I am puzzled that a cover story about lawyers would feature a picture of a magazine publisher [June 1996].
JAY L. WESTBROOK
Attorney at Law, Austin
The editors reply: Our publisher is a lawyer.
News From Hell
WHEN I FIRST MET SKIP HOLLANDSWORTH, he admitted to me that he was predisposed to believe that there was nothing to the Lone Star Steel mill toxic tort litigation. After he had written the article [“The Law-suit From Hell,” June 1996], he admitted that his treatment of this case was “superficial.” In reality it is much worse than merely superficial. Like Oliver Stone’s JFK, this diatribe is a well-packaged pseudo-history that sacrifices the truth on the idolic altar of an ideology. Texas Monthly should have titled this manifesto “Mr. Hollandsworth’s Propagandopus.”
We sued a large number of defendants because unlike a car wreck, where a single traumatic event triggers an immediate injury, occupational diseases are caused in most cases by long-term exposure to toxic substances. Over the past fifty years, about 5,000 companies supplied Lone Star Steel with products that one could contend were “potentially toxic substances.” We sued 538. Our clients are not welfare slackers or bums. You can’t be a slacker and work in a steel mill. Our clients are honest, hard-working, God-fearing steelworkers. No, they are not sophisticated. You will not find any of our clients sipping cappuccino with you or Mr. Hollandsworth at a North Dallas cafe. However, if they are still physically able, you will find them in church, at the Little League field, at the VFW hall. In history, demagogues have used anecdotal propaganda to denigrate entire groups of people. History also tells us that that kind of propaganda can have dire consequences. Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s minister of propaganda, masterfully used anecdotes to dehumanize the Jews. Mr. Hollandsworth uses that same technique to belittle and dehumanize my clients. He becomes the judge and jury on the question of whether there is any evidence that the defendants’ products caused my clients’ injury. He begins this analysis with a half-truth: “Although some Lone Star employees were obviously sick, it soon became clear that Nix didn’t yet have a shred of evidence directly linking any of [the plaintiffs’] diseases to any products that had been shipped into the plant.” Occupational disease is never established through direct evidence. In both medical science and the law, the link between exposure to a toxin and disease can only be established by circumstantial evidence. The question is whether there is evidence proving that these corporate defendants were standing over my clients’ warm bodies holding a smoking gun.
So where is the discussion of the evidence? Mr. Hollandsworth fails to discuss any peer-reviewed medical journal article, health care journal article, or government report relating to occupational diseases, asbestosis, silicosis, irritants, or acids. He fails to discuss anything about what the defendants sold, what those products contained, or when they knew their products contained toxic ingredients. He gives a superficial and, in many cases, an inaccurate description of a few of the plaintiffs’ medical conditions. He does not discuss any information contained in the 146 volumes of Lone Star Steel industrial hygiene and environmental records. With an incomplete and inaccurate discussion of the evidence, Mr. Hollandsworth pontificates his expert opinion that there is no evidence. Some case study, huh? Of course, a responsible story would garner Texas Monthly no multipage ads from insurance and cigarette companies. This manifesto was Texas Monthly’s sacrifice to the idol god of the corporate advertising dollar. I could have titled this letter “Why We Hate Journalists: A Case Study in Irresponsible, Demagogic, and Sensational Tabloid Journalism”: However, I will not condemn our free press for the sins of Texas Monthly. That would be demagoguery.
NELSON J. ROACH
Attorney at Law, Daingerfield
WHEN FREEDOM IS TO BE SACKED, the first thing to do is get rid of the lawyers. Potshots at the legal system such as Paul Burka’s piece, “The Tort Tax” [Behind the Lines, June 1996], are nothing new. They are all variations of the invective “kill all the lawyers” uttered by an unsavory Shakespearean revolutionary character in Henry VI, Part II who saw the removal of lawyers as the first step toward achieving a totalitarian regime. Mr. Burka chastises the legal profession for inï¿½icting upon the public such things as safer public swimming pools, oil producers’ accountability to landowners, higher standards of medical practice, and safer products.
Cynical conclusions based on anecdotal behavior in the justice system threaten to undermine the foundation of our democratically inspired form of dispute resolution, the jury trial. No matter how hard lobby groups attempt to dress up the rhetoric that costs are unnecessarily and unfairly heaped upon the business community each year, they cannot escape empirical facts to the contrary. The Rand Institute reported that approximately only 10 percent of personal injury victims’ compensation comes out of the tort system. The total cost of the tort system is less than $1 of value added for most manufacturing firms (even in reputed “high exposure” sectors), and the total liability risk costs for American manufacturers constitutes much less than 1 percent of sales revenue.
Mr. Burka would have Texas again abandon popular election of judges to make them more “powerful.” Broad accountability of the bench to the citizenry is preferable to a judiciary controlled by a closed group of politicians, which includes members of the very profession Mr. Burka rails against—lawyers. Any suggestion that Texas courts are somehow unable to address any legal problems is totally without merit. Our courts traditionally have ranked among the nation’s best. Lawyers’ bar dues already pay for bar disciplinary boards, which include non-lawyers. Procedural rules and statutes provide adequate mechanisms for punishing attorneys and clients who file frivolous lawsuits. One of the unique aspects of the Constitution and Bill of Rights (crafted mostly by lawyers) is the emphasis on equal access to justice. That emphasis