Top litigators include prominent nemesis of Big Tobacco plus defenders of automakers.
BY MARGARET CRONIN FISK
NATIONAL LAW JOURNAL CONTRIBUTING EDITOR
The top litigators in Minnesota include one of the nation’s most prominent and successful trial lawyers, one of the nation’s most prominent auto products defense attorneys and the lead counsel for the plaintiffs in the massive $5 billion verdict in the Exxon-Valdez case.
James R. Schwebel: Minneapolis’ Schwebel, Goetz & Sieben P.A.
James R. Schwebel is the founder and lead litigator of his firm, the state’s largest law practice specializing in personal injury litigation. He represents only plaintiffs and has had nearly three-dozen recoveries of $1 million or more. He represented the plaintiffs in lawsuits arising from the MGM Hotel fire in Las Vegas and the Williams Pipeline explosion in Roseville, Minn. He was also appointed as a member of the plaintiffs’ liability committee to handle claims for Minnesotans who lost family members in the Galaxy Airlines crash in Reno, Nev.
Michael V. Ciresi: Minneapolis’ Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi L.L.P.
Michael V. Ciresi has long been one of the most feared and successful trial attorneys in the United States, even before his recent stint as lead counsel for the state of Minnesota and Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Minnesota in their suit against the tobacco industry, which ended with the tobacco companies settling during trial for $6.5 billion. In the 1980s, Mr. Ciresi was lead counsel for the plaintiffs in the Dalkon Shield cases, chief counsel for the government of India in the Bhopal/Union Carbide litigation and lead plaintiffs’ counsel in the Copper-7 IUD cases. He has twice been featured in The National Law Journal’s "Winning" issue, which profiles the nation’s top trial lawyers. Mr. Ciresi has announced that he will run for the U.S. Senate after he finishes representing Medtronic in a pending patent trial.
Richard Bowman: Minneapolis’ Bowman and Brooke L.L.P.
Richard Bowman is a name partner and leading litigator at this national defense firm. He specializes in products liability defense, primarily representing automobile manufacturers, and he has tried dozens of cases involving catastrophic injuries, including the first crashworthiness case ever to go to verdict. He won and, overall, has rarely lost at the jury level. One significant victory came while representing Honda in an all-terrain-vehicle (ATV) lawsuit in 1988; he won a jury verdict for Honda even though the Justice Department sued the ATV-maker in the middle of trial over alleged defects in the product. He will represent Isuzu in its defamation trial against Consumer Reports, scheduled for February, over the magazine’s 1996 negative report on the Isuzu Trooper sport utility vehicle.
Brian B. O’Neill: Minneapolis’ Faegre & Benson L.L.P.
Brian B. O’Neill is best known nationally for his role as lead counsel in the $5.3 billion jury verdict in 1994 against Exxon Corp. over the grounding of the Exxon-Valdez and subsequent oil spill. This action is still on appeal. Before Exxon-Valdez, he won one of the largest ever settlements in an oil-spill case–$51 million for the spill by the tanker Glacier Bay in Alaska. He also won the first Minnesota Superfund case tried to a jury, which ended after appeal in a $3.2 million settlement. His win for Defenders of Wildlife, over the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone Park, was affirmed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit this summer.Mr. O’Neill was named Trial Lawyer of the Year in 1995 by Trial Lawyers for Public Justice.
David W. Graves Jr.: Bowman and Brooke
David W. Graves Jr., a managing partner and co-founder of his firm, is another products liability defense specialist. Like Mr. Bowman, he tries cases all over the United States, serving as trial counsel for major car manufacturers. His defense jury verdicts are often considered among the top defense wins each year. In 1997, he won a products liability wrongful-death action brought against General Motors Corp. in a plaintiff-friendly county in Texas. The plaintiffs claimed defects in a Chevrolet Blazer and sought $20 million, but the jury found no defects and awarded nothing. Mr. Graves is unique among products liability lawyers in that he is also an engineer. He once worked as a systems engineer for Bendix Corp., where he authored the ground test program for eight solar telescope experiments on the Skylab orbiting workshop.
Craig D. Diviney : Minneapolis’ Dorsey & Whitney L.L.P.
Craig D. Diviney specializes in complex commercial, intellectual property and technology litigation. In jury and bench trials, he has won about 75% of his cases going to verdict. These cases include wins in a series of dealership cases for Ford Motor Co., an $8.9 million verdict for Northwest Airlines over the sale of used aircraft and a summary judgment for $10 million in a bond dispute between First Bank National Association and Westinghouse Credit Corp. He also represents Northrup King Co. in the ongoing patent infringement suit over genetically modified seeds brought by Dekalb Genetics, for which he recently obtained a favorable Markman ruling.
Robert R. Weinstine: Minneapolis’ Winthrop & Weinstine P.A.
Robert R. Weinstine, the senior litigator and a name partner at his firm, specializes in complex commercial litigation including antitrust, securities, banking, products liability and shareholder disputes. Two years ago, representing Marvin Lumber against Apogee Corp., he won a $55 million settlement during jury selection. In Karrasch v. Continental Machines, he won a $45 million recovery. Overall, he has taken 75 cases to verdict and has won more than 90% of them.
William P. Studer: Minneapolis office of Oppenheimer Wolff & Donnelly L.L.P.
William P. Studer is another products liability defense specialist. Herepresented A.H. Robins in the Dalkon Shield litigation, G.D. Searle in the Copper-7 IUD litigation, Shiley Inc. in the Shiley heart-valve matter, American Medical Systems in the penile prosthesis litigation and other makers of implantable medical devices. He has also represented major chemical companies in various chemical exposure cases and will become chair of the Product Liability Advisory Council next year. Mr. Studer has coordinated his firm’s work as national discovery administrator for Chrysler Corp.’s products liability suits involving cars and minivans.
Wayne Willenberg: Minneapolis office of Boston’s Fish & Richardson P.C.
Wayne Willenberg is an intellectual property specialist, who handles major IP litigation for a wide variety of clients. He has been lead counsel in 25 major IP cases; 16 of these settled, and he lost only one of the remaining nine. One of his biggest wins was the landmark 1977 trade secrets case, Cybertek v. Whitfield; his client was awarded $15 million, and the court ruled that software could be protected as a trade secret. He won two of the largest patent infringement jury verdicts in 1998: $36 million for Interactive Technologies Inc., since reversed and on appeal; and $9.7 million for a division of St. Jude Medical Products.
Kathleen Flynn Peterson: Robins Kaplan
Kathleen Flynn Peterson represents plaintiffs in medical malpractice and in products liability matters concerning medical devices. Ms. Peterson, a registered nurse, operates in a state not noted for high personal injury recoveries but has won more than a dozen verdicts and settlements of $1 million or more. She is considered a leading attorney nationally in birth trauma litigation, including the emerging cause of vaginal birth after Caesarean section. She is a past president of the Minnesota Trial Lawyers Association, co-chair of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America’s National College of Advocacy and former co-chair of ATLA’s Birth Trauma Litigation Group.