Monday, August 15, 2011


By Dan Stevens, TLC July 2011

This is a summary of my trial, what worked and what I thought I could do better. This might encourage some of you to take some risks in the future. I came back from TLC with a big back load and had to jump into a jury trial the following week that was worked up by my associate. The trial was in another county so I stayed in a hotel. My client bought a house through a real estate agent. After moving in my client experienced some water in the basement because there were no sump pump in the sump crock. He put two pumps in the sump crock which eliminated the problem, but these pumps run continuously from February through April. The case was against one of Wisconsin’s largest real estate agencies. The seller (owner) also acted as the listing agent for the house. The agency hired the best trial lawyer in the county where the case was venued.

In preparing the case, I spent nearly all of my time finding the story. Trust and betrayal. Trust the real estate company, betrayal when you find out what the truth is. I did not want to make the agent/owner nor the manager the bad guys but the corporation itself.

The danger point in voire dire was anti lawsuit bias, lawyer advertising, tort reform, too many lawsuits, and nobody likes attorneys. I found it difficult trying to ask questions to twenty-one jurors at the same time. We usually voire dire from our desks here in Wisconsin but I asked the Judge if I could to stand up and talk to the jury, which he agreed to. After exposing mine, I ask if any juror even felt a little bit like I do, had any sentiments against lawyers or lawsuits. First no one wanted to volunteer, but with prodding and silence one man eventually raised his hand. He hated lawyers and lawsuits and felt lawyers pushed people into lawsuits (pure gold!). Agreeing and thanking him I got him to talk and talk and talk and talk. This gave some others courage to speak up also, including a doctor who is working with the State Legislature on tort reform. Agreeing and thanking these people I flushed out a total of three jurors who shared this sentiment but couldn’t get anybody else to volunteer on this point of view. After that I asked others if they had a different point of view. Heads began nodding. Got many to volunteer about the importance of lawsuits and the right to a jury trial.

I worked trust and betrayal into voire dire also. “Has anyone had an occasion to trust a real estate agent in the past?” “Did that agent honor your trust?” I also asked the jury (got this from Rafe), “I’m going to ask you to award my client $197,000.00.” “Does any of you have any reason why that would shock you or why you wouldn’t consider that at the end of the trial” No one volunteered so I asked the three hard core Jurors, “How do you feel about that?” They responded that they had no problem with it (they were gone anyway)

In opening it was an all out attack against the real estate company with only a small portion of the discussion at the end relating to my client’s issue. Throughout the trial I tried to do everything without notes and found that it was easier than I thought. The defense in its opening launched into an attack on my client repeatedly calling him a liar. I put my client on the stand and the first question I asked him was, “How do you feel about being called a liar in open court in front of all these people?” I then went into his interrogatory answers, his deposition testimony and established that everything he said is truthful.

I tried to take my client back to the scene on several occasions and describe what happened as if it were live. He is a man of few words so this was difficult to do and I need to work on this. More client prep. I asked my client what he thought the jury should award him (Rafe again)

In cross, the defense launched a vicious attack against my client. My client basically just answered yes or no courteously and enthusiastically with no argument and very little explanation. Four Jurors were asleep during defense cross. With every witness I worked in trust and betrayal. Noting what I believed to be the defendant’s strong points that came out in its opening, I thoroughly discussed each one of these with each witness before the defense had a chance to cross examine. In most cases, after I had thoroughly discussed the issue he chose not to even touch it on cross examination. For example, my expert had testified for me twenty or thirty times. We discussed this at length on direct.

At the conclusion of my case the defendant began calling his witnesses including several experts. My cross was soft and compassionate spending a great deal of time discussing the pressures and motivations of each witness, complimenting them on their achievements and their cooperation. Because most of the defendant’s witnesses were not hardened trial experts they became relaxed and cooperative using the soft cross. At the end of his testimony their key expert witness, an engineer, admitted that he would not purchase this house for his family.

I asked different kinds of questions than I would of asked before, for example I asked the real estate manager, “Do you believe your real estate company has any responsibility whatsoever for my clients losses?” I delved into this subject very compassionately but she reacted with anger and indignation final shouting it’s not our fault we did nothing wrong. That was my theme for justice in my closing. Not accepting fault or responsibility making them the villain.

I was surprised when the defense offered a letter in evidence authored by my associate accusing a witness of theirs, a war veteran, of lying in his depo. No objection by me but a soft apologetic cross showing what a liar the witness really was while honoring his service to our country. In his depo he said he saved no documents but brought a stack with him at trial. I apologized for my associate.

