Martin G. Rubenstein is on “First Off, Let’s Kill All The Lawyers” with David Heffernan
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Welcome back to another episode of First off, let’s kill all the lawyers. I’m David Heffernan, I’ve been practicing personal injury law here in South Florida for nearly three decades. And the thought behind this show is that quoted Shakespeare line from the 15th century, which drew a lot of chuckles when it was issued, still rubs true today, sometimes you bring it up, and people have got their images of lawyers and whatnot. And so, goal here is to talk to Donald has been local lawyers, we’re going to have a little fun today we’re branching out beyond South Florida. But to bring you a fantastic lawyer, a very good friend of mine, and probably just a better human being. But clearly one we’re going to be able to take off the kill list was all when all is said and done. Let me bring in Martin Rubenstein, who is the managing partner of Levy, Balldante Finney & Rubenstein in Philadelphia.
Good morning, great catching up with you, brother, you know that it’s, it’s always fun. So, if this is an excuse to catch up, we’re going to do it. So, let’s talk a little bit about first just out of curiosity, you going to law school? What was behind that? Was this a family thing? Was this something you always wanted to do? What drew you into the law?
So, I actually, I had always thought about the law. I think that my father who passed away last year, had a gift of subtly delivering messages to his kids. And he did that with me. So, I’ll give him a lot of credit for that. And then when I was in high school, I was at best a mediocre student, mainly, I just had an interest in other things. I think we all know about that stage of life. You know, on the preset. I was a senior, and I had a homeroom teacher, which means that’s the person who just makes sure you’re showing up, right? She was cut truthfully, she was kind of a kind of a floozy, everybody knew it, that that’s the way she was. She came up to me one day in class and said, hey, guess what? You’re on my speech and debate team. I said, really, like since when she said, since right now I just looked at your grades, you need it. So, she immediately you know, guilted, me intimidated me. And the first thing that she asked me to do was to write a persuasive paper. This is 1974, okay. And it was about the Arab Israeli conflict. She gave me a book, and she and this is on the heels of the Six Day War from that lady. She gives me a book and she says, and by the way, you know, I’m Jewish, she says, you’ll take the Arab side. And, you know, I really, like what are you kidding me, and she said, in her comment was the other side’s too easy, you’re going to take the Arab side, so kind of forced me to be an advocate for something, maybe I didn’t believe it. And I really felt that was like a major moment for me, like, going through that. And I stayed with her. And I was not a particularly good speaker at that point in my life and she had me going to these speech tournament’s, we’d have to speak for 15 minutes in front of these judges. So it was a wonderful experience, and coupled with my, you know, my father’s not so subtle, you know, suggestions to me, that’s kind of what led to it, I always want to, unlike you, Dave, and I know this about you, because you and I’ve done this together for 17 years, you and I always have tried to help those who need it. Usually, it’s the end, it’s always the individuals, it’s the little guys, and, and taking on the bigger people has always just made it more fun,
hotter percent, and we’re going to leave into that. So. So you’ve been doing that taking on the big guy and representing that individual for close to 40 years in Philadelphia, and Mass Torts and nationwide. So, let’s talk a little bit about your practice. Because I’d like to talk today about mass torts. And I know that’s been a big emphasis, your practice is what draw it got you and I connected. And, and the beauty of that is, you know, you make these relationships through litigation, and then you look at, you know, 17 years or whatever it’s been, you know, still very close friends. As a result of that, so, so let’s go back a little bit, um, mass torts. A lot of people, you know, they think, Oh, well, it’s class action. Well, it’s it’s a separate animal. So what is a mass tort?
