Here, finally, is an update from me, and my co-writer Lorraine Evanoff, for all of you who occasionally wonder if “…Harkins is still writing that story about the kid and the gun?”
I have thought about this post for several months months.
SHOWDOWN is a great story about admirable people and a unique set of circumstances that shook up society for a few moments. It’s more complicated than anyone knew, except those of us inside, it contains lessons for us all, and it’s worthy of our time.
Over my lifetime, certain books and movies have been as influential to me as the people I love and respect. If SHOWDOWN can have a similar impact on even one person, I’ll be grateful, and I know the world will be, for a cosmic moment and in a very tiny way, a better place.
Ten years ago today an attorney and his teenage client figuratively stood tall in a Florida courtroom, determined to right a terrible wrong. I am grateful to them for their actions, for trusting me with their story, and I strive everyday to stand as tall they did in that courtroom.
Many of you know I have followed this story for eleven years. Most of you know that I’m writing a book about it. Some of you know I was developing it as a documentary with videographer and special friend Barry Schienberg, and you had contributed to my IndieGoGo campaign, trying to hop us pull it together (you haven’t been forgotten).
That documentary project created enough interest that it was turned it into a feature film project. The first step in developing a feature film is writing a strong script, with a story line that best represents the events in all their dramatic purity. So, for the past six months Lorraine Evanoff and I have been writing what is now a very gripping screenplay. Lorraine has a long history in international film production and distribution, and has been instrumental in getting the project to top producers.
The script has now gone through some rewrites under development with Tapestry Films. The founder of Tapestry Films, Robert Levy, has been writing and producing films since the 1980s, starting with his first film, Smokey and the Bandit. His other films include Pay It Forward, Wedding Crashers and Point Break. It is a huge accomplishment to have him see the promise not only in the subject but also in our writing abilities.
The feature film is now in the next phase that will take it to being ‘green lit’. As soon as there is more news you’ll know (as if I wouldn’t tell you…). In the meantime, I’m still writing the book, which I now expect to complete in January 2015.
Every generation has its ‘these are dangerous times’ moments, and we’re having ours in all sorts of ways. I’m a writer and I believe, objectively, that the story I’ve been living with for over a decade can have a positive influence on people.
Ruggieri did something that no one had done before Brandon’s case and no one since has replicated. He triumphed not just because he was right, because that certainly doesn’t guarantee anything in this day and age, but because he had a forum that required people to listen and observe, to be presented with information in a manner that was devoid of hyperbole, myth, and misdirection. Even with those, though, he had to make a presentation that was lucid and irrefutable. He did that, and the result for a brief period was some sanity, optimism, and the encouragement of a belief that anyone, even a paralyzed teenager from a working class family, could have a huge impact on a national issue (Senator Dianne Feinstein even used his case as an example during a Senate debate; the kid from Willits, California is part of the national record!).
First, a refresher for those of you who know the story, an overview for those who don’t:
It’s been ten years to the day that reporters from the country’s largest news organizations waited outside a Florida federal bankruptcy courthouse to find out if a paralyzed teenager from Northern California had succeeded in taking control of a corrupt gun manufacturer’s bankrupt company. In 1994, then seven-year-old Brandon Maxfield had been accidentally shot and paralyzed by the inadvertent discharge of a handgun. Almost ten years later, attorney Richard Ruggieri had successfully sued the gun’s manufacturer, Bryco Arms, and Bruce Jennings, the man who controlled Bryco and had made millions as the most successful maker of small, dangerous handguns known on the streets as Saturday night specials. A unanimous jury decided in favor of Brandon’s product liability / product design lawsuit, finding that Mr. Jennings’ conscious decision to redesign a handgun and hide rather than correct the gun’s jamming problem had contributed significantly to Brandon’s accidental shooting. The jury awarded Brandon almost $25,000,000 in economic damages.
Jennings and Bryco filed bankruptcy the day after the verdict to avoid paying the damages (unknown to the jury, Jennings had dropped the company’s liability insurance four days before Brandon’s 1994 accident). Months later, Jennings petitioned the bankruptcy court to allow a former employee to purchase Bryco’s assets, because the employee ‘had always wanted to own a gun company’, and Jennings wanted to help him in that endeavor. The judge agreed to the sale.
