Lisa Blue Baron: The Irrepressible Widow
The late Fred Baron's wife on John Edwards, asbestos litigation, and learning to dance.
Dallas’ most well-known female attorney didn’t start out practicing law. Lisa Blue Baron began her professional life as a teacher and counseling psychologist. The latter led to work as a jury consultant and forensic psychologist, which, in turn, prompted her to go to law school. She graduated from South Texas College of Law in Houston in 1980. That same year, she married Fred Baron, a founder of the Baron & Budd law firm who was making his mark representing plaintiffs in asbestos litigation. Blue cut her courtroom teeth as an assistant district attorney in Dallas, prosecuting 125 criminal trials, before joining her husband’s firm in 1985. Together, the husband-and-wife team made a fortune trying toxic tort and asbestos suits on a contingency basis.
Their lives changed when Baron was diagnosed with cancer in 2002. He turned his sights toward politics, while Blue, in her 50s, decide d she wanted children. They sold their equity interest in Baron & Budd, and Baron became campaign finance chairman for his friend John Edwards’ presidential bids. Blue continued to practice law and work as a jury consultant, while caring for their three daughters, born via two surrogate mothers.
Then the news broke that Edwards had had an affair—and a child—with Rielle Hunter, a videographer once employed by his campaign. Baron was swept into the controversy because he had helped Hunter relocate from North Carolina. He died a few months later, in October 2008, as the investigation into the use of campaign funds was unfolding.
Q: What cases are you working on?
A: I’ll do any type of case that a trial lawyer can try in front of a jury. I’m a sole practitioner with my own firm, Baron and Blue, and I don’t have any associates, so if I get a case I love, I’ll do it as a joint venture with a firm that can provide the resources. I’ve done business litigation cases, and I recently was involved in the Hunt-Hill estate case, which settled, and also the SMU Bush Library litigation.
Q: How has the legal system changed since you tried the asbestos cases?
A: My fear is that the jury trial is vanishing and being replaced with arbitration. The trial lawyer of yesterday is becoming a lost art.
Q: Do you still work as a jury consultant?
A: My last case as a jury consultant was working for Steve Susman, who represented Frank McCourt, the L.A. Dodgers owner, in his divorce case. Working with Susman was like watching a famous painter working—pure pleasure.
Q: You had three children in your 50s, right before your husband died. (Baron is the father and an egg donor is the biological mother.) What led to that decision?
A: I decided to have kids when I discovered Fred had terminal cancer in 2002. It was the best decision ever for me. I’m blessed because I have a house full of women, and my three kids are surrounded by people who love them. Alessandra is 4, and the twins, Nathalie and Caroline, are 2.
Q: I read that the twins are legally blind. Is that true?
A: When the twins were born, we thought they were legally blind. They have hypoplasia of the optic nerve. We are not sure yet if their sight is impaired, but so far there is nothing they can’t do, and I think they are going to be just fine.
Q: How do you balance your practice with the girls?
A: A typical day is always breakfast and dinner with the kids. What happens in the “between” hours changes every day depending on whether I am in court. Always 7 pm is TV/book time. I’m asleep at 8 pm and up every morning at 2 am, either working or exercising.
Q: You get only six hours of sleep a night?
A: On a good day. I really need more, but no matter what time I go to bed, I always wake up between 2 and 3 am. I always had sleep issues, but it has gotten worse since Fred died.
Q: What, if anything, has helped you with the grieving process?
A: Every day I think of the three life lessons he taught me: never make an enemy. There is never a reason to be ugly or mean. When you have an opportunity to help someone, grab it.
Q: As recently as January, you were still dealing with the John Edwards controversy in front of a grand jury. What has that experience been like?
