Written by guest blogger Judge McGahey
Erin Brockovich was released in 2000 by Universal Pictures. Julia Roberts won a Best Actress Oscar for portraying the title character, a real-life, self-trained legal assistant who played a huge role in a landmark environmental case. It’s a movie that should remind all of us how much we need hard-working dedicated people to support what we do as trial lawyers and judges – and how sometimes what we need is for those folks to kick our keisters.
We first meet Erin as a plaintiff, suing a doctor with whom she was involved in a traffic accident. In spite of having a good case, her angry behavior in the courtroom leads to a loss; her lawyer Ed Masry (Albert Finney) intends to wash his hands of her. But then Erin appears in Ed’s office, tells him she has three kids and is out of work and that she has to hire her, since he lost her case. Somewhat surprisingly, Ed does exactly that, even though Erin has no legal background or experience.
Erin is assigned a case involving a couple who’s negotiating the sale of their home to Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E). As she researches the file, Erin comes upon evidence that the property is contaminated with a carcinogenic chemical. Eventually, it comes to light that much of an entire town has been affected, along with hundreds of people. A class action suit is filed. Ed eventually decides that arbitration could produce a more rapid result for his clients, but such a tactic would require the agreement of most of the plaintiffs. After much more hard work by Erin, who wins the trust of the townspeople (and who also has to prod Ed to do what a lawyer should do), the arbitration is agreed to. Erin keeps digging and investigating and dramatic proof of knowledge of the scope of the problem by PG&E’s management is uncovered, leading to a court-ordered payment of $333 million dollar to the plaintiffs.
Erin Brockovich was a popular and successful film. In addition to Roberts’ Oscar win, the movie was nominated for Best Picture, Finney was nominated for Best Supporting Actor, there was a nomination for Best Screenplay, and director Steven Soderbergh was nominated for Best Director, an award he lost to himself, since he also directed Traffic that year. The real Erin Brockovich has a cameo in the movie — as a waitress named Julia.
Bill Demoulin was my mentor and then my partner. On the day I started with the firm, he made a point of telling me: “Never forget that a lawyer is only as good as his staff.” Being successful in court certainly requires skill and dedication and hard work on our part. But we should never forget that all that skill and dedication and hard work doesn’t mean anything if we don’t have people helping us with the same focus. The success we can deliver to our clients depends in large part on what happens long before we ever get to the courthouse. If you haven’t taken the time recently to thank your legal assistant, your secretary, your investigator, your receptionist, your file clerk, in fact, everybody in your office who makes you good at your job, do that tomorrow, if you don’t have time to do it today.
Now, you’re probably asking what happened to inspire me to write this review. Erin Brockovich is a movie about a focused person, dedicated to justice, who wants to see the right result happen and will do the hard work to make that happen. Maybe you guessed: Kelly Boe let us know she’s going to retire. As we all know, Kelly is an administrator without peer. She is both a team player and a leader. I have never seen her flustered, even when she had good reason to be. If something needs to get done, she gets it done. Her goal has always been that the Second Judicial District should be the model for every other district in the state and that everyone, from the oldest judge to the newest clerk, has the environment and the resources and the help they need to get their job done right. We will miss her immeasurably, but wish her all the best. And we will try not to envy her on that first morning when she wakes up and doesn’t have to come to work!