Miss. lawyer featured in HBO documentary

CLINTON, MS (Mississippi News Now) - Six years ago, when attorney Vicki Gilliam took on a case while working at a Jackson law firm, she wasn't sure just where it would lead.

"There's always the challenge of putting the case together," Gilliam said.

That case is now a HBO documentary, profiling a class action lawsuit brought on by a group of Native Americans from New Jersey against the Ford Motor Company.

Gilliam became the lead attorney in Mann v. Ford, which is also the name of the documentary.

It tells how in the 1960s the Ford Motor Company bought the land which the Indians lived on.

That's when Gilliam says the company began knowingly dumping hazardous and toxic waste into abandoned mines, which over time began to cause deadly conditions and toxic poisoning to the people who called the land home.

"It's heart wrenching and I don't think anyone can watch this film and not be completely devastated and broken hearted," Gilliam said. "The big picture and what you want viewers to see and to take from this is that this really happens."

The documentary follows Gilliam and the Indians for years as they build their case against the Ford Motor Company and challenges to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Gilliam was eventually separated from the case and not too long afterwards, Mann v. Ford was settled out of court.

Gilliam says she had no clue what the settlement even was until she saw the documentary herself, proving not everything will have a Hollywood ending.

"I think that in the end, there's still questions as to whether justice was ever served," Gilliam said.

For Gilliam, who now has her own firm in Clinton, it was more than taking on what she calls corporate greed and regulatory agencies, but rather helping those who need it.

"Personally for me, the joy came because I was able to put a voice to them," Gilliam said. "I was so excited for the people, that their story is being told and that for me was, it's worth everything."

With the settlement, the Ford Motor Company is also paying to have the land cleaned.

The documentary will air Monday night at 8:00 on HBO.

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