New Book Highlight One of America’s Most Controversial – and Successful – Lawyers of the Past 50 Years!
Media Connect has had the pleasure to work with all kinds of personalities, experts, and celebrities over the past five-plus decades, but few rival the story of Fred Levin.
Levin, whose illustrious and controversial career as a pioneering personal injury lawyer is highlighted by his role in bringing down Big Tobacco in the largest legal settlement ever, seemed the least likely to succeed in a law career that has netted him hundreds of millions of dollars, and has made him one of the most loved and hated lawyers in America. He is a founding member of the Trial Lawyers Hall of Fame.
In the new book And Give Up Showbiz? How Fred Levin Beat Big Tobacco, Avoided Two Murder Prosecutions, Became a Chief of Ghana, Earned Boxing Manager of the Year, and Transformed American Law (BenBella Books, September 2014), five-time New York Times bestselling author Josh Young provides a detailed and insightful portrait of one of the nation’s most successful and contentious civil trial lawyers. Young examines the unorthodox career path and life of a lawyer who was dogged by two murder investigations, three attempts to disbar him, a successful excursion into professional boxing management, a dysfunctional family life, and oh, yes, a legal career that included civil rights activism and huge lawsuit victories and settlements that saved lives and reformed the tobacco, drug, and auto industries.
In his new book, Josh Young shows us why this small-town lawyer has been making headlines for the past five decades. Levin’s career highlights include:
· Orchestrated and helped to secretively push through a Florida law that led to the biggest legal settlement in the history of the country against Big Tobacco – which ended paying out $206 billion – and earned his firm $300 million in legal fees.
· Honored by the United States Congressional Black Caucus for his civil rights efforts, and made a chief of the country of Ghana.
· At one time, Fred held the record for most money awarded for the wrongful death of a housewife, the wrongful death of a wage earner, the wrongful death of a child, the wrongful death of an African American, and the highest personal injury verdict in Florida.
· Won over 100 jury verdicts and settlements worth at least one million-dollars, and been named top civil litigator by National Law Journal and listed in every edition of Best Lawyers in America.
“There has never been a lawyer quite like Fred Levin,” says Young, who has written for Esquire, Entertainment Weekly, and the New York Times. “One of the most successful and influential lawyers over the last 100 years, Fred was at the forefront of establishing personal injury law in the US and helping push large corporations to make sweeping safety changes that have benefited every single person in this country. Yet at the same time his self-absorbed and flamboyant actions and statements leave you wondering whether he is a hero or a villain, a devoted seeker of justice or an ambulance chaser, a cockroach or a humanitarian. Either way, he clearly has had a transformative impact on the American legal system.”
Perhaps W. Randal Jones, the founder of Worth magazine sums Fred up best: “Fred Levin is truly sui generis and smart enough to know what that means. When writing about Fred in The Richest Man in Town, I didn't want to stop interviewing this mesmerizing character, but I had 99 other American heroes that required my time. Now I am jealous that Josh Young got to bring this brilliant and fascinating figure fully to life in all his well-deserved glory in And Give Up Showbiz?. Read it and reap.”
Q and A with author Josh Young:
1. What’s Fred’s greatest or most prideful professional moment in a law career that spans more than a half-century? Undoubtedly, it was when Fred rewrote the Florida law that allowed the state to sue Big Tobacco on behalf of Medicaid patients, and got his buddy, who was the president of the Florida Senate, to ram it through unnoticed in the middle of the night. This allowed the state of Florida to sue Big Tobacco to recover Medicaid costs spent on behalf of smokers. Because the law that Levin wrote was ultimately upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, Big Tobacco settled with Florida for $13 billion – and soon settled with every other state, paying out some $206 billion. Prior to that case, Big Tobacco had never paid a nickel to its victims. As a result of the settlement and the changes required in the marketing of cigarettes, more than 100,000 American lives are saved every year.
2. Fred almost didn’t make it to law school. How did he overcome being such a poor student and a party kid? Fred was motivated to succeed in law school by his dean. On the first day, the dean told the group “Look to your left and look to your right. If your class is average, neither of those guys will be here when you graduate.” Fred felt sick to his stomach. Because the school wasn’t that large, Fred’s reputation had preceded him. Everyone in the room knew that he was a goofball, a party boy, a gambler, and a lousy student. But the real push came when the dean himself predicted Fred would never graduate. After Fred was in law school for several weeks, he got a call that his younger brother Martin’s health was quickly deteriorating. Martin had been fighting leukemia for months, but he now appeared near the end. Fred told the dean that he needed to go home. The dean pulled out his undergraduate file and told Fred, very coldly, “You know, with your grades and everything, you might just as well stay home.” Fred didn’t make it home before his brother died, but he did return to school. Fred ended up graduating third in his class, beaten out only by two transfer students.
3. Are you surprised at how the trial lawyer profession has evolved over the years? What has Fred’s role been in that regard? Over the past four decades, trial lawyers have increasingly become the main stalwarts causing safety changes that have benefited every single person in this country, yet they are often vilified for the large amounts of money they have made and their flamboyant lifestyle. Fred’s central role in changing the direction of the national personal injury field was when he won an $18 million verdict against L&N Railroad in 1980. It was the largest verdict of its kind in legal history, and made national news, landing Fred in the entertainment magazine US, which highlighted his $6 million fee. This got the attention of lawyers and corporations all over America.
4. Why does Fred’s own son call him “a cockroach and a humanitarian?” A cockroach is something despised, but despite all efforts to eliminate they continue to thrive. Trial lawyers are disliked in large part as a result of the propaganda by the insurance industry, politicians and the business world. There have been endless efforts over the past several decades to destroy or eliminate the trial lawyer, but they continue to thrive and get stronger by adapting to the circumstances. The only difference between the trial lawyer and the cockroach is that the trial lawyer efforts often serve humanity very well.
