I have spent my entire legal career, 35 years so far, almost exclusively representing workers and their family members who have been diagnosed with asbestos disease in general and mesothelioma in particular.
I am the third of four boys. Growing up in New Jersey, it was assumed that we would all go to college. Both our parents were college graduates. Shortly after college, my father was drafted into the Korean War and spent his time in the military in the Panama Canal Zone. By the time he left the military four years later, he had 4 children, and his degree in Paleontology was not putting food on the table. He went to school at night and got an accounting degree which he parlayed into being the manager of his company’s credit union. My mother, a first-grade teacher for many years, also went to school at night and ultimately got her doctorate in education. She broke many glass ceilings during her career, the first woman school principal in our city and the first woman Assistant Superintendent of Schools. I inherited their work ethic – paper route at age 10 and cook at A&W at age 16.
If I had to trace my interest in the law, it’s due to a short-lived TV show, Judd for the Defense, that ran from 1967- 1969. Every Friday night, I would watch, transfixed, as Clinton Judd, a highly skilled criminal defense attorney with impeccable ethics would travel the country defending the falsely accused. At age 12, I declared to my parents that I wanted to be a lawyer.
Unlike my three brothers who all stayed in New Jersey, I followed the warm weather to Williamsburg, Virginia to the College of William & Mary. I walked on to the cross country team and the track team. A four-year varsity letter winner, my specialty was the half-mile and the quarter-mile. I also worked as a waiter at the Kings Arms Tavern, one of the busiest restaurants in Colonial Williamsburg. Going to school full time, running track in the afternoons, and waiting tables at night did not provide much free time, but on Sunday afternoons, I had a radio show on WCWM, the college radio station – a dream gig as listening to music is a passion of mine. I enjoyed my time in Williamsburg so much that I stayed for law school and paid my tuition and expenses through my job at the King’s Arms.
During this time, I discovered the gift of advocacy. I won the school’s moot court competition and was awarded a spot on the national team. By the end of my law school career, I was ranked in the top 10% and participated in a third-year practice program at the United States Attorneys Office.
At the end of law school, I secured a position as a law clerk in the federal court in Norfolk. I was given a copy of Paul Brodeur’s Outrageous Misconduct, the Asbestos Industry on Trial to read. It is the story of the Johns-Manville Company, the largest asbestos company in the world, and its attempt to evade responsibility for the thousands of people diagnosed with mesothelioma, lung cancer, and other asbestos diseases. After reading it, I was hooked on the idea of seeking compensation from companies that hid the dangers of asbestos from working men, women, and their families.
In 1986, I began practicing law in Newport News, Virginia, home to the Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Company, the largest private shipyard in the United States. For decades, the Shipyard consumed hundreds of thousands of tons of asbestos and created a devasting legacy of cancer and disease in the community. Since then, I have represented hundreds of clients who were unfortunately diagnosed with mesothelioma. There was Joanne, diagnosed when her daughter was 7. She told me that she would see her graduate from high school and despite, multiple surgeries, she did. There was Homer, diagnosed at 93. He did not look a day over 75, swam two miles a day. There was William whose wife Doris worked for the school cafeteria. She made a seafood feast for me and my four kids when we went to visit. There was Linda whose case was tried for almost two months in California. We bonded during the trial, and she became like a big sister to me. There was Sal, a house painter from Los Angeles who escaped to San Diego to avoid his kids becoming gang members. There is Willie, 81, still going five years after his diagnosis. Their stories, and many more, motivate me and keep me litigating, doing my best to ensure their family’s financial security when they are gone.
College of William & Mary, B.A. 1981
Marshall-Wythe School of Law, College of William & Mary, J.D. 1985
Washington State: 2021
United States Supreme Court: 1997
Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals: 1987
Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals: 1992
Eastern District of Virginia: 1985
Western District of Virginia: 1990
Northern District of California: 2007
Eastern District of Wisconsin: 2015
Central District of North Carolina: 2020
Certified Civil Trial Advocate, National Board of Trial Advocacy – 2005 to the present
Virginia Super Lawyer – 2011 to the present
American Association for Justice – 1987 to present
Virginia Trial Lawyers Association – 1985 to present
Board of Governors 2000-2005
Brake Exposure, Mesothelioma & Epidemiology presented at the Harris Martin Asbestos Conference, Beverly Hills, California (2007)
Anatomy of an Asbestos Friction Products Case, A Plaintiff’s Perspective presented at the Plaintiffs Asbestos Litigation Seminar (2009)
Rebuttal Commentary, The Dose Quantification Requirement of Borg-Warner v. Flores: An Onerous and Unnecessary Outlier in Mesothelioma Causation appeared in the Mealy’s Asbestos Reporter, Vol. 26, #1, February 2, 2011
Virginia Trial Lawyers Association, Annual Meeting, Spoilation of Evidence 1987
Plaintiffs’ Asbestos Litigation Group, Peritoneal Mesothelioma 1998
Plaintiffs’ Asbestos Litigation Group, Fiber Burden Analysis 1999
Virginia Trial Lawyers Association, Product Liability Section, Tort Law Update 1999
Virginia Trial Lawyers Association, Product Liability Section, Sophisticated User Defense 2000
Virginia Trial Lawyers Association, Product Liability Section, Statute of Repose 2001
American Bar Association, New Trends in Auto Litigation, Asbestos Friction Products 2002
Plaintiffs’ Asbestos Litigation Group, Dana Corporate Liability, 2004
Mealy’s Asbestos Litigation Seminar, Friction Product Case from Plaintiff’s Perspective 2005
Harris Martin Asbestos Litigation Conference, Winning Themes in a Friction Case 20052
Mealy’s Asbestos Litigation Seminar, New Issues in Friction Products 2007
Plaintiffs’ Asbestos Litigation Group, Cross-Examination of a Defense Expert 2009
United States v. Muzevsky, 760 F.2d 83 (4th Circuit Court of Appeals 1985)(not abuse of discretion to conduct trial in defendant’s absence)
Willis v. Raymark, 905 F.2d 793 (4th Circuit Court of Appeals 1990)(affirming verdict in an asbestos case)
Willis v. Celotex, 978 F.2d 146 (4th Circuit Court of Appeals 1992)(unsuccessful attempt to collect on supersedeas appeal bond)
Owens-Corning Fiberglas Corp v. Watson, 243 Va. 128 (1992)(affirming verdict in a mesothelioma case)
Sherman v. Hennessy Industries, Court of Appeal, Second District, Division 4, California (2015)(overturning the trial court’s grant of summary judgment to brake grinder defendant)