Billion-Dollar Charlie

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Last Updated on February 20, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1294

Harvard Law professor Charles Nesson studies the relationship between proof and truth. He has created the “Blue Bus” theory that asks people to analyze the use of statistics in court. In Nesson’s hypothetical scenario, published in a recent law article, Mr. Smith is driving down a road at night and sees headlights speeding toward him in the center of the road. To avoid a collision, he veers off and hits a tree. He learns the Blue Bus Company operates eighty percent of the buses that travel that road and chooses to sue them for damages, but Mr. Smith can’t actually remember the color of the bus. Nesson claims if this were a criminal case, Mr. Smith would not win, but if this were a civil case in which you prove evidence to be “more likely than not,” he should win. He feels you can’t argue a case based on “good odds.” Juries must decide truth, not probability.

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Skinner happens to read this article and calls a meeting with Schlichtmann, Cheeseman, and Jacobs two weeks after the Woodshed meeting. Skinner brings up the article and asks Schlichtmann to speak to its validity. Skinner wants to ensure that Schlichtmann isn’t going to simply use expert testimony to try to prove causation between the families in the area and the chemicals. Schlichtmann isn’t aware of the article and assumes the judge is talking about the Harvard Health Study he plans on submitting as evidence. Careful with his words, he tells the judge that his evidence will be clinically based. But the other lawyers tell Schlichtmann and the judge that they will work to negate the validity of the Harvard Health Study and any evidence like it. 

Schlichtmann doesn’t have time to persuade the judge and defense into believing the Harvard Study. His clients are starting their second round of depositions, and he wants to be present for each one. In this round of questioning, the defense asks about household products and foods that are also known to contain carcinogens, and Schlichtmann knows they will try and show how all chemicals have a minor correlation to health effects, which fact will negate his case.

That Friday, Schlichtmann meets his friend Tom Kiley for their weekly drink. Kiley sees how tired and unhinged Schlichtmann is becoming and offers his help. He tells Schlichtmann that what he really needs is a law professor to help him get the Harvard Study admitted as valid evidence. Not only would this help his case, but Schlichtmann believes a respected law professor would help his reputation with the judge and jury.

Schlichtmann experiences another moment of clarity when top lawyer Rikki Klieman comes into the bar looking for him. Klieman tells him that there is a prestigious legal conference in Puerto Rico. Even though Sclichtmann is still with Teresa, Klieman, who fancies him, uses this as an opportunity to get Schlichtmann alone. Whether by coincidence or not, Klieman mentions the name Charlie Nesson as a possible candidate for Schlichtmann’s new angle. Schlichtmann connects the name to Skinner’s article and feels that this is fate, especially since Nesson will be speaking at the conference.

In Puerto Rico, Schlichtmann refuses to relax. To Klieman’s dismay, Schlichtmann has packed his bags with case files and documents to peruse, and when Schlichtmann arrives on the beach, all he wants to do is meet Nesson. Forgoing Klieman’s advice, he finds Nesson, but the meeting lasts only a few seconds. Schlichtmann begs Klieman to introduce them. She does so at lunch, but it doesn’t seem that Nesson is interested in the case. Schlichtmann learns they are on the same flight back to Boston, but Klieman begs Schlichtmann not to bother Nesson on the plane. Schlichtmann cannot contain himself. He pesters Nesson, describing the case and asking him to join him in first class,...

(The entire section contains 1294 words.)

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The Woodshed


Facher's Plea