When The Lawyers Arrived in Bhopal…
In this, the third extracted story from our ‘Bhopal Marathon’ publication, we get a taste of the opportunistic hawks descending on Bhopal, just days after the disaster, and looking for a ‘piece of the action’.
JUSTICE IN ALLIGATOR BOOTS AND A POLKA DOT TIE
Enter Mr Melvin Belli. Into the horrors of Bhopal, the mass death and torment of thousands, oozes the extraordinary figure of one of America’s leading lawyers, a courtroom whale proclaiming that he is here to bring justice and money to those poor little bastards who have suffered at the hands of those sons of bitches.
‘We shall knock the stuffing out of them. There is no doubt that we will win, for Union Carbide have absolute liability. Only questions are the amount of damages – we’re going for $15 billion – and the place of the trial. We’ll try for California. I know my juries there and I like my judges. It is my home. I like to see my two Italian greyhounds. They sleep with me.’
Mr Belli arrived yesterday. He cut a singular figure, a bulky white-haired man in a black suit with a red silk lining, his feet encased in black alligator skin boots, a white polka-dot tie lying across his aldermanic paunch. On his way to a devastated community, numbed and mourning after the greatest of industrial disasters, there was something grotesque about his American law court showbizzery and intemperate language.
‘I had an idea I was going to get a piece of this case the morning I went to the office,’ he announced. ‘Any disaster anywhere in the world, someone will call us. I want to get this case tried in the US and get these Indian people American damages for the abuse of an American process.’
He told us that his law firm has represented many famous people and reeled off the names of film stars. ‘But these people in India are nobodies. Some poor little bastard living in a railroad shack goes home to find his wife and child dead. Now Union Carbide have the effrontery to offer a fucking orphanage and a million dollars. It is a monumental goof typical of American philosophy. You can hear them saying, “We gave a million dollars for an orphanage. Man, we got out of that one easy.” Well, it won’t wash. The American businessman is a pretty cruel, unethical customer. He is the son of a bitch. He is concerned only with profit.’
Mr Belli stepped outside to be photographed, saw a poor woman and gave her a 20 rupee note (about £1.60). He said it was a Christmas present and she could buy cigars.
One of the US lawyers in Bhopal said that Mr Belli ‘uses people’. Mr Belli replied loftily, ‘When you get to 77, have two Italian greyhounds and have read as many books as I have and have as many friends among lawyers and judges, and have had as many cases as I have, you don’t have to justify yourself.’
You can read the complete Bhopal Marathon publication online here