeshiva University Law Prof. Lester Brickman wrote in Hofstra Law Review in 2005. “While it is unethical for a lawyer to assist or induce a client or witness to testify falsely or to offer evidence that the lawyer knows to be false, nonetheless, no criminal or disciplinary proceedings ensued.”

Those who have worked with Blue think highly of her work, including Robert Hirschhorn, who coauthored her 2004 book, Blue’s Guide to Jury Selections, and helped acquit William Kennedy Smith of rape charges in 1991.

“Lisa Blue is a beacon of light in a dark and turbulent sea. She is the most kind, genuine and caring person I have ever known. She is as honest as the day is long,” Hirschhorn said.