As seen in the Connecticut Post Online, the Greenwich Time, the Stamford Advocate, the News Times, and the Register Citizen.
LAKEVILLE — During his long career, attorney Thomas “T.C.” Morrison litigated cases involving trademark and trade infringement, working for the firm Belknap Webb & Tyler. He helped the firm pioneer the field of false advertising, where national advertisers can sue competitors for false or unsubstantiated claims.
The experience led Morrison, in his retirement, to write his first book, “Torts ‘R’ Us,” which takes a humorous look at these types of cases, as well as the attorneys who take them on.
The characters, brothers named Patrick A. Peters (“Pap”) and his twin brother Prescott U. Peters (“Pup”), are lawyers “with a distinctive eye for opportunity,” Morrison said. Pap convinces Pup, who is a good lawyer, that they should leave their respective big-firm practices in New York City to start a practice as class-action lawyers. The brothers meet a variety of clients, judges and lawyers as they embark on a resourceful and unique approach to lawyer-client relationships
“The book has 34 chapters, and the first 12 or so are background stories about the lawyers,” Morrison said. “They grew up in Greenwich, and worked for big law firms, but they got bored and started this class-action law firm. All of the cases that are involved are in those early chapters; they are based on cases that I actually handled.”
The cases Morrison details in his novel are “quite amusing” he said.
“For example, one of the cases is called Breath Magic, and it mirrors a case that I tried in the 1990s. It was a false advertising case. My client made a series of mints and gum for bad breath. The defendant was from South Africa, and he claimed that bad breath originates from the stomach, not the mouth. Of course, that’s not true, but he created Breath Assure, saying that mints and gums weren’t getting at the problem. It was a totally bogus argument.”
In the real case, Morrison found an expert on bad breath, who had written a book with the same title. “We had a trial in New Jersey, and after about three days, the (defendant’s) lawyers asked for a continuance, and came back with a settlement agreement. They dropped 23 of the 24 claims. They can no longer say that ‘Breath Assure works,’” Morrison said.
“That’s what false advertisement laws are for,” he said. “This is a fairly wild case, in my judgment, because it was so ridiculous. I realized I was involved in a lot of humorous cases.”
A Columbus, Ohio, native, Morrison began his career after graduating from Otterbein University in Ohio and New York University Law School, where he was a Root-Tilden Scholar. He served active duty as a legal officer in the Air Force for four years, and then joined the New York City law firm of Rogers & Wells, becoming a partner in 1975. In 1977, he moved to Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler, and spent the next 34 years trying cases and arguing appeals around the country.
During the last five years of his career, Morrison joined a New York law office of a Los Angeles-based firm, where most of their cases were based on advertising class-action suits.
“Companies were suing for false advertising,” he said. “The company spends its money, and it either wins or loses. The cases were brought to my clients for really frivolous things. … For example, something wasn’t natural because of one minuscule ingredient, or because something wasn’t fresh.
“These cases might have been interesting for a look from the Federal Trade Commission, at labeling, for example, but the amount of federal class actions, on behalf of consumers, doesn’t really work out. Guess who benefits?” he said. “The lawyers do. The average consumers get a few dollars, maybe a coupon.
“I started thinking, these cases are ridiculous. They clog the courts, and drive up the costs. That’s what really got me interested in the class-action side of my book,’ he said.
“Torts ‘R’ Us” is a satirical farce, Morrison said.
“Everyone in the stories are a bit farcical; the lawyers, the judges, the clients,” he said. But the underlying message is that “our class-action system has gone a big awry. Class actions serve a legitimate purpose if you’re talking about plane crashes, or bombings, or the Bernie Madoff scandal. That’s what class actions are designed to deal with, and that’s the underlying thesis of the book, even though it’s done in a humorous manner.”
Since it was published Aug. 19, “Torts ‘R’ Us” is receiving positive reviews on Amazon, where it can be purchased. “The trick on Amazon is to get good reviews, so that Amazon will begin to promote it,” Morrison said. “There are 29 reviews, and 28 are five stars. They’re quite good — the reviews are witty and humorous. From that standpoint, I’m very pleased.”
He took part in a podcast recently with a reporter from the Washington Times, and is planning another soon. Once the pandemic calms down, the author hopes to give some in-person talks, perhaps at local bookstores and libraries.
Although “Torts ‘R’ Us” is his first book, it’s not his first attempt at writing. “When I was in the Air Force, I actually wrote a spy novel,” he said. “I sent it to one or two publishers; they turned it down, and I didn’t really pursue it. What do I know about spy novels anyway?”
Instead, he focused on his litigation, and wrote many, many briefs. “The trick in writing briefs is to write them in plain English,” he said. “You’re trying to convince a judge, so it’s important. I concentrated on that, and read a lot of books and heard lectures about writing. I enjoyed being in court, of course, but I loved to write.”
Morrison discovered Litchfield County while he was practicing law in New York. “It was my career that introduced me to the northwest corner of Connecticut,” he explained. “I was involved in a surrogate court case in New Jersey, but it involved a family-owned business, Bantam Mills. When the father died, he left unclear instructions on who was to run the business. My client was one of three sisters, and she wanted to be in charge, but another sister was president of the company. We had 12 lawsuits in courts all over New York and Connecticut, until it was resolved.
“Because I wasn’t admitted to practice in Connecticut, I hooked with an attorney in Lakeville, and we worked at the Litchfield County Courthouse, that beautiful historic building in the center of Litchfield,” Morrison said. “I loved the area.”
He then introduced his wife, Sarah, to the northwest corner. “She fell in love with the area,” he said, and the couple had their retirement home built in Lakeville in 2007. “We didn’t move here full-time until I retired at the end of 2015,” he said. “Until then, it was our weekend home.”
The Morrisons are happy in their new home. “I enjoyed growing up in Columbus, and I lived in Stamford and Weston, but I’ve never been happier than in Lakeville,” Morrison said. The couple has an adult son ,who is a congressional staff member in Washington, D.C., and Morrison has two older sons from his first marriage.
After settling in Lakeville as full-time residents, the Morrisons found ways to get involved in the community.
“In my case, I’m on the board at Music Mountain, the oldest chamber music festival in the country, and I’m chairman of the Lakeville Republican Town Committee,” he said. “We actually reinstituted the committee in 2018; it had gone dormant. The committee was extremely conservative, and this town is not conservative. … So a group of us got together, and said, let’s resurrect it. It’s going well; we’re badly outnumbered, since there’s less than 500 registered Republicans in town, and many are unaffiliated or Democrat.
“My wife, Sarah, is very active with the Salisbury Association,” Morrison said. “Almost everyone is a registered Democrat, and they tell her how they’re so glad we’ve resurrected the Republican Town Committee.”