Wendell H. Gauthier (1943-2001)
Wendell Gauthier's legacy of legal victories is far and wide, representing diverse clients all over the United States and even internationally. At the time of his death in 2001, Wendell Gauthier was widely regarded as one of the country's most successful trial attorneys.
Of all his impressive wins, he is perhaps best remembered as the lawyer who "took on Big Tobacco." Mr. Gauthier was the mastermind behind a class action lawsuit that unearthed documents proving that cigarette manufacturers were aware of the addictive nature of nicotine. After many twists and turns, the case resulted in the landmark $206 billion Castano settlement and restrictions on cigarette advertising and marketing. His efforts are highlighted in many books and movies. Most recently, in "Addiction, Incorporated", a docudrama about Big Tobacco's cover up of the addictive nature of nicotine. The New York Times recounted Mr. Gauthier's workin its review of the film. So did NPR in its reviewof the film.
Throughout his career, Wendell Gauthier made national and international headlines as he recovered record-setting judgments for clients. He represented victims of the 1982 crash of Pan Am Flight 759 in Kenner, Louisiana. He handled litigation for victims of a major hotel fire at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas and the collapse of a walkway at a Hyatt Regency in Kansas City in 1981. He represented residents of Bhopal, India, where a 1984 chemical leak killed 3,000 people and injured another 200,000.
Mr. Gauthier was often recognized for his accomplishments on a national level. He was one of National Law Journal's top 10 Trial Lawyers and 100 Most Influential Lawyers in America and was featured in national articles on a regular basis, including the Wall Street Journal and New York Times. He received the “Breath of Life” award from the American Lung Association in 2000 in recognition of his tireless work against the health hazards caused by smoking. His successes have been touched upon in books and movies. His role in the landmark settlement was featured in the book, "Cornered, Big Tobacco at the Bar of Justice," by author Peter Pringle; his battle against the National Rifle Association and gun industry is chronicled in "Outgunned: Up Against the NRA," by Peter Harry Brown and Danny Abel; and Wendell Gauthier was the motivation for the central character in John Grisham's hit movie, "The Runaway Jury."
As famous as Wendell Gauthier was for his legal acumen, he was just as popular for his wit and personality. While he drove a Rolls-Royce and could take on the toughest of legal teams in the courtroom, Wendell Gauthier always had time for others. He never forgot his rural upbringing. He was born in the small town of Iota, Louisiana and graduated from Iota High School. He graduated from the University of Southwestern Louisiana and attended Loyola University Law School at night. During the day he taught high school and ran a driver-education school in the afternoons and weekends. He died of liver cancer at 58.
The Wendell H. Gauthier Lectureship in Trial Advocacy and Practice was established at Tulane Law School in 2003 by the family and friends of Mr. Gauthier in recognition and memory of his extraordinary career as a trial lawyer. The annual lecture is designed to bring unusually accomplished professionals, jurists, and legal academics in the areas of trial advocacy, skills training and other mechanisms of dispute resolution to Tulane Law School to share their ideas, insights, and experiences with our community.