Voir Dire

76 – Benedict Morelli – Never Deviate: Telling the Truth, Trusting Your Instincts & Taking Risks

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with legendary trial lawyer Benedict Morelli. With several 8 and 9-figure verdicts under his belt from a wide range of civil litigation areas, Ben’s track record as an attorney and advocate is known across the country, from suing Bill O’Reilly for sexual harassment and representing Tracy Morgan in his trucking case against Walmart. He and Michael discuss Ben’s story and path to success, a number of his high-profile cases, how he connects with the jury, and so much more.

Ben’s legal career started over four years before he passed his bar exam, while he was working at a law firm in an administrative role. There, he had the opportunity sit in on several jury trials and jury selections. Because of this, he had a head start in figuring out what strategies worked for him, namely authenticity in front of the jury. He continues to hone his craft today by researching other cases and their results. Interestingly, he doesn’t focus so much on the amount the jury awarded. Instead, he digs deeper into the facts of the case to analyze how great the verdict really was and encourages his team of young lawyers to do the same.

After Ben explains that he simply refuses to play by the insurance’s rules of offering about half of what you ask for, Michael digs deeper into where Ben gets his courtroom confidence from. Ben uses something he calls “Ben Morelli’s personal moot court” and seeks feedback from his friends and family. He also references Tracy Morgan’s trucking case against Walmart, eloquently stating “When I have a royal flush, I don’t play it as a pair of two’s.” If you have a strong case in a good venue, have the guts to stick to your number while also analyzing the risk vs. the reward.

Ben is now at the point in his career where his reputation precedes him, and he shares a SHOCKING story from his case against Live Nation where it worked to his advantage.

Michael then digs in to one of Ben’s biggest strengths, how skilled he is at connecting with the jury. His short answer is, “I am them. I’m exactly them.” He grew up like most of them, doesn’t talk down to them, and ALWAYS tells them the truth. He also NEVER uses jury consultants or a mock jury, which is in stark contrast with how many of our previous guests choose a jury. Instead, he goes into voir dire with no bag, paper, or even a pen and ALWAYS sticks to his theory. He insists that his own instincts and knowledge have served him better over the years, and that “When I bet on the jury, I win.” While a unique approach, this technique has served him so well that he’s been told my numerous judges that he won the case in jury selection. He concludes this topi by clarifying that the most important thing is that you stick to who you are, and find what techniques work for you instead of “drinking the Kool-Aid.”

Ben is also unique by today’s standards because instead of specializing his practice, he takes on a wide variety of cases in different practice areas. His philosophy on this is that if it’s a civil case, he can learn it. He also genuinely enjoys the challenge and takes a lot of pride in the diversity of his practice, something he urges other lawyers to consider before they specialize.

Michael then asks Ben how he motivates and educates his large team of young lawyers.  Ben describes his daily meetings with his lawyers and also with his staff. “I’m never too important,” he continues. Every attorney in the firm knows he will personally read every single thing they write. Michael agrees with this philosophy, and he and Ben discuss why it’s so imperative to stay involved in the litigation aspect of your firm, even after you’ve built up a great team.

The pair ends the episode by discussing two of Ben’s star-studded cases – Tracy Morgan’s trucking case against Walmart and suing Bill O’Reilly for sexual harassment. After sharing what it was like to represent a celebrity of Tracy Morgan’s caliber, he explains how suing Bill O’Reilly was one of the most nerve-wracking cases he’s ever had. They went after Ben, his wife, and his practice “with a vengeance.” The details of this story are shocking and Ben’s decision to stick with the case is truly inspiring.

This podcast also covers individual case lawyers vs. mass tort case lawyers, how Ben orders his witnesses (and why it’s SO important), how to internalize what your client’s been through, the power that plaintiff’s attorneys have, Ben’s record-breaking sexual harassment suit verdict, why Ben chose not to specialize his practice, and so much more. This episode is full of insightful and inspiring stories that are well worth the listen!

 

Guest Bio:

Benedict Morelli is one of the most successful plaintiff attorneys in the country, securing numerous multimillion-dollar results, including a $95M verdict in a sexual harassment case and a $102M verdict against Live Nation. He also helped negotiate a $265M settlement – the largest settlement for a passenger railroad accident in US history – for victims of the 2015 Amtrak train derailment. Mr. Morelli and his firm often litigate high-profile cases, including representing comedian Tracy Morgan in his lawsuit against Walmart and being one of the first to successfully sue Bill O’Reilly and Fox News for sexual harassment. He has deep experience in a variety of civil matters, including personal injury, truck and auto accidents, employment discrimination, medical malpractice, and product liability.

