Delaware deja vu

The Madison County Record Apr. 8, 2007, 8:00am

Asian carp don't play well with others. Let them in your lake and they'll eat everything, suffocate the plant life and mega-multiply.

We're reminded of the looming threat posed by self-indulgent carp-- the Great Lakes are obsessed with keeping them out-- whenever taking in the latest travails of East Alton law firm SimmonsCooper, which has recently slithered its asbestos act from Edwardsville to Wilmington, Delaware.

As our Steve Korris reported this week, thanks to SimmonsCooper and its Dallas-based sidekick Baron & Budd, the New Castle County Court there has seen 413 asbestos lawsuits filed over the past 22 months, all charging corporations with exposing workers to the once-legal mineral.

That's a far cry from the thousands inundating Madison County during its heyday, but just give them time.

"This is not something that we would assert is a wave, a tidal wave that is waiting to overwhelm these courts," explained SimmonsCooper's Wilmington co-counsel Connor Bifferato, doth protesting too much last week with dollar signs in his eyes.

Bifferato plays mouthpiece because he sees the magic in SimmonsCooper, which is less an actual law firm than it is an asbestos-filing lawsuit machine. It finds plaintiffs from all over the country via traditional marketing practices-- like late-night TV ads-- promising quick-and-easy riches if you call now for a "consultation." All one has to do is prove they worked at a place where asbestos was present and they qualify. No live malady or looming sickness required.

This is because in the perfect world of SimmonsCooper, no judge or defense lawyer will ever happen to ask. The sheer number of lawsuits filed are intended to overwhelm the defendants they're targeting-- in this case, U.S. automakers like General Motors and Ford that never made asbestos (obviously) but lawfully used it to fire-retard parts like brakes. The infinite risk wrought by hundreds of actual trials drives them to settle them all. The cases go away and SimmonsCooper (and Bifferato) start counting their money.

That is, so long as the judge is willing to play co-conspirator and allow it.

He was in Madison County, empowering a group of unremarkable law school graduates to hijack our courts and spin a suspect asbestos story into unimaginable personal gold. Will Delaware find such infamy next?

Hey First Staters, don't say we didn't warn you.

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