Battling Big Tobacco
Legal Assistant Ray
Goldstein takes on the tobacco industry.
By Rachel Campbell
Paralegal Ray Goldstein sat in the back
of a Los Angeles courtroom in 2001, watching his supervising attorney
Michael Piuze battle the tobacco industry in the landmark Boeken v.
Philip Morris trial. An entourage of eight to 12 people, brought in by
the tobacco company to analyze the trial, sat near Goldstein. They were
“dressed down” in Dockers and loafers, but Goldstein had been through
enough lawsuits against tobacco giant Philip Morris to know it was all
part of the intimidation game the company played. At one point in the
trial, a man with the defense leaned over to Goldstein and said, “Are
you a lawyer?” Goldstein replied, “No, I am just another Erin Brockovich
Indeed, this San Francisco-based
freelance paralegal is the Erin Brockovich of lawsuits against the
tobacco industry. Goldstein has been involved in some of the biggest
wins against Philip Morris with Piuze and San Francisco attorney Madelyn
Chaber. His knowledge and experience organizing the intricate details
and many documents involved with these types of cases has made Goldstein
an asset to legal teams bent on bringing down the tobacco industry.
As a songwriter, guitar player and advertising copywriter
with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, Goldstein hardly seemed like the
type of person who would eventually make a name for himself in the legal
community. “My background was in the arts and the tumultuous era of the
’60s,” he said.
In 1982, Goldstein earned a spot in the
Guinness Book of World Records for constructing the world’s
largest guitar, for an 1980 exhibition of handmade musical instruments.
Four years later, Goldstein found himself an unemployed advertising
copywriter at the age of 40.
A friend who worked for the Law Offices
of Tony J. Tanke, was in need of assistance and opened the door to the
legal world for Goldstein. “A friend of mine asked if I would come to
his office in 1986 and help him with his computer,” he said.
Armed with knowledge gained after
reading a book about DOS, Goldstein began working on the IBM AT
As Goldstein worked with his friend,
Tanke took notice and began asking for typing favors. Later, he asked
Goldstein to index documents for the firm, working with a few
document-intensive cases. Then, Tanke hired Goldstein full-time under
the title of legal assistant.
“It was the beginning of my
understanding of the law office structure,” Goldstein said.
At the time Goldstein started working
for Tanke, the firm was wrapping up a few cases and winding down because
Tanke was refocusing his career. During the nine months Goldstein was
with the firm, he learned the duties of a legal assistant. An employment
agency sent him on other legal assistant interviews. One interview at a
law firm changed the direction of his life.
With a Cause
It was clear from the beginning Goldstein was a
plaintiff-type of paralegal as opposed to a corporate defense-type. With
his views stemming from the civil rights era and the anti-war movement,
Goldstein said, “My focus was people, not corporate welfare.” With this
outlook, Goldstein was a perfect fit with Cartwright, Slobodin, Bokelman,
Borowsky, Wartnick, Moore and Harris, a large firm of nearly 100
members. Goldstein worked primarily for Harry Wartnick, whose division
specialized in asbestos cases.
“Working on asbestos cases, in my point
of view, fulfilled a higher cause,” Goldstein said.
Goldstein’s experience at Cartwright,
Slobodin provided a strong foundation for his paralegal career. “It
[Cartwright, Slobodin] was first class, and a highly ethical place to
go. My experience was with lawyers who were all rarified, special
people. I was very fortunate because I hooked up with the best.”
It was at Cartwright, Slobodin that
Goldstein started working with Chaber, then an associate. He became
Chaber’s trial legal assistant, and their partnership would lead to many
successful lawsuits against asbestos and tobacco companies. “I went to
work for Madelyn [in 1987] and she was in a trial. I had no idea what I
was doing. That is when I learned how to work up a trial. She was the
first woman to sit solo and win a $1 million case in 1988 [in the
Thomas Serrell v. Raybestos-Manhattan asbestos case],” he said.
