Josh Koskoff, an attorney from Connecticut, talks about AR-15 assault rifles during a roundtable discussion and forum about civil justice for victims of mass shootings at the Franco Center in Lewiston on Monday night. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

In the days since Robert Card killed 18 people in a mass shooting in Lewiston, lawmakers, police leaders and journalists from across Maine and beyond have wrestled with a complicated question: How did this happen?

At a roundtable discussion in Lewiston Monday night, two prominent trial lawyers pondered that question but focused more on a corollary: How can the families of the wounded and dead use the legal system to prevent it from happening again?

The community that Card tore apart will never get to see him inside a courtroom – Card made sure of that when he took his life before police could find him in a trailer parked at the Maine Recycling Corp.’s overflow lot on Oct. 27. But on Monday, attorneys Josh Koskoff of Connecticut and Jamal Alsaffar of Texas laid out ways Lewiston families could use the civil court system to find some measure of justice.

“There is a real sense of hopelessness that the industries that make money off this want you to have,” Alsaffar told an audience of about 15 in Lewiston’s Franco Center. “This does not happen anywhere else in the world. When it does happen very infrequently, they solve it.”

Lewiston resident Paul Madore listens to speakers Monday night during a discussion and forum about civil justice for victims of mass shootings at the Franco Center in Lewiston. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Ben Gideon, an Auburn attorney at event-sponsor Gideon Assen, began Monday’s talk by calling for a moment in remembrance of the victims of the Oct. 25 rampage. Then he walked through the now-familiar timeline of red flags and warnings signs Card demonstrated in the year before he raised his Ruger SFAR AR-10 at Just-In-Time Recreation and Schemengees Bar & Grille and pulled the trigger. As the public has learned just how many people were worried about Card following through on his threats to commit a mass shooting, fingers have been pointed in many directions, including at the lawmakers who have refused to strengthen Maine’s notoriously weak gun laws, the mental health system that failed to adequately treat Card, and the local law enforcement officers who failed to bring him into custody or enact the state’s yellow flag law.

Alsaffar and Koskoff acknowledged that litigation could take many forms depending on what facts continue to emerge about the violence in Lewiston. But on Monday, they each focused on the specific angle that has made them two of the nation’s most prominent trial attorneys who work on litigation related to mass shootings.


Alsaffar said he had never taken on a case related to a mass shooting before Devin Kelley shot and killed 26 people at a Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, in 2017. But after growing frustrated with the seemingly never-ending cycle of violence and political leaders’ refusal to address it, he threw himself into the case, which he described as “eerily similar” to the Lewiston shootings.

Cynthia Dill, a lawyer and politician from Cape Elizabeth, listens to speakers Monday night during a roundtable discussion and forum at the Franco Center in Lewiston. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Like Robert Card, Devin Kelley was a member of the military who had been hospitalized for mental illness and had made threats against his Air Force unit in the months before he snapped, Alsaffar said. Also like Card, he somehow didn’t make it onto the FBI’s list of people prohibited from purchasing or possessing guns.

While the Sutherland Springs families pushed for answers, the military largely “circled the wagons,” said Alsaffar, who said he’s noticed similar tactics from the Army in the days since Lewiston. But through the legal process, the families were able to force the Air Force to produce documentation that illustrated a startling pattern – despite receiving regular warnings to improve its reporting practices for decades, the Air Force failed to flag thousands of soldiers who should have been entered onto the FBI’s prohibited list. In 2021, a federal judge ruled that the Air Force and the Department of Defense were negligent when they failed to flag Kelley and awarded more than $230 million in damages to the victims’ families.

“Everyone focuses on the verdict, but that was not the most important thing that happened,” Alsaffar said after the talk Monday night. “For 30 years, the rate of failure (to report prohibited people) never got better until the lawsuit got filed. They took what had been a 30-year failure, and within one year they solved the problem. That’s how civil litigation can change and make our communities safer.”


Koskoff struck a major blow for gun control advocates in February 2022 when he helped families of the victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre win a $73 million settlement against gun manufacturer Remington, which owned the company that built the AR-15-style rifle used to kill 28 people, including 20 children, in Connecticut in 2012. The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, passed by Congress in 2005, has otherwise protected gun manufacturers from litigation aimed at holding them accountable for the skyrocketing number of mass shootings in the United States. (According to the Gun Violence Archive, which defines a mass shooting as any instance where at least four victims are injured or killed, not including the shooter, 2023 will be the fourth straight year America sees at least 600 such events.)


“An industry that thinks it can’t be sued can be a pretty dangerous industry,” Koskoff said. “Especially if it sells the world’s most dangerous product.”

President Biden, who visited Lewiston on Friday to meet with the families of the victims, has called for the repeal of the PLCAA. But more than 30 states, including Maine, have their own laws granting qualified immunity to gun makers.

Jamal Alsaffar, a nationally experienced trial attorney from Texas talks about how he and his wife pray each day when they drop off their children at school that they won’t be killed in a school shooting while addressing a crowd Monday night during a roundtable discussion and forum about civil justice for victims of mass shootings at the Franco Center in Lewiston. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

During a brief question-and-answer session, meeting attendees raised several other potential lawsuit targets, including Sagadahoc County and the New York medical providers who discharged Card after his hospital stay this summer. One resident grew heated while arguing that attempts to sue gun manufacturers was akin to an attack on a Second Amendment.

The lawyers said it would take months and probably years to develop the right legal strategy for Lewiston families – the shock and pain of the massacre is still too fresh for victims to be thinking about lawsuits, Koskoff said. And until they learn more about Card and the weapons he used, the legal team won’t be able to determine whether they can overcome the protections afforded to gun manufacturers or point to wrongdoing by the Army.

But while the legal system moves slowly, Alsaffar asked victims to believe in its power not just to bring monetary settlements but to force real change in the seemingly insurmountable problem of American gun violence.

“How do you eat an elephant?” he asked. “One bite at a time.”

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