Is John Coale handling another high-profile calamity?

By A. James Memmott

July 9, 2009 at 9:12am

When Republican Sarah Palin, the soon-to-be-former governor of Alaska, needs advice, she turns to John P. Coale, a Democratic lawyer with an impressive and varied range of connections.

A Bill and Hillary Clinton confidante, and the husband of Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren, Coale has supported numerous Democratic candidates through the years.

However, he endorsed Sen. John McCain, the Republican candidate, after Hillary Clinton lost the Democratic nomination to Barack Obama.

And during the campaign, Coale met Palin, the Republican vice-presidential candidate, through Van Susteren.

After the election, he became an adviser to Palin (unpaid, Van Susteren stressed on her blog).

According to Todd Purdum, who profiled Palin in the August issue of Vanity Fair, Coale helped Palin create a political action committee, SarahPac, after the election.

He also reportedly assisted Palin in establishing The Alaska Fund Trust, her legal expense fund.

Coale told The Washington Post that Palin’s decision last week to step down as governor was motivated in part by what she saw as attacks upon her family.

“She couldn’t ignore the hits on the kids,” Coale said. “She said, ‘It brought out the mama grizzly in me.’”

Coale and Van Susteren, who is also a lawyer, were married in 1988. For a while, they practiced together, but he is now a partner in the Washington firm of Coale, Cooley, Lietz, McInerny & Broadus.

Both are members of the Church of Scientology, a religion practiced by Tom Cruise and John Travolta.

Coale represented another Scientologist, Lisa Marie Presley, in her divorce from Michael Jackson.

As a lawyer, Coale’s “particular specialty is the high-profile calamity,” wrote Peter Boyer in The New Yorker in 1999.

The first of his calamity cases was filed in 1979, when Coale unsuccessfully, but prominently, represented a group of U.S. citizens who had been held hostage for months in Iran, asking $10 million in damages for each of the plaintiffs.

In 1984, Coale heard of a toxic gas leak at a Union Carbide plant that killed thousands in Bhopal, India. He rushed to the scene and signed up more than 60,000 plaintiffs. He didn’t prevail in court as the case was decided in India, rather than in a U.S. court.

In the 1990s, Coale was one of several lawyers who came together as the Castano Group in suing Big Tobacco.

To add clout to their suits, Coale, a regular visitor to the Clinton White House, signed up Hugh Rodham, a lawyer and Hillary Clinton’s brother, to work on the case.

Coale and his colleagues did this, Boyer suggests, to out-brother-in-law Richard “Dickie” Scruggs, the Mississippi lawyer heading up an opposing anti-tobacco lawyers’ group. Scruggs’ wife was the sister of then Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott.

Scruggs’ group got the better of the settlements, though he is now in federal prison, having been convicted of attempting to bribe a judge in another case.

After the tobacco suits, Coale turned his attention to organizing municipalities to sue gun manufacturers.

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  • #1.   highcrowpilenothighprofile 07.13.2009

    don’t forget his ethics complaint for solicitation and ambulance chasing. run right out of west virginia. he and his wife implicated for hiring people to stalk injured people.

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