Clinton St. Quarterly, Vol. 8 No. 2 | Summer 1986 (Seattle) /// Issue 16 of 24 /// Master# 64 of 73

the Mafia in the way they come to court with a phalanx of attorneys. They are fronted by the best, or at least the best known. Griffin Bell, President Carter’s Attorney General, has been one of A.H. Robins's attorneys. There are two other significant differences between corporate killers and the habitues of death rows. In the first place, the latter generally did not murder as part of doing business, except for the relatively few who killed coincidental to a holdup. They did not murder to protect their rackets or territory, as the Mafia does, and they did not murder to exploit a patent or to increase production and sales, as corporate murderers do. One judge accused A.H. Robins officials of taking “the bottom line as your guiding beacon and the low road as your route.” Killing for the bottom line has probably not sent a single murderer to death row anywhere. In the second place, most of the men and women on death row were lonely murderers. No part of society supported what they did. But just as the Mafia can commit murder with impunity only because it has the cooperation of police and prosecutors, so too corporate murderers benefit from the collusion of respectable professions, particularly doctors (who, for a price, keep quiet), and insurance companies (who, to help Manville, did not reveal what their actuarial tables told about the risks to asbestos workers; and for Robins, worked actively backstage to conceal the Daikon Shield’s menace to public heath), and government agencies who are supposed to protect public health but look the other way. It was an old, and in its way valid excuse that Film Recovery’s officials gave the court: “We were just operating like other plants, and none of the government health and safety inspectors who dropped around—neither the Elm Grove Village Public Health Department nor the Environmental Protection Agency—told us we shouldn’t be letting our workers stick their heads in vats of boiling cyanide.” They were probably telling the truth. That’s the way health and safety regulators have usually operated. Brodeur tells us that a veritable parade of government inspectors marched through the Pittsburgh Corning asbestos plant in Tyler, Texas, over a period of six and a half years without warning the workers that the asbestos dust levels were more than twenty times the maximum recommended for health safety. One Department of Labor official later admitted he had not worn a respirator when inspecting the plant because he did not want to excite the workers into asking questions about their health. Though the Public Health Service several times measured the fallout of the asbestos dust, never did it warn the workers that the stuff was eating up their lungs. Finally things got so bad at Tyler that federal inspectors, forced to bring charges against the owners for appalling infractions of health standards, recommended that they be fined $210. Today the men and women who worked at that plant (since closed) are dying of lung cancer at a rate five times greater than the national average. The most impressive bureaucratic collusion A.H. Robins received was, not surprisingly, from the Food and Drug Administration. When trial attorneys brought evidence that the Daikon Shield’s rotting tail strings were endangering thousands of women and asked FDA officials to remove the device from the market, the agency did nothing. When the National Women’s Health Network petitioned the FDA for a recall—paid for by Robins— that would remove the shield from all women then wearing it, the FDA did nothing. For a full decade it pretended to be helpless. There is one more significant difference between the people on death row and the corporate murderers: the former sometimes say they are sorry; the latter never do. Midway through 1985, Texas executed Charles Milton, thirty-four, because when he stuck up a liquor store the owner and his wife wrestled Milton for the gun, it went off, and the woman died. Shortly before the state killed him with poison, Milton said, “ I am sorry Mrs. Denton was killed in the struggle over the gun." There. He said it. It wasn’t much, but he said it. And that’s more than the folks at Manville have ever said about the thousands of people they killed with asbestos. When it comes to feeling no remorse, A.H. Robins doesn’t take a back seat to anybody. In a famous courtroom confrontation between Federal Judge Miles W. Lord and three A.H. Robins officials, including company president E. Claiborne Robins, Jr., Judge Lord asked them to read silently to themselves a long reprimand of their actions. The most scathing passage, quoted both by Mintz and Perry and Dawson, was this: “Today as you sit here attempting once more to extricate yourselves from the legal consequences of your acts, none of you has faced up to the fact that more than 9,000 women [the figure two years ago] have made claims that they gave up part of their womanhood so your company might prosper. It is alleged that others gave their lives so you might so prosper. And there stand behind them legions more who have been injured but who had not sought relief in the courts of this land.... “If one poor young man were by some act of his—without authority or consent—to inflict such damage upon one woman, he would be jailed for a good portion of the rest of his life. And yet your company, without warning to women, invaded their bodies by the millions and caused them injuries by the thousands. And when the time came for these women to make their claims against your company, you attacked their characters. You inquired into their sexual practices and into the identity of their sex partners. You exposed these women—and ruined families and reputations and careers—in order to intimidate those who would raise their voices against you. You introduced issues that had no relationship whatsoever to the fact that you planted in the bodies of these women instruments of death, of mutilation, of disease.” Judge Lord admitted that he did not have the power to make them recall the shield but he begged them to do it on their own: “You've got lives out there, people, women, wives, moms, and some who will never be moms.... You are the corporate conscience. Please, in the name of humanity, lift your eyes above the bottom line.” It was a pretty stirring piece of writing (later, when Judge Lord got so pissed off he read it aloud, they say half the courtroom was in tears), and the judge asked them if it had had any impact on them. Looking sulky, they just stared at him and said nothing. A few weeks, later, at A.H. Robins’s annual meeting, E. Claiborne Robins, Jr., dismissed Lord’s speech as a “poisonous attack.” The company did not recall the shield for another eight months. Giving deposition in 1984, Ernest L. Bender, Jr., senior vice-president for corporate planning and development, was asked if he had ever heard an officer or employee say he or she was “sorry or remorseful about any infection that’s been suffered by any Daikon Shield wearer.” He answered, “I’ve never heard