Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Jury acquits man of spying for Iraq

Haytham Faraj's (TLC 2009) recent acquittal has garnered a lot of press.

Read about the case here, or in the Washington Post, on NBC San Diego, the Detroit News, or the LA Times.

Jan 14, 2011 (Detroit Free Press - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX)

A federal jury in Detroit today acquitted an ex-Army translator of being a spy for Iraq, but convicted him of lying to investigators about his contacts with foreign government officials when he sought security clearance.

In the end, jurors weren't convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that Issam (Sam) Hamama, formerly of Sterling Heights, was a spy for the Saddam Hussein regime in the 1990s.

"There was not enough concrete evidence that he had knowingly and willingly" worked as a spy for Iraq, said juror Antoinette Monastiere of Roseville, who had never been on a jury before. "I was nervous, more nervous than you can imagine."

After the verdict, Hamama's lawyer, Haytham Faraj, put his arm around his client, who appeared upset about the conviction, as did his wife, who wiped her face with a tissue as she sat in the courtroom behind her husband. The couple said nothing.

Hamama faces up to five years in prison for making false statements to authorities about his past contacts with foreign government officials when he applied for a job as a government translator in Iraq in 2003.

Despite the conviction, though, Faraj expressed some relief at convincing the jury that his client was not a spy.

"We have been vindicated," Faraj said. "Lying is one thing, but they were accusing him of voluntarily working as a spy for a foreign country."

Finish reading this article here.

The Grad II train!

Written by Maren Chaloupka about Staffer Lonnie Stanga's victory

The Grad II 2010 train is still charging forward. This week, Lonnie Stanga won a trial that featured every lousy fact available to defense lawyers, all rolled into one case.

You like preexisting conditions and causation questions? Three days before the wreck at issue in the case, the client had called the doctor to report pain in her back that radiated down her leg.

You like defenses based on malingering allegations? A year after the wreck, the client applied for a job and wrote on the application that she'd had a wreck a year back, but was fine now. (This is a very special fact, as it gave the defense its choice of ammunition: bullet #1 is "you aren't really hurt"; bullet #2 is "either you lied on your job application or you're lying now - - either way you lie to get money.")

You like inconsistent stories in a disputed-liability case and assumption of the risk? The client told the ER doctors that she wasn't wearing her seat belt; she changed her story later to say she was wearing her seat belt.

She has a tested IQ of 83 and no natural defenses against a sophisticated defense lawyer. She's had prior claims. None of them have worked out real well, so she's suspicious that her own attorney may really be working for the defense instead of working for her (and she'll say so). She's poor. She thinks that the Lord will heal her pain someday, but she still wants her lawsuit.

You hate jury trials? Welcome: judge asks all questions unless a juror raises his/her hand, in which case there will be a private bench conference to follow up with the juror outside the hearing of the rest of the panel. No building a team for the plaintiff's lawyer.

Oh, and by the way, you like racism? She's African-American, and your jury pool is white white white. REALLY white.

The pretrial offer was zero point zero. Lonnie knew he needed to build his client's trust: she was a stranger and an outsider to every other person who would be in the courtroom. If she couldn't truly trust that Lonnie would be her hero, she would be an easy target for a grumpy federal judge, an arrogant ass defense lawyer and a nearly all-white jury. Lonnie rose to this challenge, spending time with his client and her #1 supporter, that being her mother. Lonnie used psychodrama to reenact the scene of the wreck, a scene at the hospital, even how the client's mother learned of the wreck. Lonnie sought Kathie St. Clair's input as well. His own keen instincts and experience with TLC methods cemented the bond that was absolutely necessary for this trial to work as it should.

In the opening, defense counsel smugly told the jury, "there are two types of plaintiffs in this world. One type is a person who is honestly hurt through no fault of her own, seriously injured, hardworking, truthful, blah blah; the second type is a person who will say anything for a quick buck. The plaintiff in this case is the second type." He then spent the next several days calling Lonnie's client a liar - - not dancing around it with fancy words like "secondary gain," but flat out calling her a liar in front of the jury.

But the jury saw more than just the hatefulness of the defense lawyer. It saw Lonnie honoring his client, respecting her, standing up for her. It saw Lonnie sharing a chuckle with the client's mother on the witness stand as she described their loving yet sometimes emotional relationship. It saw Lonnie protecting his client as she testified. It saw the fruits of Lonnie's hard work and his kind heart.