 

75 – Delisi Friday – Keys to Success: Lessons From Zoom Trial Prep

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with his marketing “genius” Delisi Friday to discuss what they did to prepare for a Zoom jury trial. While the case settled one day before the trial was set to begin, they learned some key takeaways on what it takes to prepare a case for trial in this new and exciting format.

They jump right into the episode by discussing the need for movement in a virtual trial. Michael insisted from the beginning that he needed to be able to stand up and move in order to engage with the jury, especially for voir dire and opening. He compares this to a live TV show, versus a normal trial being like live theater. He also emphasizes the importance of proper lighting, the jury being able to see your facial expressions clearly, making “eye contact” with the jury through a camera, and practicing (and recording) every single aspect of your presentation to ensure it goes off without a hitch.

Michael then goes into detail about how he planned to conduct voir dire and maintain eye contact throughout – something he says, even with a ton of practice, “was weird.” They mitigated this challenge by displaying the jury on a 70 inch TV located above the camera. Additionally, they had a smaller screen located underneath the camera where they “spotlighted” the speaker. This allowed Michael to both see the entire jury panel and make “eye contact” with the juror he was currently talking to.

He then explains why “practice, practice, practice” is SO crucial for a virtual trial. This includes using ALL of the equipment you plan on using ahead of time, sharing an embarrassing test voir dire he did with a group of lawyers that was riddled with technical issues. You don’t want to be thinking about whether the tech will work or not, you want to be thinking about your connection with the jury. Delisi agrees and adds that you need to know when to stop adding new things in your effort to be better, give yourself enough time to practice with everything, and minimize the stress of last-minute changes.

They move on to discuss the advantages of a Zoom jury trial versus a regular trial. Michael shares how jurors no longer have to get up and go to the courthouse, they’re excited about the novel concept, and as plaintiff lawyers, you now control what the jury can see. Delisi agrees and shares that they learned so much through this process, including the (shocking) importance of using less visuals.

Michael continues by sharing how important his trial lawyer friends’ input was in this process. The love and sense of community he felt was extraordinary, and the process of practicing with them helped him hone his presentation and gave him a sense of confidence. Delisi agrees and adds that seeing the development of his opening statement was so “magical,” and that she could really see the difference and the growth throughout. She also adds how the Zoom medium and the excessive amount of practice allowed Michael to take more risks and resulted in a much more dramatic and engaging opening statement.

Michael then takes a step back to explain that even if you don’t have a “team of pro’s,” you can incorporate some of these steps as long as you have someone to help you. Delisi agrees and adds that most of the materials they purchased were very affordable – she even utilized a cardboard box to block sunlight from hitting Michael’s face!

They conclude the episode by discussing their main takeaways. Michael shares how he would have tried to have a pre-trial conference earlier to hammer out some issues ahead of time, and started practicing with the technology further in advance. Delisi adds that she learned how important simplicity was in this process, and next time she wants to consider that in how we aid in the storytelling process. Michael agrees and once again emphasizes that you need to practice, record yourself, and watch those recordings. He also reiterates that it’s not about the lawyer or their ego – it’s about the jury and your client. And when the jury trusts you, they’ll work through a technical issue with you. If you trust in them, it takes a lot of your stress away.

While Michael is a bit disappointed that the case settled and he didn’t get to try it, he knew that the settlement offer was what was best for his client and was happy to take it. This process still provided valuable practice for the next time he gets the opportunity to try a case by Zoom, something he firmly believes is the best option for getting justice on personal injury cases right now. He urges any trial lawyer listening to seize this opportunity if it’s presented to them.

This podcast also covers hand gestures, learning to use two cameras on Zoom, the importance of camera angles, light reflections, and considering the video of your witnesses who are not in your office.

