The litigators, p.16
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       The Litigators, p.16

           John Grisham


  “That makes two of us. We’re getting screwed right and left, and now we must put up $25,000 for litigation expenses.” Oscar’s cheeks were red, and he kept looking at Wally’s door, but Wally was safe inside.

  David came down the steps and walked into the conversation. “Have you read this?” Oscar asked angrily, waving the contract.

  “What is it?”

  “Our contract with Zell & Potter.”

  “I looked over it,” David said. “It’s pretty straightforward.”

  “Oh, it is? Did you read the part about the $25,000 up-front money for expenses?”

  “Yes, and I asked Wally about that. He said we’d probably just go to the bank, hit the firm’s line of credit, then pay it back when we settle.”

  Oscar looked at Rochelle, who looked back at Oscar. Both were thinking, What line of credit?

  Oscar started to speak, then abruptly wheeled around and returned to his office, slamming the door after himself. “What’s that all about?” David asked.

  “We don’t have a line of credit,” Rochelle said. “Mr. Finley’s worried that the Krayoxx litigation will backfire and kill us financially. This wouldn’t be the first time one of Figg’s schemes blew up in our faces, but it could certainly be the biggest.”

  David glanced around and took a step closer. “Can I ask you something, in confidence?”

  “I don’t know,” she said, taking a cautious step back.

  “These guys have been at this game for a long time. Thirty plus years for Oscar, twenty plus for Wally. Do they have some money stashed away somewhere? You don’t see any around the office, so I figured they must have some buried.”

  Rochelle glanced around too, then said, “I don’t know where the money goes when it leaves here. I doubt if Oscar has a dime because his wife spends everything. She thinks she’s a cut or two above and wants to play that game. Wally, who knows? I suspect he’s as broke as I am. But they do own the building free and clear.”

  David couldn’t help but look at the cracks in the ceiling plaster. Let it go, he told himself.

  “Just curious,” David said.

  There was a shriek of female laughter from deep inside Mr. Figg’s office.

  “I’m leaving,” David said, grabbing his overcoat.

  “Me too,” Rochelle said.

  Everyone was gone when Wally and DeeAnna emerged. They quickly turned off the lights, locked the front door, and got in her car. Wally was delighted to have not only a new squeeze but also one who was willing to drive. He had six weeks left on his suspension, and with Krayoxx so hot he needed to be mobile. DeeAnna had jumped at the chance to earn referral fees—$500 cash for a death case and $200 for a non-death—but what really thrilled her was listening to Wally’s predictions of taking down Varrick Labs in a massive settlement that would bring in huge fees for him (and perhaps something for her as well, though this wasn’t exactly out in the open yet). More often than not, their pillow talk drifted away to the world of Krayoxx and all it could mean. Her third husband had taken her to Maui, and she loved the beach. Wally had already promised a vacation in paradise.

  At that stage of their involvement, Wally would have promised her anything.

  “Where to, dear?” she said, racing away from the office. She was a dangerous driver in a little Mazda convertible, and Wally knew his chances would be slim in a collision. “Just take it easy,” he said, ratcheting down the seat belt. “Let’s go north, toward Evanston.”

  “Are we hearing from these people?” she asked.

  “Oh yes. Lots of phone calls.” And Wally wasn’t lying—his cell phone rang constantly with inquiries from people who had picked up his little “Beware of Krayoxx!” brochure. He had printed ten thousand and was littering Chicago with them. He tacked them on bulletin boards in Weight Watchers meeting rooms, VFW posts, bingo parlors, hospital waiting rooms, and the restrooms of fast-food restaurants—anywhere the shrewd mind of Wally Figg thought there might be people battling high cholesterol.

  “So how many cases do we have?” she asked.

  Wally did not miss the “we” part of her question. He wasn’t about to tell her the truth. “Eight death cases, several hundred non-death, but they have to be tested first. I’m not sure every non-death case is really a case. Gotta find some damage to the heart before we take on the case.”

  “How do you do that?” They were flying along the Stevenson, dodging traffic, most of which she didn’t appear to notice. Wally was ducking with each near miss. “Take it easy, DeeAnna, we’re not in a hurry,” he said.

  “You’re always bitching about my driving,” she said as she gave him a long, sad look.

  “Just watch the road. And slow down.”

  She eased off the gas and pouted for a few minutes. “As we were saying, how do you know if these people have been damaged?”

  “We’ll hire a doctor to screen them. Krayoxx weakens the heart valves, and there are some tests that can tell us if a client has been harmed by the drug.”

  “How much are the tests?” she asked. Wally was noticing a growing curiosity into the economics of their Krayoxx litigation, and it was slightly irksome.

  “About a thousand bucks a pop,” he said, though he had no idea. Jerry Alisandros had assured him that Zell & Potter had already retained the services of several doctors who were screening potential clients. These doctors would be made available to Finley & Figg in the near future, and once the testing began, their pool of non-death clients would expand greatly. Alisandros was on a jet every day zipping across the country, meeting with lawyers like Wally, piecing together big lawsuits here and there, hiring experts, plotting trial strategies, and, most important, hammering away at Varrick and its lawyers. Wally felt honored to be a player in such a high-stakes game.

