Marietta Goodman's Personal Story
Coca-Cola and Willie Gary
I was born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana. Around 1983, I was convinced by some classmates from New York to move there. I lived in New York for over ten years and was forced to move back to New Orleans due to an injury that left me on crutches.
After months of rehabilitation, I relocated to Atlanta in order to remain in the South. I soon was hired at Coca-Cola as an Administrative Assistant to work in the Marketing Department. However, I was treated very badly by my supervisors. Both the person who was assigned to mentor me and the Director who supervised me spoke to me in a condescending way; both happened to be Caucasian. I also witnessed the mistreatment of other African American co-workers by their Caucasian counterparts and Directors.
At some point I began documenting and reporting several of the incidents to Coca-Cola's Human Resource Department. The work environment at Coca-Cola became so stressful to me that I sought and received psychiatric therapy sessions to help me cope.
There came a time during my employment at Coca-Cola when I was approached by a Coca-Cola security guard who informed me of a class action law suit that was being organized by several African-American employees. He wanted to know if I would be interested in joining the class and invited me to a meeting to meet with the potential attorneys who would be representing us.
A racial discrimination class action lawsuit was filed against Coca-Cola in which I was a member. Attorney Cyrus Mehri represented us. Approximately six months into the case, the same security guard approached me and invited me to a group meeting with several other African-American employees who were assembling to meet with attorney Willie Gary. The security guard encouraged me to attend the meeting, stating that Willie Gary was Jesse Jackson's attorney and would fight harder for black people than Cyrus Mehri would.
My First Encounter With Willie Gary
I attended the meeting along with several others, including approximately 150 African-American Coca-Cola employees. The meeting was held in downtown Decatur, Georgia. After keeping the group waiting for a good 45 minutes, Willie Gary arrived to the meeting in dramatic style. He and approximately eight attorneys from his law firm entered from the back of the room and marched single-file down the aisle, imitating a military strut, causing heads to turn and take notice. They were all impeccably dressed in dark suits carrying brief cases. Once they all reached the front of the room, they all turned to face the audience at precisely the same time, reminiscent of a scene straight from the film Malcolm X.
Gary then played a video for the audience. The video told the story of how Willie began his life in poverty, the son of a sharecropper and how he rose to the top. It showed several images of him standing in front of his jet, Wings of Justice, and standing in front of his Rolls Royce.
When the video finished, Willie spoke for the next 20 minutes trying to convince the audience to allow him to represent us in our fight against Coca-Cola. He stated that he could get us more money than Cyrus Mehri could. He stated that Cyrus was a white man who didn't care about any of us and that he, Willie, would fight harder for us because he could better relate to us since he was black. He said that Cyrus would get us peanuts and that he could get us millions.
Once he finished his presentation, he asked us to stop at a table in the back of the room where he had provided multiple copies of forms for us to fill out to retain him. He also handed out copies of the videotape. Before this meeting took place, I had never heard of Willie Gary. Upon leaving the meeting, I took a blank retainer form home with me. I eventually completed the form and faxed it, along with documentation of my HR Coca-Cola complaints, to his office in Stuart, Florida.
How Unbeknown To Me, I Became Lead Plaintiff in $1.5 Billion Lawsuit
Within a couple of days, someone from the Gary firm called me to announce that I had been selected for representation by Willie Gary. Approximately two days passed and I began to receive phone calls from friends and family telling me that my name was on the front page of the Atlanta Journal Constitution in reference to a lawsuit. The front page advertised that Willie Gary had filed a $1.5 billion lawsuit against Coca-Cola for — Goodman vs. Coca-Cola. Willie Gary, nor any attorney from his office, ever sat down with me or called me to inform me that their plan was to file a $1.5 billion lawsuit that named me as the lead plaintiff along with three other women. In fact, to this date, I have never had a one-on-one meeting with Willie Gary.
After I read the news article, I immediately began calling Willie Gary's office. I was repeatedly told that he was not available. I left messages that it was imperative that he and I speak. After perhaps 24 hours passed, I received a call from Tricia Hoffler, one of the attorneys from his office. She told me that Willie Gary was a busy man and did not have time to speak with me. She told me that, at that moment, she and Willie were on his jet and that I could feel free to call her the next day to discuss my case. She gave me phone numbers that I could call to reach her.
