Film Series

Erin Brockovich: Screening and Conversation

October 19, 2009

Julia Roberts portrays an unemployed single mother who becomes a legal assistant and almost single-handedly brings down a California power company accused of polluting a city’s water supply.

Legal clerk, Erin Brockovich, and Dean of Georgetown Law, William Michael Treanor, joined FOLCS for a screening and discussion.

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Erin Brockovich
Legal Clerk

Erin Brockovich grew up in Lawrence, Kansas, the youngest child of an industrial engineer and a journalist. After graduating from Lawrence High School, Brockovich attended Kansas State University for one year, then moved to Dallas, Texas, where she earned an Associate in Applied Arts degree at Wades Business College.

After being seriously injured in a traffic accident in Reno, Brockovich and her kids moved to Southern California, where she hired Jim Vititoe of Masry & Vititoe to handle her auto accident case in 1991. Not long after that case was resolved, she was hired to work at the law firm as a file clerk. While organizing papers in a pro bono real estate case, Brockovich found medical records in the file that caught her eye. After getting permission from one of the firm’s principals, Ed Masry, she began to research the matter.

Brockovich’s investigation eventually established that the health of countless people who lived in and around Hinkley, California, in the 1960s, 70s and 80s had been severely compromised by exposure to toxic Chromium 6. The Chromium 6 had leaked into the groundwater from the nearby Pacific Gas and Electric Company’s Compressor Station. In 1996, as a result of the largest direct action lawsuit of its kind, spearheaded by Brockovich and Ed Masry, the giant utility paid the largest toxic tort injury settlement in U.S. history: $333 million in damages to more than 600 Hinkley residents.

Brockovich’s investigation inspired the hit movie Erin Brockovich, which highlighted her legal triumph and personal challenges. Released in March 2000 by Universal Studios, it starred Julia Roberts in the title role. The movie’s great success led to numerous awards and nominations, including five Academy Award nominations and one win. Steven Soderbergh was nominated for an Oscar for Best Director, and Julia Roberts won an Oscar, a Golden Globe, and a BAFTA Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of Brockovich.

From the exposure of the movie, Brockovich became a reluctant public figure. Over time, she realized that she could use her notoriety to spread positive messages of personal empowerment and to encourage people to stand up and make a difference. This led to her first television project, an ABC special entitled Challenge America with Erin Brockovich. It taped in New York and aired in December 2001. This feel-good program is best described as Extreme Makeover: Home Edition on steroids, but preceded that successful series. Brockovich set out to motivate and organize hundreds of volunteers and donated resources to help rebuild a dilapidated park in downtown Manhattan a few months following 9/11.

William Michael Treanor
Attorney & Legal Scholar

William Michael Treanor is a former Dean of Fordham Law School. He graduated from Yale College summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa and from Yale Law School, where he was an Article and Book Review Editor of the Yale Law Journal. He also holds an A.M. in history from Harvard University.

Before joining the Fordham faculty in 1991, Dean Treanor served as a speechwriter to the U.S. Secretary of Education, clerk to Judge James L. Oakes of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, special assistant to the Chair of the New York State Commission on Government Integrity, Special Assistant United States Attorney in the District of Columbia, and as Associate Independent Counsel in the Office of the Iran-Contra Independent Counsel. From 1998 until 2001, he was Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Office of Legal Counsel in the U.S. Department of Justice. He testified before Congress on the applicability of the Privacy Act to the White House.

A leading constitutional historian, Dean Treanor’s writings have appeared in numerous law reviews and twice he has been cited in Supreme Court opinions.