  “That’s a lot of money,” DeeAnna said.

  “Why are you so concerned about the money?” Wally snapped, glancing down at her unbuttoned cowgirl shirt.

  “I’m sorry, Wally. You know I’m the nosy type. This is all so exciting and stuff, and, well, it’ll be so awesome when Varrick starts writing those big checks.”

  “That could be a long way off. Let’s just concentrate on rounding up the clients.”

  At the Finley home, Oscar and his wife, Paula, were watching a M*A*S*H rerun on cable when they were suddenly confronted with the shrill voice and anxious face of a lawyer named Bosch, who was no stranger to cable commercials in the Chicago market. For years, Bosch had been pleading for car wrecks and tractor-trailer accident victims and cases involving asbestos and other products, and now, evidently, Bosch had become an expert on Krayoxx. He thundered on about the dangers of the drug and said vile things about Varrick Labs, and throughout the entire thirty seconds his phone number was pulsating across the bottom of the screen.

  Oscar watched with great curiosity but said nothing.

  Paula said, “Have you ever thought about advertising on television, Oscar? Seems like your firm needs to do something to get more business.”

  This was not a new conversation. For thirty years, Paula had dispensed unsolicited advice on how to run the law office, a place that would never generate enough in revenue to satisfy her.

  “It’s very expensive,” Oscar said. “Figg wants to pursue it. I’m skeptical.”

  “Well, you certainly couldn’t put Figg on television, could you? That would scare away every potential client for a hundred miles. I don’t know, the ads just seem so unprofessional.”

  Typical of Paula. TV advertising might bring in some business, and at the same time it was unprofessional. Was she for it or against it? Neither, or both? Oscar didn’t know, and he’d stopped caring years earlier.

  “Doesn’t Figg have some Krayoxx cases?” she asked.

  “A few, yes,” Oscar grunted. She did not know that Oscar, as well as David, had signed the lawsuit and was responsible for its prosecution. She did not know that the firm was on the line for litigation expenses. Paula’s onl
y concern was the paltry monthly draw brought home by Oscar.

  “Well, I discussed it with my doctor, and he says the drug is fine. It keeps my cholesterol under two hundred. I am not getting off the drug.”

  “Then you should not,” he said. If Krayoxx did in fact kill people, he wanted her to keep taking the full daily dosage.

  “But there are lawsuits everywhere, Oscar. I’m still not convinced. Are you?”

  She’s loyal to the drug, but she’s worried about the drug.

  “Figg is convinced the drug causes damages,” Oscar said. “A lot of big law firms agree, and they’re going after Varrick. The general feeling is that the company will settle before going to trial. Too much at risk.”

  “So, if there’s a settlement, what happens to Figg’s cases?”

  “They’re all death cases, so far. Eight of them. If they settle, then we’ll collect some nice fees.”

  “How nice?”

  “It’s impossible to say.” Oscar was already making plans. If and when the settlement talk became serious, he would move out, file for divorce, then try to keep her away from his Krayoxx money.

  “But I doubt they’ll settle,” he said.

  “Why not? Bosch here says there might be a big settlement.”

  “Bosch is an idiot, and he proves it every day. These big pharmaceuticals usually go to trial a few times to test the waters. If they get hammered by juries, then they start settling. If they win, they keep trying the cases until the plaintiffs’ lawyers give up. This could take years.”

  Don’t get your hopes up, dear.

  David and Helen Zinc had been almost as amorous as Wally and DeeAnna. With David working shorter hours and their newfound energy, it had taken less than a week to become pregnant. Now that David was home at a decent hour every night, they made up for lost time. They had just finished a session and were lying in bed watching late-night TV when Bosch appeared on their screen.

  When he was gone, Helen said, “Looks like a frenzy.”

  “Oh yes. Wally’s out there somewhere right now, littering the streets with brochures. It would be easier to advertise on television, but we can’t afford it.”

  “Thank God for that. I really don’t want to see you on-screen fighting it out with the likes of Benny Bosch.”

  “I think I’d be a natural as a TV lawyer. ‘Have you been injured?’ ‘We fight for you.’ ‘Insurance companies fear us.’ Whatta you think?”

  “I think your friends at Rogan Rothberg would howl with laughter.”

  “I have no friends there. Only bad memories.”

  “You’ve been gone, what, a month?”

  “Six weeks and two days, and I have not, for one moment, wanted to go back.”

  “And how much have you earned with your new firm?”

  “Six hundred and twenty dollars, and counting.”

  “Well, we do have an expansion under way. Have you thought about future earnings, things like that? You walked away from $300,000 a year, fine. But we can’t live on $600 a month.”

  “Do you doubt me?”

  “No, but a little reassurance would be nice.”

  “Okay. I promise you I’ll make enough money to keep us happy and healthy. All three of us. Or four, or five, or whatever.”