This is how the so-called client-attorney relationship started off between Willie Gary and me — very sketchy.
From the beginning to the end of his representation, communication between the Gary firm and me was almost non-existent. The only time I heard from anyone at Gary's firm was when they wanted something. They would summon all the plaintiffs to gather for meetings, conference calls, video recordings, etc. For the duration of the time that I was his client, I received at least two FedEx letters from the Gary firm requesting my authorization to begin negotiating my case for $2.5 million.
One afternoon the plaintiffs were summoned by the firm to meet with Willie Gary at the late Johnny Cochran's office. The meeting was arranged by the Gary firm to calm the unrest that had begun to arise from the lack of communication. Approximately 15 of his 17 plaintiffs showed up and waited for Willie to arrive. Sharron Magnum and I were among them.
Willie Is Making Fools Out of All of Us
Shields McManus, attorney of the Gary firm, showed up on time for this meeting. As we waited for Willie, we all became restless. We started asking Shields questions about Willie's whereabouts and he pulled out his cell phone and spoke with someone he claimed was Willie. When he finished the conversation, he announced to us that Willie's limo was outside trying to navigate through traffic. Another 20 minutes passed and suddenly I stood up and announced to the entire group that Willie was not coming and that he was making fools out of all of us. As I made the announcement, I stormed out of the building and went home. I later found out that, in fact, Willie never showed up to that meeting.
On another occasion, we were summoned to report to an airport in Georgia to be flown out to Stuart, Florida on Willie's private jet to meet with him. Approximately two years had come and gone since we had retained Willie; the original class action lawsuit had been long settled. All of the plaintiffs were calling each other back and forth to find out if anyone had heard any update as to what was going on in each of our cases.
Approximately 12 of the 17 plaintiffs showed up at the airport that day. We were flown to Stuart, Florida. When we arrived in Florida, there, waiting on the tarmac, was Willie Gary in a stretch limo and a souped-up tour bus. Willie selected the plaintiffs he wanted to ride with him in his limo and the remainder of us piled onto the tour bus.
We were taken to his law office and given a tour. We were escorted into a large conference room where Willie gave us a speech, asking us to be a little bit more patient. He stated that he had gotten Coca-Cola almost to the point in settlement talks where he wanted them and that he was trying to get all of us the amount of money that he knew we all deserved and wanted. He stated that Coca-Cola knew that they had to pay him based on his name, his fame and his reputation. He told us that we could count on him to successfully settle our cases. He stated that he was like "Michael Jordan with three seconds left on the clock — give me the ball and I will win the game for you."
After the speech, we were taken to his home and given a tour. When the bus pulled up to his beachfront home, there were as many as four black luxury cars in the driveway including at least three Mercedes Benz. The tour of the home included viewing several different oversized bedrooms of the multi-level house. We were shown a guest room that Willie announced Bill and Hillary Clinton had stayed in when they visited him. He described to us that the windows in that particular bedroom could, upon the flick of a switch, become armored bulletproof shields. He said that when Bill and Hillary visited, Navy Seals, underwater, were right outside of the windows guarding them.
We also took an elevator ride that led to a very large movie theater that had life-sized posters of boxer Evander Holyfield. We also had a tour of his wife Gloria's ultra-over-sized closet. Gloria was sitting at the doorway with a look of total disgust on her face. Her look was so penetrating that I thought she would spit on us if she could have gotten away with it. After the tour of the house, we were all ushered out to the beach front where we were served hors d'oeuvres and given a last minute pep rally speech from Willie asking us to please continue to remain patient.
Gary and His Scam Artists At Work
About two weeks after the elaborate trip to Florida, all of the 17 Coca-Cola plaintiffs received phone calls from representatives of the Gary firm stating that, after further review of our cases, it was determined that our cases were without merit and lacked the strength enough to succeed in court. Therefore, they advised, to opt back into the original class lawsuit and settle for whatever amount we would have received two years prior.
Tricia Hoffler was the attorney who called me. She called and specifically stated that the evidence in my case was weak and that the Gary Firm would have a tough time winning my case in court. She told me that she was taking off her lawyer's hat and putting on her "sister girl" hat to speak with me. I told her, by all means, keep your lawyer hat on and proceed to move forward with my case in court. I also told Tricia that I felt the evidence that I presented to the Gary firm two years prior was just as strong as it was then, and I was not opting back into the original case. I told her to "roll the dice" and take the chance of presenting my case in a court of law and let's see what happens.