Because the defense attorney was a seasoned veteran of the courtroom he realized that all of the damage had been done during the questioning and chose to object on very few occasions. His objections would have only highlighted the questions I asked. Everything I did came in.

In closing I followed Gerry’s seven point attack. I spent very little time discussing the facts of the case, but mostly about the “trust/betrayal relationship.” We need to protect the public, the jury’s family, their friends, their parents in future real estate transactions.. That consumer protection statutes that we based our claims on were designed to maintain the trust relationship of real estate brokers and have them honor it. That a positive verdict would protect the Jurors, families and friends in the future and make real estate companies more accountable.

It was a different experienced writing everything out in detail and in advance, but not using my notes while speaking. I would review the notes prior to voire dire, opening, witness examination, and closing, but once I started I abandoned the notes.

The mental image I had in my mind was that I was standing before the jury in my underwear fully exposed, fully vulnerable, hiding nothing, willing to turn everything over to them and trust their judgment. The most important change that I made that seemed to make the most difference was becoming “real person” and not a lawyer. This was hard to do and at times I didn’t feel like I was being a strong advocate for my client, but overly passive. My client could hardly believe the results of this trial. 10k offered before trial, verdict 110k subject to trebling under statute and actual atty fees. Two dissenting jurors would have given more. (my client bought the house for 230) There are quite a few things I need to work on, but I can see an immediately benefit to the things that we learned at TLC.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Ranch Magic: July 2011 TLC

By Stephanie Rice, TLC July 2011

I attended the July 2011 session of the college at the Ranch. I went into the experience thinking I knew what to expect because I have worked and talked with past graduates about the college. However, I soon discovered that I really had no idea what I was in for. The ranch was simply amazing. I have never in my life been in a place as beautiful and serene as Thunderhead Ranch. People have said the Ranch is “magical” and I have to agree, that is the best way to describe it.

I learned so much at the college I don’t even know where to begin. First and foremost, I learned how to be a person, which I know sounds ridiculous to anyone who hasn’t attended the college, but for anyone who has- you know exactly what I’m talking about. I learned to not be afraid of my feelings or who I really am. I can honestly say I became closer to the people in my class at the college than I have ever been to anyone in my entire life, which is absolutely liberating. To be able to be raw and honest and emotional with people is a truly enriching experience and one that I have never been exposed to throughout college, law school, in practice or even in my day-today life.

We kind of fall into this “rut” called the practice of law. We answer phone calls, write motions, complain about over-burdensome discovery requests, meet with clients who ask too many questions and don’t ever pay their bills, etc. We really just go through the motions everyday in hopes of making it through to the next day. And I am relatively certain that not one of us became attorneys so that we could just “go through the motions.” The college taught me how to really practice law the way I thought law should be practice prior to being indoctrinated in law school. It taught me how to practice law as a human being. It taught me that its okay to really “care” about a client and that if you cannot really feel your client and identify with their experience, then you will never be able to ask a jury to feel and understand it.

The college not only taught me how to be human at my office, but I sincerely believe that I learned how to be a better person in life. Now, don’t mistake what I am saying here. The college did not make me a better person. It gave me the tools to be able to be true to myself and real, which in turn, has allowed me to be the raw, genuine person I have always been- just without being buried under the piles of paper to read, the hustle and bustle of life, the dishwasher that needs to be unloaded, the traffic jam on the freeway and the nagging husband asking me “when I’m going to be home.” It showed me how to be me.

Trial Lawyers College also taught me the skills to be “real” in the courtroom- how to genuinely conduct voir dire as just a person having an honest conversation with a group of other people; how to conduct cross-examination without attacking the witness and causing the jurors to hate me and view me as the arrogant, egotistical lawyer they see on television; how to show the jury my clients injury is worth a certain dollar amount and how to ask the jury upfront and candidly to award my client those damages; how to not be afraid of the scary facts in my case and how to approach and confront them head on in an honest way, and so much more.

