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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 just wanted to point out that Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, Senator Feinstein, former Senate majority leader Bill Frist, and former attorney general John Ashcroft are responsible for this rubbish. We need to keep a eye on these corrupt, arrogant, and incompetent fools.

  2. Well I guess our politicians have decided to give these idiot federal prosecutors unlimited power. Now if I guy bounces a fifty-dollar check, the U.S. attorney can intentionally wait for twenty-five years or so and have the check swabbed for DNA and file charges. These power hungry federal prosecutors now have unlimited power to mess with people. we can thank Wisconsin's Jim Sensenbrenner and Diane Feinstein, John Achcroft and Bill Frist for this one. Way to go, idiots.

  3. I wonder if the USSR had electronic voting machines that changed the ballot after it was cast? Oh well, at least we have a free media serving as vicious watchdog and exposing all of the rot in the system! (Insert rimshot)

  4. Jose, you are assuming those in power do not wish to be totalitarian. My experience has convinced me otherwise. Constitutionalists are nearly as rare as hens teeth among the powerbrokers "managing" us for The Glorious State. Oh, and your point is dead on, el correcta mundo. Keep the Founders’ (1791 & 1851) vision alive, my friend, even if most all others, and especially the ruling junta, chase only power and money (i.e. mammon)

  5. Hypocrisy in high places, absolute immunity handed out like Halloween treats (it is the stuff of which tyranny is made) and the belief that government agents are above the constitutions and cannot be held responsible for mere citizen is killing, perhaps has killed, The Republic. And yet those same power drunk statists just reel on down the hallway toward bureaucratic fascism.

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