And at the end of the day, it returned a huge verdict. Lonnie says this is without question the hardest case he has ever tried, presenting all of the challenges that vex civil lawyers in one single case. Yet he is smiling in relief to know that his client felt vindicated - - that after years of being called a liar, a fraud and a malingerer, thanks to a caring lawyer, this woman has her honor back.

Lonnie was part of the wonderful Grad II group, whose results keep coming in as a great advertisement for the program. Great job, Lonnie, a great lawyer and a great friend.

Psychodrama Works!

Written by Travis Black, TLC 2004

Pychodrama Works!

I just finished a two week trial in Placerville, CA. This is a real redneck town, in fact its nick name is "Hang Town." The pervasive thoughts are that everyone should carry a gun!

This case involved my two clients who had tresspassed several times on the defendant's property to hunt for quartz crystals. The defendant confronted my clients with two hand guns and when they tried to drive away he shot at them. Missed one of my clients but hit his truck 6 times in the drivers door. The other client wasn't so lucky. As he attempted to drive away the defendant shot over 8 times into the truck and hit my client in the left thigh.

There were several issues that made this case difficult, for one, our clients John Steward and Gerald Martin admitted that they had entered the defendant’s property several times in the past looking for quartz crystals even though it was clearly marked with “No Trespassing” signs. Mr. Green’s age and ailing wife (who he brought to court with him everyday) were also obstacles to overcome as potential jurors were sympathetic to the 82-year-old man and the unwell Mrs. Green. During Voir Dire one potential jurors broke down crying saying that no matter what the defendant did she couldn’t find for the plaintiff’s due to the defendant’s age and his ailing wife! Several other potential jurors said they just couldn't be open minded because they felt sorry for the defendant and his sick wife.

One of our clients lived 6 hours away and we only met with him 1 time for about an hour prior to trial. (Really hard to develop a story!)

What we did do during trial was recreate the incident. The judge allowed us to recreate the scene and we had the client direct how it happened step by step. What was so amazing was that all the jurors were sitting on the edge of their seats listening. This was a little scary as we had absolutely no idea what the client was going to say or do. We just had to trust him. He cried, even screamed when he was "showing" us how he was shot.

After the trial EVERY juror said that our 1st person recreation made the case!!! Several discussed how "showing us instead of telling us, was great."

Justice for Alicia

By Michael E. Moore, TLC 2010

Be careful what you ask for, because you may get it! I’d been dying to take
a case to jury trial. Felt like a bad ass ready to try anything after getting my
medicine bag in July 2010. Last words I heard Gerry speak to me before I left the
ranch: “Go get em!” Fired up, I returned to San Diego and told local attorneys –
you got a crappy case you don’t want, I’ll take it to trial for you.

In the first week of December 2010, an attorney down the hall came by and
asked if I was still looking for crappy cases set for trial; I said sure. He introduced
me to Alicia Lopez whose case was set for trial in 5 weeks and she had no

Alicia is 32-year-old obese (265lbs at time of incident) Hispanic female who
never finished high school and has 3 children and 5 months pregnant with her
4th child. There family lives in extreme poverty and her oldest daughter has
Down’s syndrome. Alicia’s previous attorney abandoned her because she
couldn’t pay any costs for the case. Previous attorney ONLY propounded
written discovery; all responses, with the exception of 2, had page long
objections. Previous attorney had also designated a non treater as the expert.
The only deposition taken in the case was Alicia’s. I told her I would only take
the case if we can just go straight to trial; I don't want a continuance. She agreed,
so off we went.

Defense attorney is typical old school insurance defense attorney – 75 jury trials
under his belt. Offers nothing (money or discovery) on the case.

The case: August 2008 Alicia is shopping with her daughters. Goes into aisle
3 and notices a man stocking yogurt. Walking down the aisle, Alicia sees sour
cream and goes to get it. The girls keep pushing the cart slowly forward. They go
past the man stocking yogurt. Alicia picks up the sour cream and walks towards
the children. As she walks by the man stocking yogurt, she slips and falls. The
man stocking yogurt runs to the back of store and soon comes back with
assistant manager and towels to clean up the mess on the floor. Alicia’s 11 yr
old daughter sees what appears to be blue yogurt on the floor as he is cleaning.
The manager takes Alicia’s information, then Alicia leaves the store in pain.

