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    We continue our chat with Keith Bruno, a trial attorney with Carpenter, Zuckerman & Rowley (CZ&R) out of Orange County, California. In this episode, Keith shares the story of his $40 million verdict for a wrongful death case with Nick Rowley, his Top Gun award for an $11.5 million verdict and how he sets himself up for success, both in and out of the courtroom.

     

    Chris Bua:

    What is up Settlement Nation? This is part two of our talk with Keith Bruno. In this episode, we're going to speak with Keith about some of his amazing results, his experience working with Nick Rowley, and more tips and advice for up and coming attorneys. Hope you enjoy the rest of this discussion.

    Chris Bua:

    I think in every profession results matter and in the legal profession, specifically personal injury, I think the biggest difference in the result is really the attorney that is chosen by the client. I mean, you could take the same client and the same set of circumstances and go two streets down to another law firm and that person would get more or less or far more or far less, depending on the talent and skills of the trial attorney. So clearly, from your results and what we've already talked about today, you have quite a bit of talent, and let's talk about one of those cases. You received the Top Gun award for a $11.5 million verdict, and the settlement offer on that case was $10,000. So how did that happen, Keith?

    Keith Bruno:

    So just in general, and I'll answer your question, Chris, but I think what you said is still important, and it's why personal injury practice is a collaborative practice. Because there are so many of these cases out there that good attorneys can turn into justice for all these different families. It's not a zero sum game. In criminal, if some rich guy gets arrested, he's going to hire one lawyer basically to the detriment of all of the other lawyers that are practicing criminal law. You're not going to get that fee. Someone else is going to get that fee. And there's only so many rich guys getting arrested, right? So you're almost in competition if you're in criminal law.

    Keith Bruno:

    In civil, a good lawyer, you take a car accident that occurs and hurts somebody, and they have maybe a surgery or some injections on their back. You take a good lawyer and a good lawyer could turn that into complete justice, a significant amount for that client. And a bad lawyer will do something less. Those kinds of cases are all over the place. Just because I get one, I get a rear-ender accident, doesn't mean you won't, and it doesn't mean I can't help you with yours. I'd love to help you with yours. By helping someone else, I invariably learn something that can help my case. So there is no zero sum game in this and the lawyers do make a difference.

    Keith Bruno:

    With that case where we got the verdict in Torrance. I mean, that was a magical case because I'm very convinced that the way in which you get verdicts is by the conduct of the defense. Not necessarily by the virtue of the plaintiff. In that case, the defense lied and we were able to prove that they lied about pretty much everything. The material facts were whether or not the guy driving the truck clipped my guy who was on a bike and he was coming at my guy. Or if you believe the guy in the truck, he says that my guy came screaming around the corner, lost control of the bike, hit the side of his truck while he was stationary and then died. Now, we were able to prove that didn't happen. And we were able to prove it because the defense biomechanic and accident reconstructionist had simply falsified an experiment and falsified all of the testing that he did with an exemplar bike and the car. And we were able to prove it.

    Keith Bruno:

    And when I say falsified, this basically was the mountain bike, and if you can imagine a mountain bike that has an adjustable fork, where you can lock out the front wheels, or you can unlock the front fork, and then you have much more give as you press down on the handlebars. So to do their experiment, and to "prove" that the handlebar would never have hit the truck, they jacked the fork up and locked it out. So no matter how much pressure one put on it, it would always remain at the highest stagnant point.

    Keith Bruno:

    Well, the only problem was is that as we were getting ready for trial, and this is where going through everything, this is where all the lawyers preach there's no substitute for doing the work. Here's a real example. I'm sitting in Jon Landerville, who's my accident reconstructionist from Momentum Engineering. I'm sitting in his office and he's got this giant hundred inch television screen, crystal clear, everything was cool. And this is years into the case. And we're just going through all of the photographs in the case, every single photo. Just, I want to look at them. I want to see them. I want to see them in a room with other people. I want to see what you see. I want to force you to look at them so that you might see something that pops out. As we're going through this and we're going through it, I noticed the fork issue because there was only a handful of photographs from the actual scene with the actual bike. Then there's a million photographs of the experiments with the exemplar bike.

    Keith Bruno:

    So as we're just going to through it, it's almost like that moment in The Usual Suspects where once you see it, you can't unsee it, and I saw it, and I'm like, "Ah." I know exactly what they did. I know exactly what they did with their experiments. I know exactly what they did with their photographs. Then knowing that, I decided to wait on it until closing argument, because I figured they would try to lie and weasel their way out of it or basically claim it didn't matter because of the travel or the distance of the exemplar or they would say some kind of bullshit that some person might actually believe. So I waited until rebuttal close, and then I brought the bike out in front of the jury and I brought the photographs, blown up, of their experiment that "proved" that the accident couldn't have happened the way we theorized.

