Erin Brockovich? I didn’t get into that movie, either

A release informs me that the S.C. Trial Lawyers are really excited about their speaker for an upcoming event:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                          
Monday, August 4, 2008

Award-Winning Environmental Advocate to Address 1000 Attendees on August 9

COLUMBIA, SC – The South Carolina Trial Lawyers Association today named award-winning Environmental Advocate Erin Brockovich the keynote speaker for its 2008 Convention at the Westin Resort in Hilton Head, SC from August 7-9.  Mrs. Brockovich will address nearly 1000 of the organization’s members and their guests on Saturday morning at 10 a.m.
    "Mrs. Brockovich is an internationally sought after speaker and we are honored that she has made time in her busy schedule for us," said SCTLA Executive Director Mike Hemlepp.  "Given the great dedication that trial lawyers have had in bringing environmental issues to public attention, this comes at an important time in our association’s history.  It will be a privilege to have her at the convention."
    In 1993, Mrs. Brockovich discovered that the California utility, Pacific Gas and Electric Company, had been poisoning the residents of Hinkley, Calif. with the toxic chemical Chromium 6.  Her tireless research resulted in the largest legal settlement in U.S. history against the company.
    She has won numerous awards and has spoken with many groups dedicated to protecting the rights of consumers and citizens against environmental torts.  In 2000, Universal Studios released the movie "Erin Brockovich" to tell the story of the residents of Hinkley and Julia Roberts won an Academy Award for her portrayal of the title role.
    "We do our best to ensure that our members get the most from the annual convention," SCTLA President John Nichols said.  "Mrs. Brockovich continues a long line of special guest speakers who raise the bar for knowledge and insight in the ever-changing field of law and justice."
    Mrs. Brockovich owns Brockovich Consulting and still works closely with to Masry and Vititoe, the law firm that brought the PG&E litigation after she discovered medical records as part of a pro bono real estate matter.
    The South Carolina Trial Lawyers Association was founded over 50 years ago and is the state’s leading advocate for the protection of citizens’ right to civil justice as guaranteed by the Constitution.
    This event is open to members of the media possessing proper credentials.  Press are asked to check in at the media registration desk and should note that neither Mrs. Brockovich nor her personnel may be recorded, broadcast, televised, filmed, photographed or webcast during the convention.
    For more information, visit

Which reminds me, as long as I’m on a tear about such things — I didn’t really get into that movie, either.

I’m not really into spunky underdog movies unless they’re made by Frank Capra, nor do I really get into dogged muckraker movies, unless they’re All The President’s Men. I sort of liked "A Civil Action," but that took a somewhat more ironic, and less worshipful, look at trial lawyering than what the SCTLA is probably looking for in a speaker.

16 thoughts on “Erin Brockovich? I didn’t get into that movie, either

  1. Mike Cakora

    Ms. Brockovich played a key role in getting $333M out of PG&E in 1996, so it’s no surprise that the slip-and-fall folks who comprise SCTLA love her work. And it’s a great story about a single mom and lowly law clerk who brings justice to the poor by taking on the mighty public utility.
    Others see through the charade.

    The real story of Erin Brockovich is simply this. A woman with no medical background goes to a small town and convinces residents that virtually every illness they’ve ever had, from cancer to rashes, are all related and all caused by a nearby corporation worth almost $30 billion. Join our suit, she says, and I’ll get you megabucks. They do, they get a settlement, and Brockovich’s colleagues snatch away a cut of over $133 million. Brockovich gets more than $2 million. Only in Hollywood could such a person be made a heroine.

    That’s Michael Fumento’s summary of her work found in his response to her reaction to his March 28, 2000 Wall Street Journal column entitled ”’Erin Brockovich,’ Exposed”. The point remains that under the lax standards for scientific testimony at the time, plaintiffs could, and in this case did, bring suit and prevail even when the science offers little if any support. Many states still have lax standards and attract more than their fair share of lawsuits as the result.
    Here’s a similar take that has more on what may have prompted PG&E to settle, and it includes decadence! Yes!
    Since I’ve run up against Brad’s three-link limit, I’ll simple suggest that you Google “Erin Brockovich Kolata” without the quotes to find out what the New York Times’ science writer had to say too.

  2. p.m.

    You might want to correct “Brokovich” in your headline here, Mr. Warthen. “Brockovich” would be better.

  3. Dan Luginbill

    Please keep in mind that PG&E settled, meaning they felt a jury of 12 people could likely be persuaded, despite the best efforts of thier top-notch defense team, to make them pay more, probably a lot more. Large corporations to do not pay millions of dollars to settle lawsuits without very good reason. The reason here was they were poisoning people and got caught.