It should be noted that during the beginning of Willie Gary's representation of me, it was the same time that I was away from my job at Coca-Cola on disability leave. I was only receiving 60% of my income. I had begun to pay my bills late. My car payment was past due. My mortgage payment was past due. As the time approached for me to return to work, I was extremely anxious. I remember calling Willie Gary repeatedly to relate my mental and financial situation. After I'd left several messages with his office, he finally returned my call. At this point, I was frantic. I told him that I was afraid to return to work and at the same time I was afraid that if I continued to receive a reduced salary, that I might lose my house. Willie Gary told me to quit my job and not to worry about losing my house. He stated "give me about six months to win your case, you won't need a job and you can buy another house."
According to Willie Gary the expert "giant killer," in a time span of approximately 2-plus years, my case against Coca-Cola went from being valued at $1.5 billion to $2.5 million to whatever I would have received in the original class.
In the immediate weeks following the phone calls from the Gary Firm, the plaintiffs began to talk with each other more frequently about the suspicion that had sunk in about the firm. We all believed that something shady had taken place. We all expressed the suspicion that the Gary firm had sabotaged our cases and had gotten paid off the record for our cases.
Some of the plaintiffs decided to opt back into the original class action lawsuit. The plaintiffs who opted back in were the ones who were still employed by Coca-Cola and were fearful of repercussions from the company. Several of us decided to take on Willie Gary and fight against the injustices and fraud that we believed he and his attorneys committed against us.
Sharron Mangum Calls Me: Willie Gary Defrauded Us and Stole $50 million!
Soon afterwards, I received a phone call from Sharron Magnum. She called to say that she had gone to a Coca-Cola shareholders meeting and had met a man who specifically told her that Willie Gary had successfully settled the discrimination case against Coca Cola for $50 million. She asked me if I was willing to stand up with her and file a lawsuit against Willie Gary for stealing our money. I agreed to join forces with her. Before Sharron called me that day, we were not acquainted, except for the conference calls and meetings. Sharron recalled the day that I expressed suspicion by storming out of Johnny Cochran's office and telling the group that Willie was making fools of us all.
From the moment that Sharron and I connected and decided to go after Willie, we have been on a merciless mission to expose him for the criminal that he is and to get justice for the unscrupulous behavior and corrupt service we received from him and his law firm.
Sharron and I started out our mission by requesting our case files from the Gary Firm. We also contacted the remaining Coke plaintiffs that Willie represented to ask them to join us and solicit their support. All of them expressed to us their distrust and suspicion that Willie had received money from Coca-Cola on our behalf, took the money, and dismissed us. Most of them felt the need to do something, but not all of them wanted to take the risk of going up against Willie or Coca-Cola.
The security guard, Greg Clark, was the only plaintiff who adamantly defended Willie and his law firm. Once we requested our case files from the Gary firm, they sent Sharron and me invoices for the expenses that were incurred during their representation of us. These expenses included the cost of the flight from Atlanta to Stuart that was created and planned by their office. They also sent boxes of our case files that included a letter that had been written months earlier, without my permission, by the Gary Firm, signed by attorney Shields McManus.
McManus' letter, dated September 5, 2002, was addressed to Coca-Cola stating that I was withdrawing most of my claims in my case. I was shocked and enraged when I discovered that Willie had withdrawn my claims without my permission. I never withdrew any claims from my case, nor did I ever authorize the Gary firm to withdraw any of my claims. Even though I was cc'd on the letter, I was totally unaware that the letter existed until the day it arrived with my case files. The same way Willie filed a lawsuit in my name for $1.5 billion dollars without ever having any discussion with me, is the same way he withdrew my claims without having my permission.
Sharron and I proceeded to file a pro se lawsuit against Willie Gary and Coca-Cola. In fact, after Willie stole our money, Sharron enrolled in law school to learn more about the legal process. We then dedicated most of our time, energy, money, relationships, shelter, etc., to our mission of exposing Willie and Coca-Cola. When we filed our law suit against Willie, it was reported in an article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution because it was yet another lawsuit filed against Coca-Cola and perhaps because it also involved Willie Gary.