Next day Alicia went to ER - did not complain of back pain, but was diagnosed
with hip contusion. Few days later went to chiropractor complaining of back pain
and pain radiating down her right leg. Chiro sent her to lawyer. Saw chiro 7 times
over a period of 3 months. She stopped because it wasn't working so well. No
other treatment until Feb the next year. She was cleaning house and the pain got
really bad, so bad she was crying and went to the ER. They gave her morphine
and other hard core meds for pain. She goes to another chiro 2 times, once for
exam and once for consultation. He recommends she get an MRI. She get's MRI
and shows 1.5 mm at L1-2, 2 mm at L4-5, 2 mm at L5-S1. Sees nerousurgeon
who recommends pain injections, she gets injections from some doc, but there
not epidurals, some thing else. Little relief.

The good facts, they never produced surveillance video, which I argued would
have shown them at fault. Also, I subpoenaed the man stocking yogur for trial,
but he was no show and I got judge to issue bench warrant for his arrest.

Damages: Her leg and back still hurt. Past medical bills are 14k and all on
liens; 12k of which are diagnostic. Future medical by the expert designated
by previous attorney had 100k-150k which was a mixed bag of weight
loss, acupuncture, more pain management and possibly surgery; he could
never say how he came up with that number. But he said on the stand under
cross, "Alicia would get the most benefit from weight loss"! Yep, our on expert!!
No other damages.

Four day trial. Judge admonished me a few times; once for “ingratiating” myself
during voir dire, because during our discussions of racism, I mentioned I lived in
Japan for 3 years and knew what discrimination felt like. During opening I laid
down on the floor in front of the jury, judge, and everyone. Court reporter freaked
out and asked “what do I do”, I said “have the record reflect plaintiff’s counsel is
on the floor.” I laid down again, during one of my witnesses re-enactments.

Used soft cross on every defense witness and just told our story. Used polarizing
the case with soft cross on defense doctor. He mentioned he previously had
back surgery, so I asked him about his pain before and after surgery. Defense
counsel got pissed off and started objecting.

Jury deliberated for about 7 hours and returned liability 11-1, damages of
$103,000.00, and apportioned 20% to plaintiff. We were so happy we almost
started crying!

Special thanks to San Diego local warriors who worked with me at our local
meeting the Friday before trial started. Our local meetings are terrific!!

The TLC Regional Seminar at Big Sur

Thanks to Gary Wenkle Smith, TLC 2000, for answering the call and writing this essay on his experience at the California regional!

As always, I went to the Big Sur Regional with great anticipation of a spiritual experience. This was my eleventh year of training with the Trial Lawyer’s College. I have always grown from my experiences, and I keep coming back so that at least once each year I have had the time to receive and accept the gifts of TLC, and pass them along, both with fellow TLC’rs, as well as the world in which I live and practice law.

The way the Big Sur seminar was organized was a new approach, and I particularly enjoyed some of the new stuff. For example, we stayed with our respective faculty members all day, rather than for limited time, and beginning anew with other faculty an hour or two later. The continuity was important. As a group, we had the time for each other, and our facilitators/instructors seemed to have had a better opportunity to get to know all of us, as individuals, and as a group. The group work was awesome. We shared freely and openly.

The food was excellent, and there was a good deal of variety in the feastings. We shared our meals together, in groups, and I heard praise, and no complaints. The Lodge staff were wonderful, and the rooms were Spartan yet complete. No phones, television or clocks. I slept well and was refreshed each day.

The Big Sur Lodge is on holy ground. The trees are so beautiful and powerful. Their magnificence sets the forest with an aura of peace and tranquility. They have been the Lords for the forest for centuries. Morning walks among the Lords were refreshing and invigorating. One cannot escape the power of the Lords. One must surrender to the Lords, and then you will feel their hearts.

I want to return to Big Sur next year for more.

I am grateful to all who participated.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A Wayne County Jury finds the Police Chief in Inkster guilty of racial discrimination

Case tried by Paul Broschay, TLC 2009!

NKSTER, Mich (wxyz) - Inkster Police Chief Greg Gaskin has been found guilty of racial discrimination in a lawsuit filed by a Lt. on the force and the Wayne county Jury awarded Lt. Kevin Smith 700 thousand dollars.

The jurors said they believed that Lt. Smith was transferred to oversee patrols on the streets because he testified in a previous discrimination lawsuit against the department. Chief Gaskin says that is not true, it was a lateral move and the department does not discriminate.

Smith's lawyer says even though the jury award was substantial, he thinks it is fair and sends a message that what happened won't be tolerated.

Finish reading the story here!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Jury acquits man of police assault

Case tried by Henry Sherrod, TLC 2010!