    Keith Bruno:

    I just showed the jury. I said, "Look, this is what they did. This is what we've been saying. This is the proof of it." That was really all I needed to do. I mean, all 14 of these people were leaning forward in their seats and their jaw was on the ground and they returned that verdict. As an end note to that case, I think it's important to know that I had such a difficult time during voir dire. I got no cause challenges granted even thought there with six or seven that were no brainers. This judge was just unwilling to grant cause challenges. I used every single one of my preemps and the defense used zero.

    Keith Bruno:

    So if you haven't done a trial and you're thinking of that, I am striking seven potential jurors out of basically desperation knowing that I'm just so screwed in this case. And with each juror I strike, they go, "No, we're fine with the jury," all seven times. And then I thought, "Of course, all right, I'm going to strike seven, and then they're just going to go on a run and eliminate all of the jurors that they don't like." But they liked every juror, because every juror, at least in Torrance at the time, hated bicyclists. They liked truck drivers, and my client had some other issues. He was on parole, he was unemployed, he was an African-American. It wasn't like some lily white girl on a scooter was plowed into by a Hell's Angel. It had none of these factors that a jury or a potential juror would be able to get positive prejudices behind. The case had negative prejudices, unfortunately. But to the jury's credit, they listened and they heard the evidence, and in doing so they rendered a good verdict.

    Chris Bua:

    I think going back to something you said a couple minutes ago, that the really key turning point in the case was that evidence that you held back till the end. I don't think a lot of attorneys would have done that. I think they would have been so eager to show their hand. Maybe not all attorneys, but a lot of them would have been eager to get that out on the table. So I think by you holding it back, that obviously made a huge difference in that case.

    Chris Bua:

    Let's transition to another case. I think this is the biggest verdict that you've gotten, and you can correct me, but you did a case with Nick Rowley who has a open invitation to join Settlement Nation. You and Nick, you brought a case to verdict for $40 million that Courtney [Barber] mentioned earlier. It was a wrongful death case against TGI Friday's. Could you speak a little bit about that case and that experience working with Nick?

    Keith Bruno:

    Yeah, that was an amazing experience, because it was one of my first, so it's like when you win the Super Bowl as a rookie. You're like, "Oh, this is how it is. Great. I'll win the Super Bowl next year." It is my biggest verdict. I've had $15 million, $12, $10, and $40. So it hasn't been the Super Bowl exactly every year, but that was an extraordinary verdict and a remarkable one on a case that the family themselves had to file in procure on the last day that the statute of limitations was running. They couldn't get a lawyer. Nobody wanted to take the case. Nobody thought it was a case. Once Nick got it, it's probably a testament to either his craziness or his wisdom, I don't know. You can pick one. Probably a little bit of both categories.

    Keith Bruno:

    Nick had initially just brought me on to do the DNA analysis and to deal with a lot of the criminal crossover parts, because one of the critical issues was there were two defendants and two potential stabbers. If it was the guy who was over the age of 21 that was the stabber, then we lose automatically. There's no case because it was basically a dram shop case. If it was the guy who was under 21, then we're in the argument, then we've got a shot. Given my criminal experience, I had a lot of DNA experience and just a lot of experience dealing with the police, the Department of Justice, all this other stuff. So I was kind of brought on as a consultant and I was just going to give some ideas about what I thought.

    Keith Bruno:

    I got involved in the case and I rolled my sleeves up and then quickly became, Nick and I worked very well together, so he was like, "All right, you're on the case." I was like, "Oh, okay, that sounds good." So we split up the representation. I represented the mom and he represented the dad. No, pardon me. I represented the dad and he represented the mom. That gave us two bites at the apple of voir dire, and two bites at the apple for open, and to questioning witnesses, and all the like. It was really more of an experience than a trial because it had everything. I mean, the judge levied sanctions against us, we were battling multiple law firms that had ... I mean, they had a guy sitting in the courtroom who would just type all day and he would type out motions that they would then hand to us as we're leaving at 4:45 PM to be responded to by the next morning. It's just like, Jesus Christ. We don't need this.

    Keith Bruno:

    One of the things that it taught me was, despite all the money and the power that the defense has, good defense firms do, and all of the resources that they can throw at you to busy you, to confuse you, to overwhelm you, to wear you down in this war of attrition. Once you get the jury, all their power goes away, then it's just you and them. It's how persuasive you are. We were so persuasive that a year later, a year after the verdict on the anniversary of the verdict, I get a text of a picture sent to me by my client, and they had gone out as they did all the time to their son's grave, and the picture was of a card that one of the jurors had left at his grave.

    Keith Bruno:

    She had written him a beautiful card and she was proud to have been a juror and to have brought some measure of justice to Riverside after the criminal system completely dropped the ball and failed to convict these guys with murder and instead gave them deals. So, we talked earlier about the ancillary things that make this all worth it that are, really, aside from the money or the recognition or the ability to put food on your family's table. It's those things. I mean, I will never forget as long as I live. On the anniversary of a $40 million verdict, I got a photo from the grave of my client, that a juror put there. You must have done a good job and connected with them if a year later, it's still on their mind.

