Belli, Melvin M.

Belli, Melvin M. (Mouron)

(1907–  ) lawyer; born in Sonora, Calif. An indifferent student, he went to sea briefly after graduating from college and before entering law school. On graduating (1933) he became an undercover investigator for the National Recovery Administration, posing as a hobo to report on the plight of migrant workers. Setting himself up in private practice, he soon became the flamboyant master of "demonstrative" evidence—dramatic gestures and graphic exhibits designed to sway juries—and over the ensuing decades he won record damages and set legal precedents in numerous cases; such conduct led to his being dubbed "King of Torts." Although his specialty became malpractice and negligence litigation, he was best known to the public for colorful and bizarre cases such as the defense of topless waitresses and of Jack Ruby, the killer of Lee Harvey Oswald. A prolific writer of books for both the legal profession and the public, he appeared in several movies and television shows.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.