FLORENCE - A Lauderdale County Circuit jury deliberated more than eight hours over two days before finding an Anderson man not guilty Friday of assaulting two police officers in 2009.

The trial began Monday with Lauderdale Circuit Judge Gil Self presiding.

It was the second trial for Jerry Wayne Morris, 62, who was charged with two counts of second-degree assault and one count of resisting arrest. The first trial in December ended in a mistrial when jurors deadlocked 9-3 in favor of acquitting Morris. Criminal trials in Alabama require unanimous verdicts.

Finish reading here!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Auto lawyer says professional friendships made the difference in Jackson case

This article discusses how important professional friendships are in developing cases. TLC Lawyers Morgan Adams and Ken Levinson are both mentioned.

Auto law attorney Steven M. Gursten can identify with whoever once said, “Friendship isn’t a big thing - it’s a million little things.”

Especially when it comes to both helping others in their practices, and being helped by them in his.

Read more here or below!

Auto law attorney Steven M. Gursten can identify with whoever once said, “Friendship isn’t a big thing - it’s a million little things.”
Especially when it comes to both helping others in their practices, and being helped by them in his.
As an example, while many would visit Napa Valley to tour vineyards, he spent a week there last January working feverishly with Tennessee-based truck accident lawyer Morgan Adams on trial strategies for an extensive truck/motorcycle death case.
“We spent a week locked in a room, 16 hours a day, helping each other,” recalled Gursten, of Farmington Hills-based Gursten, Koltonow, Gursten, Christensen & Raitt, P.C.
And outside of having his meals paid for, Gursten did his part for Adams on his own dime.
Adams, in turn, would come to Gursten’s aid some months later on Fairley, et al. v. Schiber Truck Co., et al., a truck-accident trial in Jackson County. There, Adams reviewed both Schiber’s and the truck driver’s log books, analyzed the company’s and driver’s history of Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration violations, and prepared the live cross-examination.
And Adams wasn’t the only one from outside of Michigan who would lend a voluntary hand for the case. At least four more from other states contributed, providing traumatic brain injury expertise, witness preparation and order of proofs; while another Michigan attorney who handles many Jackson cases assisted with voir dire.
The only thing each trial attorney had in common was a willingness to help out without expecting to be paid for his or her part.
Gursten said that’s because when professional friendships are established - and not just contacts made by way of business-card exchanges at seminars and legal association meetings - it becomes evident that using, but not abusing, each other’s expertise helps the trial lawyer sector as a whole.
“I think something lawyers miss is, you’re an absolute fool if you try to do it all yourself,” he said. “You can’t. We’re not hard-wired in that way, where you can be excellent in both trial and appeal, or in the mechanics of brain injury and ERISA law. And that’s where it really helps.”
One good turn
Gursten is one of 50 members of The Taos Group, a New Mexico-based organization that has one attorney representing each state. The group, which meets once or twice a year, is made up of past presidents of the American Association for Justice and other trial lawyer groups.
It’s not sanctioned by any other legal group, and Gursten said the collective’s only stipulation is that members - who are elected based on their track record of verdicts and settlements - need to be available to help one another on trials when necessary.
“You’re not reinventing the wheel,” Gursten said. “You really are standing on the shoulders of giants, and these are giants I can call my friends, who I can ask a [legal] favor, and I know they’ll help me.”
For his part, Gursten said he passes along his expertise in dealing with independent medical examiners. Because Michigan’s no-fault law requires different, more stringent trial strategies in dealing with IMEs, he said such experience helps other Taos Group attorneys with their respective state’s auto tort cases.
As an example, last August Gursten went to help Chicago injury attorney Kenneth Lev in son with key expert depositions about a traumatic brain injury sustained in an auto accident.
Some months later, Levinson would assist Gursten with the Jackson County truck accident case by coaching the wife of the accident victim with psychodramatic techniques - particularly, her perspectives of when she entered the hospital following the accident.
It made a difference, as the jury was able to trace the wife’s steps, from anxiously waiting in a small room only knowing the husband was in an accident that involved a brain injury, to her seeing his bloody shirt in the garbage in the room where he was taken.
Gursten said such volunteer assistance extends to using friends outside of groups like Taos. Chelsea-based personal-injury attorney Randy Musbach spent a morning helping with voir dire for the Jackson trial, only because Gursten wasn’t too familiar with the county’s juries.
If it weren’t for Musbach being there, Gursten said he wouldn’t have known that someone on the voir dire panel was family to a local insurance defense attorney, and could have made it to the jury.
When there’s fire
Levinson, of Joseph, Lichtenstein & Levinson, said he knows the time-is-money adage well, but added that it only makes sense for the benefit of all trial lawyers to lend a hand to one another without expecting payment.
“Plaintiff’s lawyers generally are in smaller firms, whereas insurance [companies] have 100, 200 lawyers, and have vast resources to fight to protect their clients,” he said. “So for us to equal the playing field, we develop, for lack of a better term, loose-knit yet strong relationships with lawyers we trust and respect from across the country from which we can call upon.”
He compares it to working at a firehouse, in that “when there’s a fire, or in our business a trial, it’s all hands on deck. If Steve has a significant trial, he might look fine to the naked eye, but he’s really hurting. We need to drop everything we can and help.”
As a result of Gursten calling upon his experts for the Jackson case (see “Assembling the team,” above), the jury returned a $3.5 million verdict. The insurance company initially only offered $1 million to settle.
(A Verdicts & Settlements report of Fairley, et al. v. Schiber Truck Co., et al. can be found in the “2010 Million-Dollar Verdicts & Settlements” supplement, which appeared in the Jan. 10, 2011, edition of Michigan Lawyers Weekly, and online at
The verdict, Gursten said, was an example of why it’s not a good idea to keep one’s expertise too close to the vest from other attorneys who may or may not work in the same line of practice.
“I was really upset by someone asking me why we speak at all these seminars,” he said. “‘Why are you helping your competition?’ And you either get it or you don’t get it.
“The people who see it as helping your competition, they look at it as a zero-sum world, that I’m going to arm them and lose money. I look at it as, we have a bull’s-eye on us as a profession, and the better off my brothers and sisters do as trial lawyers, the better off we’re all going to do.”
As a case in point, Gursten said insurance companies are implementing more widespread use of software to track regional and national verdicts and settlements, as a means of finding median settlements for which to aim.
“Now, if everyone is doing terrible and getting terrible settlements, it’s going to affect my cases, too,” he added. “That’s why every great verdict and settlement really does help other lawyers.”
If you would like to comment on this story, please contact Douglas J. Levy at (248) 865-3107 or

