Cajun Countrys Tough Litigators

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					                Regional Focus

                Trial Warriors: Louisiana

            Cajun Country’s Tough Litigators
            In judicial hellholes, litigation managers need a short list of trial warriors with great judgment and
            the ability to connect with local juries. These four leading Louisiana lawyers can do both—and more.

            By Marni Halasa and Ari Kaplan

                                                                                   GARY A. BEZET                        client, that is fun,” Bezet says.
                                                                                   Partner, Kean, Miller,                  “Getting to know nice and             IN BRIEF
                                                                                   Hawthorne, D’Armond,                 wonderful people as clients” is          This issue’s trial warriors are:
                                                                                   McCowan & Jarman LLP,                also fun, says the trial lawyer. “In     • Gary A. Bezet
                                                                                   Baton Rouge                          fact, some of the friendships            • Ronald J. Sholes
                                                                                                                        have outlasted the legal work.”          • Deborah D. Kuchler

                                                                                   F   our years after graduating
                                                                                       from Louisiana State Univer-
                                                                                   sity Law School in 1979, Gary
                                                                                                                           Bezet—whose experience ranges
                                                                                                                        from oil and gas litigation (one of
                                                                                                                        his earliest cases landed in the
                                                                                                                                                                 • Roy J. Rodney Jr.

                                                                                                                                                               in a lender liability lawsuit.
                                                                                   A. Bezet cofounded what              Louisiana Supreme Court) to            Phil Wittmann, of New Orleans,
                                                                                   has become one of the largest        lender liability and toxic tort—is     one of Louisiana’s preeminent
                                                                                   law firms in Louisiana. The          currently defending an insecti-        litigators, brought the suit under
                                                                                   Baton Rouge native and self-         cide manufacturer against a class      the Racketeer Influenced and
                                                                                   described “performer” is driven      action brought by Louisiana’s          Corrupt Organizations Act.
                                                                                   by the desire to win, and he loves   crawfish farmers. When he’s not        After three weeks, the jury
                                                                                   audiences. “When you’re con-         in the courtroom, the avid auto        returned a unanimous verdict in
                                                                                   ducting voir dire, trying to build   enthusiast spends his free time        favor of Bezet’s client. “Having
                                                                                   rapport with jurors and put a        tooling around in his red 2002         to go up against such a seasoned
                                                                                   human face on your corporate         Ford Thunderbird or sailing a          litigator so early in my career
                                                 ILLUSTRATION BY ROBERT SHERRILL

                                                                                                                        35-foot sloop named Class Action       was, to say the least, scary,” he
                                                                                       “Gary is very savvy
                                                                                                                        on Lake Ponchartrain.                  recalls. “It made the win all the
                                                                                        about the realities                                                    more special.”
                                                                                                                        Practice Areas: Toxic tort and
                                                                                    of presenting a case to a           class-action defense.                  Recent Victory: Last November,
Gary A. Bezet
                                                                                    jury, and firmly oriented                                                  Bezet defended Mobil Oil
                                                                                                                        Career Victory: In the mid-            Corporation in a Jones Act suit
                                                                                    toward the big picture.”            1980s, Bezet defended American         by a former employee who
                                                                                     —EARL WEED, SENIOR LITIGATION      Bank & Trust Company, a                alleged exposure to asbestos
                                                                                         COUNSEL, SHELL OIL             Baton Rouge-based state bank,          while working on Mobil tankers

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in the 1940s and 1950s. Despite       home the point that                                                            “It really was a dream of
trying the case in New Orleans,       smokers make a per-                                                         mine to be on the bench,
a difficult jurisdiction, Bezet       sonal choice every time                                                     so when the opportunity
secured a defense verdict after a     they light up—and                                                           presented itself, I took it,”
two-week jury trial. “Insofar as I    walked out of the court-                                                    he recounts. “Being on
can tell, this is unprecedented in    room with the victory                                                       the bench gave me the
Orleans Parish asbestos cases         of a lifetime.                                                              chance to see some excel-
where the medical diagnosis is           “Let’s face it: Most                                                     lent lawyers try some dif-
not disputed,” says the litigator.    juries are made up of                                                       ficult cases, but after 10
Although the judge overturned         folks coming from mod-                                                      years, I got tired of being
the jury’s verdict and awarded        est backgrounds, and                                                        the referee and wanted to
$1.8 million to the plaintiff,        often lawyers haven’t                                                       be the quarterback.”
Bezet says that “winning a case       been able to connect                                                           Sholes joined Adams
in front of an Orleans Parish jury    with them,” notes Sholes,                                                   and Reese, where he heads
when representing ‘Big Oil’           who says his family                                                         the alternative dispute res-
against ‘the little guy’ is one of    background—his father                                                       olution team, in 2000. He
my greatest wins.”                    was a laborer for a mov-                                                    has since served as trial
                                      ing company and his                                                         counsel in class-action and

