Lawyer Follows News Corp. Hacking To U.S.

British attorney Mark Lewis was the driving force in lawsuits that cracked open the News Corp. phone hacking scandal in the U.K. Now he's in the U.S. pursuing similar cases against the company here.

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British attorney Mark Lewis has successfully represented many phone hacking victims in the U.K. against tabloids owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. He now says he will file suits against News Corp in the U.S., on behalf of at least three people who believe their phone messages were hacked here.

NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik spent a day with Lewis, on one of his trips to London. And David has this profile.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Spending time with Mark Lewis is a whirlwind, whipping between London's courthouses, government hearings and television studios.

We're right now outside the House of Parliament. You know, there's the statue of what looks like Richard the Lionhearted there.

How much of a surprise is it to you that this case was now both part of the legal and political realms so centrally to the topic of debate?

MARK LEWIS: On a personal basis it's staggering that that should happen. For me, this journey started off with one action in 2006. And never for the life of me imagined basically worldwide scandal, worldwide interest.

FOLKENFLIK: Lewis cuts a striking figure. He's a tall, slender man with a pronounced limp, wearing a garish orange overcoat the day I was with him. And yet, he started as a relative unknown in Manchester. He was representing an official with the professional soccer players association who believed his phone had been hacked by the News of the World tabloid. And Lewis received an odd visit from the paper's top lawyer, offering a modest payment.

LEWIS: The very beginning of the case, Tom Crone had come to see me in Manchester to explain his offices are in London. I'd been doing this job for very long time and Tom Crone had never had never been to see me. All of a sudden this man decides to get on a train and to come and see me to discuss something. It was so obvious that there was something that they wanted to hide.

FOLKENFLIK: News International ultimately paid around a million pounds to Lewis's client, that's well over a million dollars and a record sum. And in the process, proved cell phone hacking was not limited to a single rogue case, as News Corp had claimed.

So much has happened since then; the News of the World closed, there've been more than 40 arrests, and resignations of executives from top slots, including Murdoch's son, James.

But at the time, the case cost Lewis his job. His law firm in Manchester didn't want the controversy.

ALAN RUSBRIDGER: He is a dogged, lone figure, not one of the big London law firms. Probably there's no London law firm that would've been interested in taking on this case with quite the tenacity or maybe at all.

FOLKENFLIK: Alan Rusbridger is editor-in-chief of the Guardian. His newspaper's own aggressive reporting on illegal activities at News of the World forced the nation's political, law enforcement, and media elites to take notice. He says Lewis's legal work was pivotal.

RUSBRIDGER: And the more News International tried to put him off, I think, whetted his appetite and made him realize that he was on to something quite significant.

FOLKENFLIK: there are now hundreds of hacking targets identified by police, and Lewis has taken it to News Corp quite visibly and quite vocally; in court, in parliamentary hearings and on TV.

I met British media lawyer David Hooper at his law offices. He marvels at the evolution of Lewis's case.

DAVID HOOPER: It looked as if they were overstating their case to start off with. And it looked as if they had perhaps gotten a little bit carried away with things, seeing things out of proportion. But I don't think one would think that now.

FOLKENFLIK: Hooper has represented Murdoch's Sunday Times on unrelated matters. He says Lewis and his team have done an impressive job.

HOOPER: And they've obviously done it in the face of pressures which none of us would at all appreciate, by having one's family followed. And it's just going out spying on people for the sake of spying. Now, maybe if it was done by the state we would all be totally horrified.

FOLKENFLIK: That's right. In a scandal about hacking any legal snooping, officials at News International paid reporters and private investigators to follow Lewis, his family and another lawyer.

Mark Lewis.

LEWIS: News International was so arrogant about everything that instead of investigating and apologizing, rather they patently decide that I was part of the left wing plot to damage Rupert Murdoch and News International.

FOLKENFLIK: Lewis' health was investigated, too. He does have the degenerative disease multiple sclerosis, the cause of his limp. But he says he's far from done. He's eager to bring these three new cases alleging phone hacking by the company's journalists in the U.S., and use them to strike at wrongdoing by News Corp.

David Folkenflik, NPR News.

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