'A Presence You Can't Learn'
Jennifer Moore is eloquent, charismatic—and takes no prisoners
Published in 2022 Kentucky Super Lawyers Magazine on December 29, 2021
As a child, Jennifer Moore spent hours listening to the stories of her grandfather, a natural raconteur who hailed from rural Pike County on the eastern edge of Kentucky.
She recounts a favorite: “He convinced a man to allow him to put a Dixie cup on top of his head and stand across the street. Then Grandfather bet him he could shoot the star in the Dixie cup while it sat on top of his head. And the man agreed!
“I used to think, ‘What a tall tale,’” says Moore, with a smile and a contagious laugh. “Then, when I was in high school, I actually met the man who agreed to do it, and he swore that it happened.” Luckily, her grandfather was as skilled at shooting as talking.
Moore is a natural communicator as well—a talent showcased in the narratives she crafts for juries. She garnered international attention in 2019 by winning $80 million in damages (later reduced to $25 million) for Edwin Hardeman in the first federal Roundup lawsuit against Monsanto, manufacturer of the weed killer. Hardeman, now 72, lives in Santa Rosa, in California’s wine country. For decades, he mixed Roundup with water and used it in a pump sprayer to kill poison oak and weeds on his property. He was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2015.
“All odds were against us—a true David versus Goliath story—but hard work, determination, and a commitment to justice for our client prevailed,” says Moore, who has run her own firm since 2007. “Everyone thought we weren’t going to win, except for us.”
It seemed like a long shot, particularly when the judge bifurcated the case, declaring that Moore and co-counsel Aimee Wagstaff, a founding partner at Denver-based Andrus Wagstaff, would have to prove that Roundup caused cancer before they could argue that Monsanto had buried evidence—a claim the corporation has denied.
After the San Francisco jury agreed that Roundup had caused Hardeman’s cancer, Moore and Wagstaff were allowed to continue to the next phase on liability and damages, in which they claimed Monsanto buried reports of the herbicide’s danger and ghostwrote scientific reports claiming Roundup was safe.
“She is a badass,” says Brent Wisner, a mass torts attorney with Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman in California who was co-lead plaintiff’s counsel in the first successful case against Roundup, tried in state court. He calls her “one of the most thoughtful, methodical and charismatic lawyers I have seen in a courtroom.
“She has a presence you can’t learn. I would say there’s nothing worse in the world than being at the end of her cross-examination. And she does it with her smile and her charming Southern accent,” he says. “She is friendly until you suddenly realize you’ve given up your case.”
Moore and Wisner are now co-lead counsels of the California Judicial Council Coordination Proceedings (JCCP), in which thousands of plaintiffs claim their cancer was caused by the heartburn medication Zantac, which was recalled by the FDA in 2020. Trial is set for this October in Oakland, California.
“It’s all about connecting, and I think she connects because she’s very relatable,” says Ginger Susman, executive chair of settlement administration company Archer Systems and a friend of Moore’s. “She’s a country girl who didn’t grow up rich. She is a self-made girl. She actually is unlike many mass tort lawyers because she is a bona fide trial lawyer. I have seen how she has honed her trial skills throughout the years to this point.”
Roundup remains a large part of Moore’s work schedule. Last August, Bayer, the parent company of Monsanto, filed a writ of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court, a last-ditch effort to overturn previous court outcomes. “I don’t see a need for this case to take the court’s precious time,” she says.
Moore was also instrumental in negotiating the $10 billion mass settlement Bayer agreed to in 2020, involving thousands of claimants in the California Roundup JCCP.
She views the Roundup case in the context of a long-running legal battle to reign in an industry. “What we have tried to accomplish is a societal change, just as when people took on the tobacco industry,” she says. “The odds are against you when you are taking on one of largest corporations in the world.
“We’ve been in the trenches for [five] years. Monsanto can throw everything they can at me; and trust me, they have.” That includes trying to discredit both her and her clients, she says. “But I’m not going to back down. I’ve devoted my career to provide a voice to those harmed.
“It’s been a long journey,” she observes with a chuckle—a quiet one this time. “I’m just going to say that.”
Paducah, where Moore grew up, is a small western Kentucky town facing the Ohio River to the north. Her grandfather ran a family auto dealership. “My dad worked six or seven days a week selling cars,” Moore says. Grandparents on both sides lived nearby—one set across the street, the other just a mile down the road. “Their love and support made me believe I could always do whatever I wanted to do.”
