Anderson v. W.R. Grace
|Judge & Jurors
Judge Walter J. Skinner
Anne Anderson was the lead plaintiff in the Anderson v. W.R. Grace case, filed in 1982. Anne and Charles Anderson moved to East Woburn, Massachusetts in 1965. It seemed at the time, to be an ideal community to raise a family-their house located on a tree-lined street near to the center of the town, was a quiet neighborhood. However, their idyllic life suddenly changed when Jimmy the youngest of Anne's three children was diagnosed with a rare form of childhood leukemia; "Jimmy was sick for 9 years. So sick that he spent most of his life at home or in the hospital. He taught me courage and gave me the strength to fight on his behalf." Anne thought the water in Woburn might be the cause of her son's illness. Health officials, community residents and her own family believed Anne and her idea were "nutty as a fruitcake". Ultimately, Anne's claims were vindicated and became the basis of litigation. She played a key role in organizing other families to join in litigation. A single mom when Jimmy died, she continued in fighting for environmental justice. Presently, she works for the City of Woburn as a librarian and still lives in the same house in East Woburn. In the Hollywood movie, Kathleen Quinlan though she plays Anne Anderson in the movie, is really a composite of many of the mothers in the Anderson case.
Jimmy was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia in 1972, when he was four years old. He died on Sunday, January 18, 1981 when he was 12 years old.
Donna Robbins was one of the plaintiff (mothers) in the Anderson case. Donna Garner Robbins grew up in Woburn. She married Carl Robbins in 1970, for whom her first son, Carl Robbins III was named after, though from birth he was called Robbie. One year after her second son Kevin was born, Robbie suffered devastating illnesses. Two years later followed two losses at the same time, the break-up of her marriage and the diagnosis of her son Robbie's leukemia; her son Kevin was then three. Donna pressed forward while caring for her sons, earning her nursing degree and actively participating in the fight for environmental justice. She is now a registered nurse and works at a local hospital. She advises and speaks to community groups about environmental issues. Donna Robbins continues to live in East Woburn with her son Kevin.
Robbie was 4 years old when his leukemia was diagnosed. He died in 1981 when he was nine years old. When Donna Robbins was asked how did Robbie handle his illness? Donna responded: "Robby was an amazing little kid. I think that all kids that are diagnosed with cancer have something very special. You know, to start out he was very bright, very serious, but had a lot of fun. You know, when he got sick, it got to a point where he would know the chemotherapy inside and out, the side effects, the whole bit. Regardless what people think, kids protect their parents, and I found that out in the end and when I look back at everything. But, he didn't mind going into the hospital. He loved all the doctors and nurses in there. He thought they were great. He told me in the end, 'Mom we'll meet in the left-hand corner of heaven.'" Robbie died with his mother at his bedside. He is buried in the cemetery in Woburn.
Mary and Richard Toomey were plaintiffs in the Anderson case. They moved to Woburn in 1963, expecting happiness in their new home. Of their five children, two died. A son James was killed in front of the house in a car accident. Patrick, diagnosed in 1979 with leukemia, died in 1981 when he was ten years old. Richard Toomey developed malignant melanoma and died a few years later. When Mary Toomey was asked how she coped with such tragedies she responded: "God was right there with me, just holding me up. That's what got me through it." Mary Toomey continues to live in East Woburn.
Jan Schlichtmann was the lead plaintiffs' attorney. When Jan Schlichtmann met with the Woburn families in 1981, he was on the road to becoming a successful personal injury attorney. The Anderson case appealed to him to do justice, and garner fame and fortune. He moved from riches to rags, then back to riches. Embroiled in continuing lawsuits pursued by creditors from the Anderson case he is still reminded of alleged amounts outstanding from the Anderson case. Schlichtmann now advises lawyers about environmental cases, and dabbles in film endeavors. Married with two children, he lives in a waterfront house in Massachusetts. Playing Schlichtmann in the Civil Action film required a larger than life performance by John Travolta to be - "a man of extremes" as Jonathan Harr evoked in his written portrayal of Schlichtmann.
Professor Nesson joined Schlichtmann legal team as a renowned expert on evidence. A graduate of Harvard College in 1960 and Harvard Law School in 1963, Nesson was a law clerk for United States Supreme Court Justice Harlan in 1965. A year later, Nesson joined the faculty at Harvard Law School. Nicknamed "Billion Dollar Charlie," Nesson saw the Anderson case as a significant statement against corporate environmental degradation. Professor Nesson's character is not in the Hollywood movie, when asked about that turn of events, he responded: "to have the story told and me not be part of it, I feel left out. I regret that. I can live with that, I've got tenure." Professor Nesson continues to teach at Harvard Law School and was one of the Founders of the Berkman Center for Internet and Policy.
William Cheeseman handled the pretrial aspects of W.R. Grace's defense. A 1965 graduate of Harvard College, Harvard Law School in 1968; he earned an LL.M. in 1969 and joined the corporate law firm of Foley, Hoag and Eliot. His biggest case, he proudly describes, is when he represented the Polaroid Corporation for patent infringement against Eastman Kodak. Fifteen years, and two six-month trials, resulted in a billion dollar judgment. William Cheeseman retired from active legal practice. He now works on developing computer programs where he and his wife live in Vermont.
