Friday, December 30, 2011
Judge Declares Mistrial in Suit Against Girardi | Keese
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Kenneth Freeman has declared a mistrial in a lawsuit against Girardi | Keese by a former client who claimed he was abandoned by his attorneys 42 days before trial was set in his case.
Santa Barbara attorney Terence J. Mix, who represented Richard Salerno in the malpractice case against the well-known Los Angeles-based personal injury firm, said he is planning on filing a motion for reconsideration, and if that is not granted, then he will pursue a writ.
Salerno had retained Girardi | Keese to represent him in an action arising from an automobile accident which he claimed was the fault of the driver of a Volvo turning left into his motorcycle.
He contended that his attorneys never adequately prepared the case for trial before filing a motion to be relieved as counsel. Mix said the Girardi | Keese attorneys sought to be removed from the case because “they thought he had a lousy case” and Salerno had rejected an offer to settle.
Mix explained that Salerno had to establish that he would have prevailed in this personal injury case in order to succeed on his malpractice claim, and a jury sided with Salerno on Tuesday. After three weeks of trial and over a full day of deliberations, a jury returned an $9.4 million verdict, which was reduced due to comparative negligence and other factors to $3.2 million, Mix said.
Freeman then proceeded to poll the jury, and the members responded that they had found the driver of the Volvo negligent by a vote of 10-2. As to the inquiry of whether that negligence had caused harm to Salerno, Mix reported that the two jurors who had not found the Volvo driver to have been negligent indicated that they thought their negative response to the prior question meant they did not need to respond to this one.
Mix said the defense moved for a mistrial at this point, but Freeman rejected the motion and directed the jury to resume deliberating.
On Wednesday morning, Mix said Freeman said he was reconsidering his decision the day before, and after the defense renewed their motion for mistrial, Freeman granted it.
As Freeman was issuing his ruling, Mix said, the jury signaled that it had reached another verdict again and that this verdict was the same as before.
Mix said his client “is hugely disappointed” with the mistrial, especially since the jury was doing exactly what they were told to do” when the mistrial was declared.
Girardi | Keese was represented by Bob and Phil Baker of Baker, Keener & Nahra. They could not be reached for comment yesterday, but Tom Girardi, principal of Girardi | Keese remarked that this is “the most stupid case in the history of America.”
He contended that Salerno was “a road rage individual” who “was upset about the way in which two young kids were driving to the SAT exam,” and pulled up alongside the Volvo, driving in the lanes for opposing traffic, beating on the car with his fist and shouting expletives. That, Girardi said, is when the car and the motorcycle collided.
Girardi said the lawyers representing Salerno took the depositions of four witnesses who all corroborated this version of events, which Salerno had said he did not recall at all.
After the attorneys confronted Salerno with this evidence, Girardi said, Salerno suddenly claimed to remember what had transpired. At this point, he said the firm obtained an ethics opinion that it could not suborn perjury and made a motion to be relieved as counsel, which was granted.
This, Girardi insisted, established that Salerno was not prejudiced by the loss of his attorneys.
“We make mistakes all the time,” Girardi allowed, but “this isn’t one of them.”
He suggested that the “jury was kind of in a Christmas mood and they didn’t really understand the case very well,” so “it’s a mistrial and we will try it again.”
Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company