Thomas R. Kline Center for Judicial Education is established

Duquesne University School of Law announced on July 25 that it would use a gift of $7.5 million from one its most famous alums to create the Thomas R. Kline Center for Judicial Education. The gift, the largest in the law school’s history, will enable Duquesne Law, in collaboration with the Administrative Office of The Pennsylvania Courts, to create the first-of-its-kind program in the nation aimed at making Pennsylvania’s continuing education of judges the best in the nation. The program is to be conducted under the auspices of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and will coordinate with deans and legal scholars at all of Pennsylvania’s law schools to institute an innovative, high-level curriculum of courses and seminars for the state’s more than 600 trial and appellate jurists. Kline, Class of ‘78, told a gathering of about 200 people at the law school that creating the program at his alma mater was a source of great pride to him. The Hazleton, Pa., native was a sixth grade teacher when he decided to attend law school. Today, Kline is one of the state’s most successful and acclaimed trial lawyers. “Tom had the great advantage of being disadvantaged,” said Shanin Specter, in a speech introducing his law partner. Kline said that, for him, establishing the Kline Center for Judicial Education was “the intersection of my pride in my alma mater, my commitment to legal education, my respect for the judicial process and the need for the highest standards for lawyers and judges.” He added: “We need an educated judiciary. We need fairness and balance.” Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas G. Saylor, who attended the event along with three other justices, predicted: “Pennsylvania will become a national model for the continued education of judges.”
Amtrak 188 settlement finalized, Kline and Becker praised

The Amtrak 188 derailment civil litigation came to a formal conclusion with the very last words in the case being a special note of admiration by the presiding judge for Tom Kline and Charles “Chip” Becker. On July 31, U.S. District Judge Legrome D. Davis issued an order dismissing all 90 active cases in the multidistrict litigation (MDL) that had resulted from the deadly 2015 derailment after he had approved a $265 million settlement for all claims. The settlement was created by the court with a seven-member Plaintiffs’ Management Committee (PMC) headed by Kline, who, with Becker, helped craft a program for all eligible plaintiffs. Davis, in his 27-page memorandum, praised the execution of the settlement process, noting that both sides minimized costs and worked together, compromising when necessary, to “reach shared goals and objectives as quickly as practicable … They truly helped the court reach the goal of delivering the greatest measure of justice possible under the circumstances, which was my objective from the inception of this MDL.” Davis singled out three lawyers for their outstanding efforts. “In conclusion,” he wrote, “it was rewarding to work with Amtrak and the Plaintiffs Management Committee. Mark Landman for Amtrak and Tom Kline and Chip Becker of the PMC merit special recognition. Their leadership was exceptional. Their labors, vision and spirit of acting in the best interests of the passengers and their families largely made this MDL a success.”

Lepisto wins wrong-site surgery verdict in Huntingdon County

Braden Lepisto won an $870,000 verdict in a wrong-site surgery trial, in this case for a man whose wrong testicle was amputated. The jury award was extraordinary for a number of reasons. For one, it came in conservative, rural Huntingdon County, Pa., where a jury had not handed down a medical malpractice verdict in at least 25 years (records were available dating back to 1992.) Also, the verdict included punitive damages -- a rarity in medical malpractice cases -- for $250,000. And the mostly (11-1) female jury was convinced to levy a substantial verdict for a surgical error only a male patient could experience. The verdict received broad media coverage, including in The Washington Post, which noted that wrong-site surgeries are unusual, occurring just once in 112,994 operations, but that they do, unfortunately, occur. It cited cases of a Minnesota man whose healthy kidney was mistakenly removed and an operation performed on a four-year-old child’s wrong eye. (Read the article) Lepisto said his client, Steven Hanes, underwent the surgery in 2013 to remove an atrophied, painful testicle. Now, he is faced with a difficult decision: he can live with the pain and discomfort or have his remaining testicle also removed, in which case he would need lifelong testosterone replacement therapy. The chief defendant in the case, Dr. Valley Spencer Long, reportedly no longer works at J.C. Blair Memorial Hospital, where the surgery took place.

Largest compensation awarded to Kline & Specter client in bus crash

Nadeem Bezar obtained the largest award for a victim of a 2014 Delaware tour bus crash that killed three people and injured 42 others. A federal judge in Suffolk County, N.Y., awarded $1.16 million to the estate of Jyotsna Poojari, 43, of India, who was fatally injured in the accident. The award was by far the largest of a total $5 million distributed from total insurance coverage. Poojari suffered greatly in the aftermath of the crash, surviving 11 days after the accident before succumbing to massive organ and brain injuries. "We were able to achieve the largest recovery for our client," Bezar told the New York Law Journal. "It was a horrible accident where many lives were altered and changed." (Read the article) The bus operated by AM USA Express of New York overturned as it was exiting a highway in Delaware. News reports described how passengers, many of them foreign nationals sightseeing in the United States, were ejected from the vehicle and crushed.

