Tuesday 7 February 2012

Erin Brockovich: Beauty Queen Turned Environmental Activist

Annabelle Daniels: 74-454-9346. 10 years old, 11 in May. Lived on the plume since birth. Wanted to be a synchronized swimmer so she spent every minute she could in the PG&E pool. She had a tumor in her brain stem detected last November, an operation on Thanksgiving, shrunk it with radiation after that. Her parents are Ted & Rita. Ted's got Crohn's disease, Rita has chronic headaches, and nausea, and underwent a hysterectomy last fall. Ted grew up in Hinkley. His brother Robbie, and his wife May and their five children: Robbie Jr, Martha, Ed, Rose & Peter also lived on the plume. Their number is 454-9554, you want their diseases?

("Erin Brockovich", 2000)

Gifted with a photographic memory, endless energy and a passion for justice, Erin Brockovich spearheaded an environmental case against Pacific Gas and Electric Company and won a record $333 million for its 600 victims.  Now she heads up her own company as an environmental activist, receiving thousands of advice-seeking letters, each of which she answers personally.

Born in Kansas in 1960, Erin Pattee was the daughter of an engineer father and a journalist mother.  As a young adult she held various jobs including one at K-Mart, but all were unfulfilling.  She studied electrical engineering at university.  Moving to California in 1982, she entered a Miss Pacific Coast beauty contest and won first prize.  She married, had two children and divorced.  Then she remarried, had a third child, and divorced again. 

As a divorcee with three children she found herself unemployed and in financial straits living in the San Fernando Valley.  She was seriously hurt in a car accident and hired lawyer Ed Masry to take her case.  Unfortunately, Erin Brockovich lost the case but she gained a job at Mr. Masry's law firm as a file clerk.  It was at Masry that she stumbled upon an environmental case involving possibly tainted drinking water due to an ongoing contamination (30 years) from a local company in the town of Hinkley, California.  Disappearing for a few days, Erin hopped in her car, drove through the valley, and hunted down the alleged victims of the case.  One by one, she got to know their stories.  One by one, she started to form a bond with the families.  One by one, she gained their trust. 

Upon returning to the law firm, Ed wanted to fire her, thinking that she was playing hookey.  However, once he heard how much time and energy she had put into the Hinkley case, he let her stay.  Within no time, the Hinkley case became Erin's "raison d'etre"; after searching all of her life for a purpose, she had found one.  With her baby on her hip, and her two other children in toe, she would visit the local water company, request their records, and photocopy the necessary documents to prove their case.

Initially , PG & E tried to settle out of court with Masry and Erin, offering a pittance of a settlement. In the meeting, one of the PG & E company lawyers questioned Erin who asked her if she enjoyed the glass of water that she was drinking saying: "We had that water brought in specially for you folks. It's from a well in Hinkley". The woman, with a cold stare, declared the meeting to be over. 

In time, Ed Masry brought another law firm into the picture to make their case against Pacific Gas and Electric that much stronger.  One of the lawyers looked down her nose at Erin, knowing that she had no legal training or education.  Never one to bite her tongue, Ms. Brockovich set her straight by rhyming off facts, figures, names and dates about the case that might only be found in a computer data bank.  And it was her gift for details along with her passion that won them the case.

Note:  In 2000, Erin Brockovich's story was made into a movie starring Julia Roberts.  Ms. Brockovich has written a book titled Take it from Me:  Life's a Struggle But You Can Win which hit the bestseller list.

Photo courtesy www.lawyersandsettlements.com.


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