anyone make such remarks because I’ve never heard anyone that said the Daikon Shield was the cause." f they are murderers, why not the death Jsentence? Polls show that eighty-four percent of Americans favor the death penalty, but half think the penalty is unfairly applied. Let’s restore their faith by applying justice equally and poetically. In Georgia recently it took the state two 2,080 volts spaced over nineteen minutes to kill a black man who murdered during a burglary. How fitting it would be to use the same sort of defective electric chair to execute, for example, auto manufacturers and tire manufacturers who knowingly kill people with defective merchandise. In Texas recently it took the state executioners forty minutes to administer the lethal poison to a drifter who had killed a woman. Could anything be more appropriate than to tie down drug and device manufacturers who have killed many women and let slow-witted executioners poke around their bodies for an hour or so, looking for just the right blood vessel to transport the poison? At a recent Mississippi execution, the prisoner’s protracted gasping for breath became such an ugly spectacle that prison At a recent Mississippi execution, the prisoner’s protracted gasping for breath became such an ugly spectacle that prison authorities ordered witnesses out of the death chamber. That sort of execution for Manville executives who specialized in spreading long-term asphyxiation over thousands of lives would certainly be appropriate. □ authorities, in a strange burst of decorum, ordered witnesses out of the death chamber. That sort of execution for Manville executives who specialized in spreading long-term asphyxiation over thousands of lives would certainly be appropriate. But these things will never happen. For all our popular declarations of democracy, most Americans are such forelocktugging toadies that they would be horrified to see, say, Henry Ford II occupying the same electric chair that cooked black, penniless Alpfta Otis Stephens. Nor will we incarcerate many corporate murderers. Though some of us with a mean streak may enjoy fantasizing the reception that our fat-assed corporate killers would get from some of their cellmates in America’s more interesting prisons—I like to think of the pious chaps from A.H. Robins spending time in Tennessee’s notorious Brushy Mountain Prison—that is not going to happen very often either, the precedent of Film Recovery notwithstanding. The Film Recovery trio had the misfortune of working for a crappy little corporation that has since gone defunct. Judges will not be so stern with killers from giant corporations. So long as we have an army of crassly aggressive plaintiff attorneys to rely on, however, there is always the hope that we can smite the corporations and the men who run them with a punishment they probably fear worse than death or loss of freedom: to wit, massive loss of profits. Pamela C. Van Duyn, whose use of the Daikon Shield at the age of twenty-six destroyed one Fallopian tube and critically damaged the other (her childbearing chances are virtually nil), says: “As far as I’m concerned, the last dime that is in Claiborne Robins’s pocket ought to be paid over to all the people that have suffered.” Author Brodeur dreams of an even broader financial punishment for the industry he hates: “When I was a young man, out of college in 1953,1went into the Army Counterintelligence Corps and went to Germany, where I saw one of the death camps, Dachau. And I saw what the occupational army had done to Dachau. They had razed it, left the chimneys standing, and the barbed wire as a monument—quite the same way the Romans left Carthage. What I would do with some of these companies that are nothing more or less than killing grounds would be to sell their assets totally, reimburse the victims, and leave the walls as a reminder—just the way Dachau was— that a law-abiding and decent society will not tolerate this kind of conduct.” He added, “I know perfectly well that this is not going to happen in the private enterprise system.” How right he is. The laws, the court system, federal and state legislatures, most of the press, the unions—most of the establishment is opposed to applying the final financial solution to killer corporations. As it became evident that juries were inclined to agree with Mrs. Van Duyn’s proposal to wring plenty of money from A.H. Robins, the corporation in 1985 sought protection under Chapter 11 of the Federal Bankruptcy Code. It was a sleazy legal trick they had picked up from Manville Corporation, which had declared bankruptcy in August 1982. Although both corporations had lost hundreds of millions in court fights, neither was actually in financial trouble. Indeed, at the time it copped out under Chapter 11, Manville was the nation’s 181st largest corporation and had assets of more than $2 billion. Bankruptcy was a transparent ploy—or, as plaintiff attorneys put it, a fraudulent abuse and perversion of the bankruptcy laws—but with the connivance of the federal courts it is a ploy that has worked. Not a penny has been paid to the victims of either corporation since they declared bankruptcy, and the 16,500 pending lawsuits against Manville and the 5,000 lawsuits pending against A.H. Robins (those figures are climbing every day) have been frozen. Meanwhile, companies are not even mildly chastised. Quite the contrary. Most major newspapers have said nothing about Manville’s malevolent cover-up but have clucked sympathetically over its courtroom defeats. The New York Times editorially seemed to deplore the financial problems of the asbestos industry almost as much as it deplored the industry’s massacre of workers: “Asbestos is a tragedy, most of all for the victims and their families but also for the companies, which are being made to pay the price for decisions made long ago.” Senator Gary Hart, whose home state, Colorado, is corporate headquarters for Manville, pitched in with legislation that would lift financial penalty from the asbestos companies and dump it on the taxpayers. And in Richmond, Virginia, corporate headquarters for the makers of the Daikon Shield, civic leaders threw a banquet for E. Claiborne Robins, Sr. The president of the University of Virginia assured Robins that “Your example will cast its shadow into eternity, as the sands of time carry the indelible footprint of your good works. We applaud you for always exhibiting a steadfast and devoted concern for your fellow man. Truly, the Lord has chosen you as one of His most essential instruments.” After similar encomiums from other community leaders, the top man behind the marketing of the Daikon Shield was given the Great American Tradition Award. Robert Sherrill is a much- published author and investigator. This story is from the Spring 1986 issue of Grand Street, 50 Riverside Drive, New York, NY 10024 (U.S. subscriptions $20/year). Carl Smool is an artist living in Seattle whose work has appeared in recent issues of CSQ. CSQ award-winning writer Leanne Grabel lives in Portland. Mary Robben is an artist living in Portland. Clinton St. Quarterly 7