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Thanks to A Civil Action, America knows about the nightmare litigation that mowed down Jan Schlichtmann. Duffy Buchanan should only have it so good. The movie version of the best-selling book ends with Schlichtmann, the real-life crusading lawyer played by John Travolta, smiling a thin smile that says it all: The big boys may have eaten him alive, but he still has his Dmitri suits and the satisfaction that one man can make a difference. “Yeah, sure,” says Buchanan, a former crusading lawyer, laughing a frequent laugh that never quite makes it to his eyes. “What I learned is that if you’re big enough and have enough money, you can run over everyone. The courts, justice, everything, forever.”

With virtually no income since 1994 and burdened with $700,000 worth of debts, Buchanan skips new suits, restaurant meals and fax machine repairs. He works out of his home in Thousand Oaks that he still owns, he says, only because of money from his father. He’s pared his office overhead all the way down to the cost of a Daily Journal subscription and a $19 monthly Internet access charge.

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