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While teaching, Elizabeth Warren worked on more than 50 legal matters, charging as much as $675 an hour

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 5/23/2019 Elise Viebeck, Annie Linskey
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Sen. Elizabeth Warren worked on more than 50 legal matters during her career as a professor at Ivy League law schools, charging as much as $675 an hour to advise a variety of clients, including people with asbestos disease and a corporation facing possible liability over ruptured breast implants.

Warren’s presidential campaign released a list of 56 cases on her website Wednesday night, revealing a far higher number of cases than Warren (D-Mass.) had previously disclosed and lending detail to an aspect of her career that she rarely discusses in public. The Washington Post had requested a detailed accounting of her outside work and was conducting a review of her work from public records.

When she first ran for the Senate in 2012, Warren came under pressure from her Republican opponent and the news media to discuss her legal work. At the time, she released a list of 13 cases without saying whether it represented a full accounting; at least one other case came to light during the race.

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“Elizabeth was one of the nation’s top experts on how to make sure victims hurt by bankrupt companies eventually got paid,” Warren’s website said Wednesday night. “Throughout her career, she worked to help set up trusts and other mechanisms to return $27 billion to victims and their families.”

In a separate review, The Post found that a wave of Warren’s legal work came in the early 2000s as manufacturing companies whose products contained asbestos were forced into bankruptcy by waves of personal injury claims.

A nationally recognized expert in bankruptcy law, Warren consulted for more than a dozen committees representing claimants and creditors in these cases, often in partnership with the law firm Caplin & Drysdale.

Warren’s $675-per-hour rate of compensation to consult on several asbestos-related cases, described in court documents, was at or below market rate for her level of experience and was less than what some law firm partners charged to work on the same matters.

Outside income has become a campaign issue for candidates such as Warren who have positioned themselves as crusaders for the working class. Tax returns released last month by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a self-described democratic socialist, revealed that he and his wife reported more than $1 million in income in 2016 and 2017, largely as a result of best-selling books.

Warren also worked for corporate clients; she disclosed some of them in 2012. In 1987, she advised the former directors of Getty Oil during Texaco’s bankruptcy. In 2003, she served as an expert witness for the Fuller-Austin Insulation Co. in a case against insurers. In 2005, she provided testimony that bolstered the case of private equity firm Platinum Equity in a contractual dispute.

One of her most controversial clients was Dow Chemical, which she advised in the mid-1990s. A subsidiary that manufactured silicone gel breast implants faced hundreds of thousands of claims from women who said their implants caused health problems. Dow Chemical denied that it played a role in designing or making the implants and sought to avoid liability as its subsidiary, Dow Corning, declared bankruptcy.

“In this case, Elizabeth served as a consultant to ensure adequate compensation for women who claimed injury from silicone breast implants who otherwise might not have received anything when Dow Corning filed for bankruptcy,” Warren’s list of cases said. “Thanks in part to Elizabeth’s efforts, Dow Corning created a $2.35 billion fund to compensate women claiming injury from Dow Corning’s silicone breast implants.”

The Post could not immediately verify this figure.

In the list released by the Warren campaign, most items include a summary in which Warren was cast as saving jobs by representing the interests of a company or advocating on behalf of victims.

For example, Warren’s work on behalf of Fairchild Aircraft, a case that arose after a plane crash in which the manufacturer was not found at fault, was described as protecting “hundreds of jobs.” When she represented the interests of asbestos claimants, her work was described as advocating for victims.

Warren did not release details about her compensation, and that information was scant in court records. Documents reviewed by The Post showed that she made at least $462,322 from her work on 13 cases, although the total for those cases might be much higher. Warren has released only her past 10 years of tax returns, and much of her legal consulting work is not reflected in those documents.

Trustees in several asbestos cases initially objected to or raised questions about her qualifications and proposed hourly rate. In an affidavit replying to one such objection in 2001, Warren defended her expertise.

“I have been working, writing, lecturing, and consulting in the bankruptcy field for twenty-two years,” she wrote. “My fee is commensurate with other professionals of similar experience. I do not share in [law firm] partnership profits.”

At the time, Harvard Law School required faculty members to limit their outside activities to 20 percent of their “total professional effort,” according to guidelines issued by the school in 1991. Missing from the documents released Wednesday was any estimate of how much time she spent on each case.

In her 2001 affidavit, filed in the bankruptcy proceedings of W.R. Grace, a chemical company, Warren wrote that she “sharply limit[s] the time I spend on paid consultation, spending the remainder of my time either on my university work or on uncompensated writing, research, lecturing and various pro bono activities.”

Elizabeth Warren in a blue shirt: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) worked on more than 50 legal matters during her career as a professor at Ivy League law schools, charging as much as $675 an hour to advise a variety of clients. © Michael Wyke/AP Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) worked on more than 50 legal matters during her career as a professor at Ivy League law schools, charging as much as $675 an hour to advise a variety of clients. Tax returns available from the years before Warren became a senator show that over five years, she made a total of $753,929 on outside activities, which she described on Internal Revenue Service forms as “consulting, lecturing, writing, investing.” This income included book royalties and consulting for clients such as Travelers Indemnity and the Fuller-Austin Asbestos Settlement Trust.

At $846,394, Warren’s adjusted gross income for 2018 was the second-highest of the 11 presidential candidates who have released tax returns, according to an analysis this month by the New York Times. Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) had the highest income, at $1,889,156. Sanders, who came in third after Warren, made $561,293.

Warren’s roles in these cases varied. At times, she served as an expert witness or filed briefs; at other times, she advised fellow lawyers or represented clients directly. She worked in more than 20 courts, including the Supreme Court, where she handled at least eight cases.

The asbestos cases included work on behalf of Travelers Insurance. In that case, which the Boston Globe first reported on in May 2012, Warren helped the company gain immunity from asbestos litigation by forming a $500 million trust for current and future victims. But after she was no longer involved with the litigation, Travelers was able to preserve its immunity but avoid paying the $500 million, an outcome that Warren told the Globe she hadn’t foreseen.

Another case, this one on behalf of LTV Steel, put Warren at odds with Richard Trumka, who was then the president of the United Mine Workers and is now president of the AFL-CIO.

In that instance, Warren argued in a 1990s document to the Supreme Court to help LTV battle a new law that required it to put aside millions of dollars to fund health care for retired coal miners, according to the Globe. Warren maintained that she was supporting an important legal principle that would help workers receive aid sooner.

In testimony before Congress, Trumka argued that there shouldn’t be an exception to the rule. “When it unravels, you will have roughly 200,000 miners and beneficiaries out there that will lose their health care,” he told Congress. Trumka didn’t appear to hold a grudge, and subsequently campaigned for Warren’s 2012 Senate bid.

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