Q: And in 2011, you won the Perry
Nichols Award from the Florida Justice
Association for those committed to
fighting for justice.
A: It came full circle.
Q: Was it difficult for you to put yourself
A: Not really. I sold books door to door.
Dictionaries and children’s books. I started
my senior year in high school. You would
work during the summers, you’d work three
solid months most of the time, but you
were able to make a lot of money. I did that
for six summers.
Q: In law school, did it take you a while
to settle on a practice area?
A: I knew that I would be a terrible fit
for representing corporations against
people: “I won” means I kept somebody
from being compensated for their
injury. I knew that almost immediately.
I don’t like to see a corporation sell a
product that they know, they know, they
absolutely are certain is going to cause
injury or death. There is no way I can put
my arms around that and say, “Yeah, I’m
going to be on your side.”
Q: When you graduated from
Cumberland, you took a job as a
prosecutor in Pensacola?
A: I liked Pensacola. It has an incredible
beach, and I used to windsurf. It was a
place I loved. I realized that I was not
going to be a great brief writer. I mean,
I can write briefs. But I thought my
strength probably was going to be in
the courtroom. Everything about my life
prepared me for that.
So I thought, “Well, OK, this gives me
some more trials.” That evolved into
this job. One of the lawyers who worked
here, Leo Thomas, is a fairly well-known
criminal defense lawyer. He is the one
who developed the “battered-woman
syndrome” defense. He used to see me on
the other side of the table in trials, and he
offered me a job.
Q: Levin Papantonio Thomas Mitchell
Rafferty & Proctor has been around quite
A: David Levin and Reubin Askew started
the firm. It was 60 years ago, and it started
as a plaintiff’s firm, which was fairly
unheard of at the time. You had a few,
maybe, in Birmingham and maybe one
or two along the Gulf Coast, but most of
the big plaintiff’s firms [in Florida] were
developed by Perry Nichols and that crowd
down around Miami. So it was an unusual
thing. They created a culture.
Q: How did you come to know Robert F.
A: Well, I was involved in a fight down here.
A paper mill wanted to pump some ungodly
He’s my law partner as well.
amount of its toxic waste into a bay in an
area where I used to windsurf. I rented an
airplane and flew a banner across the sky
saying, “Don’t pollute our bay.”
I parked my truck on the end of the
bridges with big signs, and I was waiting
to get fired by my law firm any time,
because I’m sure they thought I had gone
completely crazy. A friend of mine got
wind of it and he said, “You and Bobby
would really get along.” Bobby flew down
here, and he asked me if I would start
a Riverkeeper for him in Florida. I said,
“Sure.” We’ve just become really good
friends. We do radio together, TV together.
He and I started handling some smaller
environmental cases down around Florida.
And from there, we tried some bigger cases.
Q: What exactly is Riverkeeper?
A: The program is designed to start
an activist grassroots fight wherever a
corporation comes in and messes with a
waterway. Sometimes that activist fight is
not in the courtroom; sometimes it is just
by demonstrating and protesting. Truly,
the core of it is hands-on activism.
It’s one thing to do an article in a
Q: You and Mr. Kennedy have been doing
newspaper or a letter to the editor and say,
“Gee, this makes me mad.” It’s another
thing to show up at the CEO’s house with
signs and explain to the folks at their
country club what they are doing to your
community. So this is more of an activist
group, and I like that. I like the fact that
they are not afraid to jump in the middle
of a fight. They know it takes more than
a letter to the editor or a $10 donation—
you’ve just got to get your hands dirty.
radio together for some time.
A: I had started something called “Mass
Torts Made Perfect” in Vegas, and I started
seeing that … if you believe that you are
really effecting change by simply being
a good lawyer in your office, you really
are not doing enough. In Las Vegas twice
a year, there are 700 to 800 lawyers,
excellent lawyers, [who attend], most of
them with their hearts in the right place.
The point that I’ve always made was, “You
So Bobby and I started that with the radio.
can’t expect to take on corporate America
by simply filing a lawsuit or even winning
I came up with a concept of bouncing
stories. First of all, you have to have a good
product ... a television segment or radio
segment that somebody wants to listen to.
We knew that we could do very progressive,
in-your-face, radical stories that told more
than the headlines because we weren’t
limited. Nowadays, I do television a lot, and
I’m limited most of the time to six minutes.
Well, you can’t tell these stories in six
Secondly, they probably don’t want you
to tell the stories on a corporate network.
So Ring of Fire [on radio and TV] was a
product of that. It’s a nationally syndicated
show. We have to get our stories out,
and you can start by bouncing the story:
simply doing a segment. Every week I do
something called “Free Speech TV,” and
some of the best lawyers in the country are
involved. We do a segment and we will cut
it up and put it on the Internet, and before
you know it, reporters are hearing it for the
first time. Then they start asking, “Well,
what is this story about DuPont? Tell me