Is a press release by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, a warning against sleazy lawyers or a subtle political swipe at Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah? Hatch issued a statement this week warning uranium miners and downwind cancer victims of atomic testing that they do not need lawyers to file claims for compensation under a bill that he and Owens passed two years ago.
The trouble is that most of the prominent lawyers - but not all - who have represented down-winders and sought to help clients file claims are former law partners of Owens, including former Interior Secretary Stuart Udall and former 1st District House candidate Kenley Bruns-dale.Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, who faced Brunsdale two years ago in an election fight, even unsuccessfully tried last year to ban any payments to attorneys through the Radiation Compensation Act.
Owens - who represented downwinders as an attorney himself before he was elected to Congress - said that was not fair to attorneys who had worked with downwinder clients for years without pay, on a contingency basis.
Hatch's press release this week said some lawyers have been telling people "that only those down-winders represented by them will receive compensation payments this year. This is just not true.
Hatch urged claimants with questions to call a toll-free information line established by the Justice Department, 1-800-729-7327.
"The statement was not political. It was just to warn people that they don't need lawyers to file a claim," said Hatch's press secretary, Paul Smith.
Owens' press secretary, Art Kingdom, agreed that claimants do not necessarily need lawyers but said some who are confused or who have difficult cases may choose to seek a lawyer.
"There's nothing wrong with a lawyer who has represented down-winders for years to recontact clients and ask if they would like their services. If they make any misleading claims, that obviously would not be proper," Kingdom said. Owens, of course, is running for the U.S. Senate this year.