Celebrity environmental crusader Erin Brockovich, made famous by an Oscar-winning film about her work fighting PG&E, has joined the legal team representing more than 1,500 North Bay residents suing the utility company over last year’s wildfires.
Brockovich, who addressed a crowd of fire survivors Tuesday in Santa Rosa, has been brought on as a consultant for Mauro Archer & Associates and Watts Guerra LLP because of her long history working on lawsuits against PG&E, said former state Sen. Noreen Evans, a Santa Rosa attorney with Watts Guerra.
“She understands PG&E’s pattern of corporate behavior,” Evans said. “We brought her on our team to consult about PG&E’s longtime pattern of malfeasance.”
Evans said she’s worked with Brockovich in the past and asked the popular environmental advocate to join the legal team about a week and a half ago. But Brockovich said local residents affected by the fire had already reached out to her, asking her to delve into issues such as water contamination and poor air quality.
“People are concerned about the long-term health effects in situations like this,” she said. “I’ve come up here for that reason, to see how I can help clarify that path for them moving forward.”
Brockovich, who lives in Agoura Hills, said she was in frequent contact with her family in Willits, including her son, during last October’s devastating fires. She has since encouraged local residents to demand action in their pursuit of “the truth,” a message she underscored Tuesday evening at Santa Rosa’s Teamsters Hall.
“It hurts when people email me and they’re confused and they’re lost and they don’t know who to believe,” she said. “I’m not going stand here and push you any one way. You’re always going to make your own choices, but I am going to ask you again to remember — you were here, you know right from wrong. You know what you need and that we need to speak up. I’m not sure why we haven’t done it for so long, but we’re here today.”
Brockovich gained national attention nearly two decades ago, when her work as a legal clerk was portrayed in a blockbuster Hollywood movie about groundwater contamination in the town of Hinkley, California. The 2000 movie, “Erin Brockovich,” dramatized her investigation and legal battle against PG&E, and the subsequent $333 million settlement.
PG&E officials declined to comment directly about their legal opponents’ decision to hire Brockovich. Company spokeswoman Deanna Contreras said only that PG&E is doing what it can to help communities affected by the wildfires.
“The loss of life, homes and businesses in these extraordinary wildfires is simply heartbreaking, and we remain focused on helping communities in Sonoma County recover and rebuild,” Contreras said.
Brockovich and Evans spent much of Tuesday making the rounds among North Bay media outlets, announcing her high-profile participation in the lawsuits against PG&E. Brockovich told The Press Democrat she hopes her involvement will encourage more people to speak out about how they were affected by the fires.
“They have information and they don’t know who to give it to,” she said. “It’s called trust. They don’t know who to trust.”
Brockovich would not discuss details about her fee, saying it pales in comparison to what PG&E executives make.