5. Why has the Florida Bar Association tried to disbar him three times? Largely because of his success and the way he flaunted it. Over his career, Fred won 30 jury verdicts in excess of $1 million, including one for $25 million and another for $50 million, and settled more than 75 other cases in excess of $1 million. Fred also has openly, and often, insulted the leaders of the bar by referring to them as elitist, white, country club, men. It’s doubtful that any of the three charges would have been brought with such vengeance against any other lawyer. The first time he was brought up on charges was for gambling on football games, and then going on his cable access channel BLAB-TV and saying he saw nothing wrong with it – despite the fact that it was a misdemeanor. The result was a slap on the wrist. The second time was for violating the ethics rule on interjecting personal statements into a trial. That stemmed from him calling his opponent’s case “ridiculous” in two different trials. He was acquitted on that charge. And the third time was for him lambasting a judge’s ruling. Again, he escaped.
6. Fred seems to enjoy the spotlight. He’s been photographed with Bill Clinton, U2’s Bono, Bob Hope, Colin Powell, Muhammad Ali, Don King, Mikhail Gorbachev, and numerous others. Is all this show business to him? Show business is the by-product of being an effective lawyer, and also a means to promote himself and his firm to lure clients.
7. What role did Fred’s faith, as well as his experiences with anti-Semitism, influence his career? Fred grew up and practiced in a part of the Southern Bible Belt at a time when Jews were outsiders. Fred encountered anti-Semitism at every turn in his life, from not being admitted to the cool college fraternity to not being allowed to join the country club to not being able to join the established law firms. This made him more sensitive to other minorities and actually led to him being an open advocate for African Americans and homosexuals. He has been honored by the United States Congressional Black Caucus, and made a chief of the country of Ghana, for his efforts. In recent years, he has become a prominent philanthropist for Jewish causes, most recently donating $1 million to the Lubavitch/Chabad Student & Community Center at the University of Florida.
8. Fred’s firm is now involved in litigation against BP Oil for the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico a few years ago. Is he driven by the money, the fame, or a sense of justice? It’s a difficult question to answer. Fred and his firm are dedicated to leveling the playing field in some small way so that the little guy can do battle with the big guy. The lawyers in his firm believe very strongly in what they do. Stepping back and looking at what has happened in this country, it has become clear that the federal government does less and less for the people. The agencies designed to help people and to keep big business honest do not work properly. The FDA is not able to keep up with the drug companies and has practically become their functionary. The Consumer Product Safety Commission is overwhelmed. And all of those agencies tasked with protecting the financial system have an abysmal track record of late, which led to a catastrophic financial crisis in 2008. The central problem is that these agencies are all beholden to big business. So looking objectively at what has happened to individual rights in this country in the last 20 years, it is clear that people need a voice, and a powerful one at that. Fred’s firm tries to be that voice in cases where people need it, such as the BP Oil Spill. On the other hand, Fred loves the money and fame. He thrives on it, flaunts it, and promotes it.
9. Did Fred reveal what his former partner, Johnnie Cochran, felt about O.J. Simpson’s innocence? Fred and Johnnie Cochran were close friends. Fred was with Johnnie at a boxing match in Miami when Johnnie saw O.J. for the first time since the conclusion of O.J.’s murder trial. It had been six years, and Johnnie told Fred that he had not spoken to O.J. since the trial. When Johnnie spotted O.J., he asked Fred and his friend Terdema Ussery (the president of the Dallas Mavericks) to shield him so O.J. wouldn’t see him. Fred’s take on the whole situation is “that Johnnie thought O.J. was guilty, and even though his successful defense was a cornerstone of his career, it was something that troubled him.” Months later, Ussery was with Cochran when the subject of the events at the fight came up. Ussery recounted that Cochran told him to ask him anything he wanted about O.J. When Ussery demurred, Cochran then answered the question that Ussery wouldn’t directly ask; of whether or not he believed O.J. Simpson was guilty. Ussery recalled to me: “Johnnie said, ‘The answer to your question is his character is going to eventually answer the question for those who are curious as to whether or not he did it. So what I would say to you is watch him. Eventually – because character is something that you cannot suppress long term – your question is going to be answered if you just watch him.’” Of course, in 2008, three years after Johnnie Cochran died, O.J. Simpson was convicted of armed robbery and kidnapping in Las Vegas and sentenced to 33 years in prison.
10. How did Fred get into the business of managing a professional boxer, Roy Jones Jr.? It began when Roy’s father came to Fred’s office unannounced and asked him if he would manage Roy Jones, Jr., who was turning professional. Fred knew nothing about boxing, but he certainly knew who Roy Jones, Jr. was. A Pensacola native, Jones had made an international name for himself at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. In the most controversial gold medal bout in Olympic history, Jones had clearly beaten the South Korean Park Si-Hun, landing 86 punches to Park’s 32. However, Park was given a 3-2 decision. It was later revealed that the three judges who voted against Jones had taken graft from the South Korean officials. Though this resulted in their suspension, Jones was never awarded the gold medal he deserved. Fred was hired seven months after Jones was robbed of the Olympic gold medal, and the boxing world was itching to see Jones in the ring. Jones had been in the news because he and his father had rejected signing with Sugar Ray Leonard and his partner, Mike Trainer, despite the fact that Leonard had visited Jones in Pensacola before the Olympics. Don King also wanted to handle Jones. Bob Arum was the only major promoter not interested, calling the Jones team ingrates for misleading Leonard and Trainer. Fred made very little money – relatively speaking – by managing Roy, but he got millions of dollars of free press, which was even better for him.
Information on the Book: Go to www.andgiveupshowbiz.com
Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, Media Connect, the nation’s largest book promoter. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2014
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