Assembling the team

When auto- and truck-accident specialist Steven M. Gursten was preparing for a Jackson County trial, he knew he couldn’t do it alone.
It only took asking friends across the country, who also deal with injury matters, to assist with the strategy, based on each one’s strongest area of expertise.
“The stress, pressure and sleep deprivation involved with getting ready for trial, there’s so much being thrown at you,” he said. “And to be able to break it down, be the quarterback, then talk to the people you respect, to help with these specific issues, it’s really a nice luxury to have.”
Here’s a breakdown of Gursten’s national team and what each member did to help lead him to a $3.5 million verdict.
Morgan Adams, Chattanooga, Tenn.: The past chair of the American Association for Justice Truck Accident Litigation Group assisted in live cross-examination of the owner of defendant Schiber Trucking Co. at trial. He was “another very helpful set of eyes when I was reviewing the log books. Together we counted a number of FMCSA violations that Schiber and its truck driver had violated in the 30 days before this terrible truck accident.”
Richard Jenson, Austin, Texas: Jury consultant.
Kenneth Levinson, Chicago: Levinson, who is involved with the Gerry Spence Trial Lawyers College, “helped me to better present the human story at trial. Psychodrama is a powerful weapon for lawyers that helps us tell the ‘human story’ of what our clients have truly gone through. It … gets us beyond the sometimes mind-numbing picture that we would otherwise get from medical records and doctor depositions.”
Phillip Miller, Nashville, Tenn.: Trial consultant who reviewed the opening statement, case strategy and order of proofs.
Randy Musbach, Chelsea: Personal injury attorney whose knowledge of Jackson County was crucial during voir dire: he identified a potential juror who was family to a local insurance defense attorney.
Dorothy Sims, Ocala, Fla.: Traumatic brain injury expert who coordinated cross-examination of defendant’s psychiatrist “that literally destroyed her credibility in the courtroom.”

Suit says TCU falsely depicted campus as safe

TLCers Rafe Foreman, Susan Hutchison, Todd Kelly and Kern Lewis are all working on developing this case!

FORT WORTH -- Texas Christian University officials should have known that two athletic recruits accused of raping an art student had criminal histories and posed a threat on campus, according to a lawsuit the student filed against the university.

Courts have dismissed the lawsuit's other contentions, but on Thursday a judge will consider whether TCU officials committed fraud by depicting the campus as safe.

Read more here!