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Frederick M. “Fred” Baron, a plaintiff’s lawyer who amassed a fortune that he used to rejuvenate the Democratic Party in Texas, died Thursday afternoon of complications from cancer.
Mr. Baron, 61, catapulted into the national political limelight in August, when it was revealed he had paid to move a woman who had had an affair with former presidential hopeful Sen. John Edwards. Mr. Baron, who had been Mr. Edwards’ top fundraiser, said at the time that he did it only to help the woman.
In his last battle with a corporation, Mr. Baron got permission to use the drug Tysabri in an experimental treatment to try to save his life. His doctors at Mayo Clinic worked with the Federal Drug Administration to find a legal basis for using 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 of the drug — approved to treat multiple sclerosis and Crohn’s disease — might jeopardize it future use in chemotherapy.
Mr. Baron’s son, Andrew, detailed his father’s fight to get Tysabri in letters posted on his personal blog. That lobbying effort was joined by a host of prominent backers, including Lance Armstrong, the bicyclist and cancer survivor; Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton; Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass; and Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., who has brain cancer.
Mr. Baron was known in legal circles as the “King of the Toxic Torts” for his success in representing thousands of people injured by toxic substances, beginning with asbestos.
Selected as one of the nation’s 100 most influential lawyers in 2000 and 2006, Mr. Baron had become more widely known as a Democratic fundraiser and donor, having given nearly $3.5 million to the party.
Mr. Baron, who was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, moved to Smithville, Texas, with his mother, when he was 15. He was educated at the University of Texas at Austin, where he received a bachelor’s degree 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 that government could not.
In 1977, after winning his first asbestos case, Mr. Baron founded his Dallas firm, Baron & Budd, with his wife, Lisa Blue.
He was highly successful litigating for plaintiffs injured by substances including asbestos, pesticides and lead. But he was criticized for operating a legal assembly line, and his detractors charged that he coached witnesses how to testify.
In 2002, he became president of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America. He sold his firm and moved to Washington D.C.
In 2003, Mr. Baron stopped practicing law and became the lead fundraiser for Sen. Edwards. The next year, he headed the Kerry-Edwards general election finance team.
In 2005, Mr. Baron established the Texas Democratic Trust, to booster the party on the verge of extinction as a state-wide political factor.
Mr. Baron’s political fundraising efforts are said to have been a major factor in the Democratic Party’s Dallas County sweep in the 2006 off-year election.
Mr. Baron lived in Dallas with his wife and three young children.