TAKING THE STAND
Voyage as a Client S
OMETIMES LIFE SEEMS LIKE AN
unending series of challenges, and so it has
been for me from birth. Although I was
diagnosed early in life with a severe neuromuscu-
“Nothing splendid has ever been lar disorder, I overcame that obstacle, graduated
from Princeton University and Yale Law School,
achieved except by those who
and eventually became a partner at Arnold &
dared believe that something Porter LLP. Shortly after becoming a partner,
however, my once comfortable life was shattered
inside them was superior
by a calamitous chain of events that have now left
to circumstance.” me totally unable to work or care for myself. This
—Bruce Barton is the story of my journey from challenging child-
hood to partner at a leading international law firm
BY MICHAEL A. CAGLIOTI to plaintiff in the civil justice system.
Attorneys Patrick M. Regan,
Thanos Basdekis and Lisa
Barnett, of the Washington,
DC law firm of Regan,
Halperin & Long, PLLC
represented Mr. Caglioti.
Photos courtesy of Photodisc
out, but to my surprise no one answered. Eventually, an associate this stage, an ending that came with a certain degree of relief on
at Arnold & Porter came out of the office and recognized me. He my part given that firm’s dismal performance.
Although each day has many called an ambulance and my parents, who happened to be in town I felt completely abandoned. I was then, as I am now, com-
for the weekend. Never have I seen them look more distraught. pletely at the mercy of my attorneys and the judicial system, and
obstacles and I find myself The least of my injuries was the two broken legs I suffered I was devastated to know that no one cared about my case.
when I was ejected from the wheelchair. After the ambulance So I resolved to conduct an extensive interview process for what
struggling to maintain a came I was taken to a local hospital, where doctors converted my I hoped would be my last attorney. Because my concentration and
positive outlook, the fact ordinary orthopedic injuries into a genuine calamity by commit- stamina were now suspect, several partner friends at Arnold &
ting malpractice, as the result of which I suffered pneumonia, Porter graciously assisted my efforts. The interview process con-
that the civil justice system several episodes of prolonged oxygen deprivation, and related sisted of canvassing a number of Arnold & Porter partners for their
brain damage. All told, I now suffer from significant cognitive views on members of the personal injury bar, telephone interviews
permits an injured party defects, substantially diminished lung capacity, daily coughing with the more promising candidates, and finally meetings with fi-
and congestion, an inability to work meaningfully, chronic pain nalists at Arnold & Porter’s offices. I am especially grateful to one
to seek legal redress is and fatigue, and the obliteration of my cherished independence. special friend at Arnold & Porter, Jeffrey Burt, who found the time
To date, my medical expenses exceed $500,000, and my ex- to sit though all of the interview meetings with me.
one source of encouragement. pected future care needs are in the millions of dollars. During the interview process, one attorney stood out above
I also lost my job, the veritable centerpiece of my existence. the rest, the managing partner at an elite medical malpractice
Following an excruciating period of rehabilitation and convales- and personal injury firm located here in the District. More im-
cence, I attempted to return to work in April 2001. I was deter- portant than the high accolades he has won from his peers (such
mined to resume my career, if at all possible, in spite of my in- as his designation as one of the “Top Twenty Lawyers in Wash-
juries. Unfortunately, whereas my work product was top-notch ington, D.C.” by Legal Times) were his presence, demeanor, and
prior to the accident, it suffered tremendously afterward. I had, honesty. He fielded my questions, some of them quite difficult,
among other things, lost almost all of my once formidable sta- in a calm and reassuring manner. Jeff Burt and I quickly con-
mina, and my prized analytical skills and memory repeatedly cluded that this lawyer possessed in abundance the intellectual
failed me. I was thus forced to stop working as of January 2002, and moral wherewithal to prosecute my case in the aggressive
and at the end of June 2002 I gave up my partnership in the firm. fashion it deserved.
I was born with a rare neuromuscular condition, congenital group, and my clients included some of the most recognizable That was the most painful day of my long ordeal. True to expectations, he was a fierce advocate, and he pur-
amyotonia, more commonly known as spinal muscular atro- corporations in the country. I am now unemployed, and I spend almost every waking mo- sued my case zealously. Ultimately, my lawsuit against the
phy. This condition causes the voluntary muscles to atrophy. As In addition to my life at work, I enjoyed an independent ment at home in my apartment. I have very limited concentra- wheelchair manufacturer was resolved pursuant to the terms of a
a result, I have never walked and have used a wheelchair since as lifestyle at home as well. I then owned my home, loved playing tion and energy each day. (This article, for instance, was written confidential settlement in late 2003.
early in life as I can remember. in chess tournaments, regularly attended the theater, and en- over several months in bits and pieces.) I am completely depen-
Despite my physical challenges, I have always striven to live as
broad and as independent a life as possible. My parents encour-
joyed numerous other intellectual pursuits, such as reading and
writing about public affairs and my legal practice. I even traveled
dent upon others for all of my life’s needs. I no longer can travel
the Metro, operate elevators, socialize, or even eat unattended. D uring my career I was sometimes involved in the heat of lit-
igation on behalf of a client, but nothing came close to my
experience as a plaintiff. As much as the defendant is on trial in
aged me to excel in academics and to pursue an ambitious career. on vacation from time to time.
