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    In this episode of Settlement Nation I chat with James DeSimone,  the founder of V. James DeSimone Law.

    James is one of the most highly regarded employment lawyers and civil rights advocates in Los Angeles, successfully achieving multi-million dollar settlements and verdicts on behalf of his clients. James was voted California Civil Rights Lawyer of the Year 2014, and also Top California Employment Lawyer 7 years in row. In this episode we cover what he has experienced over the past year as a civil rights attorney, the Derek Chauvin trial and what it's like to be involved in high profile cases throughout his extensive career. 

     

    Courtney Barber:

    Welcome to Settlement Nation Podcast. I am your host, Courtney Barber, bringing to you a very relevant and timely interview today with our guest, James DeSimone, the founder of V. James DeSimone Law out of Los Angeles. Welcome, James.

    James DeSimone:

    Thank you for having me, Courtney.

    Courtney Barber:

    There's so many accolades that you have. I couldn't put them all in the intro. So I suggest to everyone, after this episode, I'm going to put the link to his bio in the show notes. And you can check that out because James has been doing this for a very long time and has more awards, results, verdicts, and settlements than probably anyone we've had on the show. But to get started, James, a few of the attorneys that we've had on Settlement Nation so far have talked about a moment in their life that spurred the desire to enter the legal profession and sometimes it was a really high profile case that was in the news, other times it was some injustice in their community. Did you have one of these moments in your life that you could share and maybe that started your law career?

    James DeSimone:

    I think really it was more of an evolution for me instead of one defining moment. I remember a book that I read as a teenager was Helter Skelter, which of course ends in murders. And it totally fascinated me how the prosecutor was able to uncover evidence of these murders. And even though Manson hadn't killed anyone himself, prove that he was the motivating force behind these gruesome murders. And I thought, "Wow, that seems like a very interesting career." And then I went to college, Baltimore, Johns Hopkins, and I read a story about how all these individuals were being defrauded by a company and lawyers stepped in. And they not only got those people their money back, but they put a stop to those fraudulent practices. And once again, that resonated with me. It's like, "Here, this is a way you can make a difference."

    James DeSimone:

    And it was law school at UCLA, which really shaped my career because a couple of different things happened. One, I started volunteering at a place called the Tenant Action Center. It was a little hole in the wall place in Venice. And I was able to see that using the limited skills I had at that point, you don't learn that much in law school necessarily about how to actually be a lawyer, a lot of it's theoretical. But I saw how it could really make a difference in people's lives when they came in for help. So it felt extremely rewarding on a personal level and also to see how you can make that difference. And then a momentous event happened at UCLA in 1985, and that was the anti-apartheid movement. And students began protesting because the UC Regents were investing in companies that were doing business in South Africa.

    James DeSimone:

    And to say that we shouldn't be involved in there because apartheid was akin to slavery. And through social action, we actually got the Regents to divest in the entire state of California, to divest from companies, the seventh largest economy in the world. And I played a role in both the leadership of the groups that were protesting. And then I represented all the student protesters for civil rights violations when they got arrested and made sure that they weren't expelled from school. And I cross-examined the chief of police in student conduct committee proceedings. So all of those form the basis for me to become a lawyer for the people, someone who wants to do good. Of course, you want to make a good living and you got to keep the train rolling and your practice by bringing in money. But at the end of the day, we want to be lawyers that are there for people, that are representing people, not companies, not corporations. When they're wrong, they're harming and we want to achieve justice for them.

    Courtney Barber:

    That's super fascinating. And on that note, talking about civil rights, probably this last year has been one of the most momentous years we've had in terms of civil rights cases. And it's being really brought to the forefront of everyone's reality because these things, for other people like yourself, as you said, you've been in this world for so long. But it's really brought it out into the public. Can you tell us a little bit about what you've experienced in the past year and how this may be has affected your firm?

    James DeSimone:

    Well, I think it did on a number of different levels, but again that social activism and seeing people who felt compelled to go into the streets after they witnessed George Floyd being essentially murdered on film. Of course, right now we have Derek Chauvin murder trial on Court TV, so many of us are glued to that. But what I saw was such an injustice that the people who are out in the streets peacefully protesting, were sitting ducks for the LAPD. The LAPD came and started shooting them with what they call less than lethal munitions and causing extremely serious injuries, hospitalizing people, breaking bones in their face, taking out eyes. It was so sad on one level to see that you have individuals who are protesting police brutality and they themselves are brutalized.