We Get A Call From Victim of Gary and Ford Motor Company
Soon after we filed the lawsuit and were in the process of fighting both Willie and Coca-Cola, we received a random phone call from a lady that introduced herself as Patricia Harsen (Patty). She said that she had read the newspaper article in the Atlanta paper about our fight against Willie and Coke. She said, she too, was involved in a lawsuit against Willie Gary and the Ford Motor Company for a $55 million settlement that Ford secretly paid to Willie on behalf of the plaintiffs in her case. She informed us that she was in possession of documents (a spreadsheet) that she received by mistake that specifically outlined all the companies that Willie Gary and his co-conspirators had "shook down" and received fraudulent monies. She began to read to us from the spreadsheet. She read that Willie secretly received money from The Coca-Cola Company and that the law firm Holland & Knight via attorney Weldon Latham was involved with how the money was transferred to Willie through an accountant firm in Houston, Texas.
We held several conference calls with Patty and at some point she asked us to send her a copy of documents that we had from our case to help her with her case. We told her that we were willing to send her our documents if she would send us a copy of the spreadsheet to help us with our case.
Patty never sent us the spreadsheet because she said her attorney advised her not to do so. We never sent her any of our documents. At some point, Patty called to say that her case was progressing and that she was advised by her attorney not to communicate with us any further because it would jeopardize the outcome of her case against Willie. Willie eventually settled with the women in Michigan for an undisclosed amount and the documents that were used in Patty's case are currently under seal in the Michigan court.
During our fight against Coca-Cola and Gary, we solicited support from family members and friends. One of my friends from New York mailed me a book that he recommended I read, John Gresham's — The King of Torts. He stated that the book told a story similar to what we were experiencing. I read the book and shared it with Sharron who also read it. That book gave us the idea to electronically distribute our story to the masses.
Because Sharron was enrolled in law school, she was privy to the legal industry's database that contained email addresses for hundreds for attorneys and law firms. This information helped us formulate a large distribution list for the launching of our website.
During this time, both Sharron and I had bounced around from different jobs and had lived in more addresses than we cared to, attempting to maintain a very basic existence while continuing to represent ourselves in court and launch our website. We were at a point where most of our motions had been or were being denied in court. Our case had been assigned to judge Richard Story - Georgia Federal court, who it is believed to be totally corrupt and in the pockets of Coca-Cola.
Most of our financial resources had run dry, when we learned that Willie would be attending a lawyer's conference in Atlanta. Both Sharron and I registered to volunteer to work as hostesses at this convention.
We then wrote a proposal to Willie that stated that we were willing to resolve our fight against him and his co-conspirators.. The proposal provided him a place to sign, if he was in agreement to end it. Our plan was to give Willie the proposal at the conference. I was assigned to the front door to greet the guests and show them to their assigned seats.
Tricia Hoffler walked in and I was fortunate enough to greet her. I was wearing a name badge. As we walked to her table, she noticed who I was by my name badge. She appeared to experience a split second moment of shock and then she proceeded to follow me to her table.
Scared Willie on The Run: Launch of JusticeB4Greed.com Website
I was not at the door when Willie entered. However, Sharron was able to spot him at his table. She walked pass him several times until he noticed who she was. Once the conference had ended and disbursed, we spotted Willie coming up an escalator in the hotel of the conference. We waited for him at the top and he noticed that we were waiting and as he came to the top of the escalator, he immediately avoided us by making a sharp right turn and he broke into a fast paced walk.
Sharron and I took off after him, almost chasing him as we called out his name. He pulled out his cell phone and pretended to engage in a make-believe conversation. We caught up to him and he turned with a slight look of fear on his face. We handed him the envelope with our proposal in it and we explained to him that it contained something for which we needed an answer from him. He took the envelope and hurried away. We received a letter from him about two weeks later that simply stated that he was not interested in our proposal.
We had been months and months hunkered down in my apartment. Brainstorming ways to illustrate, narrate, construct, and launch our website. We were at the final stage of completion having devoted every waking hour and every penny into filing court papers and building our website. Neither of us was employed. We barely had shelter. Sharron was living with me and I had not paid rent in months. We knew that the situation could not last much longer. We launched the website and distributed it to over 100 lawyers and law firms across the United States (justiceB4greed.com and employeesforchrist.com).
