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Prosecutor in Ford Pinto case dies

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LathropCosentino

The Elkhart County prosecutor who took on Ford Motor Co. in criminal court in Indiana died June 14. Michael A. Cosentino was 74.


In 1978, then part-time prosecutor Cosentino called a grand jury that charged Ford with three counts of reckless homicide. Three teenage girls were killed when their 1973 Ford Pinto caught on fire after it was rear-ended. Ford was indicted in September 1978. The trial began in early 1980 and a Pulaski County jury acquitted Ford March 13, 1980.


The idea of holding a corporation accountable wasn’t new, but Cosentino’s tactic of a criminal prosecution of a product design and manufacture was. Some say the case helped make today’s vehicles safer and drove home the notion of corporate responsibility into consumer’s minds like nothing had at that time.


Cosentino served seven terms as prosecutor before he retired in December 2002 to private practice at Cosentino & Christofeno in Elkhart..
“He was my hero, what can I say?” said Bruce Berner, Louis & Anna Seegers Professor of Law at Valparaiso University School of Law.


Berner was one of two people from academia that Cosentino added to the prosecution’s team for the Ford case.


“He was an absolutely true public servant. He didn’t get anything out of it; he was just doing the right thing,” Berner added. “… He was a good person to emulate.”


Berner, who noted that Cosentino’s health had waned in the past few years, said, “I’ll tell you what … you wouldn’t want to mess with him in his heyday!”

“He was a forceful advocate and a darned good lawyer,” said Elkhart Circuit Judge Terry Shewmaker in Goshen.


Judge Shewmaker started working with Cosentino as a law student in 1974. After passing the bar in 1975, Cosentino appointed him as a deputy prosecutor and an associate as his law firm. They worked together for more than 20 years.


“He gave me a chance, and I'm grateful for that chance. I feel very strongly about that,” he told Indiana Lawyer.


“He gave a lot of young lawyers chances as deputy prosecutors with appointments,” Judge Shewmaker said, noting many able trial lawyers got their start with Cosentino. “That will be his legacy.”


Born in Aurora, Ill., June 12, 1936, Cosentino was a U.S. Army veteran. He earned his J.D. at the University of Wisconsin Law School and was admitted to practice law in Indiana in May 1963. Among his activities, he was a member and past president of the Elkhart City Bar Association and a member of the Indiana State Bar Association.


He is survived by his wife of 46 years, Dianne; sons Michael J. and Thomas; and two grandchildren. The funeral was June 18 in Elkhart. Memorial contributions may be made to St. Vincent DePaul Catholic Church, Elkhart County Humane Society, or Cancer Services of Elkhart County.•

This story is an updated version of an Indiana Lawyer daily story.

 

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  1. I gave tempparry guardship to a friend of my granddaughter in 2012. I went to prison. I had custody. My daughter went to prison to. We are out. My daughter gave me custody but can get her back. She was not order to give me custody . but now we want granddaughter back from friend. She's 14 now. What rights do we have

  2. This sure is not what most who value good governance consider the Rule of Law to entail: "In a letter dated March 2, which Brizzi forwarded to IBJ, the commission dismissed the grievance “on grounds that there is not reasonable cause to believe that you are guilty of misconduct.”" Yet two month later reasonable cause does exist? (Or is the commission forging ahead, the need for reasonable belief be damned? -- A seeming violation of the Rules of Profession Ethics on the part of the commission) Could the rule of law theory cause one to believe that an explanation is in order? Could it be that Hoosier attorneys live under Imperial Law (which is also a t-word that rhymes with infamy) in which the Platonic guardians can do no wrong and never owe the plebeian class any explanation for their powerful actions. (Might makes it right?) Could this be a case of politics directing the commission, as celebrated IU Mauer Professor (the late) Patrick Baude warned was happening 20 years ago in his controversial (whisteblowing) ethics lecture on a quite similar topic: http://www.repository.law.indiana.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1498&context=ilj

  3. I have a case presently pending cert review before the SCOTUS that reveals just how Indiana regulates the bar. I have been denied licensure for life for holding the wrong views and questioning the grand inquisitors as to their duties as to state and federal constitutional due process. True story: https://www.scribd.com/doc/299040839/2016Petitionforcert-to-SCOTUS Shorter, Amici brief serving to frame issue as misuse of govt licensure: https://www.scribd.com/doc/312841269/Thomas-More-Society-Amicus-Brown-v-Ind-Bd-of-Law-Examiners

  4. Here's an idea...how about we MORE heavily regulate the law schools to reduce the surplus of graduates, driving starting salaries up for those new grads, so that we can all pay our insane amount of student loans off in a reasonable amount of time and then be able to afford to do pro bono & low-fee work? I've got friends in other industries, radiology for example, and their schools accept a very limited number of students so there will never be a glut of new grads and everyone's pay stays high. For example, my radiologist friend's school accepted just six new students per year.

  5. I totally agree with John Smith.

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