A Civil Action Characters

The central characters of A Civil Action are Jan Schlichtmann, Anne Anderson, Jerome Facher, Walter Skinner, and William Cheeseman.

  • Jan Schlichtmann: Schlichtmann is a tenacious lawyer; he drives the prosecution, even in the face of great obstacles and impending financial ruin.
  • Anne Anderson: Anderson is the mother of a Woburn leukemia victim. Her intuition and judgment set the case into motion. 

  • Walter Skinner: Skinner is the judge ruling over the Woburn case in its various phases. Skinner, irritable, is quick to censure all parties.
  • Jerome Facher: Facher leads the defense for Beatrice.
  • William Cheeseman: Cheeseman leads the defense for Grace.


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Last Updated on October 28, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 556

Anne Anderson

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Anne Anderson is a resident of Woburn who discovers, like many other parents in the town, that her child has leukemia. She grows suspicious when several other children in Woburn are diagnosed with leukemia—a normally rare disease—within a few years of her son Jimmy’s diagnosis. Anne is supportive of and sympathetic to the other parents whose children develop leukemia, and she grows increasingly distressed as each case of the disease is discovered. Though Jimmy’s doctor and others in the town believe the children’s diagnoses to be coincidental, Anne’s persistence allows her to convince others of the suspicious circumstances and to gather support to pursue legal action. Anne loses Jimmy to leukemia five years before the Woburn case comes to trial. 

Jan Schlichtmann

Jan Schlichtmann is a bright but arrogant lawyer from Boston whose employer, Joe Mulligan, passes the Woburn case to him. He is excited to be working on such an important and famous case but is dismayed by the initial lack of evidence. Together with two other lawyers from Mulligan’s firm and the executive director of the group Trial Lawyers for Public Justice, Schlichtmann spearheads the legal battle against Beatrice Foods and W. R. Grace. 

The Woburn trial takes its toll on Schlichtmann in more ways than one. Schlichtmann grows increasingly stressed and is scolded by Judge Skinner for his unacceptable behavior during the discovery phase. Due to the great expenses of the case, Schlichtmann’s firm falls into financial ruin, and he eventually files for bankruptcy. Even after the jury’s ruling that Beatrice Foods is not liable, Schlichtmann continues to fight tenaciously: he seeks an appeal of the ruling but is ultimately unsuccessful. 

Jerome Facher

Jerome Facher is the attorney for Beatrice Foods, one of the companies accused of contaminating the water of Woburn. Facher is a legal mastermind. Knowing that his case will be weakened if the leukemia victims’ family members are allowed to testify from the outset, he requests that the trial be divided into phases with distinct purposes: the first would be mostly scientific and devoted to determining if the companies were responsible for the contaminants in the wells. Judge Skinner grants this request, and Facher thus foils Schlichtmann’s plan to begin with the emotional testimonies. In the end, Facher wins his case, and Beatrice Foods is not held liable. 

William Cheeseman and Michael Keating

Cheeseman and Keating are the main attorneys defending W. R. Grace in the Woburn case: Cheeseman handles the case’s pretrial phase, and Keating serves as the chief attorney for the trial. In the end, W. R. Grace is found liable by the jury, and the company settles with the plaintiffs for $8 million. 

Walter Jay Skinner

Skinner is the judge for the Woburn case. When Beatrice Foods’s attorney, Jerome Facher, suggests dividing up the trial into phases, Skinner accepts, which prevents Schlichtmann from beginning the trial with emotional testimonies from the leukemia victims’ family members. When a report pointing to Beatrice’s culpability is discovered after the conclusion of the trial, the plaintiffs request a new trial from the United States Court of Appeals, which sends the case back to Skinner. Skinner denies the plaintiffs a new trial, insisting that it is unwarranted and that Schlichtmann is pursuing a new trial without sufficient evidence.