SHOW NOTES:

Some of the materials discussed and used for their “Zoom courtroom” are linked below and available for purchase online:

  1. Grey backdrop (under $20)
  2. Headphone extension cable (under $10)
  3. Wireless lavalier microphone (under $80)
  4. Backdrop System Kit (under $70)
  5. Micro HDMI to HDMI cable (under $20)
  6. Cam Link 4K (under $125)

 

71 – Richard Newsome – Mixed Method Advocacy: A Hybrid Approach to Sharpen Your Trial Skills

In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with his old friend and seasoned trial lawyer Richard aka Rich Newsome. Rich specializes in automotive product liability cases and is one of the top lawyers in this area in the country. They discuss Rich’s journey to success, his Trial School, the importance of young lawyers trying cases, how to move on and learn from a loss, and coping with fear and anxiety in the courtroom.

They begin the episode with Michael asking Rich about his journey to becoming one of the best automotive product liability plaintiff lawyers in the country. Rich explains how he began working in a federal prosecutor’s office right out of law school, then transitioned into working at a civil defense firm doing automotive product liability work. His transition into plaintiff’s work came after deposing a family in a particularly heartbreaking seat belt failure case. In that pivotal moment, he realized he needed to be working for the other side and representing people instead of massive corporations. He joined a small practitioner and began “knocking on doors” of other plaintiff lawyers to start trying product liability cases as their co-counsel.

Michael then brings up how automotive product liability is a tough field to get into on the plaintiff’s side, to which Rich whole-heartedly agrees. They discuss the difficulties of product liability cases and offer several recommendations for young lawyers looking to get into product liability including “getting plugged in” through AIEG, working for an experienced lawyer with the capital to try these notoriously expensive cases, and many more.

With the field being this tough and cases being so expensive to try, Michael asks Rich about his case selection process. He replies simply, “At the end of the day, you can’t try a product case for less than half a million dollars.” With that being said, the case needs to meet two guidelines: 1) There needs to be a catastrophic injury, and 2) there needs to be a clear fact pattern showing the plaintiff should not have sustained a catastrophic injury. He goes on to explain how even though “this whole area is fraught with mine fields,” the work is incredibly important for society in regards to policy changes and consumer safety.

Rich and Michael then discuss the importance of taking cases to trial and refusing to settle quietly, which leads them to every trial lawyer’s worst fear – taking a big case to trial and losing. They trade “war stories” of their most memorable losses which still haunt them to this day, but reflect on what they learned from those early losses and how they made them better trial lawyers. As Rich puts it, “When you take a big loss, it forces you to improve your game.”

Rich ultimately blames his biggest trial loss on picking a bad jury, which was surprising to him because he was following the voir dire method of some of the most successful trial lawyers in the country. This led him to get 30 of these great lawyers together for a 3-day focus group to try out different voir dire methods. They found that the most effective method was really a combination of a variety of methods, which is now known as “Mixed Method Advocacy.” Michael agrees and shares his experience of learning that one lawyer, no matter how great they are, does not have the ultimate answer of how to try a case. The real growth is in practicing and learning which methods work best for you, then being willing to constantly adapt and learn new things.

This discovery of Mixed Method Advocacy led Rich to start Trial School, a community of trial lawyers who freely share information for the betterment of the plaintiff bar. Trial School is free to join (yes, completely free), easy to access, and full of incredibly useful information for any trial lawyer.

The conversation then comes full circle to where Rich is today after applying the information he learned from those other great trial lawyers. He shares a story of a wrongful death case he tried in an extremely conservative county. He applied everything he had learned from both other lawyers and his own experiences, which resulted in the largest wrongful death verdict ever in that county. They dive into the details of the case and the numerous techniques he applied, which make this verdict even more impressive.

Michael then asks Rich about how he conquers the fear and anxiety associated with going to trial, a topic which Rich describes as “the great elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about.” He admits to experiencing it and explains how it stunts your performance in the courtroom. He outlines numerous ways to cope with this including beta blockers, “batting practice,” and many more interesting strategies (even learning some from a hypnotist!). Rich feels so strongly about the need for better fear management in the legal industry that he’s dedicating Trial School’s spring program to the topic.

Michael continues on this point by sharing the strategies he’s learned over the years, to which Rich replies that Michael has a huge advantage over a lot of young lawyers due to his experience in the courtroom. Rich explains this by using an extremely helpful analogy about Nascar drivers which you need to hear to fully appreciate, but concludes with “I think one of the biggest solutions to fear is practice.”