  “And how do you plan to do this?”

  “TV. I’ll go on the air to find Krayoxx victims,” David said, laughing. “Me and Bosch. Whatta you think?”

  “I think you’re crazy.”

  They were both laughing, then groping.


  The official name of the gathering was a discovery conference, and it was typically a brief lawyers’ get-together in front of the judge to discuss the initial stages of the lawsuit. No record was kept, just informal notes taken by a clerk. Often, and especially in the courtroom of Harry Seawright, the judge himself begged off and sent a magistrate to pinch-hit.

  Today, however, Judge Seawright was presiding. As the senior judge in the Northern District of Illinois he had a large courtroom, a splendid and spacious layout on the twenty-third floor of the Dirksen Federal Building on Dearborn Street in downtown Chicago. The courtroom was lined with dark, oak-paneled walls, and there were plenty of thick leather chairs for the various players. On the right side, and to the judge’s left, was the plaintiffs’ team of Wally Figg and David Zinc. On the left side, and to the judge’s right, was the team of about a dozen or so Rogan Rothberg lawyers toiling away on behalf of Varrick Laboratories. Their leader, of course, was Nadine Karros, the only female lawyer present, and for the occasion she was modeling a classic Armani navy suit, skirt just above the knees, nude legs, and designer platform pumps with four-inch heels.

  Wally couldn’t take his eyes off the shoes, the skirt, the entire package. “Maybe we should come to federal court more often,” he’d quipped to David, who was in no mood for humor. Nor was Wally, to be honest. For both of them, it was their first venture into a federal courtroom. Wally claimed he handled cases in federal court all the time, but David was doubtful. Oscar, senior partner, who was supposed to be there with them, taking on the twin Goliaths of Rogan Rothberg and Varrick, had called in sick.

  Oscar wasn’t the only no-show. The great Jerry Alisandros and his team of world-class litigators were all lined up to blast into Chicago for an impressive display of strength, but a last-minute emergency hearing in Boston had become more important. Wally freaked out when he got the call from one of Alisandros’s underlings. “It’s just a discovery conference,” the young man said. Driving to court, Wally had expressed skepticism about Zell & Potter.

  For David, the moment was extremely uncomfortable. He was sitting in a federal courtroom for the first time knowing that he would not say a word because he had no idea what to say, and his opposition was a team of well-dressed and highly skilled lawyers from a firm he’d once been loyal to, a firm that had recruited him, trained him, paid him a top salary, and promised him a long career, and a firm that he had jilted, rejected. In favor of … Finley & Figg? He could almost hear them snickering behind their legal pads. David, with his pedigree and Harvard diploma, belonged over there, where they billed by the hour, not on the plaintiffs’ side, where you beat the streets looking for clients. David did not want to be where he was. Nor did Wally.

  Judge Seawright settled himself into his perch and wasted no time. “Where’s Mr. Alisandros?” he growled in the direction of Wally and David.

  Wally jumped to his feet, offered a greasy smile, and said, “He’s in Boston, sir.”

  “So he will not be here today?”

  “That’s right, Your Honor. He was on his way but got sidetracked with some emergency in Boston.”

  “I see. He’s an attorney of record for the plaintiffs in this case. The next time we get together, tell him to be here. I will fine him $1,000 for missing the conference.”

  “Yes sir.”

  “And you’re Mr. Figg?”

  “That’s correct, Your Honor, and this is my associate, David Zinc.” David tried to smile. He could almost see every Rogan Rothberg lawyer craning to have a look.

  “Welcome to federal court,” the judge said sarcastically. He looked at the defense and said, “I suppose you’re Ms. Karros?”

  She stood, and every eye in the courtroom locked onto her. “I am, Your Honor, and this is my co-counsel, Luther Hotchkin.”

  “Who are all of those other people?”

  “This is our defense team, Your Honor.”

  “Do you really need all these people for a simple discovery conference?”

  Give ’em hell, Wally thought, still staring at the skirt.

  “We do indeed, Your Honor. This is a large and complicated case.”

  “So I’ve heard. You may keep your seats for the remainder of this hearing.” Judge Seawright picked up some notes and adjusted his reading glasses. “Now, I’ve spoken to two of my colleagues in Florida, and we are not sure if these cases will proceed in a multi-district litigation. It appears as if th
e plaintiffs’ lawyers are having some difficulty getting themselves organized. Many, it seems, want a bigger piece of the pie, which is not surprising. At any rate, we have no choice but to proceed with discovery in this case. Mr. Figg, who are your experts?”

  Mr. Figg had no experts and had no idea when he might retain them. He was relying on the increasingly unreliable Jerry Alisandros to find the experts because that’s what he promised to do. Wally stood slowly, knowing that any hesitation would look bad. “We’ll have them next week, Your Honor. As you know, we are partnering with the law firm of Zell & Potter, a well-known firm specializing in mass torts, and with the flurry of activity around the country it’s been difficult to lock up the best experts. But we’re definitely making progress.”

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