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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. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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