They conclude the episode by discussing the need for young lawyers to get experience trying cases. While this can be a challenge, Michael insists that if you offer to try a firm’s small cases they’ll let you. He explains how if you get in there and lose a few times, you learn that you can survive a loss and gain invaluable confidence along the way.

If you’d like to join Trial School, visit www.trialschool.org to apply. You will need two plaintiff lawyer references and to fill out an affidavit stating you only represent people, but it is 100% free and an incredibly valuable resource to every trial lawyer, both young and seasoned.

This podcast also covers the “gifts” they were given throughout their careers, the importance of visuals in trial, the voir dire technique Rich used in his big verdict, avoiding dogma in trial techniques, and so much more.

Bio:

Rich Newsome is the senior partner of the Newsome Melton law firm and represents people and families in complex civil litigation.

After graduating from the University of Florida College of Law in 1989, Rich worked as a federal prosecutor for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Northern and Middle Districts of Florida. Rich left the U.S. Attorney’s Office in 1993 and went to work for a large product liability defense firm in Orlando, Florida where he represented manufacturers. After defending a manufacturer in a case brought by a family who lost a child, Rich felt compelled to leave the defense practice and began representing only families and individuals. Since then, for more than 25 years, Rich’s practice has focused on representing people who have suffered catastrophic or fatal injuries.

In 2001, Rich was appointed by the Florida Governor to the Fifth District Court of Appeals Judicial Nominating Commission and served as the JNC’s Chairman during his term. He is a Past-President of the Orlando Federal Bar Association, Past-President of the Florida Justice Association, Past-Member of the Board of Governors of the American Association for Justice, Past-President of the Central Florida Trial Lawyers Association, and is a member of the American Board of Trial Advocacy.

Rich is a graduate of the Gerry Spence Trial Lawyer’s College and was invited to serve as a member of the College Faculty. Rich is a member of the Florida, Texas, New Mexico, and Oregon Bar Associations.

In 2016, Rich was selected as the “Orlando Personal Injury Lawyer of the Year” by Best Lawyers, a peer review publication. In 2015, Rich received the Steven C. Sharpe Public Service Award from the American Association for Justice, in recognition of his representation of Corey Burdick who was severely injured by a defective Takata airbag. The Steven C. Sharpe Award is awarded annually to one attorney and their client.

In 2017, Rich was appointed to the Constitution Revision Commission by Richard Corcoran, the Speaker of Florida’s House of Representatives. The 37 member Commission drafted and submitted 32 amendments to the Florida Constitution which were placed on the ballot and approved by Florida voters to be part of the Florida Constitution in November 2018.

In 2019, Rich was recognized by the National Law Journal as having won two of the Nation’s 100 largest verdicts in 2018.

Rich is a member of the Summit Council, a national group of America’s best plaintiff trial lawyers. Membership is limited to less than thirty trial lawyers from across the country, is by invitation only, and is extended to lawyers who have a proven record of large jury verdicts and are recognized as leaders of the national plaintiffs bar.

Rich is a founding faculty member of Trial School, Inc., a not-for-profit organization which seeks to foster collaboration between lawyers on today’s best trial advocacy methods and to provide free education and practice for trial lawyers who exclusively represent people and families.

 

69 – David Koechner – Hit Your WHAMMY! The Power of Storytelling

In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen and his Director of Marketing and Business Development Delisi Friday are joined by a VERY unique guest – David Koechner! David is a Hollywood actor and comedian who has starred in over 190 films and TV shows. He is best known for his roles as Todd Packer from “The Office” and Champ Kind from “Anchorman” and “Anchorman 2.” You may be wondering how David has any connection to attorneys, but we assure you this episode is full of timely advice for trial lawyers and is just what we need to hear right now. The trio will discuss David’s path to success and his advice for presenting to an audience (think: the jury) both in person and through a screen.

The episode begins with Michael briefly explaining the premise of this special episode. He explains how David comes from the TV/film world, and lawyers are now having to adjust from a live audience to an audience through Zoom. He shares how he’s excited to “learn how to communicate with other human beings through a screen,” or a jury spread out across a stadium or convention center for socially distant in-person trials.