So basically, there are many situations that occur, where there’s one particular problem or one particular defect or one particular type of behavior that injures 1000s and 1000s of people. I mean, just for current examples, a medication or a medical device that was just recalled two months ago, made by Philips called the C pap machines. Well, they recalled all these machines dating back 2009 particularly Models because they contain a certain plastic that can be carcinogenic. So, all these people who’ve been using it now we’re now looking at their medical histories and realizing Well, I have some of that is that related? Well, there’s 1000s and 1000s of people who purchased it. So, two things will happen. One is, many of those people will come and hire you or me or lawyers like us. And we represent those people individually. We are part of a mass tort, meaning there may be hundreds of lawyers around the country who represent these people. But each of these people have an individual lawyer. class action, which is also taking place with Phillips is that a group of lawyers will try to take the lead and say, well, there’s a lot of issues that will come up and every single one of these cases, we’re going to take the lead and file a class action and ask the court to say that we can represent everybody in the country. So, there’s somewhat of a conflict there, do these few lawyers get to represent everybody? Or do these other guys like Dave Heffernan and Marty Rubenstein get to represent everybody. And as it works out, there’s usually a combination, we work together, there’s benefits to the class action, and there’s bet and there’s the need for people to be represented individually attained at the supreme court does not like class action settlements, where people have been injured, because they worried that if they approve a class action settlement, and people continue to be injured, or the money will be gone, and later victims whenever we get, you know, never get compensated.
Well, and that’s, that’s one of the criticisms I think that you hear, particularly with class actions. Because so many times there’s class actions that are really lawyer driven. And at the end of the day, what you see is lawyers making a whole bunch of money, and the relief that goes to the quote unquote victims is a coupon or something here. So, you know, one of the things with mass torts and and you’re, you’re generally dealing with pretty significant injuries, okay. And, and you and I went back, and that’s how we met. And there’s a lot that goes on in Philadelphia, because you got a lot of pharmaceutical companies there. So, you got to you got to reach out and connect with a Philadelphia lawyer, which, which we did back then. And so let’s just kind of talk about how that works from the pharmaceutical and how would a mass tort start? And how does that work out where, you know, again, lawyers can level the playing field because of one on one, if we want to take on, you know, a major pharmaceutical company, it’s nearly impossible?
Well, I think you have to start with two pieces. One is financial, the cost of litigating against pharmaceutical companies. And then second are that along with that are the resources to people. So just as an example, the last case that was tried, and I’ll say round up, the legal cost of trying that case was not in the hundreds of 1000s of dollars, it was over a million dollars, right. And, as we both know, personal injury litigation, we represent people who’ve been injured, if it’s a serious case, they’re not working, they may have no income, they may have no assets. You know, though, when people are injured, it can be anybody from any walk of life. So lawyers like you and I, and our firms, we need to we need to finance those cases, we literally need to underwrite the substantial costs of it. Well, no matter how successful you know we are, we’re not going to quite match up with the trillion dollar pharmaceutical company like not we’re on our way but when hundreds of firms around the country a lie together, we share that common expense of putting the case together. And there’s two levels to it. One is fake, you know, when there’s a product that’s been recalled off the market, we still have to prove what’s wrong with that product, the laws in each state are a little different, we have to prove it’s defective either and the way it’s made, the way it’s designed or the warnings about it, so that you know the doctors can’t necessarily prescribe it safely. And then there’s of course, the individuals, each individual has his own his or her own story about how they’ve been injured, what they’ve gone through, and they need individual attention. So, when we combine together, all of a sudden it’s not David and Goliath. You know, it’s the pharmaceutical companies would like you to believe that groups like us are bigger than that, which is a miracle. But um, but it does level it. It we have, we certainly have enough resources and talent around the country. And we work together so that we can put together a very strong case where it where it needs to be, needs to be advanced for these people. And we do it all the time.
And then and that resource. I mean, it’s also not just the financial. But again, the resources because what you’re talking about in pharmaceutical litigation is millions upon millions of pages of documents. And so to be able to create depositories to share paralegals that are reviewing and collating all of that, so that it’s workable for the lawyers is critical as well. I mean, firms have to be able to work together to do this. No
question. One of the interesting things for me, and it’s kind of a good segue for how you and I met, is that in these mass torts, there may be 1000s of claims, I mean, I could rip off some of the drug names and 100,000 90,020 35,000 within that, those 1000s of claims, vetting it down to figure out well, whose case really fits what the problem is, with this drug. A lot of people may take a drug and have a problem. But it might not be the problem. That’s really, the reason for the recall, could be something totally unrelated. But most people might not understand that. But once the lawyers get involved in the case, as we have we, we have to learn the science, we have to learn what really are the criteria to figure out who is most likely to have proof that they used the medication, that they were injured, and by that medication in the way that the problem with the medication likely had caused. So if you don’t mind, I just wanted to digress. But even that confused us. So you know, you look you and I met in the early 2000s. mass tort was the big pharmaceutical, I’m not going to mention a name because I think our settlement was confidential.