    Courtney Barber:

    Wow, and that's just a testament, obviously, to you and Nick, but we always like to hear from the guests that we have on the show about things that have really impacted them. You answered that question without even us asking it. That literally gave me chills because I had no idea what you're going to say and where that was going, but that is just super fascinating. As I said again, a testament to what you do and why it's so important.

    Courtney Barber:

    Now, switching gears a little bit, Keith, this is one of my favorite questions because I'm a big believer in routines and how people set themselves up for success. So outside of the courtroom, because obviously as you said, you're getting ready for multiple cases at once, your laptoping and driving. At the same time, all these different things, podcasting, listening to your notes. What do you do daily that keeps you in your top condition for both your work and just your personal life?

    Keith Bruno:

    So I don't mean to sound hokey, but you might get hokey answers to this, but I have an amazing relationship with my wife, who is also my partner. So I don't feel as though I'm ever getting ready for something. I feel I'm always ready for it. I have a unique experience because I can come home and complain about something, and I can find an answer in her. Or I can come home and celebrate something and find a partner in celebration in her. So I've lived life as a lawyer without that. And there's no substitute for that. It constantly engages the mind. It's a true cooperative, equally shared goal that we both have.

    Keith Bruno:

    It's very freeing. It allows me ... I don't have to go home to four children and a wife and say, "Honey, I'm really sorry, but I have to try a case in Washington in the next three weeks." She knows. She knows, she gets it. I go, "Honey, I'm going to Washington." And she goes, "Yep. I got your tickets. You're booked at the Fairmont. I've sent the exhibit books up if you need anything. Or I'll come up." That's our relationship. There's no kind of better preparation for this than that. I get that it's very unique and I'm blessed to have that. I don't know what I do without it. I certainly wouldn't be getting the verdicts I'm getting if I didn't have that.

    Chris Bua:

    That's great, and that is unique. The final question, which we ask every guest is, what is something that you know now in your practice that you wish you knew five or 10 years ago when you were practicing?

    Keith Bruno:

    What do I wish that I knew now? Okay. That's an excellent question. I like it, because there's a lot. An amazing amount. I wish that I knew that there were so many paths to success. There were so many ways to do it. I feel like I spent a lot of time trying to watch successful people and then emulate what they do. I'm going to walk around like this, or Nick Rowley shows up in court in cowboy boots. I know, I'll get a pair of cowboy boots. I look ridiculous in cowboys boots. I'm that guy from Philadelphia who just put on cowboy boots. And you're like, "Why are you wearing cowboy boots?"

    Keith Bruno:

    I wish I knew that that was the case. I've told people at seminars because I mean this, I've observed this. It's true. If you took the top 20 Mercedes Benz sales associates in the country, and you said, "You know what? You guys are the top 20. We're going to reward you guys. You're going to have a golf retreat somewhere," because of course they all have to golf. So that group of people, I would venture to bet, of the top 20 Mercedes Benz sellers in the country would have a very similar look, they'd have a very similar manner of speaking, they'd have a very similar background, maybe, upbringing.

    Keith Bruno:

    If you took the top 20 trial lawyers in the country, and you said, "We're going to give you that same kind of trip." You'd have men, you'd have women, you'd have older folks, you'd have younger folks. You'd have people that are fat. You'd have people that are thin. You'd have people of all different colors, of all different religions. It would be this just giant melting pot of people. And what does that tell you? That means to be successful in this business, you just have to be you. There's not this, you don't have to be some chicklet, perfect hair, newscaster looking dude. You don't have to be a dude. I think that's a great testament to the fact that there are so many different ways to be successful. If you have integrity and you have curiosity, you'll find the path.

    Chris Bua:

    That's one of my favorite answers that we've gotten so far. So thank you very much for sharing that. So Keith, if a potential client's listening or another attorney that may want to bring you in and co-counsel a case with you, how did they get in touch with you?

    Keith Bruno:

    So the easiest way is my cell phone. (310) 745-7811. That's the only phone I have and I use it. Or just email, keith@CZRlaw.com, and I'm happy to talk, in fact half of the people I talk with don't have a case for me, they just have something that they need to talk about. I'm such a law nerd that I love talking about it. I mean, that's why I agreed to do this. What else am I going to do? Right? This is my time. I love it.

    Chris Bua:

    Well that's great. Well, we thank you so much for coming on. This was fun and great. I think a lot of people are going to have a lot of things to take away from it. So really appreciate you coming on. We want to thank our listeners. We hope you'll like, subscribe, review the podcast, wherever you listen to podcasts, it really helps our visibility. So when people are searching for legal content, we're going to pop up there. So thanks so much and we will see you on the next episode.

    Courtney Barber:

    Thanks, Keith.

    Keith Bruno:

    Thank you, guys.

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