Mississippi Lawyers Movies

Evan Schaeffer's Legal Underground

"My co-counsel Ron Motley and I have filed a lawsuit against the tobacco industry on behalf of the State of Mississippi to get the state reimbursed Medicaid costs for treating people with smoking-related illness. If you'd be interested in talking to us, we'd certainly like to talk to you."

-Colm Feore as Dickie Scruggs in The Insider

In the quoted passage, the actor who portrays real-life plaintiffs' lawyer Dickie Scruggs is talking to Jeffrey Wigand, the tobacco-company "insider" played by Russell Crowe. It's not many movies that could make a line about a Medicaid-reimbursement lawsuit sound dramatic.

Additional drama in The Insider is provided by the actor who portrays plaintiffs' lawyer Ron Motley. As Motley is conducting a deposition of Jeffrey Wigand, a tobacco lawyer interrupts with an objection. "We've got rights here, " the tobacco lawyer says. Motley responds:

Oh, you've got rights. And lefts. Ups and downs and middles. So what? You don't get to instruct anything around here. This is not North Carolina, not South Carolina, nor Kentucky. This is the sovereign state of Mississippi's proceeding. WIPE THAT SMIRK OFF YOUR FACE! Dr. Wigand's deposition will be part of this record. And I'm going to take my witness's testimony whether the hell you like it or not.

You go, Mr. Plaintiffs' Lawyer! At the end of the movie, this notice appears: "Although based on a true story, certain events in this motion picture have been fictionalized for dramatic effect." But certainly the fictionalization wouldn't apply to the portrayal of a deposition that actually happened. Right?

Wrong. If you read the actual deposition, you'll find that Motley's heated speech was the product of Hollywood screenwriters. During the actual deposition, the lawyers were polite to each other, generally speaking. Perhaps Overlawyered.com wasn't far off the mark when it called The Insider a "portentous litigation epic."

Lawyers don't normally yell at depositions quite so loudly as Ron Motley is portrayed as doing in The Insider. And if you tell another lawyer to "wipe that smirk off your face, " it's probably not going to happen like it does in the movie.

But the following back-and-forth did actually happen, and I think it's probably a good summary of the Motley style:

Q. [By MR. MOTLEY to MR. WIGAND] Sir, at any time did you learn that Brown & Williamson was using a form of rat poison in pipe tobacco?

MR. BEZANSON: Object to the form.

A. Yes.


Q. What form of rat poison is that, sir?

A. It is a compound called coumarin. It was contained in the pipe tobacco -

MR. BEZANSON: Object on trade secret grounds and instruct not to answer.

MR. MOTLEY: You are objecting that the man is revealing that you used rat poison as a trade secret?

You may answer, sir.

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