    James DeSimone:

    And so I started meeting with people over Zoom, one at a time who had these experiences. People couldn't believe that in the United States of America, where we have a first amendment right, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, the right to petition for grievances, that they were brutalized for expressing themselves in favor of black lives matter. And, yes, calling to attention police abuse. And at the same time I saw individuals looting and so on, and the police were ignoring them at that point and focusing on the peaceful protestors. So we decided to represent those people for free.

    James DeSimone:

    We decided to take on cases on an individual basis so that we could get those individuals' justice because their rights were violated. And so I have more cases now. I have a lot more help as well, but I've more cases now that I probably have ever litigated in my now 35 year career. And a lot of it is based on the social justice activism that occurred. And unfortunately, many of the police departments brutal response to those protests.

    Courtney Barber:

    Right. And you did mention George Floyd, which is very topical right now, as this is going on. And you did say you've been following the case, like most of us, what are your thoughts so far on the trial?

    James DeSimone:

    Well, I listened to a lot of the jury selection and I would even listen to it at night because I've become a commentator on Court TV and Law & Crime Network on this case. And I was really impressed by the thoughtful responses by the jurors, especially those jurors who are now on the jury. They really gave a measured nuanced responses to questions that are very complicated, such as do you support black lives matter? What does that mean? Of course everyone should support the notion that black lives do matter, but there's an organization behind that. And some people weren't assure. But what I really got was that there was an intelligent response that showed that people were committed to having justice done in that courtroom based on the evidence that will be presented in trial.

    James DeSimone:

    And you now have a very racially diverse jury in Minneapolis, six people of color on the court 12 jurors, six people who identify as white. But that's a monumental difference as we compare it to say 30 years ago, when I first started practicing civil rights law and we had the officers who beat Rodney King. And similar to a video that we all saw what happened to Rodney King, and as a civil rights lawyer, you're thinking, "Finally, there's video evidence where people have been calling us about." Now people will say, "Yes, cops can be monsters sometimes and beat someone when it doesn't seem appropriate."

    James DeSimone:

    But an all white Simi-Valley jury exonerated those officers and found all four of them not guilty. And we saw the result back then. So in looking at the George Floyd trial and really the Derek Chauvin murder trial, George Floyd is not on trial. It's Derek Chauvin who's on trial. He's the one who wouldn't pick up his knee off George Floyd's neck for now they've measured nine minutes, 29 seconds. When George Floyd posed no threat when he was handcuffed, when he was one of four officers. And when he was struggling and asking to breathe. We're hopeful that with this balanced jury, that justice will be achieved. And that there'll be a conviction for what we saw, which is when one of the witnesses said when he called 911 and called the police on the police, "I just witnessed a police officer murder a man. He murdered him right in front of me."

    James DeSimone:

    And I think the state is doing a good job bringing in those percipient witnesses. We've heard from the first four today. And I was really struck by one of the young, I guess, women. She just turned 18, testified too today. She said, "I felt so bad. I wished I could do more for George Floyd, but it wasn't about what I could have done for him. It was what he should have done for him." He being Derek Chauvin, which when George Floyd was handcuffed, he's in his custody and care, he should have been providing him type of care to make sure he lived, instead of hastening his death by cutting off oxygen to his airways and having his heart stop. So I'm hopeful for justice for all of us. It would be a good first step for our nation to heal if there's a conviction here.

    Courtney Barber:

    Absolutely. And from myself watching it on the TV this morning too, a lot of the stories that came out from the witnesses were very powerful and moving. And that leads into my question. When you are litigating two separate cases with maybe similar fact patterns where one is very publicized in the media, it's known to the public, and other is relatively unknown. Are there any differences with that?

