Famous Whistleblowers

Famous Whistleblowers

Famous WhistleblowersWork with Tampa’s experienced whistleblower attorneys!

Whistleblower protections have been extended by law in this country ever since the Revolutionary War, when, in 1777, Midshipman Samuel Shaw reported that Commodore Esek Hopkins – the Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Navy – had been torturing British prisoners of war. Hopkins sued Shaw for defamation, but the Continental Congress unanimously voted to establish the Whistleblower Protection Law in 1778 and declared that Congress would defend Shaw against Hopkins’ suit.

Since that time, there have been hundreds of whistleblowers reporting everything from military excesses to companies that cook the books to cheat the government. We are all beholden to these brave souls for helping to curb corporate greed and governmental misuse of power. Below is a brief chronological list of some whistleblowers from history whom you may recognize – and others who might just inspire you.

1942: Jan Karski, a Polish resistance fighter, attempted to blow the whistle on the Warsaw ghetto and the Jewish extermination camps. Though he met with President Roosevelt and others, his report was not taken seriously.

1966-72: Peter Buxtum exposed the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment. In this outrageous “scientific study,” rural African-American men in Alabama were told they were receiving free health care from the U.S. Public Health Service – but were instead used to study the effects of untreated syphilis over a 40-year period beginning in 1932. Most damning, the study organizers actively prevented their participants from learning about or receiving penicillin after it was proven effective in 1947. Buxtum filed an official protest with the Service’s Division of Venereal Diseases in 1966, but it was rejected. Finally, in 1972, he leaked information to the Washington Star. The ensuing publicity finally ended the study.

1971: Frank Serpico was the first NYPD officer in the history of that police department tto blow the whistle on its widespread corruption, bribery, and payoffs. His efforts were memorialized in the film Serpico.

1972: W. Mark Felt (nicknamed “Deep Throat”) was the FBI agent who leaked information about the Watergate scandal to the Washington Post, leading to the resignation of President Richard Nixon.

1974: Karen Silkwood identified safety concerns in nuclear power plants. Her story is told in the movie Silkwood.

1984: John Michael Gravitt launched the first successful qui tam lawsuit following a weakening of  the False Claims Act  in 1943. (Qui tam lawsuits are brought by whistleblowers who seek redress on behalf of  taxpayers. The whistleblower is granted a percentage of the recovery, set by the court, if the suit is successful.) Gravitt sued GE for defrauding the U.S. Department of Defense by falsely billing for work on the B1 Lancer. His case led to federal legislation bolstering the False Claims Act in 1986.

1989: Douglas D. Keeth filed a qui tam lawsuit against United Technologies Corporation, for whom he served as VP of Finance. Keeth had discovered exaggerated progress billings in some years of United Technologies’ records. He rejected a $1 million severance package offer and, in 1994, won a whistleblower recovery of $22.5 million.

1994-95: William Sanjour was a whistleblower at the Environmental Protection Agency for 20+ years. In 1995, he won a landmark lawsuit that established the rights of federal employees to blow the whistle on their employer, the federal government.

2002: Cynthia Cooper and Sherron Watkins exposed the corporate financial scandal involving Worldcom and Enron.

2004: Joe Darby alerted the U.S. military command of the prisoner abuse occurring in Abu Ghraib, Iraq.

2005: Thomas Tamm, who worked as an attorney for the Department of Justice Office of Intelligence Policy and Review, informed the New York Times about mass warrantless surveillance.

2006-13: Adam B. Resnick exposed kickbacks given to nursing homes by Omnicare – and then filed a second suit over Omnicare’s acquisition of Total Pharmacy Services. Omnicare, the nursing homes, and Total Pharmacy settled their False Claims Act cases for a combined $56 million.

2009: John Kopchinski was a Pfizer sales representative who filed a qui tam lawsuit over Pfizer’s marketing of Bextra, a prescription painkiller. After pleading guilty to promoting Bextra and 12 other drugs for unapproved uses and doses, Pfizer was required to pay $2.3 billion (yes, billion) in a global settlement.

At Wagner, McLaughlin & Whittemore in Tampa, Florida, we are dedicated to protecting the rights and interests of the courageous men and women who step forward, as whistleblowers, to bring corporate and governmental fraud to light. Is your employer illegally punishing you for your actions in exposing bad practices? Do you believe you have grounds for a qui tam lawsuit? Contact us today for a free consultation.

dramatic movie lawyer

Why Wagner, McLaughlin & Whittemore Attorneys are Like Paul Newman & Tom Cruise

The ABA Journal recently published an issue covering “100 Years of Law at the Movies,” exploring Why Hollywood Loves Lawyers. It concluded that “[t]he literature of law values tMovie Lawyershe object lesson over the cheap thrill. Audiences crave universal truths, and by the time the closing credits roll, movies about the law have left behind wisdom to live by.” We agree with that sentiment. Whether it’s Henry Fonda corralling his fellow jurors in 12 Angry Men, or Tom Cruise cornering “you want me on that wall” Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men, lawyer movies can and usually do pack a mighty moral wallop. It’s no surprise that Atticus Finch found himself at the top of an American Film Institute list of famous heroes of the last 100 years. As the Institute rightly notes, “Heroism that acquits the falsely accused will hold its own against any nonstop action flick.”

We don’t practice criminal law at Wagner, McLaughlin & Whittemore, but we feel that our quest for justice is no less rigorous and duty bound than that of Mr. Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird or of Matthew McConaughey in the gripping tale A Time to Kill. We, too, strive daily to see that wrongs are righted. Fortunately, Hollywood agrees that civil practice can be just as compelling – and just as filled with white-hat lawyers making society better and more just, one client at a time.

