After joining Baron & Budd in 2000, shareholder Carla Burke Pickrel helped pioneer the Environmental Litigation Group in 2004. In that role, she develops innovative legal strategies for cases arising from chemical contamination of drinking water supplies and natural resources. Ms. Pickrel shines as a writer who is able to distill complex scientific and legal concepts into simple and powerful words. “I take difficult, technical-sounding concepts and tell a simple story — how pollution prevents a neighborhood from using its favorite fishing spot or how pesticides that run off from a crop can increase drinking water costs in a town a mile away.”
Ms. Pickrel works on all of the ELG’s many cases, including those arising from methyl tertiary-butyl ether (MTBE), atrazine, perchloroethylene (PCE), polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB), and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substance (PFAS) contamination of drinking water supplies. In her time with the Group, she has represented hundreds of public entities — villages, towns, cities, utilities, school districts, and states.
She is currently on the front lines of litigation against the manufacturers of firefighting foams that release toxic perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) whenever used. Recent testing has detected these chemicals in drinking water supplies nationwide. “The manufacturers of these foams knew about the potential for contamination, yet sold the products for use at military and civilian airports all across America without warning users of the potential harm caused to communities”, she says.
Baron & Budd represents water providers dealing with firefighting foam contamination now. These and all similar cases pending in federal courts across the United States were recently consolidated in multidistrict litigation (MDL) 2873 before Judge Richard Gergel in Charleston, South Carolina. Litigating in MDL 2873 allows Ms. Pickrel to contribute her experience in environmental contamination cases to the complex issues that arise. She brings a nuanced understanding of the legal, scientific, and practical problems that water providers and individuals face on a nationwide scale.
Ms. Pickrel also represents cities and states along both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts including Baltimore, San Diego, Long Beach, San Jose, Oakland, Berkeley, Chula Vista, Portland, Port of Portland and Spokane in actions against Monsanto Company for polluting America’s waterways with PCBs. After reaching a momentous settlement with Monsanto, the parties moved to certify a nationwide class of similarly-situated public entities, and Ms. Pickrel was named Class Counsel alongside Baron & Budd ELG’s Scott Summy and John Fiske. The case, pending before Judge Olguin in the Central District of California, is City of Long Beach v. Monsanto Co., 2:16-cv-03493-FMO-AS. Once final approval is granted in the fall of 2022, the settlement will distribute approximately $530,000,000 to a class of more than 2,500 public entities affected by Monsanto’s PCBs.
Ms. Pickrel’s current work rests on her long experience with nationwide environmental litigation. For more than 20 years, she has been a leader in nationwide litigation arising from MTBE contamination on behalf of more than 200 water providers in more than 20 states. She also played a major role in a nationwide class action settlement for providers whose water supplies are contaminated with atrazine, an agricultural chemical.
Putting her experience to work in new areas is an energizing part of Ms. Pickrel’s job, and she is motivated by the prospect of restoring natural resources for future generations. “In some areas, people are advised not to swim in contaminated water or eat fish from certain areas. We are working to restore those resources so that they can be used again.” And she is driven by the results she sees at Baron & Budd. “The work we do helps entire communities. Baron & Budd makes people’s everyday lives better,” she says.
Her work has earned her recognition by professional organizations. Ms. Pickrel has been named to the National Trial Lawyers’ Top 100 Civil Plaintiff Trial Lawyers every year since 2016, the Top 10 Environmental Trial Lawyers every year since 2020, the Top 25 Products Liability Trial Lawyers every year since 2020, and the Top 25 National Women Trial Lawyers every year since 2020. She was also selected as a Super Lawyers “Rising Star of Texas Law” (Thomson Reuters) in 2006 and, with her colleagues, was twice-nominated for Public Justice’s Trial Lawyer of the Year Award in 2009 and in 2013.
While in law school at Southern Methodist University, Ms. Pickrel was on a team from the school’s Civil Clinic that successfully represented a disabled man whose lack of medical treatment while in the custody of the Dallas county jail amounted to cruel and unusual punishment. After graduation, she returned to SMU as an adjunct clinical instructor of law to brief and argue the appeal of Lawson v. Dallas County, 112 F.3d 257 (5th Cir. 2002) before the United States Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit.