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1 Hawthorne Law- General

A Civil Action


A Civil Action Cover

ISBN13: 9780679772675
ISBN10: 0679772677
Condition: Standard
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Only 1 left in stock at $4.95!




The lawyer Jan Schlichtmann was awakened by the telephone at eight-thirty on a Saturday morning in mid-July. He had slept only a few hours, and fitfully at that. When the phone rang, he was dreaming about a young woman who worked in the accounting department of a Boston insurance firm. The woman had somber brown eyes, a clear complexion, and dark shoulder-length hair. Every working day for the past five months the woman had sat across from Schlichtmann in the courtroom, no more than ten feet away. In five months Schlichtmann had not uttered a single word directly to her, nor she to him. He had heard her voice once, the first time he'd seen her, but he could no longer remember what it sounded like. When their eyes had happened to meet, each had been careful to convey nothing of import, to make the gaze neutral, and to shift it away as quickly as possible without causing insult.

The woman was a juror. Schlichtmann hoped that she liked and trusted him. He wanted desperately to know what she was thinking. In his dream, he stood with her in a dense forest, overgrown with branches and roots and vines. Behind the woman were several people whose faces Schlichtmann recognized, the other jurors. The woman was trying to decide which path in the forest to take and Schlichtmann was attempting to point the direction. He beseeched her. She remained undecided. A dream of obvious significance, and unresolved when the phone rang and Schlichtmann awoke, enveloped by a sense of dread.

The man on the phone identified himself as an officer at Baybank South Shore, where Schlichtmann had an automobile loan that was several months in arrears. Unless Schlichtmann was prepared to pay the amount due--it came to $9,203--the bank intended to repossess the car, a black Porsche 928.

Schlichtmann had no idea whether or not Baybank South Shore had been paid in the last several months, but on reflection he felt pretty certain it had not. He told the banker to speak with a man named James Gordon. "He handles my financial affairs," said Schlichtmann, who gave the banker Gordon's telephone number and then hung up the phone.

Schlichtmann was still in bed twenty minutes later when the phone rang again. This time the voice on the other end identified himself as a Suffolk County sheriff. The sheriff said he was at a pay phone on Charles Street, two blocks from Schlichtmann's building. He had come to repossess the Porsche. "I want you to show me where the car is," said the sheriff.

Schlichtmann asked the sheriff to wait for ten minutes. Then he tried to call Gordon. There was no answer. He lay in bed and stared at the ceiling. Again the phone rang. "Are you going to show me where the car is?" asked the sheriff.

"I think I will," said Schlichtmann.

The sheriff, a large, heavyset man in a blue blazer, was waiting for Schlichtmann at the front door. It was a clear and brilliantly sunny morning in the summer of 1986. From the doorstep, Schlichtmann could see the sun glinting off the Charles River, where the white sails of small boats caught a brisk morning breeze. The sheriff handed him some documents dealing with the repossession. Schlichtmann glanced at the papers and told the sheriff he would get the car, which was parked in a garage three blocks away. Leaving the sheriff at his doorstep, he walked up Pinckney Street and then along the brick sidewalks of Charles Street, the main thoroughfare of Beacon Hill. He walked past several cafés, the aroma of coffee and freshly baked pastries coming from their doorways, past young mothers wheeling their children in strollers, past joggers heading for the Esplanade along the Charles River. He felt as if his future, perhaps even his life, hung in the balance while all around him the world followed a serene course.

In the garage bay the Porsche had acquired a fine patina of city grime. Schlichtmann had owned the car for almost two years, yet he'd driven it less than five thousand miles. Throughout the winter it had sat unused in the garage. When Schlichtmann's girlfriend had tried to start the car one weekend this spring, she'd discovered the battery was dead. She had the battery charged and took the Porsche out for a drive, but then James Gordon told her the insurance had lapsed and she shouldn't drive it anymore.

Schlichtmann drove the car back to Pinckney Street and handed the keys to the sheriff, who took out a screwdriver and began to remove

the license plate. Schlichtmann stood on the sidewalk and watched, his arms folded. The sheriff shook open a green plastic garbage bag and collected audio cassettes and papers from the dashboard. In the cramped backseat of the Porsche, he found some law books and several transcripts of depositions in the civil action of Anne Anderson, et al., v. W. R. Grace & Co., et al. The sheriff dumped these into the garbage bag, too. He worked methodically and did not say much--he'd long since learned that most people did not react warmly to his presence. But the transcripts made him curious. "You're a lawyer?" the sheriff asked.

Schlichtmann nodded.

"You involved in that case?"

Schlichtmann said he was. The jury had been out for a week, he added. He felt certain they would reach a verdict on Monday.

The sheriff said he'd seen the woman, Anne Anderson, on the television program 60 Minutes. He handed Schlichtmann the garbage bag and asked him to sign a receipt. Then he squeezed his bulk into the driver's seat and turned on the ignition. "Nice car," he said. He looked up at Schlichtmann and shook his head. "It must be a tough case."