Firm helps win case for transgender students

In a pro bono case, David Williams and Tracie Palmer aided Lambda Legal, the national nonprofit organization that works to ensure the rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people, in a lawsuit that resulted in a suburban Pittsburgh school district’s reversal of a rule that discriminated against transgender students. A lawsuit, filed on behalf of three high school students last fall, brought a preliminary injunction and then a ruling by a district court judge that the policy was discriminatory and violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. A settlement, reached in late July, requires the repeal of Resolution 2, which barred transgender students from using the restrooms and locker rooms consistent with who they are, as well as the adoption of new policies and guidelines prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity and allowing access to restrooms that correspond to a student’s “consistently and uniformly asserted gender identity.” The settlement also included confidential monetary payments to the students and Lamda Legal. All three students have graduated. One of them, Elissa Ridenour, told The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the legal exercise was “horrible” at first but, “Now that I look back at it I kind of feel relieved I was able to be a part of something that is going to be so groundbreaking within my community and really spread the voice of the trans community.” The newspaper quoted legal experts as saying the case was closely watched all across the country. (Read the complete article.) Said Williams: “We were pleased to work with Lambda Legal on behalf of these brave students. The settlement represents an important milestone for transgender rights in Pennsylvania and across the nation.”

Fitzgerald chosen for Billy Penn’s Top 16

Who’s Next? Patrick Fitzgerald, that’s who. The Kline & Specter attorney was named by the publication Billy Penn in its “Who’s Next” series as among “the most dynamic people under 40 shaping Philadelphia every day.” The Knight Foundation journal, in seeking the city’s “next generation of leaders and influencers,” named 16 lawyers – including prosecutors, litigators, defense attorneys and social justice advocates – in its June edition. Other editions highlight the best young professionals in other professions, but once a year it selects what it sees as “the city’s next great stars in law.” Billy Penn noted Fitzgerald’s work on some of the firm’s most high-profile cases, including litigation that resulted in a payment of $265 million to the victims of the Amtrak 188 derailment, the largest such settlement in railway history. He also was co-counsel in a trial that produced two verdicts totaling $46.5 million against a security company employed at a Kraft Foods plant in Northeast Philly at which two workers were slain by a disgruntled former employee. (See the Top 16)

Bezar addresses international lawyers conference

Nadeem Bezar addressed the International Academy of Trial Lawyers on the topic of human sex trafficking at the group’s conference in Montreal on July 27. Bezar currently represents several minors who were victims of sex trafficking in Pennsylvania. In March, he, Tom Kline and Emily Marks filed the first lawsuit under a 2014 Pennsylvania anti-sex trafficking statute that allows victims to sue hotels and motels where abuse occurs. The suit was filed on behalf of a teenage girl who was enslaved at the Roosevelt Inn in Northeast Philadelphia and forced to have sex with men there over a two-year period. In the United States there were 7,572 reported cases of human trafficking in hotels and motels in 2016 alone, including 151 in Pennsylvania. “This epidemic of marginalizing human beings and selling children for sex must be stopped,” Bezar told the conference of lawyers from all over the world. “It's time to hold those profiting from such misadventures accountable. The hospitality industry cannot turn a blind eye to this tragedy.”

Institute notes Kline & Specter milestone lawsuit

In its second annual report, the Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law Institute to Address Commercial Sexual Exploitation (CSE) recognized the landmark lawsuit filed by Kline & Specter against a motel in the case of a young girl held there and forced to have sex with hundreds of men. The suit was the first filed under Pennsylvania’s comprehensive human trafficking statute, Act 105, enacted in 2014, which allows civil actions against those who indirectly benefit financially from sexual trafficking. In this case, the suit was filed on behalf of a 14-year-old girl against the Roosevelt Inn in Northeast Philadelphia. The lawsuit alleges that the motel manager was aware the girl was being sexually exploited but continued to rent rooms to her traffickers for financial gain. “At Kline & Specter, we recognize the epidemic that has overcome this vulnerable population. The time has come to hold those profiting from these unspeakable forms of revenue generation accountable. We all need to stop the harms being perpetrated upon children,” said the law firm’s Nadeem Bezar, who filed the suit with Tom Kline and Emily Marks. The CSE Institute opined: “We hope that this lawsuit may encourage other victims and attorneys to hold accountable hotels and others who are complicit in profiting from human trafficking.”

Baldwin elected PAJ officer

Kila Baldwin was elected secretary of the Pennsylvania Association for Justice, which will mark its 50th  anniversary in 2018. Formerly the Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association, the organization is dedicated to preserving civil justice and protecting the rights of injured individuals. With more than 2,000 members, PAJ early on established one of the first statewide legislative programs for trial lawyers and has since championed the fight against so-called tort reform and other legislative programs aimed at weakening citizens’ rights to civil litigation. The group, based in Harrisburg, assists attorneys in better representing clients and successfully advocating for the integrity of a robust civil justice system.

Jimenez named to board of council helping Latino community

Priscilla Jimenez was elected to the board of directors of the Council of Spanish Speaking Organizations of Philadelphia. The stated mission of the non-profit organization, founded in 1962 by community leaders concerned with problems facing Philadelphia's Latino community, is to ensure that equitable social, educational, health, and cultural services are available and affordable for everyone. It helps disadvantaged residents of North Philadelphia obtain employment, health services, family counseling, adult and technical education, and cultural opportunities. Jimenez, who is fluent in Spanish, is past president of the Hispanic Bar Association of Pennsylvania.

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