Jerome Facher headed the trial team representing Beatrice Foods in the Anderson litigation. Jerome Facher's father was a shoe salesman. "That's how I got through college, selling shoes. There's nothing I don't know about shoes. I'm an old shoe dog. In those days, talk about cancer agents, we had x-ray machines, an x-ray machine to measure a person's feet." An experienced litigator with the distinguished 400-person law firm of Hale and Dorr, Facher likes to be called Jerry by friends. He is a 1951 graduate of Harvard Law School was also on the Law review. Facher served on many bar committees, among them: special counsel to the Massachusetts Judicial Conduct committee and Chaired the Superior Court Advisory committee on Civil Procedure. Facher taught a trial practice course at Harvard Law School. He is a fellow in the American College of Trial Lawyers. But his main claim to fame is that Robert Duvall played him in the Hollywood Civil Action movie and "is a better Facher than I am!" according to the real Facher. Jerry Facher continues to practice law on a "more limited schedule" devoting weeks to travel with his long-standing female companion.
Michael Keating headed the trial team on behalf of W.R. Grace. Keating, a senior partner in the law firm of Foley, Hoag and Eliot is the firm's most experienced trial lawyer. He is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Williams College and Harvard Law School in 1965l. Specializing in defense of white-collar crimes and other corporate and individual litigants, he appears in state and federal trial and appellate courts. He is still actively practicing law with the same Boston law firm.
Al Love was an employee of W.R. Grace. Al Love grew up in Woburn, left to serve in the Marines and later returned to Woburn. He and his wife raised their eight children in Woburn. He was employed at the W.R. Grace Cryovac plant in Woburn as the receiving clerk. He was responsible for checking in deliveries of chemicals and supplies. After plaintiffs attorney took Al's deposition in April 1985, Al realized that other employees at the plant had not testified truthfully about the use and dumping of chemicals at the plant. From that time on -- Al believed it was his duty to work with plaintiffs' lawyers; he talked to the EPA in Boston. He and his wife Evelyn appeared on the 60 Minutes show even though a gag order issued by Judge Skinner prevented Al Love from speaking. Evelyn Love spoke for him. He continued to work for W.R. Grace until he took early retirement after the Anderson trial ended. Al and Evelyn Love now live in Florida, but travel to Woburn every Christmas holiday to see their children and grandchildren, many whom live in Woburn and surrounding towns. In the Civil Action film, James Gandolfini plays Al Love. James Gondolfini now has the leading role as Tony Soprano in the Television drama, The Sopranos.
Evelyn Love is the wife of Al Love. They were married in 1952 and had 9 children, 8 are living and 15 grandchildren. Evelyn accompanied Al to the EPA and appeared on the 60 minutes program. Since Evelyn was not covered by the gag order, she spoke for Al explaining the role that Grace employees played in the disposal of chemicals.
Judge & Jurors
Judge Skinner graduated from Harvard College in 1948 and Harvard Law School in 1952. As a prosecutor in the Massachusetts Attorney General's office he aggressively pursued criminal convictions for political corruption. President Nixon appointed him to the federal bench in 1973. A member of the Federal Rules Advisory Committee he worked on Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11. Judge Skinner observed that, "The fellow that's playing me [in the Civil Action movie] is John Lithgow, incidentally another Harvard man. But I think quite clearly not a member of any conspiracy. I'm told that he's a very good actor. I hope he treats me kindly." Judge Skinner was appointed Senior Judge and continued to hear cases.
When Jeanne Coulsey was selected for the jury, she relates: "my father had died of leukemia. His sister died of leukemia, and so did his father. I also had a nursing degree. I thought I would be the last person they would select." At the time of the Anderson case, Coulsey was married, had six grandchildren, and worked as a department store warehouse forklift operator. Jeanne Coulsey died of cancer shortly after the interview for these documentary films.
Harriet Clark grew up in South Carolina. She can remember as teenager picking cotton during her summers -how lax people were with chemicals. Paint thinner was "freely dumped in the side yard." Having moved to Pembroke Massachusetts after getting married, she was in her senior years, the mother of four grown children with six grandchildren, when she responded to the jury summons. She never sat on a jury before, nor did she know where Woburn was located, nor that the case involved deaths of children. At the time she played the organ in her church.
Jonathan Harr is a journalist and was a staff writer for a number of leading magazines, including the New Yorker and the New York Times Magazine. When Professor Nesson suggested that Jonathan Harr be involved in documenting the Anderson case, the plaintiffs and their lawyers agreed. Jonathan Harr became "a fly on the plaintiffs' wall - attending law firm meetings, discussions, and trial proceedings with the plaintiffs' team. After submitting a manuscript of 1500 pages that got pared down to 500 pages, A Civil Action was published in 1995 - nine years after he had begun the project. It won the National Book award, and Harr received the 1997 Environmental Awareness Award from the League of Conservation voters for incorporating environmental protection in his work. Harr when asked if he thought his book would be made into a movie responded: I never entertained any idea of a movie being made of this book. It seemed to me to be way too complicated. The plaintiffs don't take the witness stand. There are two defendants. There was almost no sex. There was no gunplay. There was no violence. There were no car chases. So I was hugely surprised when Robert Redford bought the film rights. I was on the movie set when they were filming outside of Boston, and I was on the movie set with Jan, who was there, and Jerry Facher, who was there that day, watching Robert Duvall play him. And Jerry said something very interesting. He said, 'you know, this is four degrees separated from reality.' And I thought what does that mean, Jerry? And he said, 'first there was the event, then there was the trial about the event, then there was the book based on the trial about the event, and now there's the movie based on the book based on the trial about the event.'" Jonathan Harr continues to write and is working on another book.