Schlichtmann laughed at this. The sheriff laughed, too, and said, "Well, good luck."

Schlichtmann stood on the curb and watched as the sheriff turned the Porsche onto Brimmer Street and disappeared. He thought to himself: Easy come, easy go.

*  *  *  

Two days later, on Monday morning, Schlichtmann dressed in one of his favorite suits (hand-tailored by Dmitri of New York), his best pair of Bally shoes, and a burgundy Hermès tie that he considered lucky. Usually he took a taxi to the federal courthouse in downtown Boston, but since he had no money on this morning, he had to walk. On his way across the Boston Common a man in a grimy coat, his belongings gathered into a green plastic trash bag, approached Schlichtmann and asked for money. Schlichtmann told the man he had none.

Schlichtmann walked on, struck suddenly by the precariousness of one's position in life. In a technical sense he was close to being homeless himself. His condominium association had just filed a lawsuit against him for failing to make a single maintenance payment in the last six months. He was also in arrears on his first, second, and third mortgages. By the time the jury had started deliberating, after seventy-eight days of trial, all the money was gone. "You're living on vapor," James Gordon had told Schlichtmann and his partners. The few dollars that came into the firm of Schlichtmann, Conway & Crowley each week were the result of old business, fees on cases long since settled. It amounted to no more than fifteen hundred a week. Salaries for the secretaries and paralegals alone were four thousand. American Express had filed suit against the firm. There had been no payment for more than four months on twenty-five thousand dollars of credit-card debt. Heller Financial, a leasing company, had threatened to repossess the law firm's computer terminals by August 1. If he lost this case, Schlichtmann would be sunk so deeply into debt that it would take five years, Gordon estimated, for him to climb back to even.

But money was the least of Schlichtmann's worries. Oddly, for a man of lavish tastes, he didn't care that much about money. He was much more frightened of having staked too much of himself on this one case. He was afraid that if he lost it--if he'd been that wrong--he would lose something of far greater value than money. That in some mysterious way, all the confidence he had in himself, his ambition and his talent, would drain away. He had a vision of himself sitting on a park bench, his hand-tailored suits stuffed into his own green plastic trash bags.

In the courtroom corridor at a quarter to eight, perspiring slightly from his walk, Schlichtmann began waiting. He knew this corridor intimately. Usually he stood near a heavy wooden bench, somewhat like a church pew, which was located directly across from the closed door of Judge Walter J. Skinner's office. At the end of the corridor, next to a pay phone, a pair of heavy swinging doors opened into Judge Skinner's courtroom. Schlichtmann had spent hundreds of hours in there and he had no desire to go back in now. He preferred the corridor. The opposite end was a city block away, past a bank of elevators, past a dozen closed doors that led to jury rooms, conference rooms, and offices. There were no windows in the corridor. It looked the same at eight o'clock in the morning when Schlichtmann arrived as it did when he left at four in the afternoon. The lighting fixtures were old fluorescent models, recessed into the ceiling, and they cast a feeble light, like dusk on an overcast day. The corridor smelled of floor polish and disinfectant and stale cigarette smoke.

At around eight o'clock, the jurors began arriving for their day of work. They conducted their deliberations in a small room at the end of the corridor, up a narrow flight of stairs, a room that Schlichtmann had never seen. Some mornings two or three of the jurors arrived together, talking among themselves as they got off the elevator. They always fell silent as they neared Schlichtmann. They might smile, a tight, thin, constrained smile, or nod briskly to him. Schlichtmann looked studiously down at the floor as they walked past him, but from the corners of his eyes he watched every step they took. He studied their demeanor and their dress and tried to guess their moods.

The jurors' footsteps receded. In a moment, Schlichtmann was alone again.

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jakepemberton93, April 7, 2015 (view all comments by jakepemberton93)