Attorney Ruggieri protested, joined by the California Department of Justice, alleging Jennings had previously used bankruptcy as a shield to avoid similar lawsuits and was only using the former employee as a front to regain control of the company, and of the company’s thousands of guns. The judge canceled the sale and declared the auction open to any bidder who could meet the minimum opening bid of $175,000.
Ruggieri believed Jennings would still try to get the assets. During a meeting with his young client, Brandon said to Ruggieri, “If I could get those guns I’d melt them down, they’d never reach the street.” Ruggieri realized that Brandon could create a nonprofit that could bid for the guns — many of which still had the same product design defect — and if he won he could, indeed, destroy them. With Brandon’s permission, Ruggieri created a nonprofit for Brandon and contacted a PR firm to help spread the word and seek donors to help raise funds. The PR campaign was successful on an international scale. Brandon, Brandon’s mother, and Ruggieri were on every major news program and profiled in newspapers around the world.
On auction day, Jennings sat in the courtroom and watched his former employee bid against Brandon’s Arms, Brandon’s nonprofit, represented by Ruggieri. With Ruggieri that day was a last minute supporter, an entrepreneur who helped Brandon’s Arms stay in the bidding until it reached over $500,000.
Brandon’s Arms lost, but the bankruptcy continued for eight more years. Many who know the story don’t know that months after the auction, information supplied to the California Department of Justice by Brandon’s Arms was instrumental in the investigation and subsequent closing of the resurrected Bryco Arms, which had been renamed Jimenez Arms. After its guns failed California’s required tests, Jimenez closed its California operations and moved to Nevada.
Karma composed the end of the story in 2013 when Bryco’s former owner was convicted of possessing and distributing child porn, and sentenced to ten years in federal prison.
Yeah, I know. Whew.
We’re working hard to share it all with all of you.
Have faith; this thing is rolling.
Another update soon…
Here’s a link to an early trailer for the documentary:
And here’s a link to a Los Angeles Times story about Brandon by Robin Abcarian:
August 12, 2014 will be the ten year anniversary of a Florida bankruptcy auction that was one of the world’s top news stories. On that date I’ll release SHOWDOWN, the story of a paralyzed teen and the lone attorney whose logic, research, and common sense persuaded a jury to see past the misguided, often hyperbolic perception of guns as so Constitutionally sacred that any attempt at regulation or control is an attempt to weaken an individual’s Constitutional right to bear arms.
I have followed the story for almost eleven years, since attorney Richard Ruggieri’s final arguments at the end of the original trial. A unanimous jury awarded $50,000,000 to teenager Brandon Maxfield, half of that amount a product liability victory over a corrupt gun maker. When the gun maker filed bankruptcy to avoid paying, then schemed to get the company back, Brandon and Ruggieri used the power and reach of the media to publicize there quest for justice.
There was interest in the story at its peak in 2004, from a well-known Hollywood packaging agency and an Academy Award winning film producer. There were early discussions, but also issues and disagreements, and no deal ever materialized.
I first acquired the book and documentary rights at the end of the original trial, and have since then acquired all the rights. Using a popular social funding site earlier this year, I attempted to raise financing for a documentary about the story. The campaign was unsuccessful, but I have promised those who did contribute that ‘something’ will be created.
A book was always part of the plan, but that ‘something’ that I’ve promised will be, at a minimum, an enhanced ebook, incorporating footage that my videographer partner and good friend, Barry Schienberg, shot during the weeks leading up to the bankruptcy auction. It will also include news footage and interviews, trial research, documents, and additional relevant material.
I say at a minimum because there is someone in L.A. who is trying to make the full-blown documentary a reality, actively seeking financing and/or a production partner, and the documentary could still happen. But no matter whether we create the optimal documentary or not, and especially with recent gun-related events and the continuing shrill arguments that fuel ongoing gun regulation debates, it’s time to place Richard’s and Brandon’s story in the hands of everyone who cares about the state of guns in our society.
I’m not even sure that Ruggieri expected the bankruptcy itself to last so long. He had expected it to last at least five years, but it only officially closed in September of 2012, eight years after the gun maker filed bankruptcy rather than pay the judgment. I thought that this was a real enough ‘end’ of the story to pull it all together and offer it to the world. It also just so happened that Jennings, the gun maker, was arrested for possession and distribution of child porn within a week of the bankruptcy’s end, adding to the finale of the story.
