March 15, 2013
Curtis Wilkie, a long-time national reporter and current professor of journalism at the University of Mississippi, delivered the 42nd Annual Lou Ashe Symposium Lecture on March 13, 2013, in the McGeorge courtroom.
A native Mississippian, Wilkie wove a cautionary tale about the abuse of power and dangers of corruption that successful attorneys face drawn from his book on the fall of Richard "Dickie" Scruggs. A nationally prominent plaintiffs' attorney, Scruggs became a multi-millionaire with class-action lawsuits against the asbestos industry, big tobacco, and insurance companies in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. But his high-living lifestyle imploded in 2008 when he was convicted of attempted bribery charges and sent to federal prison.
Wilkie's book, The Fall of the House of Zeus, was published by Random House in 2010, and is considered a classic in its description of the upper class in the modern South. Based on extensive interviews, transcripts and FBI recordings never made public, it shows how big money brings connections to the highest levels of state and national politics — and sometimes big problems.
In the tradition of the Lou Ashe Symposium, Wilkie took questions from the audience of students and faculty members at a Q&A session and reception that followed. Lou Ashe was a long-time partner in Belli, Ashe & Choulos, the San Francisco law firm founded by Melvin Belli, the late eccentric "King of Torts." Ashe's pioneer work in the 1956 Cutter polio vaccine case set the precedent for strict liability in defective drug cases.
Ashe founded and guided the annual Lou Ashe Practical Legal Symposium at McGeorge over a 10-year period until his death in 1981. His many friends and colleagues established a memorial fund to help underwrite expenses for an annual lecture in his honor. Well-known presenters in the series include Gloria Allred, Robert Shapiro, Marvin Mitchelson, Richard "Racehorse" Haynes, Vincent Bugliosi, Pierce O'Donnell and Tony Serra.