When the public school system in my hometown of New
Rochelle, New York, insisted that I attend a “special school” for
Finally, after years of honing my legal skills and many long
nights at work, I achieved the pinnacle of my professional career H aving lost all that I had worked so hard to secure, I decided
to respond the only way I knew how: by seeking the assis-
tance of qualified counsel. And so began my legal odyssey.
our civil justice system, so too is the plaintiff. I was grilled, for
two days, about events dating back to my childhood. I was forced
to submit to questions by two law firms, with different attorneys
disabled children, my parents resisted. Ultimately, common sense when in November 1998 the Arnold & Porter partnership
and the principle of equal treatment under the law prevailed, and elected me as a partner in the firm. My parents beamed with As an attorney, I always felt in control. A client would come from each firm asking numerous questions pertaining to wide-
I was the first disabled student mainstreamed in the local school pride at this accomplishment, and I believed that I had defini- to me with a problem, and I would invariably attempt to respond ranging subject matters that strained my now diminished capac-
system. The power of the law was thus evident early in my life. tively vindicated their abiding faith in me. Moreover, I thought promptly, meaningfully, and with the zeal of a dedicated advo- ity to recollect. It was an incredibly trying and humbling experi-
After high school I graduated from Iona College as class vale- that becoming a partner would guarantee my financial security cate. I always returned a client’s call on the same day that he or ence, especially since I no longer had the ability to anticipate
dictorian in 1980. I then obtained two graduate degrees—master and safeguard the broad and independent lifestyle that I had she called, no matter how busy I was. I hoped for the same from questions in the manner I once did as an attorney. I was also sub-
of public affairs (with a concentration in international relations) crafted so assiduously. my personal injury attorneys, because I was now dependent, and jected to extensive cognitive testing and medical examination.
and master of arts in politics—from Princeton University. After in the position of placing my fate in their hands and the hands of Throughout this protracted and trying process, my lawyer
addressing several health issues, I attended Yale Law School, was mistaken. Starting on July 13, 2000, my life changed— our judiciary. served as a steadfast advocate and reassuring counselor. His pa-
which offered the finest legal education in the country. My three suddenly, dramatically, and permanently for the worse. On My first lawyer came highly recommended. He was also tience and professionalism enabled me to believe that some, al-
years at Yale were exciting and rewarding. I served as a senior ed- that evening I left work and was operating my motorized wheel- highly disappointing to me. He sat on my case for over eight beit imperfect, measure of justice could come out of this elabo-
itor of the Yale Law Journal and as an officer of the Yale Journal of chair on the sidewalk in front of the firm’s office building on months without doing any substantive work. I was never confi- rate process.
International Law. In addition to lively intellectual pursuits, I led 12th Street here in the District. As I proceeded from the build- dent that he was committed to my case or adequately grasped all I am left with many complex feelings about my legal odyssey.
a full social life on campus, and even served as the sole student ing’s exit toward E Street, I pushed the wheelchair’s joystick to the issues involved in the case. After a while he even stopped re- As deeply as I am disappointed with the behavior of my first two
representative on the university committee for disability issues. go forward, but something bizarre occurred: the wheelchair turning my calls. I do understand that personal injury lawyers attorneys, I am profoundly grateful for the outstanding represen-
Soon after graduating from Yale in 1990, I joined the inter- started to go forward, but then it began to move backward. The have a busy, trial-driven practice, but I did not think it unreason- tation provided by the last. Likewise, though nothing can com-
national law firm of Arnold & Porter in Washington, D.C. I wheelchair continued to move slowly in reverse even though I able to request the courtesy of a return call, even if only to say that pensate for my loss of independence and many permanent in-
thrived as a lawyer. My chosen career was ideally suited to ex- was pushing the joystick forward. I turned off the wheelchair, there were no updates on the case. After I left a message for this juries, my spirits are lifted when I think that the civil justice
ploit my talents for research, writing, and analysis and to ensure then on again, and the next thing I knew, the wheelchair imme- attorney (since direct telephone contact was rare) stating that the system can still play a positive role in our lives. Although each day
my paramount goal of leading a full and independent lifestyle. I diately spun around violently numerous times, counterclockwise, slow progress was prejudicing my case, we soon parted ways. has many obstacles and I find myself struggling to maintain a
was practicing at one of the most distinguished law firms in the at high velocity. The uncontrolled spinning forcefully ejected me My second lawyer came highly recommended as well. He too positive outlook, the fact that the civil justice system permits an
world, and my colleagues were brilliant, generous people whose from the wheelchair and onto the sidewalk pavement. was equally disappointing. As with my first lawyer, an alarming injured party to seek legal redress is one source of encouragement.
abiding professionalism I respected and emulated. I worked pri- I lay helplessly on the sidewalk of a busy street, huddled in pattern of conduct emerged. Despite this lawyer’s promise that As an attorney, I once believed in and relied on the law. As a
marily in Arnold & Porter’s elite financial institutions practice pain with leg fractures, for what seemed like a long time. I called his firm would evaluate my case expeditiously, I did not receive client, I still do.
an evaluation until four or five months after our initial discus-
“Taking the Stand” appears periodically in Washington Lawyer as a forum for D.C. Bar members to address issues of importance to them. The sions. Even worse, the belated “evaluation” was neither compre- Michael A. Caglioti, now retired, was a partner with Arnold
opinions expressed are the author’s own. hensive nor competently reasoned. We never proceeded beyond & Porter LLP.
W ASHINGTON L AWYER • J ANUARY 2005 Reprinted With Permission W ASHINGTON L AWYER • J ANUARY 2005