Michael then asks David about his background and how he got into acting. David shares how he grew up in a small town in Missouri and began working for his father’s turkey coop manufacturing business at the age of 7, something he says instilled a strong work ethic in him from a young age. Being from a small town, David had no idea acting was a possibility for him having never met an actor himself. So, he decided to attend college with a political science major where he realized in his third year that “To be in politics, you either need to come from a political family, you’re incredibly wealthy, or you’re the smartest person in any room you walk into. I was none of those things.” He then dropped out of college and worked three jobs until he visited Chicago to attend a “Second City” performance and realized, “This is it. This is what I’m going to do.”

From that moment on, David spent the next 9 years on stage at least 4 nights a week, putting in his “10,000 hours” and citing the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell until he made it onto Saturday Night Live. Michael aptly compares this to up-and- coming trial lawyers – you have to try a lot of small cases before you get a shot at the big ones. They follow with an insightful discussion of the role of “luck” in being successful, which David believes is “really about hard work, isn’t it?”

They then move onto the topic on everybody’s mind right now – How do you effectively communicate with a jury when you’re either wearing a mask or limited to a screen? David recognizes the challenges of doing so, but emphasizes that the most important thing is always your connection to the story. He believes that is the compelling part of any presentation – whether in the courtroom or through a TV screen.

David continues with his recommendations for preparing to present while wearing a face mask. He suggests that lawyers preparing for an in-person trial in the COVID era start observing other people wearing face masks wherever they go. He explains how you can easily tell if someone is calm and purposeful, or agitated by looking at their body language.

Delisi then explains that Michael is going to be conducting voir dire in a football stadium in his upcoming trial. She asks David for advice on how to use your body in a venue that big to make everybody feel included. David suggests that Michael purposefully look at every single person he’s addressing, think about where his words will land, and pace around as he speaks so everyone feels included in the conversation. He also shares a very insightful strategy he uses when preparing for a show in a new venue, which will be helpful to every lawyer listening in future trials and other presentation preparation.

Michael then inquires as to how actors make the audience believe they’re reciting something for the first time when it’s actually been scripted and rehearsed countless times. David astutely replies – “I think that’s the point – rehearse.” He continues by explaining that if he has his lines completely down, he’s fully present and available because he’s not searching for his lines. This gives him (and every actor) the opportunity for “discovery” in a scene, where he is fully engaged with his scene partners and able to truly listen and react honestly to what they say. And it results in successful improv when he films with his comedy peers, like Will Ferrell and Steve Carell.

A brief discussion of the importance of letting silence sink in leads to a very interesting conversation about trusting your audience. Michael shares his experience of switching his mentality of “I need to say everything I have to say” to “It’s not about what I have to say, it’s about being heard,” and with that transition learning to trust the jury more and focus on telling the story, not on controlling the jury.

David then adds, “It’s about respect. You’re respecting the jury to make their own decisions. That will come across.” And while the difference between a crowd at a comedy show and a jury in a courtroom are apparent, the commonalities they share run deep. As Delisi so eloquently puts it, “at the end of the day you’re both storytellers.” David continues by explaining how if he hasn’t heard a laugh in 5 minutes, he knows he needs to change something about what he’s doing. While jurors don’t openly laugh or react, Michael insists “You know when you’re resonating with another human being. You feel it.”

They continue on this note to discuss coping with a loss. David shares how he always mentally prepares to fix what went wrong and assumes, “This is going to go well. Period.” David then describes his favorite adage to tell nervous actors, which is that you always hope the person presenting does well. While admitting it’s marginally different for lawyers, he insists that “they at least hope you’re competent,” which Michael agrees with wholeheartedly, ending this conversation by saying “People want to do the right thing.”

David, Michael, and Delisi end the episode by discussing David’s new business, “Hey, Good Meeting!” Michael and Delisi previously worked with David to surprise the audience at this year’s Big Rig Boot Camp with a comedic appearance by David. These types of events are exactly what Hey, Good Meeting specializes in and provides a unique experience with nationally recognized actors and comedians. If you’d like to book a live comedy experience customized for you and your guests at your next virtual event, holiday party, or referral partner gathering, go to www.heygoodmeeting.com for booking information.

This podcast also covers why all men are secretly 14 years old, what was so special about Chicago in 1996, the importance of listening, playing an outrageous character convincingly, applying the “Rule of 3” to the courtroom, David’s favorite improvised scene from “Anchorman,” using body language to communicate, how David deals with hecklers, and so much more.

