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A Paralegal Job Well Done
Legal Assistant Ray Goldstein takes on the tobacco industry.
Paralegal Ray Goldstein sat in the back of a Los Angeles courtroom in 2001, watching his supervising attorney Michael Piuze battle the tobacco industry in the landmark Boeken v. Philip Morris trial. An entourage of eight to 12 people, brought in by the tobacco company to analyze the trial, sat near Goldstein. They were “dressed down” in Dockers and loafers, but Goldstein had been through enough lawsuits against tobacco giant Philip Morris to know it was all part of the intimidation game the company played. At one point in the trial, a man with the defense leaned over to Goldstein and said, “Are you a lawyer?” Goldstein replied, “No, I am just another Erin Brockovich wannabe.”
Indeed, this San Francisco-based freelance paralegal is the Erin Brockovich of lawsuits against the tobacco industry. Goldstein has been involved in some of the biggest wins against Philip Morris with Piuze and San Francisco attorney Madelyn Chaber. His knowledge and experience organizing the intricate details and many documents involved with these types of cases has made Goldstein an asset to legal teams bent on bringing down the tobacco industry.
Artist Turns Legal Assistant
As a songwriter, guitar player and advertising copywriter with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, Goldstein hardly seemed like the type of person who would eventually make a name for himself in the legal community. “My background was in the arts and the tumultuous era of the ’60s,” he said.
In 1982, Goldstein earned a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records for constructing the world’s largest guitar, for an 1980 exhibition of handmade musical instruments. Four years later, Goldstein found himself an unemployed advertising copywriter at the age of 40.
A friend who worked for the Law Offices of Tony J. Tanke, was in need of assistance and opened the door to the legal world for Goldstein. “A friend of mine asked if I would come to his office in 1986 and help him with his computer,” he said.
Armed with knowledge gained after reading a book about DOS, Goldstein began working on the IBM AT computer.
As Goldstein worked with his friend, Tanke took notice and began asking for typing favors. Later, he asked Goldstein to index documents for the firm, working with a few document-intensive cases. Then, Tanke hired Goldstein full-time under the title of legal assistant.
“It was the beginning of my understanding of the law office structure,” Goldstein said.
At the time Goldstein started working for Tanke, the firm was wrapping up a few cases and winding down because Tanke was refocusing his career. During the nine months Goldstein was with the firm, he learned the duties of a legal assistant. An employment agency sent him on other legal assistant interviews. One interview at a law firm changed the direction of his life.
A Paralegal With a Cause
It was clear from the beginning Goldstein was a plaintiff-type of paralegal as opposed to a corporate defense-type. With his views stemming from the civil rights era and the anti-war movement, Goldstein said, “My focus was people, not corporate welfare.” With this outlook, Goldstein was a perfect fit with Cartwright, Slobodin, Bokelman, Borowsky, Wartnick, Moore and Harris, a large firm of nearly 100 members. Goldstein worked primarily for Harry Wartnick, whose division specialized in asbestos cases.
“Working on asbestos cases, in my point of view, fulfilled a higher cause,” Goldstein said.
Goldstein’s experience at Cartwright, Slobodin provided a strong foundation for his paralegal career. “It [Cartwright, Slobodin] was first class, and a highly ethical place to go. My experience was with lawyers who were all rarified, special people. I was very fortunate because I hooked up with the best.”
It was at Cartwright, Slobodin that Goldstein started working with Chaber, then an associate. He became Chaber’s trial legal assistant, and their partnership would lead to many successful lawsuits against asbestos and tobacco companies. “I went to work for Madelyn [in 1987] and she was in a trial. I had no idea what I was doing. That is when I learned how to work up a trial. She was the first woman to sit solo and win a $1 million case in 1988 [in the Thomas Serrell v. Raybestos-Manhattan asbestos case],” he said.
Working for clients with life-threatening diseases and only eight to 10 months to live made Goldstein’s work even more personal and timely. The focus was to get cases to court before it was too late. “It was stressful, gripping and tragic,” Goldstein said. “All the clients were dying.” In 1995, after the Cartwright firm separated, Wartnick formed an independent firm called Wartnick, Chaber, Harowitz, Smith and Tigerman, specializing in asbestos cases. Goldstein stayed on with Wartnick and Chaber as a trial legal assistant.