    James DeSimone:

    Well, first of all, how do you get a case into the public eye? There are certain strategies as an attorney that you can employ to accomplish that. And one is by having a publicist team or an information team. If you're a litigator, you're focusing on your cases, but you want folks around you with connections to the media who will help you get those cases that do deserve media attention because of injustices out there. And so that people can start to shape public opinion about them. So employing a team can really help you to accomplish that. There are certain things that the media is going to perhaps want to see, video helps. If you have a situation where somethings are on video, that can make a huge difference. But also we're storytellers and our clients have stories. And to show some vulnerability and to not always sound like a lawyer when you're speaking to the press, you're out there to tell your client's story in a way that the public can appreciate and understand.

    James DeSimone:

    So I think it's very important to be conversational and to not necessarily speak at people, but to speak to people when you're trying to get a case into public view. That being said, not every case does have publicity. And ultimately, I think when you are taking cases to trial, which is what we are, we're civil rights trial lawyers. Sure, we can resolve cases through resolution, through a settlement, but if we can't, we're ready, willing, and able to take it to trial. You do want the jury to be focusing on the evidence that's in the trial and not to be focusing on outside factors.

    James DeSimone:

    So whether there's press or not, I think we go about our trial work the same day to make sure that once again, we're telling a story that resonates. At the end of the day, we want the jury to appreciate our client's narrative, our client's journey, the harm our client has suffered. And to understand that all that harm was caused by the misconduct of whoever we are suing. Whether it be a police officer or a corporation or an employer in any number of different circumstances that pertained to the cases that end up in trial.

    Courtney Barber:

    That is so true. And speaking of cases, this is something that we ask all of our guests. Do you have a memorable case or a verdict from the past that has really stuck with you and that you would like to share, either how you got the case or how it impacted you years after that trial or that case was over?

    James DeSimone:

    Well, there's many. I want to focus first on maybe a more recent case, because I think it's extremely topical. It's something-

    Courtney Barber:

    Sure.

    James DeSimone:

    You don't see a lot of, and that's in the Nicole Birden v. the UC Regents case. And Nicole was an African-American phlebotomist who worked at UCLA hospital, a hospital that we think highly of. I graduated from UCLA law school. I think highly of the institution. And yet what became apparent when the call came into our office was that she was being treated as a second class employee based on her race. And the comments were being made about her based on her race, oftentimes in Spanish. But when she would go to complain to the individuals who should have done something about it, supervisors, human resources, she wasn't heard. She was ignored.

    James DeSimone:

    And as we got into the case, we saw that there was certain stereotypes that were being perpetuated against the Nicole Birden based on her race. She was thought as the angry black woman. She was thought as untrustworthy. She was called lazy. But none of this was true about Nicole Birden. She was one of the most honest clients I've ever represented. And she was a hard worker, and we dug. And one of the things we got in discovery, because she says, "I'm lazy, I'm doing more draws than any of the people that are calling me lazy." Draws being the blood draws. How many times are you drawing blood from people in a hospital? And yet we pushed, we made a motion to compel, they redacted names. We had to go back in and say, "No, we need to know the names. We need to know the comparators."

    James DeSimone:

    And it turned out that it was right. The African-American phlebotomist were on average, doing much more in terms of the actual hard work than the people who were criticizing them. And when we put that type of evidence on, it showed the jury that what she's saying here is true. And in a case that our client was a temp employee at first, and a per diem employee. And they said that they really, at first, just let her go because of staffing concerns. At the end of the day, the jury really felt what she felt. And awarded close to $1.7 million because of the harassment. And I'll tell you why this case is so memorable for me. When you try a case in downtown Los Angeles, you really have on your jury, a cross section of the community, the diversity that represents America is now representative in Los Angeles courtrooms.

    James DeSimone:

    And it's not just Latinos, and African-Americans, and whites, it's really people from all over the world. We had a juror from Sri Lanka on the jury, different ethnicities. I was scared then, because while there were people of different races and ethnicities involved with the UC decision-making, frankly the phlebotomist's and dispatchers who were really harassing were a clique of Latinos. And I thought, "Well, boy, how do you represent and win a case on behalf of an African-American woman when half my jury might be Latino, and there seems to be this split? But it was a beautiful thing because humanity ended up triumphing over any ethnicity in this case. Because at the end of the day, the jury saw that our client was a person who is trying to do her best, and shouldn't have been mistreated like this.

