Melvin Mouron Belli (July 29, 1907 – 9 July 1996)[1] was a prominent American lawyer known as "The King of Torts" and by detractors as 'Melvin Bellicose'. He had many celebrity clients, including Zsa Zsa Gabor, Errol Flynn, Chuck Berry, Muhammad Ali, Sirhan Sirhan, Jim Bakker, the Rolling Stones, and Tammy Faye Bakker, Martha Mitchell, Lana Turner, Tony Curtis, and Mae West. He won over USD in judgments during his legal career.[2] Contents [hide] * 1 Early life * 2 Education and early career * 3 "King of Torts" * 4 Film, television, and recordings * 5 Author * 6 Personal life * 7 Quote * 8 Bibliography * 9 Filmography (as actor) * 10 Notes * 11 External links [edit] Early life Belli was born in the California Gold Rush town of Sonora, California in the Sierra foothills. His father was born in Nevada of Italian Swiss ancestry, and his mother was born in California of French-German Swiss ancestry. By the 1920s, the family had moved to the city of Stockton, California where Belli attended Stockton High School. [edit] Education and early career Belli graduated from the University of California, Berkeley in 1929 and after traveling around the world for a year, enrolled in and subsequently graduated from Boalt Hall School of Law at Berkeley in 1933. After graduation, his first job was posing as a hobo for the Works Progress Administration and riding the rails to observe the Depression's impact on the country's vagrant population. His first major legal victory came shortly after graduation, in a personal injury lawsuit representing an injured cable car gripman. Over insurance lawyers' objections, Belli brought a model of a cable car intersection, and the gear box and chain involved in the accident, to demonstrate to jurors exactly what had happened. [edit] "King of Torts" Besides his notorious personal injury cases, which earned for him his byname "King of Torts,"[3] Belli was also instrumental in setting up some of the foundations of modern consumer rights law, arguing several cases in the 1940s and 1950s that formed the basis for later lawsuits and landmark litigation by such figures as Ralph Nader. Belli argued (in cases such as Escola v. Coca-Cola Bottling Co., in 1944, which arose from an incident in which a restaurant manager from Merced, California was injured by an exploding Coca-Cola bottle) that all products have an implied warranty, that it is to be foreseen that products will be used by a long chain of people, not just the direct recipient of the manufactured product, and that negligence by a defendant need not be proven if the defendant's product is defective. Belli also was one of the first major attorneys to prominently use demonstrative evidence and courtroom exhibits (such as graphics, charts, photographs, and films). In his book Ready for the Plaintiff, he noted examples of negligence cited by himself and other personal-injury lawyers to win in court--for example, a colleague in Florida, who showed how a builder violated a building code in Miami Beach concerning the use of wooden shims in construction of outside walls (forbidden by the municipal code because of the effect of the ocean salt and air). The facing was a slab of Carrara glass, whose adhesion was eventually weakened by the climate; it fell off the side of the building and injured a passerby, who sued the builder. After winning a court case, Belli would raise a Jolly Roger flag over his Montgomery Street office building in the Barbary Coast district of San Francisco (which Belli claimed had been a Gold Rush-era brothel) and fire a cannon, mounted on his office roof, to announce the victory and the impending party.[4] In his best known case, Belli represented Jack Ruby, for free, after Ruby shot and killed Lee Harvey Oswald. Belli attempted to prove that Ruby was legally insane and had a history of mental illness in his family. On 14 March 1964, Ruby was convicted of 'murder with malice', and later received a death sentence. However, in late 1966, Ruby's conviction was overturned, on the grounds that he did not receive a fair trial and a retrial was scheduled outside of Dallas, but Ruby died of a stroke before the retrial could take place. Belli became very critical of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover; the agency compiled at least 367 pages of evidence about Belli's activities.[5] Belli's firm filed for bankruptcy protection in December, 1995. Belli was representing 800 women in a class action lawsuit against breast implant manufacturer Dow Corning. Belli won the lawsuit, but when Dow Corning declared bankruptcy, Belli had no way to recover the $5,000,000 (USD) his firm had advanced to doctors and expert witnesses. ----------------------------------- http://www.people.com/people/archive/article/0,,20075956,00.html Melvin (the King of Torts) Belli Was the Knave of Hearts Until Lia Triff Became His Fifth Queen I love women and I don't like being alone, but if I'm with one woman for a while, things begin to pall for me." So went the life credo of Errol Flynn's old pal Melvin Belli, but nearly eight years ago the celebrated San Francisco lawyer dramatically gave up his philandering ways. A skeptic might have assumed it was just age—Mel, after all, was 