 

 

Bio:

Actor, writer and producer David Koechner grew up in Tipton, Mo. working for his father in the family’s turkey coop manufacturing business. He studied political science at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan, and then transferred to the University of Missouri. After college, Koechner moved to Chicago, where he studied improvisation at the IO (formerly the ImprovOlympic) with Del Close and Charna Halpern. He went on to become an ensemble member of Second City Theater Northwest.

From there, Koechner spent one season in the cast of “Saturday Night Live” before moving to Los Angeles and landing guest appearances on “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “Reno 911” and a recurring role on “Still Standing.” He co-starred in indie films such as “Dill Scallion,” “Wakin’ Up in Reno,” “Dropping Out” and “Run Ronnie Run” while also turning solid performances in studio comedies such as “Out Cold,” “My Boss’ Daughter” and “A Guy Thing.” Koechner, along with Dave “Gruber” Allen, developed and performed The Naked Trucker & T-Bones Show on stage at Club Largo in Los Angeles. The show later became a Comedy Central series.

Koechner’s first major film break came when he was cast as Champ Kind in “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” (a role he reprised in 2013’s “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues”). Koechner has been seen in a variety of studio and independent films such as “Daltry Calhoun,” “The Dukes of Hazzard,” “The 40 Year Old Virgin,” “Waiting,” “Yours, Mine and Ours,” “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby,” “Snakes on a Plane,” “Let’s Go To Prison,” “Semi-Pro,” “Get Smart,” “My One and Only,” “The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard,” “Extract,” “Final Destination 5,” “A Haunted House,” “Paul,” “Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse,” “Priceless,” Legendary’s “Krampus,”  the animated feature “Barnyard,” the critically acclaimed “Thank You for Smoking,” and the film festival award-winning thriller “Cheap Thrills.” He also starred in the Fox Atomic comedy “The Comebacks.” Recent film projects include “Then Came You,” “Braking for Whales” and “Faith Based,” as well as the upcoming indie horror thriller, “Vicious Fun.”

Koechner currently plays Bill Lewis on ABC’s “The Goldbergs” and recently appeared on ABC’s “Bless This Mess,” CBS’s “Superior Donuts,” Showtime’s “Twin Peaks,” Comedy Central’s “Another Period” and IFC’s “Stan Against Evil.” He also voices reoccurring characters on FOX’s “American Dad” and Netflix’s “F is for Family” and “The Epic Tales of Captain Underpants.” Koechner is well-known for his character Todd Packer on NBC’s hit comedy “The Office.”

When not filming, Koechner performs live stand-up comedy across the country and creates original content videos for his YouTube channel, “Full On Koechner.” He also co-hosts Big Slick Celebrity Weekend – an annual charity event benefitting Children’s Mercy Hospital of Kansas City – with fellow KC natives, Rob Riggle, Paul Rudd, Jason Sudeikis and Eric Stonestreet. Koechner currently resides in Los Angeles, California.

 

68 – Chris Madeksho – Masked Justice: Part 2

In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with another trail blazing trial lawyer, Chris Madeksho. Chris recently received a $13.9 million jury verdict on a Mesothelioma case tried in person using social distancing and other safety measures. They discuss Chris’s background, the details and challenges of the case he tried, the safety measures taken, and the numerous strategies Chris used to win this fantastic verdict in the age of COVID-19.

Chris specializes in toxic tort and was introduced to the area by his late father, who worked in asbestos installation when he was young and went on to become a trial lawyer. He began his practice in Texas, but later moved his principal office to California due to Texas tort reform. As most great trial lawyers do, he then attended the Trial Lawyers College and began learning from the other great trial lawyers and scholars in the arena, citing Sari de la Motte, Eric Penn, Nick Rowley, Keith Mitnik, and R. Rex Parris.

Michael then asks Chris about the details of the case he tried. Chris’s client was a 68-year old Mesothelioma patient who worked as an asbestos installer from ages 9 to 19. Because of some criminal details in his background, Chris was forced to drop the loss of consortium claim and only request damages in personal injury, BUT was still awarded $13 million in non-economic damages alone.

With this impressive verdict, Michael asks Chris if the defense wanted to try the case or not. Chris responds with a resounding, “No.” In fact, they even opposed Chris’s waiver of jury when he attempted to get a bench trial. So Chris pushed forward, complied with the judge’s orders, and was completely prepared for trial when the time came.