Below is a short list of some of the great lawyer movies dealing with civil lawyers and our fight to improve the lives of our clients.  We not only love these movies; we are proud of these civil justice-fighters, real and fictional.

Erin Brokovitch: “Not personal? That is my work! My sweat! My time away from my kids! If that’s not personal, I don’t know what is.”

Who doesn’t know of Erin’s true-life story fighting against a massive power company to get justice for hundreds of residents injured by contaminated water? What began as a personal quest for employment culminated in a life-changing verdict for the townspeople poisoned by Pacific Gas & Electric’s dangerous disposal practices. Though she wasn’t a lawyer herself, she and attorney Ed Masry certainly earned their badges as civil law heroes.

A Civil Action: “Now the single greatest liability a lawyer can have is pride. Pride… Pride has lost more cases than lousy evidence, idiot witnesses and a hanging judge all put together. There is absolutely no place in a courtroom for pride.”

Like Erin Brokovitch, A Civil Action is based on a true story of a lawyer who took on a large company responsible for damaging the health of the nearby townsfolk, this time causing terminal leukemia in several children. The story is a wonderful portrayal of a team of attorneys who quite literally risk everything to win justice against all odds.

The Insider: “You are important to a lot of people, Jeffrey. You think about that, and you think about them. I’m all out of heroes, man. Guys like you are in short supply.”

Big Tobacco went to war when a single courageous whistleblower, Dr. Jeffrey Wigand (played by Russell Crowe), agreed to a 60 Minutes interview to expose the dangers of smoking. The Insider tells the tale of the legal battle that followed as Big Tobacco pulled out all the stops to suppress the interview.

Rainmaker: “Every lawyer, at least once in every case, feels himself crossing a line that he doesn’t really mean to cross… it just happens… And if you cross it enough times it disappears forever. And then you’re nothin’ but another lawyer joke. Just another shark in the dirty water.”

A fictional story steeped in legal ethics, Rainmaker tells the tale of a medical malpractice case against an unscrupulous insurance giant. Not every medical malpractice case we take rises to the level of a Hollywood blockbuster – but we never forget that every single case we accept is of enormous importance to the health and life of that individual client.

The Verdict: “I came here to take your money. I brought snapshots to show you so I could get your money. I can’t do it; I can’t take it. ‘Cause if I take the money I’m lost. I’ll just be a… rich ambulance chaser. I can’t do it. I can’t take it.”

Another medical malpractice story starring the fabulous Paul Newman, The Verdict features a once-ostracized lawyer who resists enormous personal and industry pressure to accept a large settlement for his client – because he believes, when no one else does, that his client deserves even more than that. This great movie dramatically illustrates why real-life potential clients should not be unduly “wowed” when lawyers advertise their “big-dollar” settlements – because you never know if that settlement, though large, was really as fair for the client as it was for the lawyer.

At Wagner, McLaughlin & Whittemore, we work hard every day to emulate the commitment and heroism of the lawyers – real life and fictional – who stand up for the rights of their clients despite the strength of the opposition and against the pressure to settle too early, when doing so is not in our clients’ best interests. If you live near Tampa, Florida, and need a personal injury, medical malpractice, whistleblower, or wrongful termination attorney, contact us today for a free consultation. We may not have Paul Newman’s blue eyes or Tom Cruise’s boyish good looks – but we guarantee that our attorneys will work on your case with the same passion for justice that you see in their movies.


(Movie quotes from IMDb)

Florida whistleblower litigation

Work with Tampa’s skilled Whistleblower attorneys!

If you rely too much on movies for your education, you might think that a whistleblower is someone who discovers deep, dark secrets about corruption and greed. This brave hero then risks life and limb to expose those secrets to the general public and bring the evil corporation crashing down. As exciting as that plot trope may be – and there have been notable cases in history approaching that level of intrigue — there’s typically more fiction than fact in Hollywood’s dramatization of the whistleblower.Whistleblower

In reality, a potential whistleblower normally begins as an employee of either a governmental agency or an independent contractor of a governmental agency. On occasion, such an employee may notice legal or ethical violations, gross mismanagement of public funds, fraud, neglect of duty, or other violations. When that happens, the employee can choose to report what she observed to an agency with authority to investigate and remedy the violations. She may also, in certain circumstances, bring suit against the violator on behalf of the U.S. taxpayers, receiving a portion of the recovery as her reward.

Most employees, however, are understandably worried that reporting such violations may bring negative ramifications at work. They fear termination or at least a lost opportunity for promotion or salary increase once their supervisors discover who reported the violations.

Whistleblower protection laws, like Florida Statutes section 112.3187, were designed specifically to prevent employer retaliation. They protect not only the actual whistleblower who wrote and signed the complaint, but also anyone who assisted the investigation, anyone who refused to participate in retaliating against a whistleblower, and others who may have been involved in the complaint.

When employers retaliate against whistleblowers, whistleblowers must follow very specific steps to obtain relief, and they must be prepared to prove that the action taken against them would not have occurredhad they not reported the violation(s). Once administrative remedies have been exhausted, whistleblowers may also need to seek relief by bringing a civil suit – and the time period is very short to do so. If relief is granted, it may include reinstatement, compensation for lost wages and benefits, court costs and attorney’s fees, and an injunction against further retaliation.

If you have noticed behavior that falls under the False Claims Act, it is important that you consult with an experiencedattorney as soon as possible. Your attorney can help you craft the claim, preserve evidence, and protect yourself against retaliation. If you are a whistleblower who hasalready been retaliated against by your employer, qualified legal counsel can help you obtain a fair remedy. In the Tampa, Florida area, the law firm of Wagner, McLaughlin & Whittemore has experience in handling all types of whistleblower litigation. Contact us today for a free case evaluation.