                                                                                                               ILLUSTRATION BY ROBERT SHERRILL
Key Clients: ExxonMobil Cor-          mother was a home-                                                          products liability cases,
poration, Shell Oil Company,          maker who raised three                                                      most recently winning a
ChevronTexaco Corporation,            children in New Orleans’                                                    landmark verdict for his
Bayer CropScience, BASF Cor-          inner city—helps him                                                        client, Philip Morris
poration, and ConocoPhillips          bond with jurors. “I                                                        USA, which is part of
                                                                   Ronald J. Sholes
Company.                              always thought I could,                                                     Altria Group Inc., in the
                                      but I probably underes-                                                     Scott case. R.J. Reynolds
Client Comment: “Gary’s experi-       timated how significant that skill                                   Tobacco Company, Brown &
ence is unusual in that he has        would turn out to be.”                   “He has a presence          Williamson Tobacco Corpora-
tried several asbestos cases to          Armed with an undergraduate                                       tion, and Lorillard Tobacco
good results by the standards of      degree from Louisiana State
                                                                             that fills a courtroom,       Company were also defendants
this difficult docket, and I con-     University Department of               and he gave a dynamic         in the suit.
sider him one of the most sea-        Physical Therapy (1976) and a
soned of the trial lawyers with       master’s degree from Tulane Uni-        performance that had         Practice Areas: Complex litiga-
whom I work,” says Earl Weed,         versity School of Public Health            all the drama of          tion, products liability, and
senior litigation counsel for Shell   (1980), Sholes originally planned                                    insurance defense.
Oil. “Gary is very savvy about        a career in hospital management.            Perry Mason.”
the realities of presenting a case    But his plans shifted after the              — JOHN MULDERIG,        Career/Recent Victory: In a
to a jury and firmly oriented         chairman of a hospital board            ASSOCIATE GENERAL COUNSEL,   New Orleans federal district
toward the big picture.” —A.K.        half-jokingly suggested that he          ALTRIA CORPORATE SERVICES   court, Sholes was trial counsel
                                      should get a law degree so they                                      for Philip Morris in Scott v.
                                      could rewrite health care legis-                                     Morris, a case that alleged that
RONALD J. SHOLES                      lation together. While Sholes                                        the top four cigarette manufac-
Partner, Adams and Reese              didn’t end up rewriting health                                       turers hid the dangers of smok-
LLP, New Orleans                      care law, he did graduate from                                       ing from the public, manipulated
                                      Loyola University New Orleans                                        nicotine levels to keep smokers

I t’s a great feeling to connect
  with a juror,” says Ronald J.
Sholes of his recent win in Scott
                                      School of Law in 1984 and prac-
                                      ticed medical malpractice for
                                      several years until the opportu-
                                                                                                           hooked, and targeted youths
                                                                                                           with advertising. Defendants
                                                                                                           countered that the dangers of
v. Morris, Louisiana’s largest        nity to be a Civil District Court                                    smoking have been well known
class-action lawsuit. Represent-      judge for the Parish of Orleans                                      for years and that smokers made
ing the defense, Sholes drove         came his way in 1991.                                                the choice to smoke.