    James DeSimone:

    And I'll never forget that after the verdict was announced and you're standing there and the jury is filing out, one of the male Latino jurors reached out and touch my client's arm and said, "Nobody should ever have to go through what you went through there." And so it was a vindication. It showed that people who are thoughtful enough to get on a jury and are going to do their best, will not necessarily act according to any preconceived notion and bias. Not always, that's an issue, but in your jury selection process and for idea, you try to get people on the jury who you feel will give your client a fair shake and not relate to those biases. That is such an important verdict, I think, because right now we have the black lives matter movement and yes, it's directing at policing. But it's also directed at the implicit bias at times. And then the outright racism at times that African-Americans still have to face in the United States of America in 2020 and 2021. It's still an issue.

    James DeSimone:

    And I'm representing so many individuals in employment cases in different industries that are African-American, who are subjected to similar conduct. And we really need to have a reckoning in this country to make good on our promise of equal rights and justice for all. And hopefully, with a case like that, you can see that you can achieve that type of result for people. I represented a couple of other individuals who were then given career employment with the UC Regents after that African-American phlebotomists that may not have happened without our verdict.

    Courtney Barber:

    That's fascinating. Actually on that topic, James, because I did see that you have been doing this for 30 plus years. What has changed the most in both civil rights law and employment law from when you were first getting your practice going?

    James DeSimone:

    Well, I think there's a number of different things and it depends on which way and where you look at it. I think that in some ways the law has evolved to protect people. One of the cases I'm going to talk about that made a big difference was the Mogilefsky v. Silver Pictures case where I went into court in 1990 on behalf of a male who had been sexually harassed by a supervisor. And the court threw it out and said it's not a sex harassment case. And in fact, the only case on the books at that time that was a published decision, implied that male on male sexual harassment did not violate the fair employment housing act because it didn't involve a protected class. Something now that we look at and say, "What? Male on male sexual harassment couldn't violate the law?" No, we were kicked out of court and we had an appeal and we got a published decision establishing that as precedent in the state of California.

    James DeSimone:

    It was my first published decision that ended up helping employees across the board in California. So in that way, the law has evolved, I think, to protect individuals. But there's still more we can do. I could do a whole podcast on civil rights law that doesn't protect Californians and that we need to have a change in our civil code 52.1. And we worked so hard to achieve that and they ended up not bringing it to a vote. And hopefully it will get a change now, so that we're able to take these cases on in state court. But I think one of the biggest differences now as compared to then is that the road has been set to go into court and achieve these fair, just verdicts on behalf of people who have been harmed and that no one blinks an eye when someone's life is turned upside down.

    James DeSimone:

    But they may not have physical injuries, but emotionally, mentally they've been devastated by the misconduct of another, that juries are more willing to provide them fair compensation in the times, millions of dollars. And I think we've learned a lot. We're shooting a little bit in the dark when I first started. There was no internet back then. There was no these trial books that you would read, were seemingly written 20 years ago. Now as so many of us do, we learn so much on how to be a better communicator, how to be a better trial lawyer, how to put our cases on, in front of a jury, that's going facilitate the jury in deciding the case fairly. And undermining, sometimes those biases that can work against us in achieving justice. So it's really gratifying to be in a position where when you meet with a client, you can have the knowledge to figure out, "Okay, this is what I need to do to win this case." And then go execute that game plan. And experience counts, we're much better at it now than we were 30 years ago.

    Courtney Barber:

    And don't worry, we will have you back. I know you've got too much to share with everyone just for one podcast. So maybe in a couple of months, we'll have to schedule part two with James so he can share all of his knowledge and updates on the case going on right now. But something that I wanted to ask you, which we always add in a few different questions each time, and I would be really fascinated to hear your answer to this, what has been the most rewarding day of career and why?

    James DeSimone:

    That is a good question. And of course there's been many. But I think one day that is very striking, is a seven figure verdict, a $2.1 million verdict. We achieved on behalf of a woman who was falsely arrested and spent one night in jail. And it was a case where it seemed like there was wrongdoing. They defended it so that we shouldn't win, but we felt that we could win. But at the end of the day, I remember sitting there, the day of my closing arguments, a really prominent lawyer in our community who's still regarded as one of the... I think he's the top 100 entertainment lawyers in the country. I told him what was going on and he said, "Hey, what's a case like that worth? $50,000, $100,000 grand." I'm going to ask the jury for a few million dollars in a few minutes.

