Thomas M. Dempsey, The Law Offices of Thomas M. Dempsey and President of the Trial Lawyers for Public Justice Foundation, Los Angeles, CA

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Thomas M. Dempsey, The Law Offices of Thomas M. Dempsey and President of the Trial Lawyers for Public Justice Foundation, Los Angeles, CA Powered By Docstoc

   LAW STAR                                                                                      1. 800.973.1177

                                 Thomas M. Dempsey, The Law Offices of Thomas
                                 M. Dempsey and President of the Trial Lawyers for
                                 Public Justice Foundation, Los Angeles, CA
                                 [by Regan Morris]
                                 Los Angeles-based activist trial attorney Thomas M. Dempsey recently became president of the Trial
                                 Lawyers for Public Justice Foundation, which is a national organization. LawCrossing speaks with
                                 Dempsey about his career and the foundation’s work.

When Dempsey enrolled in the University of           The TLPJ Foundation is the nonprofit parent       medical bills or medical care that needs to
Oregon School of Law, he envisioned his future       of Trial Lawyers for Public Justice (TLPJ), the   be done,” he said. “So losing four limbs at
as a country lawyer in a small town somewhere        national public interest law firm dedicated       $250,000, that’s less than $75,000 a limb.”
outside Eugene, OR. It was the late 960s, and       to using trial lawyers’ skills and resources
Dempsey was an idealist. He saw the law as a         to advance the public good. Dempsey said          It’s actually $62,500 a limb. And Dempsey
way he could “change the world.”                     the public interest firm takes cases that         says the caps harm the most severely injured
                                                     otherwise might slip through the cracks,          and can bankrupt families.
Then he took a class in trial law and was            where people would have a difficult time
hooked on the process. He never did become           attracting a trial lawyer in private practice.    “What’s happened is the insurance industry
a country lawyer, but he’s still an idealist.                                                          has just reaped the benefits of this,
                                                     “We represent people in the kind of cases         especially in the medical negligence area,
“In my last year of law school, we had a             that attorneys who do normal tort or injury       in that rates for doctors have not gone down
trial practice class, which was fairly rare          work can’t either afford to handle because        in states where they have regulations,” he
at that time,” he said. “We went through an          there’s not the margin of profit there, or        said, adding that California’s Proposition 03,
entire semester of preparation for trial and         they don’t have the manpower or personal          passed in 988, helped to curtail insurance
conducted a trial, and I got bitten by that          power to prosecute the case,” he said. “And       rates for doctors because it made insurance
bug.”                                                we deal with everything from clean air,           companies justify any premium increases.
                                                     clean water, due process, sexual and racial
Dempsey moved back to his hometown of Los            discrimination, disability rights—a variety of    “But putting caps on damages has not
Angeles and worked as a prosecutor before            things.”                                          reduced premiums for insurance anywhere,”
transitioning to personal injury defense                                                               he said. “What happens is that people who
work and eventually plaintiff’s law. Dempsey         Dempsey, who worked as an adjunct                 justifiably deserve compensation from
now specializes in professional negligence,          professor of law at Whittier College of Law       someone who has done wrong—not just an
products liability, and premises liability, with     from 979 to 985 and as a professor at           injury, but someone who has done wrong in
an emphasis on traumatic brain and spinal            Southwestern University School of Law from        causing that injury—are being denied. The
cord injuries. He’s also Of Counsel with             975 to 979, said caps on jury rewards           insurance companies are clearly the ones
Mazursky, Schwartz, Daniels & Bradley, but           in California and limits on damages in            that are benefiting. Not that they shouldn’t
intends to work through another firm soon,           medical malpractice cases benefit insurance       make a profit, but it should be a reasonable
mainly because of geography (Los Angeles’            companies and hurt the severely injured.          profit, and it should be somehow related to
traffic is so bad that he wants to work with a                                                         what is going on in the real world.”
firm closer to his home in Santa Monica).            Many states cap damages in medical
                                                     malpractice cases. California passed the          Trial Lawyers for Public Justice has been
He has been active with the Trial Lawyers for        Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act in         battling for people’s access to justice and
Public Justice for several years and has been        975, one of the first and most well known        fighting court secrecy, Dempsey said. In one
on the foundation’s executive committee              state reforms.                                    recent victory, the public interest firm helped
since 2000. Dempsey said he became                                                                     unseal documents exposing an automotive
involved with Trial Lawyers for Public Justice       “You can be a quadriplegic, a paraplegic,         industry expert who had been convicted of
when he was president of the Consumer                have severe burns, have lost all limbs; and       tampering with evidence—in this case, a
Attorneys Association of Los Angeles in the          the value of that is $250,000 in California.      seatbelt—to try to influence a case against a
early ‘90s.                                          That doesn’t include any loss of earnings or      carmaker.

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   LAW STAR                                                                                1. 800.973.1177

The public interest firm has between 3,000      “Go down to court, watch some trials, and        “Great closing arguments, or even when
and 3,500 attorneys and offers numerous         see what happens in real life,” he said.         you have a voir dire that you feel was very
opportunities for other attorneys to get        “Good trial skills, good communicating           successful in selecting the jury—there’s a
involved, Dempsey said. It has special          skills, good lawyering skills are always going   feeling that you don’t get by drawing up a
litigation projects that secure access          to be necessary to represent people; and         will or a trust or some municipal bond. I just
to justice by fighting secrecy in courts,       regardless of what happens in the technology     don’t think you have the same exuberance
mandatory arbitration abuse, federal            field… there will always be a need for people    and the same feeling of satisfaction and self-
preemption of injury victims’ claims, and       to think on their feet, to be able to present    gratification that you get from trial work,” he
class-action abuse.                             concisely and clearly a complete argument.”      said.

For attorneys interested in plaintiff’s work,   Dempsey said he still gets a thrill trying
Dempsey urges people to get involved and to     cases and that he never regrets not
go watch trials, as many as possible.           becoming a country lawyer in Oregon.


Description: Thomas M. Dempsey is a President of the Trial Lawyers for Public Justice Foundation, Los Angeles, CA.
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