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          Regional Focus

           On July 28, the jury found        careers, one as a former high                                             from the Northeast come to the
        that while the tobacco compa-        school teacher in Louisiana and                                           South with expensive suits and
        nies engaged in fraud and gave       the other as a lawyer with                                                well-spoken grammar,” she says.
        distorted information to the         Abbott, Simses & Kuchler:                                                 “While all that is impressive, it
        public, they were not responsi-      both involve compiling large                                              doesn’t sell in front of the jury in
        ble for financing a 25-year pro-     amounts of information, con-                    “Her ability to           the Deep South. People here
        gram of medical monitoring,          densing the material, and pre-             create strategies and          can’t even begin to imagine
        since such tests are unreliable,     senting it so an audience can                                             where a person like that came
        other smoking cessation pro-         quickly grasp its message.              solutions to problematic          from. I’ve always had a rapport
        grams already exist, and the            “One of my personal philoso-             litigation as quickly         with the jury because I am one
        companies were responsible for       phies is that less is more,” asserts                                      of them.”
        funding a smoking cessation          Kuchler. “The less information as possible is of immense                     Embracing new, unfamiliar,
        program. The verdict repre-          you throw at a jury, the better. I        value to a corporation          and often stressful assignments
        sented a substantial victory         try to boil the information down                                          hastened her growth as a litiga-
        because the issue of providing       to three or four main themes             like DuPont, which has           tor, so Kuchler now advises
        medical monitoring (free tests       that will hit throughout the                                              young lawyers at the firm to vol-
                                                                                       to deal with thousands
        for smokers and former smokers       entire trial. If you try to defend                                        unteer to work in unexplored
        to detect smoking-related dis-       every point, you end up explor-           of matters throughout           legal terrain—be it a challenging
        eases) was the linchpin of the       ing the plaintiff’s story instead of                                      deposition, addressing the court,
                                                                                               the year.”
        plaintiffs’ case, representing       your own.”                                                                or taking a witness into trial. “I
        about 90 percent of the esti-           Kuchler, now considered an            —TOM SAGER, VICE PRESIDENT AND   have grown leap years after going
        mated costs to the companies.        expert in toxic tort defense,              ASSISTANT GENERAL COUNSEL,     through some of the most stress-
                                             almost didn’t go to law school.                                           ful times in my career,” she says.
        Key Clients: Altria Group,           But when the harsh realities                                              “After you’ve done a good job [in
        ExxonMobil Corporation, Whirl-       of teaching high                                                                   a tough situation], you
        pool Corporation, and General        school—student disci-                                                              become a better lawyer
        Electric Company.                    pline and drug prob-                                                               for it.”
                                             lems—surfaced within
        Client Comment: “To see Ron          her first year on the                                                             Practice Areas: Toxic
        Sholes in action was to see him      job, she began attend-                                                            exposure, environmental
        during closing arguments in the      ing Loyola Law School                                                             law, pharmaceutical liti-
        Scott case,” says John Mulderig,     at night. In 1985, she                                                            gation, class-action litiga-
        associate general counsel for        graduated in the top                                                              tion, maritime personal
        Altria Corporate Services, Inc.      10 percent of her class.                                                          injury, insurance defense,
        “He has a presence that fills a      Then she clerked for                                                              and products liability.
        courtroom, and he gave a             the Honorable Patrick
        dynamic performance that had         J. Carr in the U.S.                                                               Career Victory: Kuchler
        all the drama of Perry Mason.        District Court for the                                                            was one of three lawyers
        He certainly was a critical and      Eastern District of                                                               serving as plaintiffs’
        crucial player in the outcome of     Louisiana before join-                                                            counsel—an unusual role
        the case.”—M.H.                      ing Abbott, Simses &                                                              for Kuchler—in a jury
                                             Kuchler in 1987.                                                                  case involving the claims
                                                It wasn’t until she                                                            of a captain of a sea ves-
        DEBORAH D. KUCHLER                   became a trial lawyer                                                             sel, the ill-fated F/V
                                                                      ILLUSTRATION BY ROBERT SHERRILL

        Partner, Abbott, Simses &            that Kuchler discov-                                                              Northumberland, against
        Kuchler, P.C., New Orleans           ered the advantage her                                                            Natural Gas Pipeline
                                             easygoing nature and                                                              Company of America.

        O     n reflection, Deborah D.
              Kuchler sees a striking
        similarity between her two
                                             blue-collar background
                                             brought in the court-
                                             room. “Many lawyers
                                                                            Deborah D. Kuchler
                                                                                                                               The jury returned for the
                                                                                                                               captain the highest
                                                                                                                               reported general damage

4 0 L I T I G AT I O N M A N A G E M E N T                                                                             CHIEFLEGALEXECUTIVE.COM
award for post-                                                                                              ROY J. RODNEY JR.     American was able to sit on the
traumatic stress disor-                                                                                      Partner, Rodney Law   court, and the court “now has
der, totaling more                                                                                           Firm, New Orleans     the highest per-capita African-
than $1.4 million,                                                                                                                 American judiciary in the coun-
after a five-day trial.

