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Ronald Motley: The Lawyer Who Beat Big Tobacco

Posted By Patrick Kiger On August 30, 2013 @ 11:31 am In Legacy | Comments Disabled

ronaldmotley [1]If Ronald Lee Motley [2] hadn’t existed, some novelist or screenwriter surely would have made him up: a high-powered, flamboyant attorney with a smooth-as-silk Southern drawl who fancied ostrich-skin cowboy boots and liked to sail on a 165-foot yacht named after Themis, the female Greek titan of law, whenever he wasn’t in a courtroom whacking corporate bigwigs around like so many piñatas.

Motley, who died on Aug. 22 at age 68 [3] in Charleston, S.C., was both so larger-than-life colorful and so effective that he did actually become a character in a Hollywood movie [4]: 2ooo’s The Insider, in which the only slightly fictionalized version of him, portrayed by actor Bruce McGill, dresses down a tobacco industry executive and his lawyer.
YouTube Preview Image [5]

Motley is most famous for taking on the tobacco industry in the 1990s over the health costs of smoking [6], which it had known about but kept secret for years, and forcing cigarette companies to pay out a massive $246 billion settlement – the biggest such payout in history. It was a victory that brought his law firm at least $1 billion in fees, according to news reports.

But Motley also took on a wide range of other powerful interests, from asbestos manufacturers – he forced them to pay out millions in damages to injured workers – to the wealthy Saudi nationals whom he accused [7] of bankrolling the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Here are some intriguing facts about Motley:

  • Born and schooled in South Carolina, the son of a gas station owner and a schoolteacher, he was a huge New York Yankees fan.
  • He wasn’t below using theatrics to make a point in the courtroom. He once used a squirt gun to spray a legal opponent’s exhibit, and another time donned a white lab coat while cross-examining an asbestos company’s medical expert [8].
  • He was motivated to take on tobacco companies in part because his mother, an ex-smoker, died of lung cancer [9].
  • He claimed that he didn’t know how to turn on a computer [10]. “As they say in the Bible, I’m antediluvian,” he told the New York Times in 1999.
  • He owned a pair of golden retrievers, Chrysotile and Amosite, whom he named after types of asbestos.
  • He hired Earth, Wind and Fire to perform at one of his five weddings.


Photo: Motley Rice Law Firm


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Article printed from AARP: http://blog.aarp.org

URL to article: http://blog.aarp.org/2013/08/30/ronald-motley-the-lawyer-who-beat-big-tobacco/

URLs in this post:

[1] Image: http://blog.aarp.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/ronaldmotley.jpg

[2] Ronald Lee Motley: http://www.motleyrice.com/attorneys/view/ronald-l-motley

[3] died on Aug. 22 at age 68: http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/ronald-l-motley-dies-at-68-pioneered-tobacco-litigation/2013/08/23/eef5bdd0-0c0f-11e3-9941-6711ed662e71_story.html

[4] movie: http://blog.aarp.org/author/newcottblog/?intcmp=AE-BLIL-BL

[5] Image: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NFqYn3i_UQ0

[6] health costs of smoking: http://blog.aarp.org/2013/07/30/older-smokers-need-yearly-lung-cancer-screening/?intcmp=AE-BLIL-BL

[7] whom he accused: http://www.nytimes.com/2004/03/14/magazine/a-nation-unto-himself.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm

[8] medical expert: http://blog.aarp.org/author/healthycandy/?intcmp=AE-BLIL-BL

[9] lung cancer: http://healthtools.aarp.org/learning-center/featured/lung-cancer?intcmp=AE-BLIL-DOTORG

[10] turn on a computer: http://blog.aarp.org/2013/08/23/our-low-tech-high-court/?intcmp=AE-BLIL-BL

[11] Marian McPartland: From Jazz Virtuoso to Radio Host: http://blog.aarp.org/2013/08/22/marian-mcpartland-from-jazz-virtuoso-to-radio-host/?intcmp=AE-ENDART1-BL-REL

[12] Lyme Disease: How Do 30,000 Cases Jump to 300,000?: http://blog.aarp.org/2013/08/22/marian-mcpartland-from-jazz-virtuoso-to-radio-host/?intcmp=AE-ENDART2-BL-BOS

[13] Join AARP: https://appsec.aarp.org/MSS/join/application?intcmp=AE-ENDART3-BL-MEM

[14] AARP home page: http://www.aarp.org/?intcmp=AE-ENDART3-BL-HP

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