    James DeSimone:

    And the jury really saw through and saw how this actually did harm our client. Yes, it was "One night in jail", but she was innocent. It was on a shoplifting case. The security guard was doing a little quid pro quo sexual harassment like if you give me your number, I'll let you go. When she got pissed off about that, he ended up lying on her and she ended up spending a night in jail. But it destroyed her in many ways. The day before, she had gone horseback riding. After that, she was just a recluse. She lost her friendships. People looked at her as someone who, well, you must've done something if you got thrown in jail. She lost opportunities that were in the works. She had a teaching credential. So she tried to get back into teaching and then she couldn't become a teacher because of this arrest.

    James DeSimone:

    So it really showed, I think in that instance, how sometimes people say, "These are so time consuming. We can't take on these smaller cases." I was on one of those clubhouse's yesterday speaking about civil rights court cases to our colleagues. And like I don't necessarily look at them as smaller cases. You have to really get to know your client. I spent Saturdays with her in my office getting to know her and how this harmed her, getting to know who she was as a person. And the evidence that we put on really put forth her best attributes as a person, the defense didn't see it coming at all, the type of person she was.

    James DeSimone:

    Her mom had died when she was young. She didn't have a family, so on Thanksgiving, she would go down to Skid Row, and do soup kitchens, and give clothes from friends, and everything. So she really had this good heart and was destroyed by the callous actions of putting her in jail for one night. And when that verdict came down and it was $2.1 million, it just was a vindication once again, for what we believed in. And it really set a mark in terms of what a case like this could be valued at if you can really show how your client's been harmed.

    Courtney Barber:

    What is something that you know now that you wish you knew as a trial lawyer, 10 to 15 years ago?

    James DeSimone:

    Well, I think that what I did learn about 15 years ago was try your best cases. For a long time, I will admit, we would work really hard on our cases. We would work them up and then we would maximize the settlement. And we really weren't too sure about what cases we wanted to take to trial or not. But now my philosophy is, "Hey, I don't need to come hat in hand and beg for a settlement. They don't want to give fair value to a case, we're going to trial." That's where I can achieve ultimate justice for my client in trial where no fair settlement is offered.

    James DeSimone:

    So I wish I had the confidence back then that I do now. I probably did, but I hadn't had a track record of success. I got a few nice six figure verdicts back then, but I also lost. The civil rights cases can be tough. I lost a couple of tough cases that I thought I should have won. And by learning to do my job better. And by having more confidence in the process and the system, I know now that don't be afraid to take your good cases to trial, that's where ultimate justice is achieved for your client.

    Courtney Barber:

    I love that. And on that note, how can people get in touch with you, whether it's to co-counsel a case or for a case just to... Maybe they're a plaintiff and they're listening to this and they've been involved in something recently and they want to get you to represent them, how can they get in touch with you?

    James DeSimone:

    Well, email's always a good way these days. And my email is very simple because it's my initials. It's V. James DeSimone . So it's vjdesimone@gmail.com. Our firm phone number is (310) 693-5561, but I'm all over social media. I have an Instagram page, civil rights lawyer, Jim de Simone. I'm on Facebook. My V. James DeSimone law is on Facebook. And my website, again, is my name vjamesdesimonelaw.com. And we have a way to put in a message there. So if you want to find me, just Google James DeSimone, and you'll find me. And we do try to respond to everyone one way or another who contacts us. And if I can't help someone, do our best to refer them to somebody who can.

    Courtney Barber:

    And that is true because James is all over the internet. He's one of the best marketers I've seen, especially as a trial lawyer because considering you have cases and a big workload. So for people who want to reach out to James, definitely check in the show notes below. We'll have all of his contact details, but I really want to thank you so much for coming on today. This has been such a great interview. And I'm so glad that we could do it now as well because, as you said, we're right in the middle of this very prolific case and trial that's going on right now. And I think we'll definitely have to have you back at the end once there's a verdict to get your thoughts on it as an expert. But I appreciate your time. And for everyone who listens to Settlement Nation, thank you so much. And thank you again, James.

    James DeSimone:

    Thank you very much, Courtney. It was very enjoyable. I appreciate it.

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