Juries: 'Democracy in Action': The Civil Jury System, John Edwards Argues, Is Good for America. He Ought to Know. A Veteran Trial Lawyer on a Case That Confirmed His Belief in the True Meaning of Justice

By Edwards, John | Newsweek, December 15, 2003 | Go to article overview

Juries: 'Democracy in Action': The Civil Jury System, John Edwards Argues, Is Good for America. He Ought to Know. A Veteran Trial Lawyer on a Case That Confirmed His Belief in the True Meaning of Justice


Edwards, John, Newsweek


Byline: Sen. John Edwards

I'll never forget the first time I met Jennifer Campbell. A charming, determined 5-year-old, she couldn't walk or feed herself, and still needed a playpen. Because of a doctor's terrible mistake, she was born with permanent brain damage. I met her loving, determined parents, who were hoping for a way to help pay for her costly care, and to make sure other families wouldn't suffer as they had. Back then, in 1985, I was a young North Carolina lawyer starting to build a name as someone willing to take cases others rejected as long shots. This case was exactly that. The insurance companies were skilled at making cases like this "go away." The Campbells had no money, and the trial would be long, complicated and expensive. If we lost, neither the Campbells nor I would receive a dime.

But there was no question that these were risks worth taking for Jennifer. The other side was counting on the Campbells to walk away intimidated, but they were wrong. A jury eventually agreed, and awarded the Campbells enough to make sure Jennifer's parents would never have to worry about her care.

These days it's fashionable for people to complain that the courts are clogged with frivolous lawsuits, and to dismiss the legal profession as a bastion of greed. In a nation as large as ours, it isn't difficult to find an outrageous case here and there. They draw publicity, and it's easy to come away with the impression that the court system is hopelessly broken.

I can tell you from long experience that it is not. Before I was elected to the United States Senate, I spent nearly two decades as a lawyer standing up for people who needed a voice. During that time, I worked on hundreds of cases, big and small. I'm proud of the work I did, and the people I represented. There was nothing frivolous about the families who came to me for help. Like the Campbells, many were in very difficult places in their lives. Often, they found themselves up against powerful opposition--insurance companies, large corporations--who had armies of lawyers to represent them. …

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