andrew schneider investigates

March 1, 2009

WR Grace lawyers bring their own stimulus package to Montana but are disappointed at finding no snake skin boots

Missoula, Mont., has more than its share of great eateries. The absolute best burger in the world comes off the tiny grill at the scruffy Missoula Club, or a breakfast of brains and eggs and other memorable fare at Oxford Saloon and Café. This town has a surprising list of high end restaurants that match and even exceed the quality and variety of food purveyors on both coasts where many their of new customers come from.

The pin–strip-suited army of W.R. Grace lawyers, paralegals and assistants are expected to pump hundreds of thousands of dollars into the local economy over the next fours months as they ply their trade in the federal courthouse. Grace and the five former top executives on trial in the nation’s largest-ever environmental crime trial will get stuck with the tab for the classy restaurants, hotel suites and condo.

The “Briefcase Brigade,” as Matthew Frank of the Missoula Independent calls them, are being paid between $200 or $1,000 or more an hour. That’s not just courtroom time and it appears that many of the visiting Easterners are spending some of those bucks looking for a bit of Western motif to adopt.Picture

Yesterday, I was shopping for an extension cord for my computer at a hardware and farm store near my motel. Inside Quality Supply, I spotted two members of the Grace legal team I sat across the courtroom from for days, and a woman wearing a dress. Probably the only one in the store thus attired . Not having a notebook, this is what I recall.

One guy asked a young salesclerk where the snakeskin boots were.

“Snake boots? Right down there,” she said, pointing to shelves of heavy rubber boots used to clean out barns and corrals.

“No, No. Cowboy boots covered in snake skin. And what is mucking anyhow,” the other lawyer asked, pointing to the aisle they’d just left.

“We have lots of boots,” she said, herding them towards the side of the store. “Leather, brown, black, fancy tooling, but no snake skin. Why would you want that anyhow?”

There was a time not too long ago that several stores in or near downtown Missoula stocked the very fancy and exotic boots, including several different snake skin. Not so much anymore, some storekeepers told me.Picture

I peaked through the shelves and watched as the barristers squeezed and grunted their tender feet into five or six different pair of boots.

“These hurt like hell,” said one of the guys. “No wonder cowboys ride horses all the time.”

I burst out laughing and blew my cover.

“Molloy has a gag order about talking to the press. He’ll have our butts if we talk to you,” said the other guy. I assured them that I wasn’t talking, just watching.

A few minutes later the same guy held up the bright turquoise and red shirt with pearl snaps, more often seen worn by line dancers in banged up bars and asked his colleague whether wearing it would win over the jury.

About 20 minutes later, they checked out. One pair of boots, that the young woman bought, eight or nine assorted Wrangler and Carhartt shirts and a tan “Stallion” Stetson.

Looked to be about $650 worth.

As we were all leaving, one said, “Check out the moose store on main street. It’s great.”

Moosecreek Mercantile owner Gary Brikett says his hottest items are the huckleberry candies and jams and the make-believe deer, elk, ram and bear heads. They’re completely suitable for mounting over a gas fireplace in some east coast condo.

If Molloy would have let me, I might have warned the representatives of the nation’s largest law firms to watch their pennies. Newspapers are not the only industry having financial troubles. The Washington Post reported yesterday that Latham & Watkins, one of the world’s largest law firms, fired hundreds of lawyers and associates yesterday.

Wash those shirts gently and watch the pearl snaps.


1 Comment »

  1. I’ve been following issues related to tremolite contamination of vermiculite, as well as issues dealing with other asbestos contaminated materials, such as tremolite in paint, since 1992. It’s plain to me that WR Grace is responsible for misery and death of hundreds, if not thousands, of people because of exposure to asbestos. It’s unthinkable that these high paid pinstripers can bully everyone, including the government, into submission so they can continue to get rich from the blood of working class Americans. They are the new “Ugly Americans.”

    Comment by George W — March 9, 2009 @ 06:50 | Reply

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