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Last Updated on October 28, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 696

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.

Jonathan Harr begins A Civil Action with a snapshot of lawyer Jan Schlichtmann’s life during the Woburn trial. It is July of 1986, and...

(The entire section contains 696 words.)

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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.

Jonathan Harr begins A Civil Action with a snapshot of lawyer Jan Schlichtmann’s life during the Woburn trial. It is July of 1986, and Schlichtmann’s Porsche is being repossessed by the bank; his finances in tatters, he reflects that, at the end of this trial, he could be homeless. Although losing the case would likely put him five years in debt, Schlichtmann isn’t worried about losing money: rather, he fears that “all the confidence he had in himself, his ambition and his talent, would drain away.” 

[Reverend Young] had purchased a street map of the city. Anne read aloud the address of each case, and the minister marked it on the map. Of the twelve cases, eight were located in east Woburn, and six of those were clustered in the Pine Street neighborhood, where perhaps two hundred families lived. 

The discovery of Woburn’s water contamination and the demand for change are largely the result of the town’s residents and their investigations. The residents had long been suspicious of their water quality and had called for the closure of their wells due to the water’s odor and color numerous times. Anne Anderson, whose son Jimmy had been diagnosed with leukemia, becomes suspicious when many other children in Woburn are diagnosed with the disease. Leukemia is known to be rare, and this quote highlights how great of an anomaly Woburn’s cancer cluster is. After interviewing other residents and collecting this information, Jimmy’s doctor and other residents contact a doctor at the Centers for Disease Control and seek a lawyer to help them pursue legal action. 

Discovering the whole truth of what had happened at the Grace plant, Schlichtmann realized, was impossible. In the beginning, the truth had been obscured by a web of lies, evasions, and self-serving accounts from both workers and Grace executives. In the end, it still remained hidden by death and the vagaries of memory. But for Schlichtmann’s purposes, it really made little difference whether there had been two pits or three or four. He had uncovered more than enough to make his case.

Though he is initially discouraged by the overwhelming lack of evidence against Beatrice Foods and W. R. Grace in the Woburn case, Schlichtmann soon finds what he feels is more than enough evidence to prove Grace’s culpability. Beatrice, however, proves to be more difficult to condemn, and in the end, Grace is deemed liable, while Beatrice is not. 

At night, lying on the foldout couch in the office, Schlichtmann had terrible fantasies. He was consumed with hatred for Judge Skinner. “I have thoughts of hurting him on a personal level,” he said. He could imagine himself reaching up to the bench where the judge sat in his black robes and grabbing him by the throat, by the wattle of sagging flesh. He imagined the stunned look of surprise in Skinner’s eyes as he throttled him. He didn’t hate Facher. He hated what Facher had done, but he understood why he’d done it. No, it was the judge, presiding over a U.S. District Court, the false and corrupt pretense of justice, that drove Schlichtmann mad with fury. The more he thought about it, the more he suspected that Facher must have some sort of hold over the judge.

Schlichtmann’s view of the entire justice system is altered by the outcome of the trial, leaving him disappointed and troubled. Facher suggests a separation of the trial into multiple phases and succeeds in foiling Schlichtmann’s plan to open the trial with emotional testimonies; some believe this division of the trial and prevention of plaintiff testimonies at the beginning gives the defendants in the case an unfair advantage. Despite the fact that the Environmental Protection Agency later proves Beatrice Foods’s culpability in the contamination of the water and forces them to pay millions of dollars for environmental cleanup, Facher succeeds in convincing the jury: Beatrice is not found liable.

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