In the Massachusetts Senate race between Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren, Brown has attacked Warren for representing Travelers Insurance in asbestos litigation. Warren has responded with ads in which family-members of people who died from asbestos-related illnesses defend her, asserting that she fought to increase and protect settlement money available to the victims and their families.
What if that wasn't Warren's role? What if she had been hired to simply defend Travelers from asbestos claims, to argue that the claims were excluded by the policies, or that the insured was not liable? Would that mean she is in the pocket of corporations and therefore should not be elected as a Democrat?
Without going into a Democrat/Republican/all politicians are sellouts tirade, no. I spend the first six years of my legal career as an insurance defense attorney, and I still represent insurers both directly and indirectly through subcontract work. There have been times when, given my personal views, I felt somewhat uncomfortable with the cases I was given. A low point came when I represented as insurance defense counsel a used car dealer that was being sued for allegedly charging customers illegal fees. I've represented insured defendants who discovery showed were clearly liable.
In all of my cases, no matter which side I'm on, I zealously represent my clients. Sometimes zealous representation means advising the insurer to settle. Sometimes it means advising the insurer not to settle even though liability is clear, because the plaintiff is asking too much in damages.
There are plaintiffs attorneys who are incompetent and don't give their clients good advice about a case, and there are insurance defense attorneys who are incompetent and don't give their clients good advice about a case. In my experience, those attorneys are relatively rare. Competent representation -- an ability to analyze the law, the facts, and the risks -- on both sides leads to fair outcomes.
I don't know enough about Warren's role in the asbestos litigation to judge it. But I do know that the mere fact that she represented an insurer in asbestos litigation does not, in and of itself, tell us anything about her character or her worthiness to hold office.