Goldstein’s role ranged from being the liaison with expert witnesses, to running audio visuals, to providing the judge with output percentages each day. He essentially provided the attorney with whatever he or she needed to make the trial go as smoothly as possible. “I spent a lot of time in the courthouse. My role was to be flexible,” he said.
In 1995, Chaber and Goldstein worked on a case against Lorillard Tobacco. In this case, Chaber represented Milton Horowitz who had mesothelioma, a deadly malignant tumor of the lining of the lung. Mesothelioma is thought to be caused most commonly by asbestos exposure, but Horowitz had never worked in an industry or occupation typically associated with the disease. The attorney-legal assistant team discovered Horowitz had smoked Kent cigarettes with a Micronite filter containing asbestos during 1952. Chaber sued the maker of the filter and was successful. It was the first time a cigarette company ever cut a check to a plaintiff, paying the $700,000 punitive verdict.
Along with the Horowitz trial, Goldstein was involved in two other trials that year. By the time the Horowitz trial was over, Goldstein said he was burned out. “I was stressed out. I was definitely not functioning at an admirable level,” he said.
In 1996, Goldstein’s role was expanded as a product identification investigator. In this role, he was able to create databases, and organize documents for the firm. “When trials were done, the boxes got put away and sometimes were lost. Not a lot of time was spent restoring the arsenal to the pretrial state,” he said.
For the next couple of years, Goldstein built databases using Microsoft Access and worked with the firm librarian to get the office in order. The use of Microsoft Access and database building would later become invaluable in Goldstein’s work on tobacco cases.
In 1998, Goldstein said he noticed a change in the office atmosphere at Wartnick and decided to leave. “The nature of the firm started to change,” he said. “I felt neglect and disrespect. It just was not working for me, and I knew I needed to get out of that environment. It was an interpersonal minefield.”
Literally on his way out the door, Harry Wartnick hired Goldstein to manage a roving team of document inspectors. Through 1998, the team, made up of three plaintiff firms, traveled to various powerhouses and industrial facilities in California to search documents and blueprints (produced in litigation) for information on asbestos shipments, use and disposition, and names of contractors involved in construction and maintenance.
In May of 1999, Goldstein formed his own freelance legal assistant services company, Probative Production, which allowed him to choose what cases he wanted to work on without being subjected to the law office pecking order.
Taking on the Tobacco Industry
Working as a freelance legal assistant, Chaber called on Goldstein to assist her in a personal injury case against the tobacco industry in 1999, Patricia Henley v. Philip Morris USA. In California, between 1988 and 1997, tobacco companies had total immunity from lawsuits. Once the immunity was lifted, Chaber filed the first personal injury lawsuit against the tobacco company following the immunity period, on behalf of Henley. Chaber won the case with a $26.5 million verdict, which spurred other attorneys to take on the once untouchable and undefeatable tobacco industry.
Chaber went on to try another tobacco suit in 2000, Whiteley v. Philip Morris and RJ Reynolds. At the same time, Goldstein was busy building a database to assist Chaber in trial. “I built a document database for trial exhibits … by 2000, it was a functioning database that allowed us to generate lists and track everything,” Goldstein said.
Then in June 2001, at a tobacco litigation conference in New Orleans, Goldstein met Piuze, who was eager to file a lawsuit of his own against Philip Morris. “I had been about to sue on two different cases in 1987,” Piuze said. “Both cases were scrubbed out by the immunity. I was pleased to see that in 1999 a lawyer in San Francisco, Madelyn Chaber, had successfully sued Philip Morris after the immunity had been lifted. After 12 years, it was time I got into the game.”
At the conference in New Orleans, Piuze asked Chaber for advice and she highly recommended Goldstein. Goldstein moved to Los Angeles to help Piuze with his first tobacco case, Boeken v. Philip Morris in 2001.