  4. bud

    Apparently to the red koolaide drinking faithful there simply is no amount of corporate misbehavior that warrants punitive action. To suggest a corporate out-of-court settlement was a miscarriage of justice is to ignore the facts. As Dan suggests if PG & E didn’t believe they were responsible for the sickness their greed caused they never would have settled. No right-wing spin can change that.

  5. Mike Cakora

    The last link above gives some of the possible reasons for PG&E’s decision to settle.

    If it had such good defenses, why did PG&E cough up $333 million to settle the case? Unlike most mass personal injury cases, the Hinkley matter was settled in private arbitration, which means we know less about how it was fought, and which arguments were raised, than we would had it proceeded in conventional litigation. But in her impressive investigation in Salon, Sharp unearths a few reasons why the utility might have ended up with such an unfavorable resolution of the case.
    One was that, if you credit allegations from the Brockovich side of the case and other sources, the first set of lawyers PG&E used may have engaged in misconduct, including privacy invasion by hired gumshoes, that would have caused a furor if proven.
    Additionally, it later developed that the two L.A. lawyers who teamed with Brockovich’s firm to handle the case, Thomas Girardi and Walter Lack, were on unusually friendly terms with some of the judges in the arbitration, who had joined the arbitration firm JAMS after retiring from the regular California bench. One judge had officiated at Girardi’s second wedding, another had flown in Girardi’s Gulfstream to attend the World Series, and so forth. Laurence Janssen, a partner in the L.A. office of the Washington law firm Steptoe & Johnson, told Sharp: “I became aware that I should absolutely stay away from JAMS or its retired judges when it came to any dealing with Tom Girardi …The common lore imparted to me was that it would be crazy to get in front of any JAMS arbitration with Girardi.”
    Not long after the case was settled, generating $133 million in lawyers’ fees, Girardi and Lack just happened to invite the three Hinkley case arbitrators to join a week-long Mediterranean cruise for 90 guests, including 11 public and private judges, on a chartered ship. “One judge,” reports Sharp, “called it ‘absolutely incredible.’” A luxury yacht floated on azure waters; tuxedoed butlers balanced silver trays of free champagne; young bikini-clad ladies frolicked on the sun-splashed deck, according to retired Judge [William] Schoettler, who was a guest. As another bare-chested judge remarked at the time: ‘This gives decadence a bad name.’”
    Naturally, this was all done for strictly educational purposes, under the aegis of a group Girardi and Lack ran called the Foundation for the Enrichment of the Law. Girardi told the Los Angeles Times that the trip included “an extensive professional program,” which is supposed to make it OK under ethical rules, but Sharp reports that “retired judge Schoettler can’t recall anyone he knew actually attending a lecture.” Eventually, the judges agreed to pay their expenses for the trip; the outcry over the cruise helped spur a California Supreme Court inquiry into the arbitration.

    So PG&E had weakened its own case with a little misconduct, but it had plenty to fear from the not-so-impartial judges hearing the case.

  6. ruintuit

    On the contrary…I don’t think that offering to settle a case indicates guilt. It think it more likely indicates a fear of risking what a jury might award. Juries are notorious for sticking it to corporations whether warranted or not just to make a show of support for “the little guy”. I remember the McDonald’s case when a jury awarded $$$ because the person spilled hot coffee causing a burn. I don’t remember the specifics of this case, but I do know that it is representative of why large corporations will just settle even though they are innocent rather than go to trial.

  7. bud

    In the McDonald’s case the plaintiff showed that the coffee was far hotter than the industry standard. It was also demonstrated that a number of customers had complained after getting burned. McDonald’s ignored all warnings and continued to make the coffee FAR hotter than the industry standard. The plaintiff suffered serious burns as a result of the TOO HOT coffee that required medical attention. When she was refused a minimum amount of compensation for her medical expenses she successfully sued for the expenses, lost work time and a significant punitive award which was later reduced. Sometimes justice is served in this country.
    Far too often corporate bullies destroy lives and are never called to account. Just look at Enron, Ford’s Pinto debacle and later the Bronco II. (Why Ford is still in business after repeatidly flaunting basic safety considerations is beyond me). At least Exxon did pay a token amount of compensation for the immense environmental damage it caused.

