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Lawyer lassos stinging parody

Published Oct. 6, 2005

Lawyers sizzled with anger last summer when Miller Brewing Co. tried to prove that bashing one kind of bar could produce business at another.

At issue was a beer advertisement depicting "the Big Lawyer Roundup." In it, a porcine man in a three-piece suit, identified as a divorce lawyer who has profited handsomely from human misery, is lassoed at a rodeo.

Lawyers of all pinstripes fumed. A few went further, putting together a piecemeal and rather pathetic boycott.

The head of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers complained to Warren H. Dunn of Miller Brewing Co.

"Miller can certainly come up with advertising that, like its beer, displays great taste while leaving the matrimonial bar less filled with animosity toward your company," Arthur Balbirer of Westport, Conn., head of the lawyers group, wrote to Dunn.

Dunn, a lawyer himself, replied that it was all supposed to be just good clean fun, and that Miller actually had great respect for the legal profession. That did not placate Balbirer, who ordered the Four Seasons Hotel in Chicago to serve no Miller products at the academy's last function there.

The company did pull the offending advertisement briefly, after a deranged man invaded a San Francisco law firm in July and killed eight people, including four lawyers.

But within weeks the ad was back on the networks, where it remained until its Madison Avenue-alloted life recently ended.

While others groused, Neil Kuchinsky, a lawyer in Colonial Heights, Va., went, as they now say, "proactive." He wrote, produced and paid for a parody of the commercial that has lawyers and anti-smoking groups cheering.

His target was Miller's parent company, Philip Morris Inc., which has an important factory in Richmond, just 23 miles up the road from Colonial Heights.

As word of Kuchinsky's handiwork has spread, so has the praise, plus requests for copies. "You are a hero to many of us," said Donald Brown, a lawyer in Torrence, Calif. Bill Wagner, a trial lawyer with Wagner, Vaughan and McLaughlin in Tampa, hopes to persuade one or more of the Tampa Bay area TV stations to run the commercial, which goes like this:

With organ music in the background, a solemn, middle-aged woman surfs the television channels with her remote control. The words "Cancer Widow: A Dramatization" appear on the screen. At the woman's side is a photograph of her late husband, a cigarette rakishly in his mouth.

Cut to her channel of choice and the scene of a man in a three-piece suit standing wild-eyed in a rodeo chute, pulling feverishly on a cigarette.

As fans in cowboy hats cheer, a voice booms: "Our next champion animal is Mr. Philip Millerd, a major tobacco company executive. His company owns a well-known brewery and produces millions of cigarettes a year, contributing to the untold misery, suffering and deaths of smokers worldwide."

Cut back to the widow, a tear running down her cheek. "Get him!" she declares.

As soon as Millerd comes out of the chute, a mounted, lasso-toting cowgirl gives chase. It is no match.

"He can't run very fast because heart disease, emphysema and other medical problems have slowed him up considerably," the announcer says.

Clutching at his chest, huffing and puffing, the hapless executive with his briefcase is soon roped.

"If you don't love yourself enough to stop smoking, then think of those who love you," a voice declares. Then this phrase appears on the screen: "Paid for as a public service by: Neil Kuchinsky & Associates, P.C. Attorneys."

Kuchinsky, a 37-year-old non-smoker, said he was moved to strike back as he watched the Miller commercial with his 9-year-old daughter, Leah. "She grabbed a hold of my arm and said, "Oh, Daddy, that's terrible!' " her father recalled.

Then, as Kuchinsky was on the way to Richmond, he spotted the Philip Morris plant off Interstate 95. "I was thinking to myself, wouldn't I like to rope those bastards? And then I realized I could," he said.

Within six weeks he hired a real cowgirl, an actor and a few clients as extras. The commercial, filmed at the cowgirl's ranch, cost Kuchinsky about $4,000.

No local television station was willing to run it if the name "Philip Morris" appeared; thus, "Philip Millerd" was born. One station, the local ABC affiliate, never returned Kuchinsky's calls.

Eventually, the advertisement ran 24 times in Richmond and 10 times in Washington, costing Kuchinsky another $4,000. Donations permitting, Kuchinsky, a native of Passaic, N.J., hopes to broadcast the spot in New York soon.

The public relations manager for Miller Brewing, Scott Epstein, said the company had not seen the parody and would not comment if it had.