In a speech to Baltimore's newest lawyers, Orioles owner Peter Angelos fired a high, hard one at big corporations that criticize lawyers and seek to limit the awards they can win for their clients.
Angelos, a 1961 graduate of the University of Baltimore School of Law, told the 1996 class yesterday that corporations have long waged a systematic campaign to discredit lawyers in hopes of depriving citizens of basic liberties.
He told the 303 new graduates to fight back.
"That's the purpose of the legal profession, to ensure that justice, that all-important concept to freedom, is available to everyone," Angelos said.
"And because the powerful understand that, they relentlessly try to convince the American people to dislike and distrust us, to see us as their enemy rather than the protectors and guarantor of their fundamental legal rights."
Angelos, a lawyer in malpractice, personal injury and product liability cases, revisited the well-known case of a 79-year-old woman who burned herself with McDonald's coffee, then won several hundred thousand dollars suing the company.
Advocates of legal reform frequently cite the case as an example of the legal system's excesses. But Angelos said McDonald's bTC acted irresponsibly by keeping its coffee between 180 and 190 degrees. In just a few seconds, it burned the woman severely enough to require an eight-day hospital stay and skin grafts.
Angelos said her award was fair. "More importantly, McDonald's has reduced the temperature of the coffee it sells to an acceptable level no longer capable of inflicting third-degree burns on unsuspecting consumers."
The graduates, family and friends nearly filled the Lyric Theatre for the presentation of the juris doctor degree. Ten people also received a master of laws in taxation, a specialized degree.
Angelos urged them all to have goals beyond making money.
"Your passion must be to participate in making real and concrete those wonderful intangibles that make America the light of the world," he said. "And what makes this nation the light of the world is freedom, freedom under law, not just for the rich, not just for the few, but for everyone."
* Maryland Institute, College of Art
In afternoon ceremonies at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 171 undergraduate and 46 graduates received their degrees. University of Chicago art historian Barbara Maria Stafford decried the harsh criticism directed at much of contemporary art. "Images can be both intelligent and beautiful, responsible and persuasive," she said.
Stafford received an honorary degree, as did Rebecca Hoffberger, founder of Baltimore's American Visionary Arts Museum, and Kunihiko Tsukamoto, president of a Japanese art institute.