Paralegal and Whistleblower Merrell Williams Jr. dies at 72

3 Dec

Merrell Williams Jr. in 1996 (photo credit: Lee Celano, For The LA Times)

You might be asking yourself, who is this person and of what importance is he to the world of the paralegal? Perhaps you remember, back in the early 1990’s, the very publicized lawsuit against four of the largest tobacco companies in the country. The case was made against the tobacco companies for hiding evidence that these companies were well aware of the facts that cigarettes were not only addictive, but also led to many health problems. Merrell Williams Jr. was the paralegal who was instrumental in “blowing the whistle” against these companies. Mr.Williams worked for a law firm who represented a big tobacco company. He copied company files containing evidence that tobacco companies covered up findings by their own research scientists that raised issues about the harm of smoking tobacco. The law firm in which he was working when he discovered the files accused him of theft and abusing attorney-client privilege and filed suit against him for theft, fraud, and breach of contract. His defense argued that the documents he copied showed proof of criminal activity. Mr. Williams did use the evidence he found as grounds to sue the tobacco companies and won.

Whether or not you agree with the ethics behind Mr. William’s actions, the case made this former paralegal very well known. Merrell Williams Jr. died from a heart attack on November 18th in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. You can read more information on his story here.

– Traci Ruffner, DTCC Paralegal Student

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