  8. PointOfLaw Forum

    Palmetto State predictable

    There’s a bit of news coverage and blogging about the South Carolina Trial Lawyers Association having Erin Brockovich address its annual convention this week. Brokovich speaks to lawyers! Fancy that. At least Brad Warthen’s blog post at The l…

  9. Mike Cakora

    bud – It was the woman’s own carelessness, pure and simple, that caused her injuries. McDonalds knew and knows that its customers like its coffee because it is nice and hot. Trial lawyers know that with the right jury in the right jurisdiction with the right judge they can get a verdict against a lawnmower manufacturer for not including a warning against using it to trim hedges.
    Life is risky, folks ought to get used to that. Don’t buy from Ford if you believe that their products are unsafe.
    Go down to the big-box hardware store. You can’t buy a ladder shorter than 8-foot anymore because not all the warning labels will fit on anything shorter. Perhaps I exaggerate a bit, but I’m not too impressed with the overall record of trial attorneys over the past decade or four.
    You may call the tort tax a myth, but the U.S. spent 2.2 percent of its GDP on tort costs, compared to 0.7 percent for the United Kingdom, 0.8 percent for Japan, and 1.1 percent for Germany.
    How would you like to get sued by the same ass and win, then get sued again enough times to get a judge to issue an injunction, then have the ass sue again? Each action costs thousand$ as does a counter-suit, and it drags on for years, after which comes the joy of collecting on a settlement.
    Erin is now using her star power to drum up bidness for the trial attorneys in search of more goldmines. I just wonder what the attorneys for the Westin Resort in Hilton Head had SCTLA sign before they’d let the hotel host the convention.

  10. bud

    Tort actions serve a public good. Folks were getting paralyzed by diving into pools that were too shallow to accomodate boards. Now motel pools don’t have diving boards. The result is folks are not getting paralyzed. When Ford was outed for their disgraceful behavior over the Pinto they quickly discovered religion and started making safer cars. As a former Pinto owner I was horrified at the cavilier mindset the folks at Ford had regarding the bottom line. They considered it cheaper to incinerate a few folks and just pay the law suits rather than fix the darn things with a cheap fuel tank coller. In the end they paid and paid dearly. It’s no wonder they continue to loss money considering their attitude toward their customers. And no Mike I haven’t bought a Ford since and never will. Give me a good ole Japanese car any day. Odd that the folks who suffered through Hiroshima have more respect for American motorists than our own auto companies.
    Yes, the old lady who suffered third degree burns from McDonalds coffee does share some of the responsibility. But when a company continues to scald people with coffee that’s too hot for a drive-through environment don’t they deserve to pay for their arrogance? And I don’t go to McDonalds either.

  11. Brad Warthen

    Coffee is always served too hot. It’s on account of the great Dairy Industry Conspiracy, to which I am particularly sensitive because of my extreme, deadly allergy to milk.
    Coffee is heated to a point that makes it just right if one adds milk. Since I drink it black, I always have to wait. The waiting is part of the enjoyment, though, truth be told.
    And bud, here’s the problem with torts: punitive damages. If the damages went to the state, fine. That would serve the purpose of punishing and thereby deterring, while giving no one the motive to sue in hopes of winning the “lottery.”
    Personally, I prefer to see problems addressed through legislation and regulation, where necessary. I don’t trust the whole adversarial model where two private parties fight it out, both sides motivated by avarice. If diving boards in pools that are too shallow are dangerous, make them illegal, and thereby benefit everyone…
    That’s what Big Brother and I think, anyway.

  12. p.m.

    You had a Pinto, bud?
    I hate to admit it, but I did, too.
    That Pinto and a Torino were the two worst cars I ever owned.
    I had the Pinto when I was in college. Ford started manufacturing them the year I graduated from high school (1970) and made the last one in 1980. I’m sorry to learn you’re old enough to have owned one, even if our political perspectives do clash.
    Those cars didn’t cost much, and you got what you paid for.

  13. bud

    Yes the Pinto was an awful car. But it wasn’t the worst car my family owned. After 2 years watching my 1971 Pinto self-destruct my dad bought a 1973 Vega. He figured after 2 years Chevy would have the bugs worked out. Turns out the darn thing was worse than the Pinto. Imagine that. Not only did everything break on it, just like the Pinto, but it started to rust away, almost immediately. We didn’t keep that thing around very long, a couple of years at most.

  14. Brad Warthen

    Yeah, the Vega was WAY worse than the Pinto. I had one; I know.
    Two words: Aluminum block.
    I traded it in in 1978 for a new Rabbit, which was OK, but didn’t quite live up to the VW legend.
    Best car we ever had? A 1982 Mazda GLC.

  15. Herb Brasher

    What’s with the aluminum block? I had one in a 1964 Buick Skylark, and it was the best car I ever had. Held it’s value, too. We had to sell it when we went to Germany in ’73.

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