Commentary | US Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren, who is still in hot water for making unproven claims about Native American heritage for career advancement, may never have obtained a license to practice law in the state of Massachusetts where she lives and works. And despite claiming to be a consumer advocate, Warren has a history of defending “evil” corporations in court.
Warren is a Democrat running against Scott Brown, the incumbent Republican who won the Massachusetts US Senate seat in an upset victory in the 2010 special election. The two candidates, both of whom are lawyers, meet tonight in their second debate.
As The Wall Street Journal notes, “Everyone has to make a living, but Ms. Warren’s legal moonlighting does raise a question or two about her posture as the tribune of the powerless little guy.”
In contrast to Warren, Sen. Brown — a former little-known state senator — worked his way up from a very modest, difficult background without any special privileges and apparently never gamed the system. In addition, Sen. Brown has a bipartisan voting record in the Senate (i.e, voting with his fellow Republicans some of the time and voting with the Democrats at other times), while Warren will be a rubber stamp for Harry Reid and Barack Obama (if he is re-elected).
Prof. William Jacobson of Legal Insurrection.com has thoroughly investigated the status of Elizabeth Warren’s law license problem. There are a lot of technicalities involved but, in summary, it appears that, since the late 1990s, Warren used her Harvard Law School office in Cambridge, Mass., as her “law office” without being licensed to practice in Massachusetts. Although an out-of-state lawyer can get temporary permission to participate in a federal trial in another state if sponsored by a local attorney, it would be improper to run a regular law practice from the lawyer’s own physical state of residence or employment without obtaining a license in that state. In general — and, again, requirements may vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction — getting licensed in a new state usually means sitting for the bar exam all over again and/or complying with any other procedures that may apply.
There is no requirement for a law professor, however, to obtain a law license in the state where he or she teaches. In fact, much of the criticism leveled about how law school operates includes that most law professors have little or no practical, non-academic legal experience anywhere. That being said, actually practicing law on the side is an entirely different matter.
As Prof. Jacobson writes on his blog:
“The public has a right to assess whether Warren has failed to comply with the most basic requirement imposed on others, the need to become a member of the Bar of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in order to practice law in and from Massachusetts.”
Apparently, there are also questions being raised about the status of her law licenses in Texas and New Jersey.
Moreover, it turns out that Warren represented Travelers Insurance Co. against victims of asbestos poisoning and earned six figures for doing go. The Boston Globe, which is a Warren-friendly newspaper, has more:
“The case – Travelers v. Bailey – was remarkable in many respects. It was sprawling and complicated, involving dozens of lawyers, thousands of asbestos victims, and nearly three decades of court battles that still have not ended.”
“It was also notable because Warren, who has gained fame for defending consumers against big business, was in this case working on behalf of a big business. For her contribution, Warren was paid $212,000 over three years by Travelers, the nation’s largest insurer.”
The Globe also wondered about her list of clients:
“The extent of her legal practice, and the clients she has represented, is unclear.”
“Her campaign would not release a full list of cases she has been involved in. And, while some representation appears in scattered court records, much of her consulting can be done without placing her name on dockets as an attorney of record.”
Warren had other corporate clients. For example, the WSJ notes that Warren represented LTV Steel in a case in which she tried to help the corporation “dump health benefits for tens of thousands of retired coal miners.”
TheWSJ editorial adds:
“We don’t begrudge Ms. Warren’s handsome earnings or her stands on legal principle, even if those principles do happen to underscore the complex nature of both the law and modern economy. But when she talks about ‘the millionaires and billionaires’ who supposedly “wrecked our economy” and ‘still strut around Congress, no shame, demanding favors, and acting like we should thank them’—as she put it at the Charlotte convention—perhaps she ought to recall her own legal strutting.”
“By the way, Harvard requires its professors to report any extracurricular consulting activities, but Ms. Warren is refusing to disclose this list so voters can decide for themselves if she’s really a handmaid to the plutocrats disguised as Robin Hood through November 6.”
The US Senate previously refused to confirm Warren to head the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an agency she helped create. Here is Boston Herald columnist Howie Carr’s take on the new government watchdog group:
“The CFPB budget is $447 million; about 60 percent of the 958 employees make over $100,000 a year; the director’s secretary gets $165,139; they print documents in 187 languages … this is [Warren's] greatest achievement, another out-of-control, do-nothing bureaucracy full of otherwise unemployable lawyers. And you can bet it’ll protect consumers just about as effectively as the SEC shielded investors from Bernie Madoff over the decades.”
Watch Sen. Brown bring up Elizabeth Warren’s legal representation of the Travelers Insurance Co. in last Thursday’s debate:
Watch Scott Brown’s newest ad on the Elizabeth Warren Native American heritage controversy:
Do you think it is consistent for a so-called consumer advocate to be running up big legal fees representing corporations against consumers?