A Civil Action

by Jonathan Harr

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Facher's Plea

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Cheeseman calls Facher and asks if he will split the cost for a company service to research jurors in the Boston area. Facher agrees, and the findings show that out of five hundred people, 409 side with the Woburn families. Facher is angry because he spent twenty-five thousand dollars to find out something he already knew. Cheeseman makes another call to Facher, asking him to partake in selecting a mock jury. Facher refuses, believing it’s another waste of money.

Having recently turned sixty years old, Facher is slowing down. He realizes that he has over twenty-three thousand pages of files and that there are thirty-six more depositions he hasn’t studied. He comes to the realization that he is not prepared to try this case. Facher decides to write a personal affidavit asking the judge for another extension. Facher needs six months to a year to wrap his mind around all the evidence in this case. He writes that he has never written an affidavit of this nature and plans never to do so again.

Skinner has so much work, he never sees the affidavit until the morning of the pretrial hearing. The judge begins reading the letter and immediately begins to dismiss Facher’s claims. He doesn’t want to delay. Facher thought Skinner would agree to his terms. When Skinner doesn’t, Facher begs the judge for more time. Skinner doesn’t want to delay the trial but offers Facher another month. Facher declines, continuing to beg for a reasonable amount of time. Schlichtmann intervenes and says he’s ready for trial. To this, Facher asks for a settlement. The judge asks Schlichtmann if he has a number in mind and also reminds the group that in a case like this, families want to remove the blame from themselves; it’s not about the money.

Schlichtmann leaves the court feeling pleased. He has survived the judicial process and feels he is going to finally get a jury. Over dinner that night, the team decides $175 million is their amount. After seeing Facher beg, they believe this is a reasonable sum for negotiation. They clarify a package of demands and a payment schedule including $25 million for a leukemia foundation.

But Conway is worried. To get more money, Gordon gave Uncle Pete the deeds to Schlichtmann’s condo and the houses of Conway and Crowley. He feels great doubt,  whereas everyone else seems sure they will win.

Gordon reserves a private room at the Four Seasons for negotiations and spares no expense for food and decor. The firm talks about seating arrangements and clothing as if they are preparing for a wedding. Everyone except Conway is ready for the show, but the negotiations don’t go as planned. Everyone arrives on time to the Four Seasons except for Facher, who chooses to walk to the hotel. Schlichtmann and Gordon lay out the philosophical and financial terms of their deal. The meeting lasts thirty-seven minutes and ends when Facher takes a croissant and a pen and quietly leaves. Nothing is negotiated, which means they are going to trial. Facher doesn’t tell the judge any details of the negotiation, only that he dislikes the proposal. 

On the first day of jury selection, Skinner chooses to question the potential jurors in his chamber with the lawyers present instead of in the courtroom. With all the media attention in Boston, he wants to ensure the selection process is thorough and results in an unbiased group. After six days of interviewing seventy-nine possible jurors, they compile a jury. Neither side is happy with the selection, but Skinner feels that this shared attitude indicates...

(This entire section contains 973 words.)

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a balanced jury.

As the trial approaches, Skinner becomes concerned about how the trial will work, feeling a less traditional option would be best. Schlichtmann begins to worry he won’t get his witnesses on the stand. Both sides are able to present Skinner with a trial plan proposal. Nesson compromises by having only Anne take the witness stand and then following up with their medical team. Facher says everyone needs to prove Beatrice and Grace contaminated the wells. Cheeseman feels the only piece of the puzzle that needs to be proven is if TCE causes leukemia.

Skinner chooses a plan that looks like Facher’s outline and says that phase one of the trial will be to prove whether Beatrice and Grace contaminated the wells. If the jury believes this to be true, they can move on to the medical issues in phase two. Nesson isn’t pleased with this outcome, but Schlichtmann doesn’t care. He’s happy to have a jury and feels confident about his course of argumentation.

Skinner gives the lawyers two weeks to prepare, and during that time, Facher’s associate, Neil Jacobs, calls Schlichtmann to settle. Schlichtmann and Jacobs meet for drinks. Jacobs tells Schlichtmann he will bring in someone from Beatrice who can approve a settlement, so long as Schlichtmann doesn’t propose another outrageous demand. Schlichtmann agrees, and they meet at Hale and Dorr the next day. The Beatrice executive, Mary Allen, is not pleased by Schlichtmann’s first demand of thirty-six million dollars. The negotiation continues until Jacobs makes an informal offer of one million dollars per family. Schlichtmann thinks carefully about the offer. If he accepts, the families would receive money, he would be able to keep funding his case, and Facher would disappear. However, he feels that he has a real case against Beatrice. 

Jacobs tells Schlichtmann he will try to get eight million dollars from Beatrice, promising to call him later, but after some discussion at Schlichtmann’s firm, the team settles on a request of eighteen million dollars. Schlichtmann calls Jacobs with the offer, who says he will call Schlichtmann back with a response. However, Jacobs never does.


Billion-Dollar Charlie


The Trial