Legal Diversions Lawyers Orange County CA
LOS ANGELES DAILY JOURNAL
September 10, 1999
Newport Beach attorney Gerald A. Klein started out in the DA’s office and wound up as a civil litigator representing both plaintiffs and defendants. Additionally, he is the founder and owner of a trial technology business.
By Diane Taylor
Unlike most litigators who practice for many years before trying their first case, Gerald A. Klein’s introduction into the courtroom came very early in his legal career. After graduating from UCLA School of Law in 1982, Klein joined the Ventura County district attorney’s office, where he immediately began prosecuting misdemeanors and felonies. Even though he was only there for one year, he says the experience was invaluable in the development of his trial skills.
“At the district attorney’s office, I saw an aspect of life in the criminal world that I never see first-hand in the real world,” Klein says. “At the time, ‘Hill Street Blues’ was a hit show, and I was actually living it. It was gratifying to always be the good guy, and not the bad guy.”
Sometimes, however, Klein sympathized with the individuals he prosecuted, including one case involving child abuse charges against the parents of a juvenile delinquent. The teenage boy, formerly a member of the Junior American World Wrestling team, had been thrown off the team because of his alleged involvement in several burglaries of neighboring residences.
One year after these break-ins, his mother discovered that her wedding ring was missing. When his parents confronted him, the boy claimed he knew nothing about it, even though he and his friend allegedly sold it to buy cocaine. The parents then beat him with a broomstick, threatening to worsen the punishment if he didn’t admit to taking the ring. That night, the boy called his friend, who contacted the police.
On the first day of trial, the boy and his brother were caught smoking marijuana in the district attorney’s bathroom. Although the mother was represented by a public defender, the father was in pro per. During the cross-examination of his son, the father was able to elicit testimony regarding all of his previous misdeeds and how every parental punishment had failed to deter him.
“In his emotional closing argument, the father argued that he and his wife had been trying to rescue their kids from going over the precipice,” Klein recalled. Both he and the jury were sobbing by the time he was finished. Yet after nine hours of deliberation, the jury convicted the parents and they were sentenced to probation.
“After the trial was over, some of the jury members hugged the parents, and implored them to seek counseling,” Klein continued. “Unfortunately, five years later, the boy was killed in a motorcycle accident.”
Klein, 43, was born and raised in Great Neck, N.Y. By the time he reached the second grade, he had legal aspirations.
“My mother always told me that I could be a doctor, a lawyer or a failure,” he quips. “Since I can’t stand the sight of blood, I decided on being a lawyer. I never wanted to do anything else until I actually became one.”
In 1978, after obtaining a bachelor’s degree in Greek and Roman classics at the State University of New York in Albany, Klein considered moving to Norway to work on an oil rigger. However, his schoolteacher mother quickly dissuaded him from pursuing that endeavor. Instead, he compromised by enrolling in law school in Southern California, at UCLA.
“Having lived in Albany with 60-below wind-chill factors, moving to California was not a hard sell,” Klein says. “I remember setting out one winter night in Albany to grab dinner in the nearest town, which was about a half mile away. I walked about one-quarter of a mile before I started to run back to my dorm. I realized that I’d rather starve to death than freeze to death.”
After earning his juris doctorate and working at the district attorney’s office, Klein decided to switch to civil litigation and joined was what then known as Haight, Dickson, Brown & Bonesteel in Santa Monica. After one year he moved to Crowe & Day, also in Santa Monica, where he specialized in product liability defense. In 1986 Klein relocated to Newport Beach, to a firm then known as Case, Schroeder, Knowlson, Mobley & Burnett. At that firm, he litigated securities matters, partnership disputes and construction law cases. He left in 1998 to form his own firm with Roberto Brutoco, a Case Schroeder partner and a former law school classmate of Klein’s.
In October 1990, Brutoco & Klein merged with Cummins & White, a large insurance-defense firm that sought to diversify its practice areas by acquiring the smaller six-person firm. Two years later, Klein, who was “burnt out on the law,” left once again. This time, he decided to take a sabbatical, after trying one last partnership dispute case.
The case involved several limited partners who claimed they had been defrauded out of their rightful partnership interests by a cable company. Klein tried the case on his own before an appointed panel of three judges, who found the defendant owed approximately $10 million, and that there was sufficient evidence of fraud to be heard by a jury. That evening, Klein went to dinner with the defendant’s counsel, who agreed to a confidential settlement totaling $26 million.
At that point Klein took a three-month sabbatical, and upon returning, started his own trial technology company, Trial Vision Inc. He had previously had success using multimedia tools in his own practice, and hoped that the concept would catch on and the company would eventually go public. Even thought the company was profitable, Klein’s dream of going public never came to fruition. However, Klein’s company remains active today and still helps attorneys create multimedia presentations.
In 1994, Klein resumed his legal practice and started a firm with Mark B. Wilson, a former associate from Brutoco & Klein. They decided early on that they would not hire any other associates or take on any partners. Klein & Wilson specialized in business litigation, high technology disputes, construction law, product liability and bad-faith cases on behalf of both plaintiffs and defendants.
“Gerald is an extremely effective trial attorney who gets great results,” says Mike Burnett of the renamed Case, Knowlson, Burnett & Wright. Burnett has worked as opposing counsel against Klein, and has also strategized with him as co-counsel.
“When he worked at my firm, his trial skills were way beyond his years, perhaps as a result of his work for the district attorney’s office,” Burnett continued. “His trial preparation and pretrial strategy is extraordinary. He often stages mock trials, and will exhaust every bit of discovery and explore every facet of a case before taking it to trial.”
Gerald A. Klein
Law School: UCLA School of Law, 1982
Career highlights: Crowe & Day, 1984-1986; Brutoco & Klein 1988-1990; Klein & Wilson 1994-present
Types of cases: Business litigation, high technology disputes, construction law, product liability and bad faith.