...The defining case in Edwards' legal career wrapped up that same year. In 1993, a five-year-old girl named Valerie Lakey had been playing in a Wake County, N.C., wading pool when she became caught in an uncovered drain so forcefully that the suction pulled out most of her intestines. She survived but for the rest of her life will need to be hooked up to feeding tubes for 12 hours each night. Edwards filed suit on the Lakeys' behalf against Sta-Rite Industries, the Wisconsin corporation that manufactured the drain. Attorneys describe his handling of the case as a virtuoso example of a trial layer bringing a negligent corporation to heel. Sta-Rite offered the Lakeys $100,000 to settle the case. Edwards passed. Before trial, he discovered that 12 other children had suffered similar injuries from Sta-Rite drains. The company raised its offer to $1.25 million. Two weeks into the trial, they upped the figure to $8.5 million. Edwards declined the offer and asked for their insurance policy limit of $22.5 million. The day before the trial resumed from Christmas break, Sta-Rite countered with $17.5 million. Again, Edwards said no. On January 10, 1997, lawyers from across the state packed the courtroom to hear Edwards' closing argument, "the most impressive legal performance I have ever seen," recalls Dayton. Three days later, the jury found Sta-Rite guilty and liable for $25 million in economic damages (by state law, punitive damages could have tripled that amount). The company immediately settled for $25 million, the largest verdict in state history. For their part, Edwards and Kirby earned the Association of Trial Lawyers of America's national award for public service. ...
The article goes on to say that when he practiced law, jurors would often ask Edwards for his card after they'd heard him argue a case. Companies would consider settling when his name was brought up. Further, that he was in such high demand, he couldn't take all the case requests brought to him. Sidney Blumenthal writes about Edwards' advantages as a candidate, and brings up a quote from another of Edwards' trials:
...In one of his cases, involving a girl left brain-damaged by hospital neglect, Edwards told the jury: "She speaks to you. But now she speaks to you not through a fetal heart monitor strip; she speaks to you through me." The tradition for which Edwards now takes his stand is as open to demagogues as to statesmen, but in the mouth of a statesman it can undo a demagogue.
We can be proud, and relieved, that someone so persuasive and conscientious is on our side. But the words of Lila Lipscomb, whose response to losing her son in Iraq was featured prominently in Fahrenheit 9/11, are important to keep in mind:
...With this in mind, she intends to hold off deciding who to vote for (she knows who she isn't voting for) until she has sussed out John Edwards, the running mate announced this week by Democrat candidate John Kerry. "I really don't know anything about this man. I'm not going to listen to what the TV says; I'm not going to listen to what the radio says. I have to find a way for him to answer my questions, either by sitting down with him, or by being at one of his rallies. That's how serious this is to me. I'm not playing."
I think John Edwards will stand up well to scrutiny, but it's the scrutiny that's important. If more voters took the time to meet candidates for office, ask questions of their representatives, and become familiar with the issues, we'd end up with more people like Edwards in office. And when they got there, they'd get more reminders of what they were put there to do. It's a two-way street.
Good candidates can only win if people decide to get involved and pay attention. And they can only do good work in office if their constituents let them know they'll be supported in it.