Recent Victory: In
                                                                                    fter 20 years of prac-
                                                                                    ticing law, Roy
                                                                              Rodney is looking for-
                                                                                                             A                     try,” he says. “For history’s sake,
                                                                                                                                   it was incredible.”

Roger Crowe, et al, v.                                                        ward to the next 10. “The                            Recent Victory: Last year,
Pearl River Polymers                                                          thing I like most about                              Rodney represented CSX Cor-
Corporation, et al,                                                           our profession is that you                           poration in the NOTX Railroad
Kuchler was part of a                                                         improve over time,” says                             litigation involving a tank car
team that represented                                                         Rodney, who represents                               derailment. Prior to his involve-
one of two defendants                                                         plaintiffs and defendants                            ment, the first phase of plaintiffs
in a case involving                                                           of all sizes. “Every victory                         in the class action were awarded
a chemical release.                                                           is important to me because                           $300,000 in damages (represent-
Plaintiffs sought to                                                          every case is important to                           ing a possible multibillion-dollar
certify a class covering                                                      my client.”                                          total liability to his client). After
the town of Pearl                                                                Rodney, who is a mem-                             being selected as co-lead counsel,
River, Louisiana. In                                                          ber of the New Orleans                               the awards in the next phase
May 2003, a judge                                                          ILLUSTRATION BY ROBERT SHERRILL
                                                                              Regional Chamber of                                  were less than $3,000. “I’d like
denied class certifica-                                                       Commerce and one of the                              to think the work that we did
tion, finding that                                                            owners of the New                                    contributed to the benefit of our
significant areas of                                                          Orleans Brass hockey                                 client,” he says.
Pearl River did not                                                           team, was awarded the
                           Roy J. Rodney Jr.
reach airborne conta-                                                         Louisiana state pro bono                             Key Clients: CSX; Shell Oil
mination sufficient to                                                        award in 1986, along                                 Company; The Coca-Cola Com-
cause injury.                                                          with Mark Morial, president of                              pany; Ford Motor Company;
                                         “With Roy Rodney              the National Urban League and                               Clorox Company; and the govern-
Key Clients: E.I. du Pont                                              former mayor of the City of                                 ments of South Africa, New
                                       on the case, I can relax
de Nemours & Company,                                                  New Orleans.                                                Guinea, and Surinam (formerly
Dow Chemical Company,                knowing things are being             “I am proud to have had such                             Dutch Guyana).
Alpha Therapeutic Corporation,                                         a balanced career and a life out-
ConocoPhillips Company, Cytec
                                               taken care of.”         side of the law library,” says                              Client Comment: “His work in
Industries Inc., and Deere &           —YVES GELIN, GENERAL COUNSEL,   Rodney, who spends his free                                 protecting the interests of the
Company.                                THE HOUSING AUTHORITY OF       time writing fiction, studying                              Housing Authority for the past
                                               NEW ORLEANS
                                                                       the history of the Plains Indian                            eight years has been very
Client Comment: “I have                                                tribes, and spending time with                              impressive,” says Yves Gelin,
worked with Debbie Kuchler for                                         his four children.                                          general counsel of the Housing
the better part of a decade, and                                                                                                   Authority of New Orleans.
without a doubt, she is an excep-                                      Practice Areas: Civil trials,                               Describing Rodney as a well-
tional trial lawyer,” says Tom                                         commercial, casualty, and envi-                             prepared professional, Gelin
Sager, vice president and assis-                                       ronmental litigation.                                       adds, “With Roy Rodney on the
tant general counsel for DuPont.                                                                                                   case, I can relax knowing things
“Her ability to create strategies                                      Career Victory: In 1986,                                    are being taken care of.” —A.K.
and solutions to problematic lit-                                      Rodney began working pro
igation as quickly as possible is                                      bono on the landmark Chisom                                 Marni Halasa and Ari Kaplan
of immense value to a corpora-                                         v. Romer voting rights case that                            are attorneys and freelance writers
tion like DuPont, which has to                                         resulted in the redistricting of                            based in New York. E-mail them
deal with thousands of matters                                         the Louisiana Supreme Court.                                at and
throughout the year.” —M.H.                                            As a result, the first African                    

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