Chris then explains how the jury summons and voir dire process was handled safely. The summonses were sent out via email and included COVID-19 hardship questions. He shares how we know our most dangerous jurors are people who are not afraid of COVID-19, but our second most dangerous jurors are people who are there who don’t want to be. Eliminating people who don’t want to be there was very helpful in that respect.

But, a jury summons by email has its downfalls. The biggest being that the demographics of the jury pool were not representative of the populous. The resulting jury was more affluent, more connected with technology, and more conservative than a typical King County jury would be. But as Chris puts it, “When you have a client who’s going to die if you don’t try the case now, you just do the best you can.”

After summoning the jury pool, voir dire was conducted mostly through Zoom with only two panels attending in person due to security concerns. These in person panelists were separated by a 6-foot spacer and their voir dire took place in a convention center to allow for safe distancing. While Chris believes he connected better with the in-person panelists, the resulting jury ended up being comprised of 14 virtual panelists and only 1 in person panelist.

The pair then move on to discuss Chris’s storytelling strategy. Chris explains how he’s worked extensively with Sari de la Motte and employed many of her Hostage to Hero strategies to craft his opening and closing arguments. He also emphasizes the importance of being “at ease” when speaking to the jury with a mask on. He shares the perfect analogy of being in a dark room where you can only see the other person’s eyes – you’re going to focus heavily on what you can see, so your eyes need to appear honest and relaxed.

Chris’s opening also focused heavily on the conduct of the defendant, a story he told by choosing the “villain” to be a corporate representative who is still alive. He decided to use her as the villain because she is more tangible to the jury than someone who may have done a lot of harm, but isn’t alive to pay for their wrongdoings. Chris and Michael then have a very insightful conversation on if the villain needs to be a person, or if the villain can simply be the organization as a whole – a subject discussed on this podcast in the past.

Michael then asks about how Chris told the damages story at trial, which Chris boiled down to “This is a man who worked his entire childhood. Now that he’s in his final days, he’s living his childhood for the first time.” He then shares how this powerful story was made stronger by getting the defense doctor to share the horrors of Mesothelioma – a useful strategy which every listener needs to hear.

The pair ends the episode with the defense’s shocking (and unsuccessful) closing argument. The defense lawyer basically said, “A lot of people are going to be dying painful deaths in this COVID era. They’re not getting any money.” As he said that, the jury set their tablets down and nobody wrote for the remainder of his argument. Chris agrees to share the transcripts for the full details, but the defense effectively ostracized themselves from the jury at this exact moment. While plaintiff lawyers everywhere have been concerned about this being used successfully against them, Chris’s experience shows it was ineffective.

If you’d like to reach Chris Madeksho, you can email him at cmadeksho@madeksholaw.com or visit his website at www.madeksholaw.com. He’s been kind enough to make himself available to speak with any plaintiff attorney who’s looking to get back in the courtroom and wants to learn from his experience.

This podcast also covers the intricacies of asbestos cases, the importance of putting your family first, working through personal issues with clients, Chris’s courtroom layout, trusting the jury, Chris’s advice for trial lawyers who want to improve, and so much more.

 

Interested in hearing more COVID Era trial stories? Check out our other Masked Justice episodes:

 

Bio:

Chris is licensed to practice law in three states – Texas, California and Washington State, and he has a national reputation for managing asbestos and other toxic torts. He has represented mesothelioma and toxic injury clients in courtrooms from New York to California, and from the Midwest down to Texas.  Chris is a graduate of the nationally-renowned Trial Lawyers College and is a fluent Spanish and French speaker.

In addition to trying cases for victims of cancer and toxic torts, Chris routinely tries cases pro bono for low-income families facing eviction in the Los Angeles area. He participated as trial counsel and adviser to tenants in the largest rent strike in Los Angeles County history. The tenants prevailed in their strike and the landlord eventually dismissed his eviction lawsuits after losing several trials. Helping his community is a passion for Chris.

Outside of work, you’ll find Chris spending time with his family — they especially enjoy gardening, exploring the outdoors, making music, and enjoying good food together. Chris’s dream is to eventually use his time and resources to reforest American ecosystems.

 

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