I think so too. So, let’s, let’s not breach,
nervous to get sued right now. So, we’ll bring in, you know, trial lawyer from Florida already was handling a case on behalf of this very compelling woman married to a Vietnam War vet, she was in Missouri, in St. Louis. And unfortunately, she had used a cold remedy. And the next morning, that cold remedy, she took it with a coke. And the combination of that cold remedy that had a stimulant in it Plus, the caffeine in her coke had an effect, that she ended up suffering what’s called a hemorrhagic stroke, she had a bleed in her brain, and in her case, caused her to go blind. She was paralyzed on one side of her body. And she suffered some, you know, she suffered some brain injury on top of that. So, it was really a horrendous situation. And Dave was representing her case was perfectly put together. The manufacturer was a Pennsylvania based Corporation, and then other law firm connected, you know, David and I. So that’s how we met, you know, two people from different states never met each other. And then we’re suddenly, intimately involved with this with this woman and her husband. And we both learned a lot about mass tort in that case, because there were 1000s and 1000s of those cases. But the case that was perceived to be one of the strongest in the country was the case Dave, and I was hand were handling. And it was on a fast track in Philadelphia. So, we got that case together. But the big issue is this swimming, Use this medication. And our opening that we were preparing forever was she was sitting in a chair by a window that she could never look through, because of her blindness. And she was listening to a television show with an advertisement about a law firm that was handling these cases. And she realized the medication she taken was upstairs in her bathroom. And a pantry that case like 16 years ago, it’s like it was yesterday. And they produce the evidence today Dave came up to Philadelphia, we met with defense lawyers from all over the country, in litigating the case, client was terrific. Now it’s getting closer and closer to trial. we’re negotiating with defense lawyers. And I’d say it was a good relationship. And then as what sometimes happens in litigation, kind of the boom drops. This woman had banked everything on the fact that she had the medication that she had taken. And his work death and medication when it was tested in terms of the information on the label. That medication was manufactured maybe a year after her injury. So, all of a sudden, now we have this huge credibility issue. You know, well, if she wasn’t telling that she’s not telling the truth is simply a mistake. And I think because of the way Dave and I had worked together and interacted with the defense lawyers, they really could have taken that case to trial and good opportunity for a defense verdict. But rather than do that they were smart enough to say, Well, our bargaining position just improved. But there’s still risks these guys may pull it off. So rather than go to try with us in Philadelphia, which is a good venue for victims in these cases, they did come back with a Under the circumstances, a pretty generous settlement that surprised both of us. And our client was able to move forward. But we learned again, there was a mass tort, there were class actions file, but this was going to be a lead case. And David, I got a chance to work together. You learn a lot about each other, we learned a lot about similarity and values, what what’s important to both of us outside the law, certainly that way, the way we talk about our families and relationships, of course, sports. And we’ve had the, I’ve had the privilege of working with you for the past 16 years. So I’m, and I’m not, we’re not done. We’ve talked about that. Also.
That’s true. We’re not done. And yeah, that was a, you know, you go back and you look, and that’s truly the sort of the highs and lows of litigation and what you go through. But the byproduct of that is such a nice thing. One, yes, jointly, we got a very nice result, all things considered for a client who desperately needed help, but to their relationships. I mean, you know, you get educated on things, and the relationships you create are things that are going to last forever, you know, you’ve been kind enough, you know, you have Florida cases that come down here, you know, somebody is hurt in an auto accident, or else, it’s from Philly, you know, you’re kind enough always to reach out to me. And vice versa, we just have more people come from Philly down here than we have
over a day. So
that’s it. That’s it? Well, we’re trying but let’s shift gears a little bit only because I know it’s something that you’ve become very actively involved in. And I mean, we could, we could talk about a lot of things because I know you did some of the NFL concussion and that’s going on. But tragically, and that it’s elevated to the level of a mass tort is the sexual abuse cases because the curtains just getting peeled back. And, and the horrors of what have occurred over so many, so many years, are now coming forward. And fortunately, there’s lawyers like you, that are helping these victims of sexual abuse that may have occurred a long, long time ago. But that impact on these victims certainly doesn’t go away. So talk a little bit about how that whole arena of sexual assault has now evolved.
