Litigation can be a three-ring Circus
Public interest litigation combines all the features of a three-ring circus and gladitorial combat in the Roman Coliseum.
The Barrister is the Ringmaster!
Public interest litigation is a three-ring circus. The action proceeds continuously in all three rings. The courtroom is the center ring where the public expects to find the most entertaining action. However, the secret of success in the circus of the Courtroom is the ability of those attorneys who successfully produce and direct major public interest litigation to manage what is going on in the side rings at all times. In public interest litigation, the most exciting of those side rings is the media battle.
The battle for the media is both an overt and covert war
If the journalists in each of the media—print and electronic; freelance and indentured—do their job, they will be fair and accurate and seek to obtain the facts, evaluate the adversary positions, and report them accurately to the public. The problem becomes one of deadlines and cooperation. Who can get the facts to the media most quickly and who can develop media credibility first.
The advantage is usually with the public interest litigator, the David facing Goliath and the Army of Philistines. Whoever presents the case on behalf of the public to the media must be fast, sure, and at all times accurate and fair. If there are weaknesses in the position advocated, they have to be fairly addressed.
At all times, the advocates in public interest litigation must keep a degree of separation between themselves and the representatives of the media. Journalists and lawyers can never be real friends any more than two boxers before their third title fight can ever be “real friends” or coaches on each side of a championship game. Mutual respect is the goal, and honor in the arena is all that can be sought.
Each profession has a job to do and the jobs cannot be compromised by personal relationships. Respect and fondness are acceptable, but personal relationships are not. Beware the lawyer who says “I’ve got a friend,” in the media who will “take care of me;” or worse yet, the one who says “I own a reporter!” Those attorneys are dishonoring the legal profession and if the statement is true, the reporter has compromised their journalistic integrity. The job of the public interest litigator is to be accessible to the media at all times because the media represents the public on whose behalf the litigation is being brought.
A secret for success
The secret of Yannacone’s “success” as a media figure lies in his total command of the subject matter of the litigation which he is conducting. He has all the answers, and he can put his hands on all the facts necessary to satisfy the curiosity of any reporter. He is also willing to discuss the litigation at any hour of the day and night in more detail than most people would like.
He is willing to answer direct questions directly and when he cannot or will not provide an answer, he is frank in explaining that he will not or cannot, and give a plausible reason. After only a few calls, most journalists will certify that Mr. Yannacone was a prime source of information on a variety of topics, in addition to just the litigation at hand. Yannacone has served as deep background for many news items.
Yannacone still keeps up with over 100 periodicals on a regular basis each month, ranging from scholarly journals in many fields to trade journals in even more fields. His demonic eclecticism makes it possible for him to assemble facts, theories and information from a variety of academic, scientific, and technical disciplines, flavor them with a working knowledge of world and national history, consider the practical politics of every position, and act with the certain pragmatism of the skilled trial lawyer to whom no event is a complete surprise and the unexpected is assumed to occur always.
Acquiring litigation skills
Yannacone entered the legal profession with this background already in place, and started using it almost as soon as he entered the legal system as a licensed claimant’s representative trying complex occupational disease claims before the Workers Compensation Board in New York City. After he became an attorney in 1959, and started to practice with his father as Yannacone & Yannacone, he soon became an acknowledged expert in occupational disease claims, the most complex issues considered by the courts at that time, and the forerunner of the products liability litigation that is now common in the courts.
Long before asbestos tort litigation began to clog the Courts, Yannacone was winning controverted asbestosis, silicosis, and anthracosis claims against vigorous industry and insurance company opposition in the Workers Compensation system, while honing his skills as a trial lawyer capable of cross-examining on short notice in real time any expert in the sciences, engineering and medicine.
The hallmark of his success as an advocate and trial lawyer is now and always was thorough preparation. No matter how complex the issues, Yannacone has mastered them to the extent of being able to explain them in short. precise, often newsworthy phrases. Among the phrases he used during litigation which have become common in news reports and entered the public lexicon are: “ticking toxic time bomb”, “dioxin, the molecule of death”, “the drop dead school of industrial hygiene”…