A negligent cop, a DUI suspect, a 27 year old driving home from work, and a StopStick — they all came together one fateful night. Three years later, 2007 TLC graduate Lyle Gregory, won justice and a huge verdict for his client.
Congratulations Lyle, this is a great outcome! Could you give us a little background on the case? Sure — the police were pursuing a suspect in a car chase. In order to stop the suspect, the police used a stop stick device that is designed to deflate the tires when the car drives over it. As soon as the suspect drove over the stop stick, he lost control of his car and slammed into my client’s car. My client was coming from the opposite direction, going home from work. He was simply an innocent, by-stander motorist. I thought all along that one of our strongest arguments was against the officer who threw the stop-stick deflation device because he testified in his deposition that he didn’t bother to look around for the presence of oncoming traffic. I thought that cried out for negligence, but the judge gave him an official immunity because they said that he was responding in a discretionary way to an emergency event. In Missouri, there are two exceptions to sovereign immunity: one being a dangerous condition of public property, and the other being the negligent operation of a motor vehicle. During this trial, we argued that the chasing officers were guilty of negligence in the operation of their motor vehicle. In the end, that argument resonated with our jury and they gave a $1 million verdict for my client. What parts of the trial felt like “TLC” to you? At one point during my direct examination, I had the father of our client look at his son and put himself in a moment where he could notice that his son was very different, and tell his son as he sat there in the courtroom, “I knew you were different because….” That was emotional. The son is a lot like his father in that they are both kind of reserved emotionally. At that moment, I really felt like the jury identified and connected with him, the seriousness, and how it affected a life – not just a pocketbook. How is it to apply the TLC methods to discover the story with a client who is that reserved? Well, we had to do a number of re-enactments with him as we prepared for this case. He had a fatalistic attitude that nothing was really going to change. He didn’t appear to have a lot of anger towards the police, but through working with him, we discovered that there was actually a lot of anger covered up. We had to work with him to get him to constructively express what was there. We did a number of scenes where the family would recreate post wreck events about their memories of his injuries and how this had changed him. We all learned a lot about how he had been affected by this accident. How did working on this case affect you? This was a very involved, very tough case. We had multiple defendants in this case and a lot of legal challenges against the public entities and the police officers. And then we also had an extremely aggressive, hard-working counsel on behalf of the manufacturer of the stop stick device. They would compile 35 page motions to strike my experts for every reason known to man. So frankly, it was exhausting. This work can be lonely and it can be hard. I felt that a lot. I don’t say that to complain. There are plenty of people all around the country who work every bit as hard and harder for causes as hopeless or more hopeless. But never the less it can be lonely and it can be hard. Being able to get this guy justice and to know that you can trust people in the end to do the right thing, it reaffirmed the importance and really how privileged we are to tell these stories for people and fight for them and that there can be justice at the end of it and real meaningful change for people in their lives. Has there been a big impact on the way you practice law since you attended TLC back in 2007? Oh yes definitely, it’s made me a much more patient person and a lot more caring towards clients. The knowledge of how many good people there are out there doing things similar to what I’m doing, just the sense of knowing that you’re not alone and that there are a lot of fellow trial lawyers who are good people out there fighting their individual fights side by side with you — this is of immense value. The people around the country who fight the fights that I can’t begin to imagine: death penalty work, fighting against the government to keep people from being held for 20 years without a trial, cases like that. These cases are really inspiring. As far as the impact on my practice, I would say that what I have learned at TLC has made me a more caring, more patient person who’s more attuned to what my clients go through. It isn’t just a set of facts, it’s a human story. That was revolutionary to me because I had been trained to organize a cross around a point, and move towards it in a logical sequence. To see a whole different approach at TLC was very powerful and something I’m very appreciative of. What is the best advice you could give to a lawyer heading into their first trial? Be real and be yourself. Don’t let anybody take you out of that game. That’s what I see more than anything else. They want to live up to an ideal. They want to please the judge. They want to please opposing counsel and they stop being who they are. If you can find the courage to truly be yourself, whatever yourself is, it’s good enough. Be who you are and don’t let opposing counsel or the judge get in your head. How do you do that? When you find yourself trying to please the judge – how do you pull back and remain as yourself? I always think about my client and what they need me to be. They didn’t hire a cardboard cutout of a defense lawyer with a grey suit and a red tie and that perfectly coiffed haircut. They hired me. They hired a person. In those moments of stress I try to think about my client who hired me as a human being. I try to be what they hired me to be and not try to turn myself into some corporate guy. Let the other side do that – because they will. I have a more laid back style of trial. Over the years, I’ve become tired of trying to be somebody that I’m not. Judges have a certain image of what trial lawyers are supposed to look like, opposing counsel has that image, even jurors have that image. But when you’re just yourself, I’ve learned that jurors respond positively, and in the end, that’s what counts. How do you define a successful trial lawyer? A lawyer who fights for justice. Sometimes justice is that your client isn’t put to death. Sometimes justice is that your client gets a lot of money. Success is the end result of a whole lot of work. It’s the fighting for justice and the formation of relationships along the way with your client, with witnesses, with opposing counsel, and with other TLC members. If you do that, you’re going to have success — which may or may not be financial. That’s my definition of success. Knowing that at the end of the day, you fought as hard as you could for the right reasons regardless of what your bank account or your winning record says. I hear the bragging that goes on with lawyers about their winning records and how much money they make, but you know the ones that I respect the most are the lawyers who take on the hopeless criminal cases and fight like pit bulls on steroids to get justice for some guy that everybody else wants to see fried. That’s a successful lawyer even if they don’t win that case. That’s the definition of hard work and success.