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One famous Florida attorney has the spotlight on one of the most pivotal cases in his career. Complete with Jamie Foxx as the lead role.
“The Burial,” an Amazon Studios film released to limited theaters Oct. 6 and debuting on Prime Video Oct 13, tells the story of how Willie Gary helped Biloxi resident Jeremiah O'Keefe win a $500 million jury verdict after his funeral business was targeted by a Canadian funeral home corporation that was expanding into the United States.
Watch 'The Burial' on Amazon Prime: Here's how to see the film 'The Burial' starring Jamie Foxx as Florida attorney Willie Gary
Who is Willie Gary?
Willie Edward Gary, 76, is a Stuart, Florida, attorney who gained notability for taking on some of America's biggest corporations and establishing a successful law firm in Florida.
Gary was born in Eastman, Georgia, and was raised in migrant farming communities in Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas. According to reports, his family came to Indiantown from Pahokee in 1960 and they all worked cutting sugar cane and picking crops.
Gary's practice, Gary, Williams, Parenti, Watson, Gary & Gillespie, is a national partnership that specializes in personal injury, wrongful death, product liability, medical malpractice, commercial litigation and class action lawsuits. The office is located at 221 S.E. Osceola St. in Stuart.
Gary has become a figure due to his part in the "The Giant Killers: Taking on America's Largest Corporations," a book by law partner Robert V. Parenti, who worked with him on some high-profile cases. He also attracted national media attention throughout his career with interviews on "60 Minutes" and a feature on "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous."
What law school did Willie Gary attend?
Gary went to at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina, where he attended on an athletic scholarship. He later earned a law degree in 1974 from North Carolina Central University in Durham, North Carolina.
Gary returned to Florida with wife Gloria Gary, who helped him establish a law firm handling personal injury, wrongful death, medical malpractice, and class action cases.
What are some of his most notable verdicts?
Walt Disney v. All Pro Sports 2000: In 2002, The Walt Disney Co. reached a $240 million settlement with two businessmen who claimed the company stole their idea for its ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando.
SPS Technologies v. Motorola: In 2007, Motorola Inc. agreed to pay $22.9 million to Gary and other lawyers who filed a trade-secrets case that ended in a mistrial.
R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.: In 2014, a jury ordered the second-largest cigarette maker in the U.S. to pay $23.6 billion in punitive damages in a lawsuit filed by the widow of a longtime smoker who died of lung cancer in 1996. The award was reversed on appeal.
What are some of the complaints about Gary?
Gary has also seen negative publicity related to his personal and professional conduct.
In 2004, a circuit judge dismissed ethics complaints against Gary and a lawD partner brought by the Florida Bar for behavior during a 2001 trial pitting the late Roger Maris’ family against Anheuser-Busch. The complaints in part alleged they misrepresented evidence and staged a news conference to influence potential jurors.
Three years after Gary had an intimate encounter with his former secretary Jillian Nedd in 2007, they agreed to drop a sexual battery lawsuit she filed against him following allegations that he raped her in a Stuart hotel room. Gary was never charged with a crime.
The settlement came after a judge ruled that another woman who had accused Gary of sexual misconduct could be deposed by Nedd’s lawyers. Gary had previously sued Nedd, her husband and another man with claims they were trying to extort $20 million to drop allegations of rape.
In April of 2013, the Martin County Sheriff's Office seized $3.2 million worth of property from Gary’s home to satisfy a bank judgment. The property was returned the same day after Gary settled with the bank over unpaid loans.
What is the O’Keefe v. Loewen case?
A decorated World War II Marine pilot and politician whose family had owned funeral homes since the early 1900s, Jeremiah O’Keefe hired Gary to represent him in a contract dispute that accused the Canadian Loewen Group Inc. and owner Ray Loewen of trying to run him out of business.
The judgment, media outlets reported, was then one of the largest jury verdicts in U.S. history.
Gary nearly turned down the career-defining case after O’Keefe traveled to Stuart in a pitch to hire him. At this point in his career, Gary and his law firm were on the way to racking up multi-million-dollar jury awards against nationally recognized companies.
“I’ll never forget it,” he said. “I had made up my mind, he (O’Keefe) was a good guy, but the type of case wasn't … right, you know, a Willie Gary-type case.”
It was over dinner that Gary agreed to take O’Keefe’s case, largely, he said, thanks to his wife. Through working with O'Keefe, he learned more about his past seeking to improve race relations and the two men built a solid friendship.
In the end, O'Keefe won the case and a $500 million settlement.
Representing O’Keefe was a huge win and “a chance to make a real difference,” Gary said in past TC Palm reports.
“That you could bring Black people and white people closer together,” he said. “It's not all about the money; it's about justice.”
What will Amazon's 'The Burial' focus on?
It will focus on Jones' role as O'Keefe, whose family owned a funeral business in Jackson, Mississippi, that became the target of a multimillion-dollar Canadian corporation that was rapidly expanding into the United States.
The trial garnered national attention because of Gary's attempt to bring an emotional trial to the courtroom for an otherwise run-of-the-mill contract lawsuit. Gary provided evidence of income inequality and oppression against Raymond Loewen, played by Camp, resulting in O'Keefe winning the case.
What has Gary said about 'The Burial?'
Gary has spoken positively about the movie. He told TC Palm that Foxx “nailed it big time” in taking on Gary’s “larger than life” persona in and out of the courtroom. He also said it was a neat experience to actually have a cameo in the movie.
“I thought I was on the moon,” recalled Gary, 76, about his cameo role while filming in New Orleans, Louisiana. “It was really amazing just to be with Jamie, the crowd and bright lights and all the surroundings.”
How can I watch 'The Burial?'
A limited theater release for "The Burial" began Friday in New York and California, a week before its debut on Amazon Prime Video.
Amazon Prime members were able to reserve free tickets for Prime Premiere, a one-night-only in-theater screening of "The Burial," at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 11 at Regal Treasure Coast Mall in Jensen Beach. The event is sold out.
On Friday, Oct. 13, the movie will be available to watch on Amazon Prime Video.
This article originally appeared on Fort Myers News-Press: Jamie Foxx portrays Stuart-based attorney in movie. Who is Willie Gary