Her sister, Angie, went into education but now works at Moore’s firm, where she is the director of public relations and litigation support. “She has been instrumental in the settlement for thousands of Roundup victims,” Moore says.
Women were power centers within her family: One aunt lobbied for public education in Frankfurt; another was a lawyer who is now a published fiction author. Home didn’t provide a context in which feminism was advanced—“I grew up in a very traditional household,” says Moore—so much as a place where family members were encouraged to pursue goals. “Everyone spoke their mind, and if you wanted to do something, you just went and did it with the support of the extended family.”
She had role models outside the family, too. Paducah had a woman mayor, Martha Layne Collins was governor, and Sandra Day O’Connor had recently been named the first woman on the U.S. Supreme Court. In third grade, for a class biography book report, she chose Justice O’Connor. “I decided in fourth grade that I wanted to be a lawyer, and I never wavered,” Moore says.
After graduating from the University of Kentucky College of Law, Moore clerked for a chief judge of the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, which provided “incredible insight into what’s behind the curtain.” Then she went to San Francisco and practiced commercial litigation on the defense side at a big corporate firm for three years.
“Not the path for me,” she says. “I wanted to use my skills to help individuals.” She headed back to Kentucky. “It was great to live in California in my 20s,” she says with a shrug, “but I was very happy to be home.”
For a few months, she took a leave from law to work on Lois Combs Weinberg’s Senate campaign against Mitch McConnell and has remained active in Democratic politics ever since. Moore regularly appears as a commentator on Kentucky Educational Television, where she is an ever-smiling presence. On election night, she always makes a point of looking like she is having fun, keeping her cool in a space often flooded with rage and rumor.
In 2007, Moore volunteered on Steve Beshear’s successful campaign to become Kentucky’s governor. That same year, she became head of the state Democratic party, the youngest party chair in the country and one of the few women at the top of a state party. In 2009, she moved on to found Emerge Kentucky, a nonprofit that trains Democratic women, particularly those of color, to run for office. She was board chair of the organization for more than a decade, and continues to be active on the board and executive committee. Nearly 300 women have been trained, and 42 are serving in office today—from school board members to lieutenant governor.
“I truly believe politics is the last frontier for women, the best chance to equal the playing field,” she says. “The more women in positions of power, the more likely little boys and little girls will see women as powerful figures.”
As for running for office herself? “Maybe one day. I’ve been asked that many times. But it has to be the right office, one where I think I can make a difference.”
When she started practicing law, Moore was frequently the only woman in the room, and now, “in many circumstances, it will be all women—so, yeah, it is changing, dramatically, since I started practicing about 24 years ago,” she says. “We still have a ways to go in increasing the number of women who own firms or are in charge of their firms.” Although the stats on law school admissions are promising, she cautions, “We need to see what happens 10, 20 years out in the practice.”
Day-to-day moments show her how much work remains. “I get mistaken frequently for being not a lawyer,” she says. Just last summer, she walked into a deposition at which two people asked if she was the court reporter. “I have great respect for court reporters,” she adds. “I just turn and I say, ‘No, I’m the lawyer—and who are you?’”
Both in society and the justice system, Moore observes, “change occurs slowly.” But she is patient. As she waited last summer for word from the Supreme Court on the Roundup appeal, she reflected on the famous Martin Luther King Jr. quote: Justice too long delayed is justice denied.
“At times, justice can be very delayed,” Moore says. “You have to have the mindset that perseverance and determination will win out. You can’t give up. And I won’t ever give up.”
Politics, Kentucky Style
Moore’s Paducah home is close to Fancy Farm, the rural Kentucky venue for one of the most essential political traditions in the state, the annual Fancy Farm Picnic.
What makes it special isn’t the 20,000 pounds of mutton and pork barbecued every year. It’s the emphatic, yowling, all-American discourse that reaches back almost a century. Pols from all over the state enter the ring formally called the speaker’s pavilion, and mercilessly let loose on the other side. At Fancy Farm, the audience has the freedom to heckle and shout back at the speakers. In theory, at least, it becomes a great social leveler, the town square of Kentucky politics.
Moore remembers going as a child in the ’70s, but the 1992 picnic stands out, when presidential candidate Al Gore made an appearance. She has broadcast from the event in her role as commentator on KET Public Television.
“It was so exciting to go there as a first-time voter,” Moore says, and she notes the event’s ability to make or break a candidate. “I’ve seen Fancy Farms where I watched a speech and knew right then that this person is not gonna win—you can tell by how much they fire up the crowd. Timing is everything in politics; and in Kentucky, it starts to get revealed over Fancy Farms weekend.”