For the Boeken trial, Goldstein was able to use the database he built for the Whiteley case, and he continued to expand it. With the use of these documents, Piuze was able to turn the tables on Philip Morris. The plaintiff, Richard Boeken, had been smoking since he was 10 years old and was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1999. Boeken, a one-time rock musician who was an alcoholic, addicted to heroin for three months and methadone for two years, was able to overcome his addiction to everything but cigarettes.
Documents used in the case included memos from Philip Morris’ own researchers in 1958 and 1959 acknowledging ingredients known to be carcinogens and the psychological nature of addiction. With the documents as proof, Piuze won the trial and the jury awarded $3 billion. “It set off a firestorm,” Goldstein said.
Goldstein continued to work with Piuze on two more cases against tobacco companies. “In the three cases Ray and I worked on together, we were up against some of the best defense teams money can buy,” Piuze said. “In some of the cases, there were six lawyers and paralegal teams of three to four, and all kinds of other support teams. It would be Ray and me against a minimum of a dozen up to 20 on the defense side. In all three cases, it was understood and uncontested that Ray knew more about the documents than the entire defense team put together, period.”
During his time assisting Piuze, Goldstein was developing, with the assistance of Piuze and Paula Lawlor, Piuze’s chief assistant, a complete collection of information from the Boeken trial called Trial-In-A-Box, which included the complete Boeken trial and other links to exhibits, testimony, motions, depositions and more for other legal professionals to use as a guiding force in the fight against tobacco companies.
Goldstein assembled and linked many files on a CD, and then it was posted on the Internet as part of the Tobacco Products Liability Project at Northwestern University School of Law in Boston, www.tobacco.neu.edu/box, all for free.
“We took every single pleading, all of the discovery, all of the depositions, every piece of evidence and the entire trial transcript and put it on one disc,” Piuze said.
“It was a tradition, among the asbestos plaintiffs’ bar cases that I worked with for a dozen years, to share information,” Goldstein said. “In that spirit, Michael, Paula and I built Trial-In-A-Box.”
The end result is an application using HTML and Adobe Acrobat built like a Web site with a main page linked to other pages. Everything is indexed and linked to make it easy to navigate through the thousands of documents with illustrations, sound clips, and links to legal documents and evidence all related to the Boeken trial. “It was a lot of fun to do. It’s a multimedia-type of thing,” Goldstein said.
For attorneys involved in cases against the tobacco industry, Trial-In-A-Box is invaluable because it provides the documents already proven to be successful against tobacco companies in prior litigation.
Today, Goldstein continues to provide freelance paralegal services through his company, Probative Production in San Francisco, and primarily works on cases related to cigarette companies. “I provide organized information from my database on cigarette-related documents. I maintain a sizable library of material relating to cigarette litigation including thousands of testimony transcripts,” he said.
All of this information is contained in Goldstein’s single, main database, which he calls Bad News For Big Tobacco.
After four years of continuing to add to his database, which is searchable by author, date, topic, defendant and more, Goldstein has about 5,000 documents coded, and uses it as his laptop tool. Almost all the documents are publicly available on the Internet pursuant to the Master Settlement Agreement of 1998 (State of Minnesota et al. v. Philip Morris Inc. et al.), in which the tobacco industry was required to make documents produced during certain state cases, and all subsequent discovery in litigation, available to the public. As a result, more than 27 million documents are available online, which provided a feeding ground for Goldstein.
Goldstein also has been hired to build simple databases to track document sets using Microsoft Access, and he is hired as a day-to-day trial legal assistant. In January 2005, he said he will work with Piuze again on a trial. Currently, Goldstein is working with the U.S. Department of Justice on a cigarette case in which his major undertaking is browsing through and coding documents delivered on CD-ROM.
While he isn’t sure what the future will hold, he has certainly left a positive impression with the people he has worked with over the past decade. “There is no way I can overstate how valuable Ray’s help was to me. If I gave you 20 pages of quotes about how great and smart he was, it would not be enough,” Piuze said. “I can’t imagine trying any of the three tobacco cases without Ray’s help.”
Rachel Campbell is a freelance journalist based in Los Angeles, and is a former associate editor of LAT and Law Office Computing. Campbell graduated from the University of Southern California with a degree in print journalism.
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