A: The John Edwards controversy is a blessing in disguise. My husband was all about one word: loyalty. Fred taught me that the definition of a friend is when everyone else walks out and that one person walks in. Fred was the most loyal friend anyone could have. I always tell the story of how I keep the bill for the valet parking at Fred’s funeral close to me. It was very expensive. That’s because of all the lives Fred touched. I hope I double that valet bill when I die. Fred’s greatest attribute was that whenever there was a tragedy or crisis, he could always find something positive to come out of it. So the positive that came out of the Edwards situation for me was just how loyal Fred was, and that’s what people remember about him.
Q: Were you upset by Edwards’ behavior? Not only did he act dishonestly, but he ruined his campaign and put your family in a stressful situation.
A: I was disappointed, but I have never, ever been upset with John Edwards. I figured if Fred wasn’t upset with him—and he was the one who put in his heart, his soul, his money, his time—then I certainly didn’t have a right to be upset with him. I just feel like so many people have been so mad and so upset with John Edwards that he doesn’t need one more person to criticize him or be judgmental of him. I think he suffered the consequences, and it’s a great life lesson about how high you can be, where you have 100,000 people cheering you because they think you’re great, to the other extreme, where you’re possibly facing criminal charges.
Q: Do you keep in touch with Edwards?
A: No. I wish him well, but I haven’t spoken to him.
Q: Are you still involved in politics?
A: Yes, I love politics. The passion left Fred’s soul and jumped into mine. Fred would say to me, “Politics matter. It’s the only way the poor have a voice.” Locally, I plan on bringing back the Texas Democratic Trust, a political action committee we initiated, to help Democrats get elected in Dallas County. I am also working on a redistricting project to help the Justice Department appeal where the lines are drawn so that Hispanics and minorities and African-Americans are fairly represented in the voting population.
Q: What else are you working on?
A: I’m a “project” girl. Right now I am working on a project with Emmitt Smith and his foundation for at-risk kids. I’m also engaged in The Fred Baron Memorial that Fred and Don Henley were working on to get at-risk kids to have an experience at Walden Woods. I want to spend 50 percent of my life doing philanthropy and 50 percent practicing law. In an average year, I usually have 25 to 35 events at my house, including events for all types of charities. Sometimes I attend and sometimes I don’t. And I am very engaged in the Baron and Blue Foundation, which Fred and I founded in 2002 to help the homeless. We usually give $500,000 to $1 million a year, distributed to about 30 institutions.
Q: What do you do for fun?
A: I hated to dance for 30 years. Now I love to dance competitively. Fun to me is also studying French, Spanish, and Italian. I am fluent in those, even though I’m dyslexic and I didn’t study foreign languages until the age of 45. Since I don’t sleep in the mornings, I found tutors who were willing to teach me in the morning before I went to work. I still work as a Spanish translator for Legal Aid in the divorce clinic.
Q: How did the competitive dancing come about?
A: After Fred died, I decided I wanted to reinvent myself and be things that I had never been before. I never liked dancing. I never danced with Fred, and we were married almost 30 years. I decided out of the blue that I would take a risk and ask Emmitt Smith to dance with me at a Christmas party. He graciously accepted, and we spent about a month getting ready for the routine. He’s a great dancer and a great person.
Q: Are you still dancing now?
A: I try to dance at least once or twice a week at Arthur Murray.
Q: What are your goals?
A: Teach my kids to treat all with respect and dignity. Touch as many lives in a positive way before I die. Fall in love again.
Q: Does that mean you are dating?
A: I had a very short, intense relationship with a former professional football player, and that situation made me realize how much I would love to be in love again.
Q: You have written numerous books on jury selection, trial strategy, relationships, and trial psychology. Is there any other topic you would like to write about?
A: I am working on my third book on jury selection with Robert Hirschhorn. But, especially being single, I am fascinated by what makes people successful in what they do and what makes somebody sexy even in their 60s and later. I know men who are still sexy at these ages. It’s personality, how they approach life, and attitude. Being a psychologist, I think it’s fascinating. I’d like to write about this, perhaps as an article with my brother who is a psychologist in Atlanta.
Q: Anything you would do differently?
A: I can’t think of anything. Perhaps have kids before the age of 55.