Eaves defends record on military lawsuits

Published 4:10 pm Friday, October 19, 2007

Surrounded by 10 veterans, Democratic gubernatorial nominee John Arthur Eaves Jr. said Thursday that he’s proud of his legal career that includes filing lawsuits against the U.S. military.

“Yes, I did sue the military and I would do it again because I stood up for veterans who had not been treated right by the Pentagon bureaucrats,” Eaves said during a news conference at the War Memorial building across the street from his law office in downtown Jackson.

For the past two weeks, Republican Gov. Haley Barbour has been airing television commercials that say Eaves is “wrong for Mississippi.”

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“He’s repeatedly sued America’s military for personal financial gain,” the announcer says as photos of two soldiers appear on screen.

Jesse H. Moore, an Army veteran who grew up in Natchez and lives in Jackson, called the Barbour ad “distasteful.”

“I think it’s just a ploy for the governor to try and discredit John Arthur Eaves,” said Moore, 65, who wore a Veterans of Foreign Wars hat as he stood with the Democratic candidate Thursday.

Barbour, who turns 60 on Monday, and Eaves, 41, face off in the Nov. 6 election.

Wearing bejeweled American flag cufflinks that his father wore as a gubernatorial candidate in 1975 and 1979, Eaves said Barbour is telling “half-truths” about the military lawsuits.

Eaves said he filed a federal lawsuit in Texas during the 1990s on behalf of veterans from the first Gulf War, including Mississippi National Guard members, who were suffering a host of illnesses. He said that lawsuit is still pending.

In 1998, Eaves filed lawsuits on behalf of Europeans whose relatives were killed when a U.S. Marine jet severed a cable on an Italian ski gondola. Eaves said the Italian government eventually paid their claims, and his fees were paid as part of that agreement. He said he has not calculated how much he was paid.

In 2000, Eaves opened a law office on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques, where the U.S. Navy had been conducting bombing exercises for six decades. Eaves sued the Navy seeking damages on behalf of 7,500 islanders claiming health problems, including respiratory illnesses, skin rashes, gastrointestinal complications and cancers.

“We have made nothing off the case,” Eaves said Thursday.

Eaves said the plaintiffs included several military veterans and former civilian Navy workers who proved positive for heavy metals toxicity, including uranium. He said some of the plaintiffs included children “with an extra finger or an extra belly button.”

The Navy acknowledged accidentally firing 263 rounds of bullets tipped with depleted uranium in Vieques in 1999 in violation of federal law.