If C. Neal Pope had been born a hundred years ago, he probably would have been a gunfighter. Not the dirt-bag kind but the heroic kind that battled cattle barons and railroad tycoons in behalf of widows and orphans and oppressed dirt farmers.
Pope, 50, may have been born a hundred years too late for that kind of gunfighting, but he's doing the next best thing. He's one of the nation's top trial lawyers - a hired gun with a penchant for going after corporate giants that abuse average folks.Pope is now representing Ilo Marie Grundberg - a Hurricane woman recently acquitted in a landmark homicide case - in her $21 million lawsuit against Upjohn Co., one of the nation's pharmaceutical giants.
Second-degree murder charges against Grundberg were dismissed in Washington County after it was determined the Utah woman had become involuntarily intoxicated with Halcion, the most commonly prescribed sleeping pill in America. The lawsuit contends that Upjohn should have known the tragic side effects of the drug - side effects that caused Grundberg to lose touch with reality and shoot her mother to death.
Upjohn will undoubtedly hire its own corporate attorney gunslingers, but if track rec-ords are any indication, Upjohn may be in for a costly showdown. Multimillion-dollar judgments are standard operating procedure for Pope and his team of hotshot attorneys.
Despite the standard stretch limousine and tailored suits, Pope, an Alabama native, has built a reputation for his populist stance and, as one observer called it, "Huck Finn genuineness," if not genius.
"I was brought up with a union way of thinking, and it just stuck with me through the years," Pope told Business Alabama Monthly. "When you grow up like that - knowing your mother is working her fanny off for the family - trying to make ends
meet, you just plain identify with the little guy. I'd much rather work for the widows and orphans than the big bank."
That doesn't mean working for the widows and orphans means a life of poverty. Pope has already skinned the Eli Lilly pharmaceutical company for $6 million (it was later reduced in a settlement) in connection with the arthritis drug Oraflex.
But that was cheap compared to the $32 million, including $7 million in legal fees, that Citizens and Southern National Bank had to cough up for mismanaging trust fund accounts. He has taken on asbestos cases, the infamous Dalcon Shield contraceptive, toxic shock and auto manufacturers.
More often than not, he wins. In fact, in the past four years, Pope & Co. has garnered a dozen judgments of more than $1 million.
"I am not down on business," he insists, noting he also is a multimillion dollar businessman. "I am anti-bad-business. When corporate wrongdoing devastates somebody's life, then that business needs to come to terms with the victim."