So for me, it kind of started this way. a paralegal came into my office, who had a son 10 years old, shut the door, and said, Listen, my son’s on the soccer team. And his coach needs some help. I said, Well, what happened? And he said, Well, his coach is being accused of sexually abusing another player. So I don’t do criminal defense work. But I immediately reached out to somebody I trust up here and got them representation. And then, two weeks later, that same paralegal walked into my office and said, Well, I got some other news. I just learned my son was one of the victims. So the reason I share that is sexual abuse, starts out with people in positions of trust, whether they’re teachers, whether they’re coaches, whether they’re religious, you know, I mean, the Catholic Church has come under a lot of fire, but it’s not limited to the Catholic Church, right? Every religion has their has their piece here. And what’s really most trivially disgusting about it, is that young people who are in need frequently people and families, maybe that are dysfunctional, young person who needs somebody to be that mentor, you know, somebody they can trust is reached out to by somebody who creates that relationship of trust, and then exposes the youngster to physical abuse. Certainly the clergy abuse the stories are just, you can’t even really describe them. In fact, when I bring people into the firm to hire them, and we kind of indoctrinate them as to what they’re going to be talking about. It’s just hard to believe, but the bottom line is that this has been going on for Well, some would argue centuries, but certainly 5060 years and what when I was asked to get involved, I kind of assumed, you know, maybe a couple dozen cases that was a big scandal at Penn State involving a defensive coach who had abused some youngsters from a foundation. But this has been an epidemic that’s almost at the same level as the pharmaceutical. I mean, one of the cases the big one right now is Boy Scouts of America, right 90,000 youngsters through counsel filed claims of the 90,000 at least two thirds have been kind of validated as potentially true. It’s an over you know, six 1000 people, you know, kids, we know how do you even settle cases like that those are cases that get settled for billions of dollars. And when it’s all said and done, they’re still mean, there’s still not going to be enough money to really, individually compensate these people. So, in sexual abuse arena we represent. As an example, we represent hundreds of people in New Jersey, who have been abused by different clergy. And in Pennsylvania, in addition to that we represent, we were asked to represent 3000 individuals who are allegedly physically and sexually abused at a juvenile reform school that was closed. I mean, remember the movie Shawshank Redemption? Sure, this was like a juvenile Shawshank Redemption type situation. So we’re heavily involved in that the same issues come up, we represent a lot of people like you and I started we only represented one person at a time. And we were able to develop relationships with that person that we never forgot, like, the pharmaceutical case we discussed more towards, you know, everybody, but it’s a different relationship is system impossible to cultivate with every single person, the same, you know, depth of that relationship, and you’re worried that this becomes a spreadsheet, eventually, and that these cases only get resolved in a very cold fashion like that, you know, we do our best to individualize it, we put a lot of time into it. We make sure everybody’s, everybody’s story is heard. And one of the most difficult parts, this is learning for me. I’ve been retained in these cases by a former classmate from my law school class, I thought he was only up to refer me yet another case. And there’s that long pause. And then somebody says, well, the clients me.