On the auction’s seventh anniversary two years ago, I posted a lengthy essay online about the story, which was picked up by the well-known site Boing Boing, and from that moment to now the essay – still accessed from around the world – has now surpassed 26,000 hits. Brandon has been back in the news also, with a story in the New York Post in early 2014 and a page-two, full page article in the L.A. Times last March.
So this is my commitment to those who have supported me throughout the last decade as I followed what I still believe to be one of the most important stories of our generation. Over the next twelve months I’ll share bits and pieces of the story, anecdotes, and updates that I think are worthy of your time. I also have another project we’re hoping to bring to television, and I’ll share news about that as it happens.
For those who want some background on SHOWDOWN, to watch a video teaser about the documentary, or to access the original essay about the story, here’s the web page:
The countdown begins now.
…an intense, hard several months, although I realize it’s been longer than that since I posted anything of note…or of substance…or of…
I’m slowly making my way back here, with new stories to tell, and updates on several projects.
I think I might have left you all with Michael Jackson and Bubbles on the bullet train in Japan. Huh. Love being able to write that sentence.
Be back soon.
In terms of raising money to start funding The Lawyer, the Gun, and the Money, our campaign was unsuccessful by any measure, although we’re very grateful for the handful of donors who did contribute and we won’t forget them.
In terms of awareness, we were successful in that we attracted the attention of some people who are interested in this project and are working with us to make it happen.
We hope to have some news to share by the end of the month.
Thanks to everyone for their continuing interest in this important story.
That’s what I’ve been doing, the reason I left you all on that bullet train speeding from Tokyo to Osaka with Michael Jackson and Bubbles, and haven’t gotten back to finish those stories, and I’m sorry about that, because I think a few of you really liked those remembrances. I ask that you trust me when I state I’ll finish the series soon. In the meantime, there’s something I need your help with (or for you grammar-watchers out there: with which I need your help).
I‘ve just lanuched an Indiegogo campaign to produce The Lawyer, the Gun, and the Money — a documentary about a $50,000,000 lawsuit, a gun, and how the world hoped a paralyzed American teenager would buy a corrupt manufacturer’s gun company.
It’s the behind-the-scenes story, with never before seen footage, of the events and people behind an amazing and, sadly, still timely story about guns, corruption, greed, and America’s clamorous, emotional response to any story about guns and responsibility. Nine years ago, before the end of the original trial, I began following the story of teenager Brandon Maxfield and his fight to collect a $25 million product liability judgment against Bruce Jennings and Bryco Arms, Jennings’ clandestinely owned gun company and the manufacturer of the gun that paralyzed Brandon when Brandon was seven years-old. Jennings — who had dropped Bryco’s liability insurance — filed bankruptcy rather than pay the judgment, then schemed to get the gun company back in a bankruptcy auction. Brandon and his attorney formed a nonprofit and with the help of the world and a last minute, wealthy donor, attempted to buy the company and melt down the company’s remaining, defective guns.
Media and news organizations covered this worldwide. Many people don’t know that the bankruptcy only ended last September, not the day of the ’04 bankruptcy, and now that there is an actual end to the story I have begun the Indiegogo campaign to begin financing our film, and I would appreciate any mention of the campaign to people who understand the importance of this story. Brandon has resurfaced in the news because as reporters do follow-up stories post Newtown, the Maxfield v. Jennings story comes up frequently whenever they research guns and children. J. Molloy wrote a piece in the NY Daily News recently when a NYPD officer was shot with a Bryco, and Robin Abcarian of the L.A. Times has a piece coming out soon on Brandon’s life now.
Our Indiegogo page, with a seven-minute trailer, is here:
and there’s additional info here: http://www.thelawyerthegunandthemoney.com
Another last-minute twist to the story happened shorty after the bankruptcy last Sept., when gun maker Jennings was arrested for possession and distribution of child porn. He will be sentenced this May.
We have a long way to go to finance this first segment, and not as long as we’d like to do it. Please tell everyone you know, people you don’t know, and any media connections about it. You’ll have my thanks, and you’ll make it somewhat easier for me to get back on the bullet train with MJ, Bubles the chimp, and the reporter from the Enquirer.
