Monday, March 17, 2003

I stumbled across this alleged debunking of the Erin Brockovich story, apparently by some guy named Michael Fumento, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute in D.C. Here's Erin's reply. It strikes me that this guy's got an axe to grind. Not surprising, since he has a pedigree that includes the American Enterprise Institute [conservative think tank] and the Washington Times [Moonie paper somewhat to the right of Attila the Hun]. Like most arch conservative types, he thinks it insignificant that the defendant in the Hinkley case voluntarily negotiated and paid -- as a settlement -- about $333 million. Apparently that's peanuts for PG&E and people like Fumento. I wish I knew defendants that would pay up that kind of dough on my undeserving cases.

For perhaps a more realistic viewpoint, Michael Asimow, a UCLA law professor, enjoyed the movie, and apparently didn't agree with Fumento's smarmy attack on the case or the movie. Just as an example of what Fumento failed to consider:

The killer document implicated the top management of PG&E in the Hinkley cover-up. Under Calif. Civil Code §3294, in order to support a claim for punitive damages against a corporation, it is necessary to show that an officer, director or managing agent of the corporation ratified the wrongful conduct. The document was clearly the key to the arbitrators' huge punitive damage awards. In the film, the document is turned over to Brockovich in a bar by a rather sinister looking fellow who Brockovich thought was trying to pick her up. He was a PG&E employee who had been told to shred documents but had saved the critical ones. He was out for revenge since his brother (also a PG&E employee) had just died from chromium poisoning. In fact, there were two sources for this material, including a bartender; PG&E hired them to transport all the historical records about the chromium from the "boneyard" where they were stored to the dump. This episode illustrates what all trial lawyers know--the difficulty of covering up evil conduct and the likelihood that somebody will spill the beans. [emphasis added]

If PG&E didn't do anything wrong, how come they tried to destroy the "smoking gun" evidence? Also important is to comprehend Ed Masry's gamble and the expenses necessary to get to that settlement. Masry ran a two lawyer shop; it was the gamble of a lifetime to go after corporate giant PG&E. Also, as Asimow notes, the plaintiffs in that case had expenses of over $12 million. Now that's a gamble.

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