Our plan was to first launch the website and then move. I had planned to move in with my sister who lived in Atlanta. I had a conversation with my apartment complex's manager to inform them that I planned to move and needed a couple more weeks to do so. They agreed to my plan.
We launched our website telling our story to the public. In addition to the website launch, we also filed approximately 100 bar complaints against Willie and every attorney involved, to each and every bar association that they were credentialed with.
While Willie Lives Lavishly, His Victims Pay A High Price
I sold my living room set to the maintenance man. I had packed up most everything else. A couple of days after we launched the website, we took a ride across town to the post office to mail the last of our bar complaints and close out our post office box.
During the ride, I received a call from the maintenance guy to report that all of our belongings had been put out on the street. It was raining when I received the call. We immediately turned around and drove as fast as we could to get back to the apartment. It seemed like the longest ride ever.
Once we arrived, we saw my neighbor and her friends moving my belongings out of the street and assembling my belongings in neat piles along the back driveway. My neighbors, Ms. Charlotte and her friends, were all in their late 60s. They had dragged kitchen chairs outside from their homes that they used to form a barricade around my belongings for protection. A few of them sat in the chairs to guard my stuff. The rain began to come down heavier. The ladies never left.
Sharron and I, in a panic, started to discuss storage places nearby. One of the ladies overheard us and pulled out a thick roll of money from her bosom and handed it to me to pay for the storage. I started to cry. I felt weak, defeated and very vulnerable. It was in that moment that I decided that I was going home to New Orleans, leaving all of my stuff.
I told the ladies that they could have everything: furniture, artwork, dishes, jewelry, clothes, shoes, etc. Sharron and I thanked them profusely and began to pack our cars with our case files and about a week's worth of clothes. The ladies began to rummage through my things and started to try on clothes and shoes. They seemed so delighted and wanted to know if I was certain they could have the things. I re-assured them they could.
We hugged them all and drove off and headed to New Orleans with our case files, a few clothes and the money that we received from the ladies. We prayed all the way home to New Orleans.
Once Sharron and I arrived in New Orleans, we lived with a girlfriend for about four months. No one knew our whereabouts. During that time we began to constantly receive phone calls and emails from lawyers and law firms responding to our website. They all were very intrigued with our story and expressed interest in possibly representing us. We received responses from at least 20 different lawyers.
Willie Again, A No Show & We Get Food Stamps
We also received a phone call from Greg Clark, the security guard who initiated the original class action lawsuit. Greg stated that he was calling on behalf of Willie Gary. He stated that Willie Gary had contacted him to ask us to take the website down. We hung up the phone on Greg repeatedly. Finally, we agreed to hear him out. He said that Willie wanted to travel to New Orleans to meet with us and speak with us about paying us to take the website down. Greg stated that Willie wanted to meet with us in person because he was afraid that we would audio record any phone conversation. After several back and forth conversations with Greg, we agreed to meet on a specific date, at a specific time at a restaurant in New Orleans.
Sharron and I arrived at the restaurant on time, ordered a very minimum meal and waited and waited and waited for Willie. Willie, nor Greg, ever showed up.
We continued to receive inquiries from lawyers that were interested in our story. In the meantime, we realized that we needed to come up with another plan. We had no job, no money — nothing. We had to figure out how to continue to survive.
During that time, Sharron applied for and received food stamps for a brief time. We were ecstatic when the food stamp card arrived. The value on the card was no more than $100 and we were very careful how we spent the money because we realized that we had to stretch the food for a while.
We did not have any success with finding legal representation from any of the lawyers who called us. I received a called from a friend in New York about a New York lawyer that had heard our story and was interested in possibly representing us. We agreed to call him.
Sharron and I spoke with him several times and attempted to explain all that we had gone through with Willie and how he stole our money. Once we finished our story, he spoke very empathetically about how he would help us. He stated he would place a call to Willie Gary because Willie and he vaguely knew each other.
We hung up and waited for him to follow up with us. The attorney called us back. His demeanor was totally opposite than in his previous conversation. He informed us that we should halt all actions against Willie. He stated that Willie had offered us $50,000 to take the website down. He advised that we should take that money. He told us that we should be careful in our pursuit because he didn't want to hear about our bodies being found in plastic bags floating in the river. We refused the offer and never heard from the attorney again.
