The "urgent notice" begged cancer victims of atomic testing to call a Phoenix law firm for data about deadlines for new federal compensation of $50,000 to $100,000.
That ad in the St. George Daily Spectrum infuriates Michael Bruhn, the son of a downwind radiation victim. He feels that such ads may trick Downwinders into hiring lawyers for a 10 percent fee for work that they could easily do themselves."I see a lot of vultures out there in the form of lawyers circling to see what they can get out of this," Bruhn said. "They are preying on people who are gullible."
But Kirk McCarville, whose law firm placed the ad, disagrees based on his experience with similar legislation to compensate children harmed by government-required vaccines.
"No way will a lay person will ever get compensation," McCarville said, if the Justice Department uses the same process it does with vaccine victims. He said it requires victims to routinely counter the testimony of experts in adversarial hearings.
Bruhn and McCarville show the two sides of a battle heating up in southern Utah that is confusing many Downwinders and that some feel may require an act of Congress to resolve - literally.
Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, is ready to propose that act. He said he will introduce legislation to ban payment to any lawyers for filing initial Downwinder claims. "The money is there for the Downwinders, not to enrich attorneys," he said.
His bill would allow Downwinders to hire attorneys to handle appeals if their initial claim is rejected.
During his last campaign, Hansen charged that his challenger - Democrat Kenley Brunsdale - was one of the lawyers improperly seeking to sign up clients to benefit from a bill Brunsdale helped write when he was an aide to Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah.
Tapes of those meetings, sponsored by the downwind group Citizens Call, show that Brunsdale urged people to hire a lawyer, and listed himself and several others - including Owens, if he had lost his election - as possibilities.
Those attending the meetings were asked to sign in, and were told they would be mailed additional information and updates.
Bette Arial, a Hansen staffer based in St. George, said she worries such meetings could be like similar meetings set up by other lawyers after the Quail Creek dam collapse. She said they were often billed as being sponsored by community or governmental groups, but then attorneys would make a pitch for new clients and use the sign-in lists for mailing and solicitation.
"Lawyers weren't needed then, and we don't feel they are needed now. This is an entitlement program, not a legal action," Arial said. She notes some attorneys are being lined up to offer free assistance to help people fill out forms, if needed.
Janet Gordon, with Citizens Call, said the meetings that featured Brunsdale were meant only to answer resident concerns. She said she does plan to send people a list of attorneys that she feels are competent to help them. She also blasted Hansen for his proposed legislation.
"I think it's just sour grapes," Gordon said. "We wouldn't even have a law if it wasn't for many of these attorneys' efforts through the years. It's not fair to them. A lot of people will need attorneys and won't get them if that bill passes."
She noted some illnesses may require somewhat tricky proof, including that the Downwinder involved never drank coffee or smoked cigarettes. "You probably can't do that without a lawyer."
Attorney McCarville agrees, and points to the law compensating children harmed by vaccines for proof. He said the government appointed the Department of Health and Human Services to act as an adversary in those claims to protect the victims' trust fund.
So HHS "has a stable of experts that it calls in" to dispute claims that even appear to solid. So a government-appointed referee listens to HHS experts, then experts from the victim in adversarial hearings. "Laymen get chewed alive in that process," he said.
He said the first to file have the first claim to government funds, which is why his ad urged people to call quickly. He admits no actual deadlines or procedures have yet been established.
Disputing the need for lawyers is Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who along with Owens shepherded the downwinder bill through Congress this year, and who is a lawyer himself.
He issued a press release earlier this year saying, "It has been said that a Downwinder needs a lawyer to get the compensation due. That is ridiculous. We passed the legislation to compensate the Downwinders, not lawyers."
Owens - who represented Downwinders for years as a lawyer, and has several former law partners who now represent them - has said merely that attorneys may be beneficial to some Downwinders. He also strongly opposes the Hansen amendment.
Some downwind groups, meanwhile, strongly discourage Downwinders from hiring lawyers.
Elizabeth Wright, with the National Association of Radiation Survivors, said, "Why should Downwinders sign away 10 percent of their compensation when they don't have to?"
Bruhn is her brother. They are children of former Dixie College President Arthur F. Bruhn who died from atomic-test-caused cancer, and whose court case is one of the reasons Congress decided to compensate victims.
"These victims have gone through enough without being confused by lawyers now," Bruhn said. And to show his frustration after years of sickness, death and court battles, he said, "I don't expect to ever see any money. The Justice Department has fought us all the way so far. I don't expect it to change."
And he doesn't think "vulture" lawyers will help.