64. In fact, it was youth in the lovely form of Lia Triff, then 22, and now a top Carter fund raiser and the fifth Mrs. Belli. They met in 1971 at Washington's Kennedy Center where she was a guide and he a guest. "I liked the freshness in her face," Mel remembers, "and she was so well put together." She was put off by his freshness. "I had heard about Belli the womanizer, and I just wanted to get rid of him," she recalls. So Lia turned and asked, "Sir, aren't you a famous lawyer whose last name begins with B?" When he grinned and nodded, she added: "F. Lee Bailey, I believe." Thus challenged, Belli was unrelenting until he finally cajoled her into a lunch date. At the time, she was working her way through the University of Maryland and living with her parents. Her only previous glimmer of limelight had come in 1965 when she was voted Teen of the Week back in Dearborn, Mich. "I was leery of Mel's public character," Lia explains, "but I found him a warm, kind and very moral man." Belli courted her from every corner of the world, dispatching letters, not to mention emerald and gold baubles. She sent back his presents—along with snippets of poetry. After six frustrating months he called from San Francisco with his summation: "Either say you'll marry me or forget the whole thing." They consulted her father, who is six years younger than Belli, and got his approval "as long as I don't have to call Mel 'son.' " The Bellis were married on her college graduation day in his hometown of Sonora, Calif. Celebrants included Alex Haley, ex-Gov. Pat Brown and Mel's law partner Vasilios Choulos, who recalls that "many of Mel's friends warned him she was after his money. But Lia cared deeply for Mel, and she has mellowed him and given him class." Not that Belli is exactly up from nowhere. His father was a bon vivant banker, his mom a stern disciplinarian. "My mother kept me constantly dressed like Little Lord Fauntleroy," Mel admits. At Berkeley he rebelled, streaking on campus, he laughs, "before it was fashionable." Then, after barely passing the bar exam, he helped death row inmates with their appeals at San Quentin prison before moving into the specialty of tort (civil complaint) cases. Mel's first step toward earning his "King of Torts" sobriquet came in 1934 when he unsuccessfully sued a doctor for giving a boy a laxative that ruptured his appendix. Then the death of his father in 1938, which he blamed on an improperly filled prescription, turned his malpractice work into a crusade. His courtroom techniques were a tribute, too, to his colorful dad as well as to Hollywood—where he soon came to represent Flynn, Mae West and mobster Mickey Cohen. In a famous 1941 case on behalf of a woman who had lost a leg in a streetcar accident, Mel came to court every day with a package wrapped in bloody butcher paper. When the defense argued that she could be fitted with a prosthesis, Belli unwrapped his parcel and threw an artificial leg into the lap of a juror, taunting: "Feel the warmth of life in those soft tissues, touch the rippling muscles of the calf..." The jury awarded the victim a then record $100,000. Despite his sometimes dismaying histrionics, Belli has also established a solid legal record. His clients have collected $100 million. He has written 33 books and co-founded the 33,000-member American Trial Lawyers' Association. His case records are still cited by Ralph Nader for their role in establishing consumer rights. Says admiring rival F. Lee Bailey, "Mel sticks his chin out a little farther than he should, but he is thoroughly prepared and works very hard at it." Adds partner Choulos: "Mel at times is self-centered, arrogant, demanding, vicious—a bastard. But he is also a genius, compassionate, supportive and loving." His earlier wives perhaps saw more of the former side of Mel. His first marriage, to college sweetheart Betty Ballantine, survived 18 years, until 1951, and brought four children, now 31 to 40. He then wed LIFE photographer Toni Nichols for two years, and stewardess Joy Turney (with whom he had a son, Caesar) for nine more. In 1966 he married San Francisco socialite Pat Montandon at a Shinto ceremony in Japan. The marriage ended in annulment. While Belli was making indecorous headlines, Lia was growing up a cheerleader and honor student in Dearborn, where her father was a career Navy man and her mother hosted The Betty Triff Romanian Hour Variety Show on WJLB radio. Her plans to attend Radcliffe in 1967 were canceled when her mother became ill, and the family moved to D.C., where her father became director of a foundation aiding immigrants in the U.S. She took a year off to nurse her mother and work at the Washington Hilton before enrolling at Maryland, on a Fulbright Scholarship, from which she graduated cum laude. After the Bellis honeymooned in Australia and New Zealand—with Mel's son Caesar, then 16—they moved first into his penthouse apartment and eventually into their 22-room Tudor mansion overlooking San Francisco Bay. In 1973 she gave birth to their daughter, Melia, now 7. Since then Lia has vigorously launched herself into politics and public service. An active supporter of the President, she is the fund-raising chief of the