Oct. 12-18, 2001
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Law library acquires major research collections

By Charlotte Crystal

The Law Library is adding two acquisitions to its holdings that document legal history of recent times. Judge John Butzner, a circuit court judge who oversaw federal appointments of independent counsel for about 25 investigations, including those of Oliver L. North and the Whitewater case, has donated his papers to his alma mater (he graduated in 1941); the other collection comprises the material from one of the most successful class-action law suits — against A.H. Robins Co. for its contraceptive device known as the Dalkon Shield.

Dalkon Shield papers

During the 1990s, the Dalkon Shield Claimants Trust paid out nearly $3 billion to more than 200,000 women who had used the intrauterine contraceptive device, making it one of the most successful settlements for claimants of mass tort litigation.

“No recovery by so many, in such large amounts, has been accomplished with so little expended in administrative costs,” said George Rutherglen, a U.Va. Law professor who was an attorney for the trust in litigation to reduce attorneys’ fees.
With court approval, the U.Va. law library received the papers of the Dalkon Shield Claimants Trust a year ago at the direction of the trustees on closing the trust. Since then, the law library staff has been cataloguing the voluminous collection and making materials accessible, which should take a year.

The trust, which closed its Richmond-based operation in April 2000, was established in 1989 to settle the claims of women who maintained they had been injured by the Dalkon Shield, the intrauterine contraceptive device (IUD) sold by Richmond-based A.H. Robins Co. from 1971 to 1974. 

At the peak of its operations, the trust had a staff of almost 400, which in 10 years handled more than 400,000 claims. Through careful management of the funds, the trust paid out almost $3 billion, making it the first mass personal injury trust to close after successfully paying all valid claims, Rutherglen said. 

“This collection is a gold mine for researchers. It holds tremendous value not only for legal historians, but also for trusts handling mass tort claims, and researchers in the health sciences and the pharmaceutical industry,” said Marsha Trimble, curator of special collections at the law library. “There are books still waiting to be written on medical history and trust administration, using these materials.”
The collection includes such primary materials as videotapes of Robins employees’ court testimony, microfilm of thousands of documents produced as evidence during the litigation, administrative records of the trust, and a statistical abstract of the claims and how the claims were resolved. There is also a complete collection of pleadings in the bankruptcy case and the reorganization plan approved in the bankruptcy under which the trust was established.

The trust was created by a court-brokered agreement after Robins filed for protection from creditors under the federal bankruptcy code.

Judge John D. Butzner Jr. papers

The other collection recently received by the U.Va. Law Library are the papers of Judge John D. Butzner Jr. relating to the judicial appointment and oversight of federally appointed independent counsel. 

After sitting for 25 years on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, Butzner was asked by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist in 1987 to become a member of the special division of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit for the purpose of appointing independent counsel. 

Butzner served from 1988 to 1998 on the U.S. Court of Appeals panel in Washington, D.C., that supervised federally appointed independent counsel.  During his tenure, the panel oversaw about 25 investigations, including the so-called “Iran-gate” case of Oliver L. North, along with those of Henry Cisneros, Mike Espy, and the Madison Guaranty Savings and Loan Association, better known as Whitewater. 

“Judge Butzner, who was keenly aware of the criticism the oversight panel received during his years of service, wanted his papers preserved as part of the historical record and donated them to the law library to encourage informed public review of the panel’s work,” Trimble said.

This significant research collection consists of extensive correspondence between judges reflecting the workings of the panel, their method of selecting independent counsel, various revisions of the Ethics in Government Act of 1978, and the high costs of the investigations. 

Judge Butzner, a 1941 graduate of U.Va.’s Law School, donated these papers a year ago. They have been fully catalogued and are open to the public between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., Mondays through Fridays.


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