Working for clients with
life-threatening diseases and only eight to 10 months to live made
Goldstein’s work even more personal and timely. The focus was to get
cases to court before it was too late. “It was stressful, gripping and
tragic,” Goldstein said. “All the clients were dying.” In 1995, after
the Cartwright firm separated, Wartnick formed an independent firm
called Wartnick, Chaber, Harowitz, Smith and Tigerman, specializing in
asbestos cases. Goldstein stayed on with Wartnick and Chaber as a trial
Goldstein’s role ranged from being the
liaison with expert witnesses, to running audio visuals, to providing
the judge with output percentages each day. He essentially provided the
attorney with whatever he or she needed to make the trial go as smoothly
as possible. “I spent a lot of time in the courthouse. My role was to be
flexible,” he said.
In 1995, Chaber and Goldstein worked on
a case against Lorillard Tobacco. In this case, Chaber represented
Milton Horowitz who had mesothelioma, a deadly malignant tumor of the
lining of the lung. Mesothelioma is thought to be caused most commonly
by asbestos exposure, but Horowitz had never worked in an industry or
occupation typically associated with the disease. The attorney-legal
assistant team discovered Horowitz had smoked Kent cigarettes with a
Micronite filter containing asbestos during 1952. Chaber sued the maker
of the filter and was successful. It was the first time a cigarette
company ever cut a check to a plaintiff, paying the $700,000 punitive
Along with the Horowitz trial, Goldstein
was involved in two other trials that year. By the time the Horowitz
trial was over, Goldstein said he was burned out. “I was stressed out. I
was definitely not functioning at an admirable level,” he said.
In 1996, Goldstein’s role was expanded
as a product identification investigator. In this role, he was able to
create databases, and organize documents for the firm. “When trials were
done, the boxes got put away and sometimes were lost. Not a lot of time
was spent restoring the arsenal to the pretrial state,” he said.
For the next couple of years, Goldstein
built databases using Microsoft Access and worked with the firm
librarian to get the office in order. The use of Microsoft Access and
database building would later become invaluable in Goldstein’s work on
In 1998, Goldstein said he noticed a
change in the office atmosphere at Wartnick and decided to leave. “The
nature of the firm started to change,” he said. “I felt neglect and
disrespect. It just was not working for me, and I knew I needed to get
out of that environment. It was an interpersonal minefield.”
Literally on his way out the door, Harry
Wartnick hired Goldstein to manage a roving team of document inspectors.
Through 1998, the team, made up of three plaintiff firms, traveled to
various powerhouses and industrial facilities in California to search
documents and blueprints (produced in litigation) for information on
asbestos shipments, use and disposition, and names of contractors
involved in construction and maintenance.
In May of 1999, Goldstein formed his own
freelance legal assistant services company, Probative Production, which
allowed him to choose what cases he wanted to work on without being
subjected to the law office pecking order.
Taking on the
Working as a freelance legal assistant, Chaber called on
Goldstein to assist her in a personal injury case against the tobacco
industry in 1999, Patricia Henley v. Philip Morris USA. In
California, between 1988 and 1997, tobacco companies had total immunity
from lawsuits. Once the immunity was lifted, Chaber filed the first
personal injury lawsuit against the tobacco company following the
immunity period, on behalf of Henley. Chaber won the case with a $26.5
million verdict, which spurred other attorneys to take on the once
untouchable and undefeatable tobacco industry.
Chaber went on to try another tobacco
suit in 2000, Whiteley v. Philip Morris and RJ Reynolds. At the
same time, Goldstein was busy building a database to assist Chaber in
trial. “I built a document database for trial exhibits … by 2000, it was
a functioning database that allowed us to generate lists and track
everything,” Goldstein said.
Then in June 2001, at a tobacco
litigation conference in New Orleans, Goldstein met Piuze, who was eager
to file a lawsuit of his own against Philip Morris. “I had been about to
sue on two different cases in 1987,” Piuze said. “Both cases were
scrubbed out by the immunity. I was pleased to see that in 1999 a lawyer
in San Francisco, Madelyn Chaber, had successfully sued Philip Morris
after the immunity had been lifted. After 12 years, it was time I got
into the game.”
At the conference in New Orleans, Piuze
asked Chaber for advice and she highly recommended Goldstein. Goldstein
moved to Los Angeles to help Piuze with his first tobacco case,
Boeken v. Philip Morris in 2001.