And then many of these people don’t tell you the whole story. You know, in personal injury cases, the problem reportedly is the victims exaggerate their injuries, right? Next abuse, they don’t tell you the whole story. And you have to keep kind of probing until you finally they finally do it. It’s like this, this space. And it’s very sensitive to touch it. We’ve had people in our office and they, you know, acknowledge what we suspected, we’ve, we’ve now done enough of this where we know when somebody is holding out on us. People feel guilt, one of the people that were presented, I’m not going to I’m not going to identify the sport. But it is I’ll say it see that the NBA Major League Baseball or pro football, it was and is what’s the referee, who was on the field during one of these championships. And his family was very active involved in his in his church, but he wouldn’t even tell me his name, took me five months to get his name, he kept writing, because he wanted to share it. And eventually, you know, he kind of mustered up the courage and comfort to do it. So it’s really kind of consumed us. It’s different than anything we’ve handled. And but it’s got all the features of these other mass torts, where the only way to get it resolved, is to kind of bundle everybody together. And I kind of shared with you before we got on, I’m involved in a case where the attorney who brought me in, this is the other issue. He is hell bent on making the biggest recovery in the history of our country for his clients. I’m not even going to say where this case is. And he’s doing a phenomenal job. Some of the lawyer and he did is phenomenal. I’m not going to talk about it, because some of it’s been in the news. But there’s an ego issue. And his need to have the greatest settlement in the history of our country, I’m concerned may jeopardize the rights and best interests of his clients who have number of those cases have legal defenses that could result in a dismissal. So we have to always be cognizant of what’s in our clients best interest. We want to do our best as we always do, we did it in another case, and we’ve done it You and I have handled a number of cases together. I think because of the first case so you know, family member was pretty seriously injured in Florida. I don’t think twice at a two second thought they will they’ve had friends, I know you’re not only going to be proficient at handling the case. I know that your interests will always be focused on what’s best for that client. And that’s not a gimme in every situation. So no
and it’s it is a problem when a lawyers ego is driving it, and it’s no longer in the best interest of the client because, you know, you’re jeopardizing a lot of things. And we talk about, you know, the sexual assault cases and, and again, it’s something I think it’s just more and more people are starting to come out because they have been quiet for so long, but you’re seeing things like women’s gymnastics, the US women’s gymnastics, you know, being able to testify in Congress, and Those are nauseating stories as to how could that have gone on? And everybody turns such a blind eye but you pegged it. And years ago, I had a case with a police officer in Georgia that was a pedophile in a small little town. But yeah, they target. It was young kids with single moms it was you know, that didn’t have sort of that figure and they create that persona to put themselves in a position of trust, and then abuse it in the worst way possible.
It’s horrible. It’s just, I mean, it’s just the idea of it is just, you know, anybody who’s, who has family or who has friends or who you know, understands children or, and how it affects these people. I mean, the first gentleman I interviewed was a guy about my age and I remember sitting across from him and he told me what had occurred and basically this particular clergy had taken him under his wing and he described his own family situation which is pretty unfortunate. And he really, really admired this gentleman who you know, this clergy would take him under his wing and then at some point when he was about 11, and it’s horrific, you know, all of a sudden, he would touch them kind of outside his clothes and you know, just comfort them and then it moved inside under his pants and then eventually rent to the level of where the clergy masturbate at this 11 year old male and 11 year old boy and I when this gentleman’s now 58 telling me the story he looked at me and said, You know when I trusted him so I was confused, I mean, he wouldn’t be doing anything bad and he said I was 11 years old, I’d never had any type of sexual experience right? This happens and it was with a man you know with a man and then he looked at me and said, and I didn’t know you know, was I supposed to enjoy it? And and if I do, does that mean that I’m but I’m gay. I mean, the confusion from it. Now this particular gentleman was incredibly level headed. And I really admired him for his maturity and the way he discussed it with me, but we have situations that was kind of eye opening about some of the things but we have situations involving just Shawshank Redemption type behavior, right? heatedly by people in the highest levels of different places teachers taking advantage of situations coaches what Michigan State Dr. Nasser and your question How could so many people turn a blind eye to it? Well, that was actually what was done for decades. It’s not going to happen anymore. But that’s what was happening for decades.
Well and that’s certainly one of the reasons that I take great pride I know you take great pride in representing people like this because this is how and you know, we can bash lawyers and first of all we can kill all the lawyers but the reality is lawyers pushing these issues and bringing them to the to the forefront and shining light on this darkness is really what does bring about change and I think we’re seeing it radically now in the arena of sexual assault and murder you and I could talk for hours and hours okay. And we will off of this and catch up again. But certainly, I really appreciate you coming in. We’ve sort of broadened our reach beyond South Florida now. Now we’ve got a lawyer in Philadelphia that we can take off the kill list. Marty it’s been great catching up. And again, Marty Rubenstein managing partner of Levy, while Dante Finney and Rubenstein in Philadelphia, great lawyer, better human being.
I’m proud to be your friend and your colleague, my best to you and whoever’s any of your viewers or listeners and of course to your family.
Thanks, Marty. Same to you and we’ll talk soon. Take all right, that wraps this one up. We’ll be back next week for another episode of First off, let’s kill all the lawyers.