March 12, 2006

The People vs Big Tobacco

Another good non-fiction book I've read in the past few years tells the deeper story behind the headlines of the enormous settlement won by the states vs the tobacco industry back in the 1990's (subsequently reduced when Bush took office, big shocker there). Carrick Mollenkamp and other reporters who worked on the case wrote up a summary book called "The People vs Big Tobacco", and it tells the same sort of story told in the (very good) movie "The Insider" a few years ago.

The movie had Russell Crowe acting as a scientist for a tobacco company who wanted to provide evidence against them to help a class action lawsuit, and Al Pacino was the 60 Minutes producer Lowell Bergmann, trying to get the scientist's testimony on the air so that it could become part of the public record for use in the trial (otherwise, confidentiality agreements would've squashed a lot of potential evidence). The book tells the story more from the side of the main lawyers in question, all the hoops they had to jump through, etc.

Another part of the story not told so much in the movie was that of the paralegal who stole a bunch of documents from a tobacco lawyer law firm which provided the first impetus for the case. Basically, the reason the tobacco industry survived for so long against lawsuits is that they had a pretty good legal fortress built up, and it took a few people willing to risk jail to bust through that wall. Even then, when the battle was supposedly over, big tobacco managed to turn it all into an extremely hollow victory.

So this is a pretty good summary of the legal story. A little dry, certainly not as entrancing as the movie which covered similar ground, but also very thorough and detailed. If you liked Grisham's book on a big tobacco trial ("Runaway Jury", also made into a movie) but want to see more legal and less dramatics, this is a good book. It never came out in paperback as far as I can tell, but it is easy to find in bargain shelves and remainders and also at public libraries.

Posted by Observer at March 12, 2006 02:38 PM

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