I would like to hope this article reflects just how positive the Trial Lawyers College experience was for me, but the reality of the matter is, no one will ever understand its value until being there. It is very special place and I cannot express how thankful I am for the opportunity. I have since pledged to live everyday of my life implementing the tools and skills that I learned at the college.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Better than the movies

Case tried by John Naizby, TLC 2000

My client, Rene, was 33 at the time he suffered this injury. He was shooting baskets with a co-worker, Rob, before work. They were on the court for 15 minutes. Rene was jogging after a rebound and slipped on a puddle of water, which Rob described as 6- 8 inches in diameter - the size of a personal pizza. Rene suffered ankle fractures on both sides of his ankle requiring orif surgery with two plates and 21 screws. Nine month later a second surgery removed all hardware but one screw and a third surgery was done to address a painful neuroma that developed at the site of the incision on his ankle. He developed post traumatic arthritis and is projected to undergo at least one ankle fusion in the future, possibly a second based on his relative young age, currently 36. He has difficulty ascending stairs and running is in large part prohibited. He has two daughters Brianna, 5 and Bianca, 16 and his partner Michelle, and two dogs. He has difficulty playing with his children and is sensitive to touch on the site of his incision secondary to the neuroma. He also had to give up salsa dancing, which was a passion of his - his brother described at trial that people would get out of his way on the dance floor.

He had $125,000,000 in past medical bills and testimony of the cost of future surgery to be between 20 to 40 thousand. We brought suit against the gym, they brought suit against the building owner and we plead over. We were very lucky to track down many former employees who were familiar with the leak. This case was referred to me just prior to the suit running. At that time the offer was zero but after several depositions the offer was $250,000,000. On the day of jury selection they offered to pay $450,000.00. My client declined their offer. After trial, the Jury returned a verdict of $125,000.00 for past medical expenses and $275,000.00 for future medical expenses. The jury returned non-economic damages in the amount of 4,000,000.00. The building owner was found 35% at fault and LA. Fitness was found to be 65% at fault. Unfortunately for my client the 65% portion of the verdict is being contested post trial.

The Jury understood who Rene was - a hard worker who took a G.E.D. and rose to the level of sales manager at Greenwich Honda. He started off with a difficult road; he was the oldest of three. He and two half brothers, Roberto and Kevin, all grew up in the projects of the Bronx. We had half the challenges during jury selection because they had two defendants, so we were unable to get the jurors we wanted the most, but were fortunate enough to have six people see Rene for who he was and to see how this injury changed his life.

Rene and I became close friends during the two years we spent getting ready for trial. We shared meals both just the two of us and with his family. I spent several days at the dealership just observing and interacting with his co-workers. I spent time in the Bronx in his old neighborhood. The Rodriguez’s are a great family and I was lucky to have had the privilege to represent them. I will never forget the day before closing, he texted me, “win or lose, we are going out after the trial. You did a great job.” This meant a lot to me as you know, you leave a small piece of yourself in every clients life, and then after the closing argument he sent me a text. I had a good chuckle on my way driving home, he said, “your first part was good but the second time you spoke was even better than anything I have seen in the movies”.

Lee’s Summit to pay $15.5 million to wrongly accused man

Case tried by Brian McCallister, TLC 1995

By Donald Bradley
The Kansas City Star

Ted White stood Friday beneath a crystal chandelier in the ballroom of a posh Plaza hotel.

He had just received a $15.5 million court settlement. But he talked mostly about what he had lost.

“I want to tell all of my children that the door is now open to come back through to see me again,” White said, fighting back tears.

His victory cost him so much.

He is the former Lee’s Summit businessman who spent five years in prison for child sexual abuse before being exonerated when a later jury determined that the police detective who investigated the case had conspired with White’s wife to manipulate evidence to get him convicted.

The two had been carrying on an affair.

The 13-year ordeal — which saw four trials, an escape to Costa Rica, a missing diary and a late-night visit by Secret Santa — finally ended Friday with Lee’s Summit agreeing to pay White the settlement.

Finish reading the story here!

Jury Awards $40M To Reuter Family In Suit Against Marni Yang

Case tried by Chris Stombaugh, TLC 7-Stepper Grad, and Ted Worthwein

From Chicago CBS Local
A Cook County jury awarded $40 million to the family of Rhoni Reuter on Wednesday, in a lawsuit they filed against the woman convicted of killing Reuter and her unborn child in 2007.

In March, a Lake County jury convicted Marni Yang, 43, of killing Reuter and her unborn baby on Oct. 4, 2007. Prosecutors said Yang plotted to kill Reuter, the pregnant girlfriend of ex-Chicago Bear Shaun Gayle, to eliminate her as a romantic rival.

Yang received a life sentence for the murder, but Reuter’s family wanted a different kind of justice.

As CBS 2’s Derrick Blakley reports, Reuter’s family said their civil suit wasn’t about the money that the jury awarded, but about letting the world know just who Reuter really was.

Ted Woerthwein, the Reuter family’s attorney, acknowledged it’s unlikely the family will get all of the $40 million awarded by a Cook County jury on Wednesday.

Finish reading the story here!