A lot of money has already been put on the line before next month's trial in Waco on the $675 million wrongful-death lawsuit filed by surviving Branch Davidians against the government.
Houston attorney Mike Caddell, the lead plaintiffs attorney, estimates that his involvement in the case has cost him $4 million in time and more than $1 million out of his pocket. Although Jim Brannon, also a Houston attorney, and former U.S. attorney general Ramsey Clark represent clients in the case, it's fallen on Caddell to do the brunt of the plaintiffs' investigation in order to prepare for the June 19 trial.
"We've not gotten a penny from anyone," Caddell said.
Justice Department spokesman Myron Marlin said there's no estimate yet on what it's cost the government to defend itself against the Davidian lawsuit. "I have not come across anyone who indicates they've compiled a dollar amount on the cost at this point," Marlin said. "It is not something we normally do during a civil case."
There's little doubt, however, the government is sparing little expense to defend itself.
During the Mount Carmel re-creation in March at Fort Hood, for example, an FBI jet was dispatched to Florida to pick up lawyers and public relations staff. The government had 21 people in Killeen. Caddell had three. And at the April 24 hearing on Caddell's motion that the government be sanctioned for allegedly tampering with evidence, there were nine government attorneys in Waco.
So far, the government has given Special Counsel John Danforth $10.7 million to investigate the FBI, prompted by the revelation the agency used pyrotechnic tear gas at Mount Carmel. Danforth's budget includes $2.2 million for travel and almost $1 million to lease office space.
Caddell said he knew the Davidian case would be costly to bring to trial. "I'm a believer in put up or shut up," Caddell said. "We were the only ones willing to finance an investigation to get at the truth. When I got into this case, it became apparent that the government is accustomed to bulldozing lawyers pursuing claims against it. They're not accustomed to dealing with people who have the resources we do."
The $675 million amount asked for by the plaintiffs was figured using "an abundance of caution," according to Caddell.
"If you get to the end of the day and you haven't asked for enough, you're stuck," Caddell said. "So what happens is you ask for very large sums that you never expect to get."
Whether such an amount represents justice or justice run amok depends on your perspective, Caddell said.
"In this country, we say if you play basketball and you're Michael Jordan, you're worth $35 million a year," Caddell said. "We routinely pay baseball players $10 million a year. What's the life of a child worth? What should you pay for the pain and suffering of letting a child burn to death?" Caddell declined to reveal his fee in the case.
"I don't think anyone is going to begrudge us our fee," Caddell said. "We will have earned it."
If the plaintiffs should win damages at the upcoming trial, the money will not come specifically from the agencies being sued: the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
Marlin said the government has a fund set aside for judgments against it. "In the unlikely event that the government was found liable, any funds would be paid out of the government judgment fund," Marlin said. "It's used to pay judgments against the government for negligence and wrongdoing."
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