I had a a busy few days in Salinas:

Food liability lawyer tells farmers to clean up their act

Herald Staff Writer

For many in the Salinas Valley, Bill Marler is Public Enemy No. 1.

The Seattle attorney represents the families of 95 people sickened or killed during last year’s E. coli outbreak. For months, produce industry leaders have groused about “the E. coli guy” or “that attorney” as Marler collected plaintiffs for suits against Natural Selection Foods and Dole, and challenged the industry to improve its practices.

So when a committee of agriculture leaders invited Marler to come to Salinas on Wednesday and expound on food safety for a standing-room only crowd of growers and shippers, each paying $35 to hear him and eat spinach salad, some were caught off guard.

“I have to admit, I was a little surprised by today’s guest,” said Salinas Mayor Dennis Donohue at Wednesday’s luncheon.

“I don’t laugh all the way to the bank, but I do go to the bank often,” Marler said. “Unfortunately, this industry has kept me in business and it’s really time to get me out of business.”

Since 1995, Marler told the crowd — which included a CNN camera crew and a reporter from USA Today — there have been 21 E. coli outbreaks related to fresh produce sickening more than 1,000 people and killing seven.

Several times during his talk, Marler referred to last year’s outbreak as the Dole E. coli outbreak, explaining that it was bagged Dole baby spinach that his clients ate before they became ill and E. coli samples matching their stool samples have been found in 13 bags. He said Dole’s attorney had told him this was not a Dole outbreak.

“‘Hell it isn’t,’ I said,” Marler recounted. “‘It’s your bags.'”

At the end of Marler’s talk — when he told the group he hoped in all sincerity that he never saw them again — he received strong applause.

Lawyer tells Salinas growers to prepare for E. coli outbreaks

The Associated Press

A lawyer who sues companies over food borne illnesses told growers to prepare for future E. coli outbreaks and admit responsibility quickly if they are the source to tainted produce.

Seattle-based attorney Bill Marler, who sues fast-food franchises and corporations like Dole, Wendy’s and McDonald’s when people get sick, urged farmers during Wednesday’s agricultural forum to, “Please put me out of business.”

Salinas Valley lettuce and spinach growers have come under increasing scrutiny because of E. coli outbreaks that killed five people and sickened 200 in mid-September.

“Pay attention to your farmers, the folks at (UC) Davis and the regulators,” Marler said.

“Then work your (butt) off not to poison anybody,” Marler said. “But if it happens, be prepared to say you’re sorry.”

Marler said the Monterey County produce industry should look to the meat industry for a model of how to overhaul food-safety programs.

“There is hope for my retirement and there is hope for your industry,” the lawyer said.

Prominent lawyer urges growers: ‘Put me out of business’


In a most incongruous scene, Bill Marler, a Seattle-based lawyer who’s made a living suing fast-food franchises and corporations like Dole, Wendy’s and McDonald’s, addressed nearly 200 people at the National Steinbeck Center.

His firm, Marler Clark, recovered more than $300 million in 1993 from E. coli outbreaks that were mostly tied to the beef industry.

I don’t look like “public enemy No. 1” do I?