…and I’m sorry for that. I had planned on having the final Michael Jackson Bad tour anniversary post finished and shared by now, but there’s a renewed interest in events somewhat related to a story I’ve worked on and followed for eight years that has kept me from wrapping up the MJ thing.
I wanted to at least get a brief explanation up here because your time is valuable, and I know you could fill your daily life with all sorts of things besides my words, so you deserve to know what’s going on.
I’m really looking forward to catching up and then, within the next couple of weeks, sharing news of what’s going on.
I was on the road when John Lennon died. I was in Ohio. Gonzo and I were on tour with The Babys, a band with a brief career, some good tunes, that had been the opening act for Journey’s tour (who within a year would snag Jonathan Cain from The Babies to replace Greg Rollie, keyboardist and vocalist) earlier that year.
I don’t remember specifics about exactly what I was doing when I heard the news. That’s one of the downsides of actually being part of the music and concert industry way back when, at least for some of us. I’m pretty sure we were watching Monday Night Football, and we heard Howard Cosell make the announcement.
I remember being stunned.
It just wasn’t what you’d expect. It was a foreign concept, that John Lennon would be shot and killed. It made no sense. Then again, with a few exceptions, it never makes sense whenever someone is shot.
But, John Lennon?
It hurt all of us, sure, but, me and Gonzo, we were in it, y’know? We weren’t rock stars, but we worked for a rock band. We didn’t hear our music on the radio, but we heard the music of the guys that we hung out with every night. We were getting good paychecks and having a great time because we were in the industry. Little tiny specks in the industry, certainly, but, in it, nonetheless.
We were in it, really, because of the Beatles. We were in it for the same reason young guys formed bands and played music and held on to a dream of some day doing nothing but playing music for a living, and living the music. We had those notions, for good or for bad, because we had been brought to the dream by the Beatles. I’m pretty freaking old in a lot of people’s eyes now days (I’m fifty-nine), old enough to have gone to the Marquette Theatre on the corner of 63rd and Kedzie to see a Hard Days Night (it’s where I also saw Ferry Cross the Mersey, with Jerry and the Pacemakers) the day it was released. I was already interested in the guitar before the Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan, but me and thousands of other kids ramped up our dreams by learning how to play Day Tripper and every other Beatles tune we could figure out.
Hard to imagine that anyone else will come along in my lifetime and make a global, cultural change like the Beatles did.
And so there I was, in Ohio, having achieved some tiny level of satisfaction as a roadie, for bands that got airplay, that played concerts in small halls and big stadiums, and I was just doing it, living it, feeling it…
And John Lennon was dead.
Allow me to digress briefly: Years after Lennon’s death, the industry lost another great, influential soul when Bill Graham was killed in a helicopter accident. He didn’t have the stature of Lennon, but he was a major force in live music. Shit, he was THE force. Clarence Clemons — yep, that Clarence Clemons — had a condo just beyond my backyard in Sausalito, and we’d see each other, shoot the shit every now and then (I was on the video crew for some of the Born in the USA tour), and we saw each other the day after Bill’s accident.
Clarence looked at me and asked, “Now what?”
He was asking how on earth do we fill that void? Who would we turn to now, who would keep things happening, who would put on shows that people would remember their entire lives, who could musicians and artists and managers and fans rely on to make the impossible possible, how would we ever find our way to nirvana without the guru?
That night in Ohio was a “Now what?” moment.
Everything would be the same after that, because everything keeps going no matter who lives and who dies, just as everything would be the same after Graham, but, just like it is for all our tragedies, personal and distant, nothing would ever be the same.
As I get older, I realize how powerful the “Now What?” moments are in our lives, and I grudgingly accept, with sadness, that the “Now what?” moments must occur, and all I can do is carry them with me, remember them, and use them to guide me, to remind me of how I should treat people, and make the most of every moment, because the next moment isn’t promised to anyone. Not to me. Not to you. Not to John Lennon.
Lennon and millions of other souls are gone, and I can ask “”Now what?”, but, more importantly, I think John Lennon would say it’s okay to ask the question, as long as I move my ass down the road to look for the answer. It’s the moving that’s the answer; the journey is the answer; the knowing that life is full of “Now what?”, and you may never know why, but the only way you’ll ever a chance in hell of figuring out anything is to keep moving…
On the road.