Texas Democratic Trust

In memory and appreciation of a wonderful man and our great friend

Fred Baron

Texas lawyer Frederick M. 'Fred' Baron dies at 61

The Dallas Morning News
October 31, 2008

By JOE SIMNACHER

Frederick M. "Fred" Baron, the plaintiff's lawyer who amassed a fortune that he used to rejuvenate the Democratic Party in Texas, died Thursday at his Dallas home of complications of cancer. He was 61.

Mr. Baron became known as the King of Torts for his more than 30 years of successfully representing clients injured by toxic substances, beginning with a 1977 asbestos case.

"Fred is a guy who changed the world, cared about helping people and wasn't in it for himself," said Marc Stanley, a longtime friend and chairman of the National Jewish Democratic Council.

Mr. Baron "loved anything where he felt he was helping people," said his wife, Lisa Blue-Baron of Dallas. "His whole thing was trying to make things better for other people."

Mr. Baron's desire to help people fired his passion for the law and politics, Ms. Blue-Baron said.

Mr. Baron was especially well respected in Texas political circles.

Texas Democratic Chairman Boyd Richie said Mr. Baron was a true champion of the people.

"A fierce advocate for those who believed they had no voice, Fred made it his life mission to protect and defend those who needed the most help," he said.

Former U.S. Rep. Martin Frost called Mr. Baron a great man.

"He was generous and believed in the Democratic Party," Mr. Frost said. "He believed that people should have an opportunity in life. He single-handedly started to change the political face of Texas."

Mr. Baron became a national pioneer in asbestos litigation, founding his own law firm to pursue a case that his employer rejected.

"Fred left with the case, because he thought he'd be able to prosecute a case like that," Mr. Stanley said.

Mr. Baron built a lucrative practice and shared his financial success with a host of causes from the arts to the Texas Democratic Trust, which he founded in September 2005.

"The party was literally broke," Mr. Stanley said. "There was no energy, there were no funds. Fred enabled a structure to be rebuilt to support and elect Democratic candidates in Texas."

Many credit Mr. Baron's trust with giving Dallas County Democrats the wherewithal that led to their success in the November 2006 election.

"He contributed not only his money, but his time and his vision," Mr. Stanley said.

Mr. Baron's philanthropic efforts weren't limited to the political arena.

The first floor of the Baron home was devoted to public charity.

"His house was open to any organization that wanted an event there," Mr. Stanley said. The home was used for fundraisers for all kinds of Dallas religious, cultural and social justice organizations, Mr. Stanley said.

Mr. Baron was especially proud of the Baron & Blue Foundation, which is dedicated to eliminating homelessness and improving low-cost housing in the Dallas area, his wife said.

"I don't remember ... [the Barons] ever saying no to any request," Mr. Stanley said. "He was just so generous and open."

National spotlight

Mr. Baron was catapulted into the national political limelight twice this fall, first when it was revealed that he had paid to move the woman who had an affair with former presidential hopeful John Edwards. Mr. Baron had been Mr. Edwards' top fundraiser.

Earlier this month, Mr. Baron was granted FDA approval for an experimental treatment in a last-ditch effort to save his life.

In his last battle with a corporation, Mr. Baron sought permission for doctors at the Mayo Clinic to use the drug Tysabri to treat his final-stage multiple myeloma, a cancer of the bone marrow.

The drug company, Biogen Idec Inc., argued that the experimental use might jeopardize the drug – approved to treat multiple sclerosis and Crohn's disease – for future use in chemotherapy.

Mr. Baron had a host of prominent backers in his quest for his experimental treatment, including seven-time Tour de France champion and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong.

Mr. Baron, who was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, moved to Smithville, Texas, with his mother, when he was 15 years old.

Legal career

He was educated at the University of Texas at Austin, where he earned a bachelor's degree in 1968 and a doctor of law degree in 1971.

Mr. Baron said a 1970 Ralph Nader speech in Austin influenced him to use the law to regulate business conduct in ways the government could not.

In 1977, Mr. Baron founded his Dallas firm, Baron & Associates, which became Baron & Budd, where he later was joined by his wife.

Mr. Baron was highly successful litigating for plaintiffs injured by substances including asbestos, pesticides and lead.

Late in his career, he had been criticized for operating a legal assembly line. His detractors charged that he coached witness testimony.

"I've always thought that that was a rogue paralegal," Mr. Stanley said. "I know that Fred didn't treat his clients like a factory. He cared very deeply about each and every one of them."

Mr. Stanley cited Mr. Baron's last case – a toxic land settlement for a Pennsylvania client – that he took a deposition for last month in Washington, D.C.

"He was talking personally about how this would affect the lives of the clients," Mr. Stanley said. "You could see the passion in his eyes and hear it in his voice that he felt for his client.

"He was very excited about it, it was his last case. He felt like he had really helped his clients and pretty much demolished the other side's expert."

Mr. Baron's professional recognition included election as president of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America in 2002. He sold his firm and moved to Washington, D.C., while heading the association.

Mr. Baron had worked closely with national political figures. He had been a longtime supporter and friend of former President Bill Clinton.

In 2003, Mr. Baron all but stopped practicing law and became the lead fundraiser for Mr. Edwards. The next year, he headed the Kerry-Edwards general election finance team. He was the head of Mr. Edwards' 2008 presidential bid.

Services will be at 4 p.m. Monday at Sparkman/Hillcrest Funeral Home. He will be buried in Hillcrest Memorial Park.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Baron is survived by two adult children, a son, Andrew Baron, and a daughter, Courtney Baron, both of New York; and three young children, Alessandra Baron , Nathalie Baron and Caroline Baron.

The family asked that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Texas Democratic Trust at www.texasdemocratictrust.com or the Lance Armstrong Foundation at www.livestrong.org.

Staff writer Jeffrey Weiss contributed to this report.

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