A weeping mother, a sickly child and a husband near-death are the images evoked in Jonathan Harr's A Civil Action. Two huge multinational corporations, represented by a corps of well learned and well supplied lawyers are put to bear against the pitiful victims of the companies' supposed negligence and these victim's lawyer, an energetic, if untested, attorney. Every fiber of my being was rooting for the plaintiffs to win the case and walk away with just recompense; to see the corporations clean up their act and become less behemoth than they are would have been suitable punishment. However, the judicial system let me down. Did all the actors fulfill their obligations? Did the case go by the book? I find that, despite my misgivings about certain events, justice was seemingly carried out.
Harr's book has a wide array of actors. Most of the actors, however, play just a minor role in the eventual outcome of the case. The largest players, however, influenced the outcome a great deal, far more than any of the smaller characters. The most prominent actors are the prosecuting attorney, Jan Schlichtmann, and the judge, Walter Skinner. Schlichtmann carried the entire case on his back, taking control of all events that he could possibly have a part in. He made most of the important decisions throughout the case, sometimes disregarding advice from trusted associates. Judge Skinner, too, was a powerful force. It was through his decisions that the case was shaped. If Schlichtmann was a loaf of bread baking in an oven, Skinner was the bread pan, holding back Schlichtmann's growth. Another major player was one Jerome Facher. As defense attorney for one of the companies (Beatrice), his role was adversarial to Schlichtmann's. He continually tried to slow down the case, to wear away at the plaintiffs' and their attorney's resolves. Anne Anderson, the mother of a youngster, plays a smaller role afflicted with leukemia. Her willpower and forceful personality helped to keep the case going in its infant stages. Kevin Conway was a semi-important character. His role was as confidante to Schlichtmann. Many times, his cautious attitude may have served the case better than Jan's aggressive demeanor. James Gordon kept the suit going on a financial level. His genius with numbers allowed the Schlichtmann firm to stay afloat for a good part of the case, despite being broke or owing hundreds of thousands of dollars. William Cheeseman (attorney for W. R. Grace) played a large role during the discovery phase of the trial, but a very minor one after that. His work involved trying to stop the case in its earlier stages. There were numerous other actors, but none had as much of an effect on the case as these.
Having such a wide array of very different people set the stage for much conflict. Because of adversarial roles like that of Facher and Schlichtmann, or "motherly" roles like that of Skinner, many confrontations crucial to the case took place. The most prominent, in my (and perhaps Schlichtmann's) eye is what was known as the "Woodshed Conference." Schlichtmann worried about the relationship between Facher and Skinner, and this engagement proved to him that he wouldn't get a fair shake. Harr indicates that after being taken to the Woodshed, Schlichtmann knew he couldn't compete with Facher for Skinner's respect (232). Another conflict resulted when Cheeseman tried to use Rule 11 to get the case thrown out. Harr says that Skinner believed "lawyers should be encouraged to use Rule 11 much more often" (107). Such acts like that of Cheeseman's slowed Schlichtmann down and had the potential to bring the case to a halt. One of the most important interactions was between Facher, Skinner and Schlichtmann. Skinner's decision to divide the case up into separate phases was probably the most important decision made. The jury had to decide on facts. Without the presence of weeping mothers and sickly youngsters, the jury would be far less sympathetic. Facher says that Schlichtmann thinks that families will break the jury's heart, but, "those families will never see the light of day" (231).
This civil case, in general, is like most other civil cases. The stages of a civil case are followed as set out by Baum, and the actors even fall