Douglas Gillies
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Douglas Gillies I met with my first clients in a 12x24' cabin on the San Lorenzo river in Ben Lomond, California. It didn't have enough space for a desk, so we sat under a redwood tree looking at a pink castle across the river. My landlord was born in Kitti Hawk in 1898. He was five years old when the Wright Brothers flew over his town. I asked him how the people reacted. "Mad as hell," he said. "They were afraid that thing would fall out of the sky and crash into the houses."

He raised large Greylag geese that flew across the river and landed on the turrets of the miniature castle. It was a paradox of proportions—the castle seemed to shrink when the geese landed. This dazzled my clients, who soon forgot that my office was under a tree. My rent was $25 a week, due on Monday. If a client showed up on Monday, my retainer was $25 - cash. Within a few months I opened a law office in Brookdale above the Mr. Natural Food Store.

One of my clients in the first year was Mark Felt. We met in his daughter's cabin. Joan lived about a mile up the road from my office. That was only a few months before Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein released All the President's Men and branded their confidential source, a highly respected FBI official, "Deep Throat".

My first trials were misdemeanors—speeding tickets, drunk driving, nude sunbathing in a state park. During my first year I obtained eight acquittals. I advised 400 UCSC students charged with unlawful assembly for a sit-in protesting apartheid in South Africa. A month later, their cases were dismissed. A Quaker activist was charged with a felony for receiving stolen property as a result of his efforts to challenge a proposal to build a new jail. The jury acquitted my client; the jail was built after he left town. Three lay midwives were arrested and charged with practicing medicine without a license. I bailed them out and we argued all the way to the California Supreme Court that childbirth is not a disease. By the time the case was decided in their favor, midwifery had become a part of the medical model and the charges were dismissed.

The civil cases followed—a lawsuit against Boise Cascade for a defective mobile home, another against a bank for cashing forged checks. I moved my office to San Francisco, where all the lawyers wore suits and you could always get a courtroom if you needed to go to trial. It was a lawyers' town—one lawyer for every fifty residents.

The largest lawsuit in U.S. history was tried in San Francisco—the Coordinated Asbestos Litigation. I appeared on behalf of one of 72 parties in a contest between two industries fighting over billions of dollars. They built a special courtroom to accommodate all the lawyers and enacted a new chapter of civil procedures to manage the massive evidence reaching back six decades. On one day in June, Johns Manville produced 10 million documents in a Denver warehouse, and they were only one party. The case against my client was dismissed ten days before the start of a two-year trial.

Just like that, my calendar was empty. I had time to think about how the legal system resolves conflicts. Lawsuits tend to look back in time to decide who was at fault and how much it will cost them. I thought maybe we could use some of the tools to chart a plausable course into the future.

I began facilitating town meetings. This led to interviews with Pres. Mikhail Gorbachev, Senator Alan Cranston, Huston Smith, David Brower, Jean Houston, Mario Savio, Yehudi Menuhin and hundreds of others, which resulted in the documentaries, "On the Edge", "The Big Picture," "Savio," and Prophet—the Hatmaker's Son a biography of the life of Robert Muller that recounts the formation of the United Nations. My next book, 101 Cool Ways to Die (2009) was written because life and death is a package deal. No matter how hard we try to make a good impression, we're all future has-beens—so we might as well put the petal to the metal and enjoy the ride.

Eventually the law caught up with me. I witnessed the implosion of the economy in 2008, listened to some experts trying to make sense of the calamity, and came to the unexpected conclusion that Wall Street had broken the system. It will take fifty years to sort out the damage, but until each foreclosure is carefully examined to determine whether the entity transferring title had actual, real and verifiable authority to sell the property, our most valuable asset in the United States will be suspect, not unlike the artwork stolen during WWII.

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