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After fighting for passage of the Justice Act, Keller Postman begins court battle with a team of Harvard lawyers and a veteran of the Marine Corps
More than a million servicemembers, military families and other civilians were exposed to toxic water at U.S. Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, N.C., from the 1950s through the 1980s. On August 10, they won the right to sue for death and disease caused by the contaminated water, when President Biden signed the Camp Lejeune Justice Act into law.
Within minutes of the bill-signing, Keller Postman attorneys began filing actions against the government under the Justice Act to obtain compensation for victims. “The veterans and military families poisoned by the water at Camp Lejeune have waited long enough for their day in court,” says Keller Postman partner Zina Bash. “My team has been preparing for this day for months; we don’t want to waste a single minute.”
Bash played a meaningful role in advancing the Justice Act after the bill had stalled in the Senate. Having previously worked at the highest levels of government – including in the Senate, the Supreme Court and the White House – Bash has established many connections throughout Washington. “I used every contact I had to make the case that this bill was critical to providing some measure of justice to veterans and military families who have already suffered too long because of the government’s actions.” Ultimately, however, she attributes the Justice Act’s passage to the “relentless work of the veterans and military families who refused to rest until the bill became law.”
Bash says it took her breath away to be on Capitol Hill as the U.S. Senate overwhelmingly passed the Justice Act. She watched from the Senate Gallery surrounded by veterans and their families as lawmakers finally acknowledged the harm inflicted by the U.S. government and started the process of providing some sense of justice.
Keller Postman assembled an elite team of attorneys to serve the victims of Camp Lejeune. Bash and Managing Partner Warren Postman are both graduates of Harvard Law School and former clerks on the U.S. Supreme Court. They are joined by Brian Czarnecki, a graduate of West Point and Yale Law School, and Micah Hoggatt, a proud veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps. Over the last four years alone, the attorneys at Keller Postman have served more than 500,000 clients and won recoveries exceeding $500M.
Bash and her team became deeply familiar with the legislation as she helped the Justice Act make its way through Congress. For months, they have been analyzing the bill and preparing responses to all possible objections. “Because we spent so much time studying the statute, we were able to develop legal strategies and internal operations to hit the ground running as soon as the bill was enacted,” Postman says.
I used every contact I had to make the case that this bill was critical to providing some measure of justice to veterans and military families who have already suffered too long because of the government’s actions.
The team of attorneys is also backed by a full-scale, in-house operation that specializes in mass torts. The firm’s experience in mass actions will enhance their effectiveness in the Camp Lejeune cases, according to Postman. “Our expertise in mass torts allows us to aggressively represent a large number of clients at the same time,” he says. “We have the team, technology and operations to prosecute a significant number of cases simultaneously and give every client the best possible chance for a great outcome. We also strive to make our clients’ lives as easy as possible while we litigate their claims. We do all the heavy lifting. They have done enough.”
Bash added that being able to serve such a large number of clients has two important benefits: First, it ensures that Keller Postman will be influential in critical discussions with key government decision-makers. Second, it allows the firm to spread the costs of litigation across all clients, which increases each client’s ultimate recovery.
Bash also brings previous government experience to the Camp Lejeune litigation. She has been involved in litigation both alongside and against the federal government. According to Keller Postman, this will substantially benefit their clients’ cases. “We know government lawyers. We know how they operate. We know how they litigate. We know they are good people who want to do what’s right,” says Bash. “Many of them know us and know that we are serious lawyers who are committed to justice for our clients. We believe that we will have a good line of communication with the government, and that this will help us move our clients’ cases forward as quickly as possible.”
Keller Postman has filed a first round of lawsuits, with more to come. Under the Justice Act, however, not all cases are ready to be filed in court. Keller Postman pointed out that most of its clients’ filings will begin with claims before the Department of the Navy, as required by the Justice Act. Only after the Navy has had an opportunity to review each claim may a suit be filed in court. All plaintiffs in the cases filed by Keller Postman had previously presented their claims to the Navy before the Justice Act became law.
The firm has a history of representing veterans. Keller Postman represents thousands of veterans in a suit against 3M for defective earplugs, which caused hearing loss and hearing damage in almost 300,000 servicemembers. “We are honored to have the privilege of representing veterans who have been wronged,” says Postman. “That is especially true in the Camp Lejeune cases, where they have been harmed so severely by the government after having dedicated their lives to the service of our country.”
The Justice Act provides a robust remedy for victims, including a right to a jury trial and a burden of proof that is favorable to plaintiffs. Among the diseases and chronic conditions alleged to have been suffered by servicemembers and civilians exposed to Camp Lejeune water are cancers of the bladder, kidney and liver; non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma; Parkinson’s disease and multiple myeloma. Camp Lejeune’s poisonous water has also been linked to widespread birth defects and high rates of miscarriages and stillbirths, according to the Keller Postman complaints. The primary contaminants found in the water are trichloroethylene, tetrachloroethylene/perchloroethylene, vinyl chloride and benzene.
Congress estimated that, under the legislation, the government will spend $21B to make amends for the massive toxic exposure.
While the litigation road that lies ahead is uncertain, the attorneys at Keller Postman are “confident that [their] clients will ultimately obtain justice,” says former Marine Hoggatt. “We believe that the government will do what’s right when we argue our clients’ cases before them.”