Biden & Partners

The trial bar’s strategy has been to overwhelm Delaware’s once-sensible legal system, taking advantage of rules that pressure companies to settle. In the 22 months following SimmonsCooper’s first asbestos filing in Delaware, the state was hit with 412 suits, primarily from SimmonsCooper and fellow asbestos giant Baron & Budd.

According to the Madison County Record — a legal journal that has doggedly followed this story — clerks in Wilmington were “working nights and weekends to keep up” with the filings. The trial lawyers drew sympathetic judges that have already overseen big verdicts against defendants, primarily Detroit auto makers. Plaintiffs have obtained certain procedures that raise the costs of defense, and restrict defendants’ ability to take discovery.

To keep the jackpots coming, the tort bar has focused on reshaping Delaware’s political and judicial landscape. SimmonsCooper knows all about this, having spent a fortune on judicial and county board elections in Madison County. The trial bar poured money into the 2004 re-election campaign of Democratic Governor Ruth Ann Minner, who happens to control judicial appointments in Delaware. Some 24 national asbestos and plaintiffs attorneys — including Dickie Scruggs, since convicted of bribery — contributed the legal maximum in the run-up to Ms. Minner’s victory. SimmonsCooper has also contributed nearly $35,000 to Jack Markell, the Democrat running to replace Ms. Minner this fall.

Also up for special attention was Beau Biden, son of Senator Biden. SimmonsCooper needed a local firm to file its Delaware suits, and it settled on Bifferato, Gentilotti and Biden, where Beau was a partner. This gave young Beau a share of the firm’s asbestos winnings. Beau Biden was also widely known to have political ambitions, and SimmonsCooper donated $35,000 to help Beau get elected state attorney general in 2006. Meanwhile, SimmonsCooper employees have funneled $200,000 in campaign donations to the senior Biden.

“Delaware is fast becoming asbestos lawsuit central,” says Steve Hantler, president of the American Justice Partnership Foundation, and a former Chrysler assistant general counsel. “A tsunami of lawsuits being filed by the SimmonsCooper firm, along with the flow of campaign dollars to Delaware politicians is quite the troubling coincidence.”