Starstruck Idealist

My name became the subject of news stories. Never a good thing for a journalist.

My name became the subject of news stories. Never a good thing for a journalist.
"I'm sorry? You said Erin Brockovich called you? It was her...personally?

It was 4:00 p.m. on a Wednesday, and she talked like it was a matter of life and death, the source said.

This was true. But it wasn't until later that I came to terms with the fact that there was nothing the famous environmental activist could do to change that.

The source was a vocal woman who had a sick little boy. As any good mother would, she sought answers for child's ill health.

Erin came into my life in a hailstorm of media frenzy, and I was the media. She wanted documents--specific government papers demonstrating the truth behind the words they had read in the paper. The truth behind the story I had uncovered. A sad story, indeed.

Bone and brain cancers, respiratory illnesses, and frequent miscarriages correlated with brown drinking water and plant fumes that ate the paint from vehicles. Children were dying of odd diseases, and the evidence continued to mount--evidence that this situation had been ignored by the authorities for far too long.

Arsenic, cadmium, chromium, and ridiculously high concentrations of fluoride and other dangerous chemicals were being detected in staggering numbers in residential wells throughout the community. Former plant employees were talking about unsavory practices forced upon them by the Japanese ownership. These were cost-cutting measures designed to hike profits, but they could just as well have been designed to destroy lives.

Agencies supposed to protect the public conveniently buried documents. The community had reached a breaking point.

Erin never spoke to me on the phone. But her boss, Ed Masry, called me, using his charm and finesse, telling me what fantastic articles I had written, wanting to verify each and every thing I had reported before deciding whether his firm would choose to represent the community in this potentially major case. This wasn't my job, so I told him where to look and went on reporting.

Behind the scenes, they were checking the defendant's assets. Making sure it was worthwhile to pursue these sick people as clients.

Meetings were held, and the lawyers swarmed in. For political reasons involving newspaper management (which I won't discuss without legal advice), I resigned and went to work for the lawyers. My name became the subject of news stories. Never a good thing for a journalist.

I didn't meet Erin until two months later, at the Ritz Carlton in Pasadena at a water-contamination conference. I saw her a few more times at dinners, meetings, and public appearances. We never discussed the case. I did, however, spend three years doing the job that made her famous. Uncovering information and documenting clients' damages. As information came out, the plant was closed down. Florida laws regarding notification of residents living in contaminated areas were quietly changed. No fanfare. No outing the bad guys.


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