National Women's Political Caucus and is co-director of housing for the party convention in New York this August. All told, her activities keep her on the road one-third of the month. Belli, meanwhile, toils 12-hour days and frequent weekends on some 50 cases a year. Among them are a massive suit against the makers of Bendectin, an antinausea drug that he claims can cause birth defects when taken by pregnant women in the first three months, and another against a tobacco company on behalf of a group of lung cancer victims. "The law is not a jealous mistress," cracks Lia. "She is my roommate, and I have learned to live with her." The 40-year difference between husband and wife has not been a problem so far. "I'm the old one, more conservative," says Lia. "Mel is a young thinker. The biggest problem I have is keeping up with him." They share most political opinions except on the death penalty—she is for it, he is adamantly opposed—but their differences in personal style are striking. He favors scarlet-lined Saville Row suits and $750 cowboy boots, while she is inclined toward a bargain-hunting chic that stepson Caesar calls the "Our Miss Brooks look." She also prefers a VW Rabbit to his custom marigold-yellow Rolls. That aside, when the fifth Mrs. Belli is away these days, her legendary libertine husband takes his daughter to a Disney movie or, at worst, observes the local beauties parading past his office window. "I'm like the old lion who sits watching the younger lions come back from the hunt," purrs Mel. "I've been civilized." ------------------------------------- http://www.calbar.ca.gov/calbar/2cbj/96aug/art19.htm Melvin Mouron Belli, the "King of Torts" who loved the law and the limelight equally, left behind a legacy of both creative and controversial lawyering. The one-time courtroom giant who represented the famous and the unknown died in his San Francisco home July 9, apparently of pancreatic cancer. Belli was 88. As a plaintiff's lawyer, he expanded the rights of consumers to sue rich and powerful corporations, developing tactics that infuriated his more conventional opponents while winning huge verdicts. He also was a criminal defense attorney, representing famous defendants including Jack Ruby, Caryl Chessman, Sirhan Sirhan and Mario Savio. He was the attorney to many celebrities as well, among them Jim and Tammy Faye Baker, Mae West, Errol Flynn and Lana Turner. "I can love a big rich man as much as a poor little man," he once said, "but there are just a lot more of the poor little men." Among his many books, the five-volume "Modern Trials" is considered a classic textbook on the demonstrative method of presenting evidence. His unprecedented -- and some thought undignified -- use of graphic evidence and expert witnesses later became common courtroom practice. Often bombastic and a shameless self-promoter, Belli reveled in his victories. After winning a big case, he raised a Jolly Roger up a mast on the roof of his landmark building and fired off two blasts from a signal cannon. Eschewing modesty, he once said, "There may be better lawyers than I, but so far I haven't come across any of them in court." Despite his fame and success, Belli's practice became mired in controversy in his later years. He fought with former partners and employees, was the target of tax evasion charges and malpractice claims, and at the end of last year was forced to declare bankruptcy. Only a week before his death, a federal judge ordered that his practice be taken over by an independent examiner. He refused to retire despite his professional and health problems. Born in Sonora in 1907, Belli attended the University of California at Berkeley and, after a short stint as a seaman, enrolled at Boalt Hall. He got his start representing death row inmates at San Quentin, the first two of whom were hanged. ------------------------------------------------ http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-64668036.html See more articles from Seattle Post-Intelligencer (Seattle, WA) MELVIN BELLI, FAMED `KING OF TORTS,' DIES.(News)(Obituary) Article from: Seattle Post-Intelligencer Article date: July 10, 1996 | Copyright informationCOPYRIGHT 1996 Seattle Post-Intelligencer. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of the Dialog Corporation by Gale Group. This material is published under license from the publisher through the Gale Group, Farmington Hills, Michigan. All inquiries regarding rights should be directed to the Gale Group. (Hide copyright information) Melvin Belli, the feisty barrister whose clients ranged from Mae West and Errol Flynn to Jack Ruby and Jim and Tammy Bakker, died yesterday at his San Francisco home. He was 88. Belli had a stroke last week, brought on by pancreatic cancer, and he developed pneumonia three days ago, said his fifth wife, Nancy Ho Belli. ``He was very happy, at peace,'' she said. ``In the beginning he was fighting. We finally told him to let go.'' Belli, who specialized in personal injury cases, was dubbed the ``King of Torts.'' His law firm grew to have offices in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Sacramento, the Monterey area, San Diego, Stockton and Orange County. He claimed to have ...