“A Civil Action” is a compelling true story that takes place in Woburn, Massachusetts in 1966 to 1986. This book addresses the direct effects that pollution has on a town and how hard it is to keep big name companies accountable in regards of pollution.
“A Civil Action” story is told through a narrative that will engage most audiences. It is very easy to read and comprehend. The book begins with the town of Woburn complaining about the well water pumped from Wells G and H. The water was foggy, had a horrible stench, and tasted gross. The book changes gears and focuses on a couple of the local families in Woburn that find out that their sons have cancer. Anne Anderson has a gut feeling that it might be the water, but no one would believe her. On September 10, 1979 her suspicions were confirmed in a news article in the Woburn Daily Times (38). Charles C. Ryan reported that “past July of a half-buried lagoon, nearly an acre in size and five feet deep, was contaminated with arsenic, lead, chromium, and traces of other heavy metals” (39). The lagoon also contained rotting animal hides, hair, and slaughterhouse wastes (39). To conclude the article it was pointed out that “Arsenic in small doses is suspected as a cancer-causing agent” (39). Later Reverend Young and Anne Anderson discovered that in the past 15 years there were a total of 12 leukemia cases in children. Six of them were in the Pine Street neighborhood and the others were within a mile radius of each other (40). All drank water from the Wells G and H.
Then the story takes a turn and introduces Jan Schlichtmann who turns out to be the lawyer that takes the Woburn case. Many of Schlichtmann’s colleagues told him not to take this case because it is a “black hole”. The three main companies Schlichtmann faced were Beatrice Foods, W.R. Grace, and Unifirst. The rest of the book is about the long, laborious, and expensive trial to convict these companies of water contamination and causing the cancer cases. This is by the way is very entertaining. In the end Schlichtmann settles the cases and goes bankrupt.
“A Civil Action” is overall a very entertaining book, but also points out some major issues. One issue being how pollution directly affects people and the other being how hard it is to keep companies accountable in regards to pollution.
The first issue shows that pollution does not just effect the environment, but also can harm people. The polluted water caused children to die of cancer. The pollution of the lagoon shows the process of water runoff. It is similar to environmental factors with pesticides. After the chemicals are sprayed, the rain takes the remaining chemicals to other ecosystems including bodies of water. The polluted lagoon runoff went into the groundwater that contaminated the drinking water. This shows companies how harmful one pollution act can be to a town and in this case young children.
The second issue points out that it is really hard to keep companies accountable for their actions in regards of pollution. It is ridiculous how much time and money Schlichtmann had to sacrifice to get a settlement on this case. As a result of reading this story, I believe that there needs to be better laws to keep companies accountable for their pollution crimes. There should be an easier way to convict companies of pollution crimes. It is unjust that Schlichtmann went bankrupt after fighting for justice on this case. If nothing changes in the law, lawyers will stay away from these cases and companies will proceed to get away with pollution crimes that hurt the environment and put people’s lives at risk.
“A Civil Action” does an amazing job of telling the story of Woburn, Massachusetts. It also raises awareness of the harmful effects pollution can have on people and that there needs to be change in the law system to keep companies accountable for pollution crimes.
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riveracarlos714, July 4, 2009 (view all comments by riveracarlos714)
This book from the moment i started on reading cought my attention. It's true what the reviewer's say its a page to page turner with compelling discriptions and interesting facts. I am deeply compelled by this story and I have to admit this is one of the most amazeing books that I have read.
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Product Details

Harr, Jonathan
Asher, Marty
Harr, Jonathan
Asher, Marty
Harr, Jonathan
Vintage Books USA
New York :
Civil Procedure
Administrative Law & Regulatory Practice
Legal System
Liability for hazardous substances pollution
Liability for water pollution damages -- Massachusetts -- Woburn.
Anderson, Anne - Trials, litigation, etc
W.R. Grace & Co - Trials, litigation, etc
Politics-United States Politics
Crime-Enforcement and Investigation
law;non-fiction;fiction;legal;environment;pollution;litigation;massachusetts;history;true crime;current affairs;crime;trials;lawyers;trial;thriller;politics;novel;20th century;justice;environmental;national book critics circle award;legal thriller;environ
law;non-fiction;fiction;legal;environment;pollution;litigation;massachusetts;history;true crime;current affairs;crime;trials;lawyers;trial;thriller;politics;novel;20th century;justice;environmental;national book critics circle award;legal thriller;environ
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
August 1996
Grade Level:
8 x 5.12 x 0.86 in 0.78 lb

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Related Subjects

Business » Business Law
History and Social Science » Crime » Enforcement and Investigation
History and Social Science » Law » Civil Liberties and Human Rights
History and Social Science » Law » General
History and Social Science » Law » Legal Guides and Reference

A Civil Action Used Trade Paper
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$4.95 In Stock
Product details 512 pages Vintage Books USA - English 9780679772675 Reviews:
"Review" by , "Whether in truth or fiction, I have never read a more compelling chronicle of litigation."
"Review" by , "[A] page-turner. So rich and vivid that it becomes a good deal more than a simple, interesting case study."
"Review" by , "Once you start A Civil Action, you probably will not be able to put it down."
"Review" by , "The legal thriller of the decade."
"Review" by , "Harr has told the story expertly, although more exhaustively than most readers may wish."
"Review" by , "Entertaining insight to litigation that any law-minded reader will follow from first filing to last appeal."
"Synopsis" by , "The legal thriller of the decade." --Cleveland Plain Dealer

Now a Major Motion Picture!

In this true story of an epic courtroom showdown, two of the nation's largest corporations stand accused of causing the deaths of children. Representing the bereaved parents, the unlikeliest of heroes emerges: a young, flamboyant Porsche-driving lawyer who hopes to win millions of dollars and ends up nearly losing everything, including his sanity. A searing, compelling tale of a legal system gone awry--one in which greed and power fight an unending struggle against justice--A Civil Action is also the story of how one determined man can ultimately make a difference. With an unstoppable narrative power, it is an unforgettable reading experience.

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