For the Boeken trial, Goldstein was able
to use the database he built for the Whiteley case, and he continued to
expand it. With the use of these documents, Piuze was able to turn the
tables on Philip Morris. The plaintiff, Richard Boeken, had been smoking
since he was 10 years old and was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1999.
Boeken, a one-time rock musician who was an alcoholic, addicted to
heroin for three months and methadone for two years, was able to
overcome his addiction to everything but cigarettes.
Documents used in the case included
memos from Philip Morris’ own researchers in 1958 and 1959 acknowledging
ingredients known to be carcinogens and the psychological nature of
addiction. With the documents as proof, Piuze won the trial and the jury
awarded $3 billion. “It set off a firestorm,” Goldstein said.
Goldstein continued to work with Piuze
on two more cases against tobacco companies. “In the three cases Ray and
I worked on together, we were up against some of the best defense teams
money can buy,” Piuze said. “In some of the cases, there were six
lawyers and paralegal teams of three to four, and all kinds of other
support teams. It would be Ray and me against a minimum of a dozen up to
20 on the defense side. In all three cases, it was understood and
uncontested that Ray knew more about the documents than the entire
defense team put together, period.”
During his time assisting Piuze, Goldstein was developing,
with the assistance of Piuze and Paula Lawlor, Piuze’s chief assistant,
a complete collection of information from the Boeken trial called
Trial-In-A-Box, which included the complete Boeken trial and other links
to exhibits, testimony, motions, depositions and more for other legal
professionals to use as a guiding force in the fight against tobacco
Goldstein assembled and linked many
files on a CD, and then it was posted on the Internet as part of the
Tobacco Products Liability Project at Northwestern University School of
Law in Boston,
www.tobacco.neu.edu/box, all for free.
“We took every single pleading, all of
the discovery, all of the depositions, every piece of evidence and the
entire trial transcript and put it on one disc,” Piuze said.
“It was a tradition, among the asbestos
plaintiffs’ bar cases that I worked with for a dozen years, to share
information,” Goldstein said. “In that spirit, Michael, Paula and I
The end result is an application using
HTML and Adobe Acrobat built like a Web site with a main page linked to
other pages. Everything is indexed and linked to make it easy to
navigate through the thousands of documents with illustrations, sound
clips, and links to legal documents and evidence all related to the
Boeken trial. “It was a lot of fun to do. It’s a multimedia-type of
thing,” Goldstein said.
For attorneys involved in cases against
the tobacco industry, Trial-In-A-Box is invaluable because it provides
the documents already proven to be successful against tobacco companies
in prior litigation.
Today, Goldstein continues to provide freelance paralegal
services through his company, Probative Production in San Francisco, and
primarily works on cases related to cigarette companies. “I provide
organized information from my database on cigarette-related documents. I
maintain a sizable library of material relating to cigarette litigation
including thousands of testimony transcripts,” he said.
All of this information is contained in
Goldstein’s single, main database, which he calls Bad News For Big
After four years of continuing to add to
his database, which is searchable by author, date, topic, defendant and
more, Goldstein has about 5,000 documents coded, and uses it as his
laptop tool. Almost all the documents are publicly available on the
Internet pursuant to the Master Settlement Agreement of 1998 (State
of Minnesota et al. v. Philip Morris Inc. et al.), in which the
tobacco industry was required to make documents produced during certain
state cases, and all subsequent discovery in litigation, available to
the public. As a result, more than 27 million documents are available
online, which provided a feeding ground for Goldstein.
Goldstein also has been hired to build
simple databases to track document sets using Microsoft Access, and he
is hired as a day-to-day trial legal assistant. In January 2005, he said
he will work with Piuze again on a trial. Currently, Goldstein is
working with the U.S. Department of Justice on a cigarette case in which
his major undertaking is browsing through and coding documents delivered
While he isn’t sure what the future will
hold, he has certainly left a positive impression with the people he has
worked with over the past decade. “There is no way I can overstate how
valuable Ray’s help was to me. If I gave you 20 pages of quotes about
how great and smart he was, it would not be enough,” Piuze said. “I
can’t imagine trying any of the three tobacco cases without Ray’s help.”