WASHINGTON — Senator Elizabeth Warren on Wednesday night released a list of dozens of corporations she assisted during her time as a bankruptcy advocate, a move that attempts to address head-on one of the trickier chapters of her past as she seeks the presidency.
Warren, who rails against big banks and tech companies as a populist candidate for the 2020 Democratic nomination, also spent 20 years occasionally advising, representing, and serving as an expert witness for corporations when she was a professor specializing in bankruptcy law.
Those cases, many of which came up during Warren’s 2012 Massachusetts Senate race, include advising Dow Chemical on the bankruptcy of its subsidiary as it was battling lawsuits from women who received faulty breast implants and representing an aircraft manufacturer that was trying to stay in business after one of its planes crashed.
On the campaign trail, Warren describes herself as a teacher and a law professor, and she jokes that she practiced law for “about 45 minutes” between graduating law school and pursuing a career as a professor. The disclosures could draw new attention to other aspects of her career.
Along with the lengthy disclosure, the campaign argued on Warren’s website that bankruptcy cases are inherently tough and involve competing interests.
“Ultimately, the core challenge of bankruptcy is that it attempts to resolve a situation that involves suffering for everyone involved,” the campaign said in a statement accompanying the full list. “This inevitably pits sympathetic interests against each other – current victims against future victims, employees against retirees, and small suppliers against customers who didn’t get what they were promised. Bankruptcy law is about balancing all of these interests in the fairest way possible.”
The campaign stressed Warren’s work on the cases “help set up trusts and other mechanisms to return $27 billion to victims and their families.”
The issue of Warren’s corporate legal work reared its head during her 2012 race, when Republican Senator Scott Brown highlighted her advocacy for the insurance company Travelers in 2009 and other corporations as an example of hypocrisy from the populist candidate.
Travelers sought permanent immunity from asbestos-related lawsuits by establishing a $500 million trust. Warren was paid $212,000 over three years by Travelers, the nation’s largest insurer, and represented its case all the way to the Supreme Court. After Warren left the case, the company won other lawsuits that allowed it to delay paying out the trust to the victims, an outcome Warren said she did not foresee, the Globe reported in 2012.
The campaign on Wednesday provided names of about 50 cases in which Warren was involved either as counsel, a consultant, an expert witness, a mediator, or the writer of an amicus brief, as well as a summary of each case — some of which left out details unfavorable to Warren. The disclosures do not include the fact that Travelers delayed paying the victims. There also is little detail about another case, which also arose in 2012, in which Warren helped the interests of LTV Steel, which wanted to limit its payments into a fund for miners’ health benefits.
Warren told the Globe in 2012 she was focused in her legal work on ensuring that companies going through bankruptcy could set up trusts to pay out victims. But many companies, like Travelers, would only agree to them if they received protection from future lawsuits.
In 2012, Warren released a list of 10 bankruptcy cases where she served as counsel. The campaign disclosed an additional two cases Wednesday night, as well as dozens of other instances where Warren served as an expert witness, mediator, or adviser.
Some of the legal work the campaign disclosed matches with Warren’s rhetoric on the campaign trail today. As an expert witness, Warren testified against the interests of the tobacco company Philip Morris and large retailer Sears, and on behalf of asbestos victims. She wrote an amicus brief in support of a small real estate company fighting a bank and represented an employee who wanted compensation from Bell Atlantic for a marketing idea he submitted.
But she also aided the interests of the kinds of companies she castigates as beneficiaries of a system that rewards corporate interests at the expense of everyday Americans, including the former directors of an oil company and a multinational bank. According to the campaign’s summaries, she consulted for the attorneys representing Rabobank, a Dutch multinational bank, which was a creditor of Enron as it went through bankruptcy. She consulted for a group of lenders who wanted to trade stock for debt relief for a bankrupt company. These cases did not involve Warren taking the side of a corporation in a dispute with individuals, however, but instead advising companies in disputes with other companies.
“Bankruptcy law is about coming up with the fairest outcome possible in a difficult situation and trying to help individuals and businesses get a fresh start,” the campaign said in its statement.