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November 13, 2008

In Memoriam: Fred Baron, 1947–2008

Photo of Fred Baron
Frederick M. Baron, ’71

“Blessed with the charisma and eloquence of a great trial lawyer, Fred also had a professor’s mastery and love of legal doctrine. He loved a good argument and was stunningly persuasive. I enjoyed every substantive conversation I had with Fred, and took away from each a different view of some aspect of the law or life.”
—Professor Lynn A. Baker, University of Texas School of Law
“When some lawyers attempted to resolve all asbestos liability through a one-size-fits-all class action settlement in the early 1990’s, judges, academics, and the bar seemed to universally support it, and I was ready to throw in the towel myself. But Fred said … it provided an opportunity to expose the unfairness of allowing such a procedure to resolve liability. And he managed to turn academic opinion against the settlement, and ultimately, after a three-year battle, got it reversed in the United States Supreme Court.”
—Brent Rosenthal, ’80, Baron and Budd, P.C.

Fred Baron, a pioneer in mass tort litigation, a major Democratic fundraiser, and a member of the Law School’s class of 1971, died October 30, 2008 from multiple myeloma (cancer of the bone marrow) at his home in Dallas. He was sixty-one years old.

Baron began his career in toxic tort litigation as a young lawyer at Dallas-based Mullinax, Wells, Mauzy & Collins in 1974 when he won a large settlement for workers exposed to asbestos at an East Texas insulation factory by suing the manufacturers and suppliers of asbestos to the plant. The settlement was the first of many Baron would win representing people harmed by exposure to toxic and carcinogenic substances, most with the firm he founded in 1977, currently known as Baron & Budd.

Assessing his legal legacy, Lynn A. Baker, holder of the Frederick M. Baron Chair in Law at the Law School, said “Fred was a pioneer in mass tort litigation, who simultaneously cared greatly about the welfare of each individual client. He also cared profoundly about the law and its development. He was extremely proud of the role he played in the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions in Amchem Products v. Windsor, 521 U.S. 591 (1997), and in Ortiz v. Fibreboard Corp., 527 U.S. 815 (1999). He led the efforts, culminating in those decisions, to ensure that the rights of ‘future claimants’ in asbestos litigation would not be compromised by class action settlements in which they had not been adequately represented.”

Baron was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and moved to Smithville, Texas, as a teenager. After graduating from the University of Texas in 1968, he entered the Law School, serving as editor of the Texas Law Review from 1969 until his graduation. Baron and Budd grew rapidly by specializing in asbestos litigation and eventually broadened its practice to represent plaintiffs in a variety of toxic tort cases as well as in securities fraud cases, class actions, and commercial litigation. Among others, Baron won settlements for West Dallas children allegedly exposed to lead emissions from nearby smelters; residents of a Tucson, Arizona, neighborhood who may have been exposed to the carcinogen TCE in their drinking water; and people in Western Pennsylvania who may have been exposed to radioactive emissions from a nuclear power plant.

An active supporter of Democratic Party candidates and causes, Baron left the firm he founded in 2003 to devote himself to politics and charitable efforts. He served as campaign finance chair for former North Carolina Senator John Edwards’s presidential campaign and was a supporter of and fundraiser for the campaign of President-elect Barack Obama. He also supported former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, ’79, in his unsuccessful 2002 U.S. senatorial campaign.

Baron’s legacy of public interest litigation and pro bono work lives on at the Law School in the Baron and Budd Public Interest scholarships. Administered by the William Wayne Justice Center for Public Interest Law, the scholarships offer financial support to law students who commit to working 300 pro bono hours for nonprofit organizations that provide legal services to underserved people and communities.

According to Brent Rosenthal, ’80, a friend and colleague of Baron’s at Baron and Budd, “Fred was extremely dedicated to his Law School. He maintained good relations with everybody there and encouraged us to do the same.” Baker called him “a model alumnus. Whether serving as a Law School Trustee, speaking to our students about careers in public interest organizations, or funding the Baron & Budd Public Interest Fellowships, Fred generously shared himself and his resources with the Law School.”

Baron served as president of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America (now known as the American Association of Justice) in 2000. He helped found public interest law firm Trial Lawyers for Public Justice (now known as Public Justice) in 1983. Baron and his wife, Lisa Blue, were founders and board members of the Baron & Blue Foundation, which gives grants to nonprofit organizations serving poor and homeless people in Dallas. He is survived by his wife and five children.

Dean Larry Sager sums all of this up: “Fred Baron is one of our heroes. Our community of ideas and constructive projects greatly benefitted from his membership, and he will not be forgotten.”

Contact: Kirston Fortune, UT Law Communications Office, (512) 471-7330, or kfortune@law.utexas.edu