Eventually both Sharron and I found jobs and separate places to live and we went our separate ways. We made a vow that we would NEVER stop pursuing Willie Gary and also that we would NEVER take the website down.
Some months later we received a call from Greg Clark. He called in a self-proclaimed state of shock. He said that he had time to think about the latest events and also play back the past events of Willie's representation of him against Coca-Cola and that he was also convinced at that point that Willie had also stole his money. He wanted to join us in our fight against Willie and Coca-Cola. He was still living in Atlanta and started contacting the other plaintiffs to get them to join the fight with us.
We started having conference calls with the new-old plaintiffs from the Coca-Cola case. Most of them seemed excited but yet still hesitant. Greg Clark had introduced us to a lawyer who knew a friend of his father and traveled to New Orleans with him to speak with us about helping. With the new additional members in the fight, we were able to do another mass mailing of bar complaints across the United States against Willie and his co-conspirators.
We received responses from various bar associations about most of our complaints that had the same message; statute of limitations had passed, not enough proof, etc. Once the response came in, we eventually lost the interest of all of the new-old plaintiffs and communications died off.
For the next year or so, communication between Sharron and I became sporadic, mainly because we both were trying to survive. Whenever we spoke, it was about where we could find a job, how to get each other's resume updated or where we could find affordable housing. Our fight against Willie Gary and Coca-Cola was forced to take a back seat to our struggle to survive. Every now and again, we would speak about our fight as a result of a random call we had received from people who had visited our website and were calling to have us assist them in fighting Willie since they, too, had been defrauded by Willie Gary. For a long time afterwards, our fight against Willie lay dormant.
Leonard Rowe Contacts Us And Our Spirits Are Lifted
Within the last year, Greg again contacted Sharron to ask for support with a book he'd recently written about his experience with Willie Gary and Coca-Cola. Shortly after Greg's call to Sharron, we received a random call from Leonard Rowe. He stated that he had visited our website and was interested in our story because he too had been defrauded by Willie in a lawsuit he had against the William Morris Agency.
From that initial point of contact, Sharron and I began to have frequent conversations with Leonard. The more we spoke with Leonard, the more we became once again rejuvenated to resume our fight against Willie. We also reached out to Greg to include him in, since he had just recently expressed his desire to continue to go after Willie and Coca-Cola with his book.
Leonard shared with us a totally legal process that he was using to pursue justice in his case. We became very interested and excited about this process and began to mimic the process and use it to pursue justice in our case. Greg (once again) decided to break away from us and go solo in his pursuit.
The last time we heard from Greg, he claimed to have a meeting scheduled with an attorney that was involved in his case. In 2014, Sharron and I began to call Leonard every day for guidance and encouragement in using this new soundproof process. Two months passed and Sharron and I were still speaking with Leonard all the time. Leonard was further along in the process, so everything he had already done, we began to do. Then one day in April Sharron and I called Leonard and he did not answer his phone, nor did he return our messages. We called Leonard for about two days straight to no avail. Sharron and I immediately panicked.
On about the third day, we called and one of Leonard's friends answered his phone and told us that Leonard had been arrested on April 9th. This friend explained that the "Marshals" had arrived at Leonard's house around 6:00 am and took him away to jail. Wow! We were flabbergasted, confused, angry, sad and afraid. We didn't know what to do to help Leonard or ourselves. We needed Leonard to provide us with encouragement and the next steps in our process. All we could think to do was to keep in touch with Leonard's friend.
We also created a newsletter announcing how Leonard had been wrongfully arrested and sent the newsletter to Leonard's friend for distribution. Leonard would later call us to tell us that even though he had been wrongfully arrested, he was doing ok under the circumstances and determined to get justice. He encouraged us to continue with the process for our case. We did not finish the process because we were so afraid that the "Marshals" would also come to arrest us.
Leonard somehow managed to remain in communication with us. We tried to think of someone we knew who could help Leonard get out of jail and continue to fight Willie. We told Leonard about Ray Rogers and his organization Corporate Campaign, and his history of fighting for workers, poor people and against injustice. Leonard, who spent about four months in jail, had some enlightening conversations with Ray by telephone. After his release, Sharron moved away. Leonard reached out to me to check in and I re-iterated to him that he should give Ray a call to discuss moving forward with our cases. Many of us victimized by Willie are glad he did!