CAALA’s Gala: Connect, celebrate and honor

Stuart Zanville
2017 December

The professional life of a trial lawyer or jurist isn’t easy. The hours are long, the stress level is high and there’s never a “slow” day at the office. One night a year, however, trial lawyers and jurists take a break to connect with friends, honor peers and celebrate their accomplishments.

That night is CAALA’s annual Installation and Awards Dinner, now known simply as the CAALA Gala.  On Saturday, January 13, 2018, nine hundred CAALA members, jurists, attorneys and legal staff will gather at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel to watch 2017 CAALA President Ricardo Echeverria pass the gavel to incoming President Mike Arias.

Joining them will be the 2018 CAALA officers (Shawn McCann, Jeffrey Rudman, Genie Harrison, Douglas Silverstein and Minh Nguyen) and the 2018 Board of Governors.

Why is the CAALA Gala so popular?

I believe it is because of the honors that are bestowed.

The 2017 CAALA Annual Award honorees are California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye (Roger J. Traynor Memorial Award/Appellate Justice of the Year), San Bernardino Superior Court Judge John Pacheco (Alfred J. McCourtney Trial Judge of the Year), Christopher Montes de Oca (Rising Star Award) and Rahul Ravipudi (Charlie O’Reilly Trial Lawyer of the Year).

The Trial Judge and Appellate Justice awards are presented to jurists who exemplify the ideals of the civil justice system – a commitment to fairness, respect and compassion for litigants, and dedication to the highest professional standards. Both the Chief Justice and Judge Pacheco clearly represent those ideals.

Rising Star – Chris Montes de Oca

The Rising Star Award recognizes significant accomplishments of a CAALA member who has practiced law for less than 10 years. Chris Montes de Oca is the recipient of CAALA’s 2017 Rising Star Award. The other finalists were Thomas Feher, Lauren Horwitz, Martin Kanarek and Daniel Kramer.

Montes de Oca is a true solo who spent years representing Mary Cher, a shy young Cambodian girl who at age 10 was in a car that was rear-ended at a stop sign. The impact was bad and so were her injuries. They included facial and head fractures and a traumatic brain injury.

By the time Chris met Mary, it was apparent that she had fallen through the cracks both at school and with her doctors. Five years after the accident, he could tell she was still suffering from her injuries. The insurance carrier didn’t see it that way and offered Mary $30,000 to settle. Montes de Oca prepared for trial with his co-counsel Artin Yadegarian and was trial attorney, but he had no staff to assist him. Each and every element of the case was personally handled by him.

At trial, Chris refused to give up even though it was obvious that the judge and the defense wouldn’t take him seriously. The jury did though and they awarded Mary more than $10.7 million dollars.

Collecting was just as challenging as the trial. Three major defense firms opposed Chris, but after much discussion and prior to an appeal, they called Chris and said the entire verdict amount would be paid out. Chris thanked them and then politely asked for missing interest and costs, $2 million dollars. His client got a check for the additional amount.

After the trial, Mary’s father told Chris the family had placed his picture on the mantle in their home. Chris says that this gesture will always remind him of the impact trial lawyers have on people’s lives.

Trial Lawyer of the Year – Rahul Ravipudi

The CAALA Trial Lawyer of the Year award symbolizes the highest accomplishments and values of the men and women of our association and the plaintiff trial bar.

Rahul Ravipudi is the 2017 Charlie O’Reilly Trial Lawyer of the Year. The other finalists were Daniel Balaban, John Carpenter, Tamara Freeze and Olivier Taillieu.

The CAALA Board of Governors recognized Ravipudi for his successful verdict on behalf of a 36-year-old New York hedge fund manager who was in the top echelon of rising superstars in a competitive financial world, earning millions of dollars a year for himself and his clients. As he had many times before, he visited Las Vegas and went to a popular nightclub as a VIP guest. A few hours later he became the victim of the unseemly dark side of the “Old Vegas” security guards who, for far too long engaged in violent and unscrupulous practices. After a dispute with the club’s General Manager, he was surrounded by nightclub bouncers, placed in an impermissible and deadly chokehold and had his head slammed into a steel door before being continuously beaten in an area where they had the ability to destroy video footage.

After the attack he was treated at a local emergency room, diagnosed with a concussion and allowed to return to New York to run his hedge fund. Months later, however, colleagues and clients noticed he was not retaining information or making decisions the same way he had before the incident. The hedge fund took an unprecedented nosedive for 14 straight months and ended up closing.

Rahul knew the litigation would be difficult and that obtaining a favorable verdict in Las Vegas against a Las Vegas strip hotel and the most popular nightclub in the country would be a challenge.

After taking 50 depositions across the country, retaining and working up eight experts and obtaining hundreds of thousands of pages of financial records, the pre-trial offer from the three law firms defending the case was only half a million dollars. Before trial began, three separate motions for summary judgment and 77 motions in limine were filed and had to be opposed. The trial took 31days and there were 12 separate motions to strike testimony, one for terminating sanctions and one for recusal and mistrial. Almost 40 witnesses took the stand.

Despite numerous setbacks during trial, the jury awarded $160,500,000 in compensatory damages plus punitive damages of $49 million. The impact of the verdict was immediate and far-reaching. Every big nightclub in Las Vegas pulled the trial transcripts to identify what went wrong. Casinos, clubs and hotels throughout the country changed their policies to do away with “brute force” as a security tactic.

Tickets for the 2018 CAALA Gala are now available at the CAALA web site www.caala.org.

Stuart Zanville Stuart Zanville

Stuart Zanville is the Executive Director of the Consumer Attorneys Association of Los Angeles (CAALA). Contact him at (213) 487-1212 or by e-mail: stuart@caala.org.

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