Thursday, October 30, 2014

Ten Years of Honoring Champions of Justice

By Professors Anne Bloom and John T. Nockleby

As law professors, we've noted how frequently first-year law students mistake good lawyering with being unpleasant toward one’s adversaries. They are often surprised to learn that litigators who routinely oppose each other in court can be quite friendly and not uncommonly have the highest regard for each other.

Loyola Law School created its Civil Justice Program in 2005 to both facilitate a better public understanding of the civil justice system and to honor its finest practitioners. Each year, the program holds a Tribute to the Champions of Justice dinner to recognize lawyers who make significant contributions to the civil justice system through their professional excellence, technical proficiency and uncompromising integrity. Tonight, it will soon host its 10th-annual installment of the honors.

The list of past honorees reads like a who's who list of the Southern California trial bar. Past recipients include: 2013 – Paul R. Fine ’72, founding partner, Daniels, Fine, Israel, Schonbuch & Lebovits, LLP and Christine D. Spagnoli ’86, partner, Greene Broillet & Wheeler, LLP; 2012 – Gary M. Paul ’74; Waters, Kraus & Paul, LLP and David J. O’Keefe, Bonne, Bridges, Mueller, O'Keefe & Nichols; 2011 – Michael J. Bidart, Shernoff Bidart Echeverria Bentley LLP and Donna M. Melby, Paul Hastings LLP; 2010 – Samuel A. "Skip" Keesal Jr., Keesal, Young & Logan and Brian Panish, Panish Shea & Boyle; 2009 – Bob Baker, Baker Keener & Nahra LLP and Gretchen Nelson, Kreindler & Kreindler LLP; 2008 – Raymond Boucher, Khorrami Boucher, LLP and John Collins, founding partner of Collins, Collins, Muir & Stewart LLP; 2007 – Thomas Jerome Nolan, Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom LLP and Mark P. Robinson Jr., Robinson Calcagnie Robinson Shapiro Davis, Inc.; 2006 – Bruce A. Broillet, Greene Broillet & Wheeler, LLP and Edith Matthai, Robie & Matthai, A Professional Corporation; 2005 – James J. Brosnahan Jr., Morrison & Foerster LLP- San Francisco and Thomas V. Girardi ’64, Girardi | Keese.

This year is the 10th anniversary of Loyola's annual tribute. To mark the anniversary, the dinner will honor the previously named Champions of Justice, plus announce two new ones: Louis H. "Duke" DeHaas of La Follette, Johnson, DeHaas, Fesler & Ames and William Shernoff of Shernoff, Bidart, Echeverria & Bentley LLP. The dinner will be held on Thursday, Oct. 30 at the Beverly Hilton.

Both of these well-known and highly respected lawyers personify the attributes of exceptional lawyering. But their selection goes beyond that. To be named a Champion of Justice, an advocate must demonstrate professional excellence, technical proficiency and uncompromising integrity. DeHaas and Shernoff both easily meet and exceed these requirements.

DeHaas is known as the “go-to man” for many of California’s largest medical corporations and medical practitioners with a variety of specializations. DeHaas received his B.A. in Psychology from U.S.C in 1963 and his J.D. from the University of California, Hastings College of Law in 1966. He has been a partner at La Follette Johnson, a leading defense firm, since 1976.

DeHaas has the sort of experience that young attorneys today can barely imagine: He has tried over 300 jury trials, including over 150 medical malpractice cases. His practice has taken him to every level, from administrative hearings to trials and appeals in state and federal courts and all the way up to the United States Supreme Court.

In 2005, DeHaas successfully defended Summit Medical Center in a 10-week trial in Alameda Superior Court that saved Summit Medical Center $21 million in damages for the alleged negligent care of a 24-year-old woman who had become quadriplegic after the staff of Summit Medical Center allegedly failed to adequately monitor her. This newspaper selected the case as the most significant defense verdict for 2005 in medical malpractice litigation for California.

DeHaas has also served as the president of the Los Angeles Chapter of the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA) and was awarded the American Board of Trial Advocates Lee Wenzel Civility Award, given to only a very select few attorneys who portray trial excellence and the highest moral character. DeHaas is also a fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers and was nominated as the 2013 Trial Lawyer of the Year by the Los Angeles chapter of American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA).

Shernoff is the widely acknowledged "king" of insurance bad faith law.

One of Shernoff's earliest cases started after a client was denied coverage by his health insurance provider for a $48 hearing test. Shernoff was disturbed by the way the company had treated its customer and eventually obtained a jury verdict with $4.5 million in punitive damages. This victory opened the door for his groundbreaking Egan v. Mutual of Omaha, which established the tort of insurance bad faith.

Shernoff received a Business Administration degree from the University of Miami and his J.D. from the University of Wisconsin Law School in 1962. After serving as a first lieutenant in the JAG Corps, he moved to California. After working briefly with the National Labor Relations Board in San Francisco, he joined a small plaintiffs firm in the city of Claremont, where he began what was to become his life's work.

Just a couple of years ago, Shernoff undertook what has perhaps been his most difficult and influential legal battle. Shernoff went up against European insurance companies in an attempt to recover life insurance benefits for Holocaust survivors whose loved ones died during the war. Despite seemingly insurmountable challenges, such as lost documents, statutes of limitation and lack of jurisdiction, Shernoff won a $5 billion settlement for his clients. The documentary, “On Moral Grounds,” tells the story of this case and rightfully calls it an “incomparable legal odyssey.”

Like DeHaas, Shernoff has been awarded many honors, including the “Trial Lawyer of the Year” honor by the California Consumer Attorneys and the “Lifetime Achievement Award” by the nonprofit Consumer Watchdog. Over the years, both of these lawyers have repeatedly demonstrated extraordinary legal skills and ethics of the highest order. They are true Champions of Justice who richly deserve the respect and admiration that they have earned from their peers.

Anne Bloom is a visiting clinical professor of law and associate director of the Civil Justice Program at Loyola Law School. John Nockleby is a professor of law and director of the Law School’s Civil Justice Program. Loyola Law students Justin Vitug and Nareen Melkonian assisted with preparation of this op-ed. More information about the Tribute Dinner and its honorees is available at Follow the Tribute Dinner on social media via #LLSChampionsofJustice @LoyolaLawSchool.

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