I have a personal saying, “There is no justice in this world, but there is the law.” But after seeing the staggering denouement of the Mann vs. Ford case, I am no longer confident in the law. I’d promised to recap that denouement for you, as per the HBO film that aired last Tuesday, July 19, 2011.
1. After reviewing a wide body of evidence, our judicial system deemed that the Ramapough Native Americans were within their rights to take Ford Motor Company to court. But that’s where things got hairy.
2. Because of the number of plaintiffs, 650 families in all, the judge indicated that it would take a good decade to try this as a single, class action case. He also indicated that the plaintiffs, who are not wealthy people, might run out of money needed to pay their legal fees long before that. He intimated that Ford might not want to sink that much money and time into the case, as well.
3. The judge then made an official recommendation, which would have been enforced, that the case be divided into 6 or 7 separate cases, all tried simultaneously in different courtrooms, under the same roof. Reason? The expert witnesses needed to testify could literally go from one hearing to another in a single day, thus reducing the timeframe that would have been required to try the case either as a single case, or as multiple cases running sequentially (one after the other, chronologically). A date in April of 2008 was then set for the trials to begin.
4. The very day on which the trials were scheduled to begin Ford Motor Company posted a huge reduction in the value of their stock. Despite the Stock Market crash of seven months prior, Ford’s stock was plodding along at a somewhat depressed but fairly even pace. In other words, there were no serious dips in the value of their stock prior to the Ramapoughs’ lawsuit going live in court.
Was this sudden dip on the day of a trial truly a coincidence? Did someone at Ford lie about the value of that stock? Or did it go higher? Was someone at the SEC (Securities & Exchange Commission) paid off to look away? If you think this is paranoia, read on.
5. The case never did go to trial. Ford offered the plaintiffs a settlement, as did the township of Ringwood, New Jersey, which approved the building of the Ford plant. Ringwood kicked in approximately $1.5 million, bringing the total, with the lion’s share paid by Ford, to a “whopping” $12 million. Divide $12 million by 650 families, and what do you get? Not much, that’s what you get.
6. The Ramapoughs were unhappy with the amount offered but accepted it because … based upon Ford’s earnings, and the numerous public reports that followed of the automotive giant’s financial tumble, the Ramapoughs had assumed that the company would go bankrupt, thereby leaving them with no restitution whatsoever.
7. The $12 million was divided as equitably as possible among the surviving Ramapoughs, as per their own criteria (those who had suffered the worst received the most amount of money). The highest per-family payout was $8K. Considering that the average cost of a modest funeral in New Jersey is about $10K, that wasn’t even enough to buy the dead. And, over the five-year span that it took to film the meat of this grueling and ultimately insulting process, 30 more Ramapoughs had died from cancers linked to the toxins on their land.
8. Ford never apologized. In lieu of an apology, which would have indicated their guilt, their legal counsel read a 3-sentence statement in court, a statement that basically exonerated the corporation from any wrongdoing. The $12 million was the end of it: Ford made no attempt to clean up the devastation they had wrought.
9. A year after the settlement was offered and accepted, Ford posted profits of $2.7 billion.
A year later, in 2010, in the throes of a tanking U.S. economy, Ford Motor Company posted profits of $6.6 billion, the highest income earned in 11 years!
Is this justice?
And do you even care?
If not, you should. It is now estimated that 74 million Americans live within dangerous proximity to Superfund sites.
What can you do about it?
Not much, apparently, except move away and hope for the best, if you’re already living on or near a Superfund site. Not even the government is on your side. This was the largest case of its kind in the United States of America and it was a travesty, a miscarriage of justice.
What you can do is examine very closely those to whom you give your votes. Look closely at the performance of the politicians you back and trace their allegiances. In other words, determine in whose corporate pockets your politicians live, and in whose they don’t. Bring pressure to bear upon them, as is your right as an American citizen. Look closely, also, at any huge institution in which you may invest; i.e., purchase a high-ticket item, such as car or a home.
Don’t lose hope: it is your right to protest peacefully and to sue another party for wrongdoing. It’s your right to post information on the Internet and garner support for your cause. It’s your right, and that of your loved ones’, to live on clean land and drink clean water.