King County Bar Association
By: Karen Sutherland

Bill Marler, a founding partner of Marler Clark, LLP, is being recognized by the KCBA as this year’s Outstanding Lawyer for his efforts to educate health officials, the community and the food service industry on how to avoid outbreaks of food-borne illnesses and the lawsuits that result from them. Marler’s efforts are unusual in that his practice focuses on representing individuals who have suffered the effects of food-borne illnesses such as E.coli, shigella, listeria and Salmonella, which means that if he is effective in his mission, he will put himself out of business.

Marler first became well known for his legal work involving food-borne illnesses with his representation of Brianne Kiner and other plaintiffs in the Jack in the Box E. coli litigation, which started in 1993. In 1998, he represented three children who became ill after drinking Odwalla juice. Since then, he and his firm have represented many more individuals, who have suffered from a variety of food-borne illnesses, caused by an equal variety of sources, since then.

Marler’s outreach efforts are far beyond what one would expect from an attorney. He is widely quoted in the media, from publications such as The Wall Street Journal and the Puget Sound Business Journal to broadcast media such as CNN’s American Morning. In 1998, Marler and his partners formed Outbreak, which is a non-for-profit consulting company. Outbreak shares its expertise in food-borne illnesses and related legal topics with public health departments, physicians and the food service industry.

Marler speaks at conferences and seminars around the world, including such varied venues as the North Dakota Environmental Health Conference, the Australian HAACCP Conference, the American Association for Justice Annual Convention in Chicago, and Ag Forum luncheon in the Salinas Valley’s national Steinbeck Center and the Minnesota Environmental Health Association in St. Paul – and that list of speaking engagements only covers part of 2007. It’s a wonder he finds time to practice law.

The internet has also been well used by Marler in his educational efforts. He and his partners have developed several Web sites devoted to providing information about food-borne illnesses, including symptoms, detection and prevention, and information about recent outbreaks. The Marler Clark firm also sponsors numerous blogs on issues ranging from Norovirus (previously called Norwalk Virus), which is the bane of the cruise industry, to Mad Cow Disease (BSE). Marler writes on topics such as “What to do about the ‘Mad Cow’” and opinion pieces calling upon the FDA to require sprout labeling and a ban on unpasteurized juices following outbreaks of Salmonella involving both products.