GLADDING & MICHEL IN THE NEWS
SELECTED CASE ABSTRACTS
Additional Case Abstracts Follow Below
Since 1968, Gladding & Michel has handled thousands of domestic and international legal matters for a wide range of clients. Listed below are representative summaries of recent cases involving: asbestos injury claims, products liability and litigation support, real estate law, complex asset searches, corporate counterintelligence, theft of intellectual property, disputed wills, investor fraud, and employment litigation.
Client: Automotive Defense Counsel
The Plaintiff, an automobile repair hobbyist, claimed automotive asbestos exposure. Our investigation revealed that while working as an electricians helper during the fabrication of various ships including Polaris submarines in the 1960’s and early 1970’s, the Plaintiff and his coworkers were dragging large asbestos insulation blankets around inside the submarines and using them to help heat the hull plates prior to welding and to protect the temporary electrical wiring from hot welding debris. Plaintiff did not wear a mask or coveralls; and was taking the asbestos home with him every night.
In his sworn deposition, Plaintiff testified that during the last 30 years, he had been married four times. Plaintiff further claimed that his first three wives were deceased. Believing this to be statistically improbable, we set about the task of obtaining death certificates and autopsy reports for all three of the Plaintiff's allegedly deceased wives.
When we were unable to locate a death certificate for one of the three women in question in the State where the Plaintiff had sworn that she died, we began to look for a live body instead of a corpus delicti. We subsequently located and interviewed the woman in question, and obtained substantive information from her that was highly prejudicial to the Plaintiff's case.
Client: Boiler Defense Counsel
The plaintiff claimed exposure to asbestos while maintaining a boiler manufactured by our client. Our investigation revealed that an earthquake occurred near the factory while the plaintiff was working there. The earthquake released a substantial amount of airborne asbestos by severely shaking asbestos wrapped steam pipes that distributed live steam all over the factory. In addition, the zinc plating filtering system used in the factory was based on the use of a hand mixed asbestos slurry. Early in his career, Plaintiff handled large quantities of dry asbestos powder with no mask.
OCCUPATIONAL ASBESTOS EXPOSURE – Wind Direction
Client: Automotive Defense Counsel
The plaintiff, an automobile paint and body man, claimed automotive asbestos exposure. Our investigation revealed that the mechanical repair shop and the paint shop were in separate buildings. And, the prevailing wind direction blew most of the asbestos generated in the automobile repair shop away from the paint shop where the plaintiff worked. The paint shop was located upwind.
OCCUPATIONAL ASBESTOS EXPOSURE - NOA
Client: Automotive Defense Counsel
Plaintiff claimed automotive asbestos exposure. Our investigation revealed that the Plaintiff only performed a limited amount of automotive repair. In addition, during his youth, the Plaintiff was exposed to asbestos while installing attic insulation and working as a maintenance man in a building that contained asbestos insulated boilers and asbestos insulated pipes.. We were also able to show that the plaintiff formerly lived in the immediate vicinity of an open pit asbestos mine; and that there was naturally occurring asbestos (NOA) in the soil around the plaintiff’s former residence.
Small Property Owner Wins $2,000 per month rent increase - San Francisco
Client: A Small Property OwnerAn 84 year old retired small property owner whose rent controlled apartment was generating nearly $2,000 per month less than market rent, became suspicious that her Tenant was living elsewhere. In order to be eligible for San Francisco rent control, tenant's must occupy their rent controlled dwellings as their "principal place of residence".
Our initial investigation revealed that the Tenant owned a condominium in Florida. Among other things:
Tenant claimed a homeowner's exemption for this property.
Tenant obtained a Florida drivers license, registered a motor vehicle and registered to vote at his Florida address.
Tenant twice swore under penalty of perjury that he would occupy his Florida Condominium as his principal and primary residence in order to obtain first and second mortgages with owner occupied loan rates.
And, when Tenant signed the loan papers for his second mortgage in San Francisco, CA, Tenant identified himself with a Florida driver's license.
When confronted with Landlord's SF Rent Board §1.21 Petition for a $2,000 per month rent increase:
Tenant, a former bank vice-president, claimed that he was told by his loan officer that it was OK to promise to occupy his Florida Condo as his principal and primary residence because it was his "second home". Tenant's claim was adjudged "not credible".
Tenant claimed that he had received no financial benefit from claiming a homeowner's exemption for his Florida Condominium. When we submitted evidence that the Tenant had received a $903 exemption benefit during the last 24 months, Tenant attempted to rewrite history by refunding the money to his Florida county assessor.
Despite the fact he speaks 4 languages fluently, Tenant claimed that when he cancelled his San Francisco voter registration, he actually believed that he had filled out a change of address form. We submitted blank voter registration cancellation and change of address forms as rebuttal evidence. And, because the two forms were dramatically dissimilar, Tenant's claim was adjudged "not credible".
Tenant claimed that his Florida condominium had been rendered uninhabitable by a hurricane, and that it therefore could not be his principal and primary residence. And, Tenant claimed that his rent controlled San Francisco apartment was his "usual place of return".
Tenant further claimed that he had contracted for $70,000 worth of repairs for his Florida Condominium. We determined that Tenant had failed to obtain a building permit. Tenant was subsequently cited and fined for performing unpermitted work.
Though we were unable to determine precisely where Tenant had been living for the 12 months preceding our Client's petition, Tenant's own evidence established that he had spent 212 of those 365 days in Florida.
The administrative law judge ruled that Tenant's rent controlled Apartment was NOT his principal place of residence.
Landlord's petition for a $2,000 per month rent increase was granted retroactively.
And, the Tenant subsequently vacated the premises.
MURDER FOR HIRE
Client: An Automobile Manufacturer
Plaintiff alleged that he contracted Mesothelioma from exposure to airborne asbestos while remodeling and renovating several personal & family residences, while serving as a boiler tender aboard several US Navy ships, while employed as the owner/operator of truck and auto service and repair business, and while repairing personal and family vehicles.
Our investigation revealed that Plaintiff had solicited an undercover police officer to perform a murder for hire about 23 years prior to the filing of his asbestos injury claim. After a lengthy search, we located and interviewed the undercover police officer who had stung the Plaintiff back in the early 1980s. The Officer was extremely difficult to locate because he was evading a drug cartel murder contract while we were looking for him.
The Officer definitely recalled pretending to be a hit man and having Plaintiff try to hire him to kill Plaintiff’s daughter’s boyfriend. The Officer had received a tip from a former narcotics informant about Plaintiff’s desire to hire a hitman.
The Officer subsequently met with the Plaintiff to arrange the murder. Plaintiff agreed to pay the Officer a total of $400 to kill the boyfriend. Said the Officer, “Murder was cheap back then. You could hire a junkie to kill someone for $50 bucks”.
Plaintiff told the Officer that he wanted the boyfriend killed because “He is too ugly for my daughter.” Plaintiff wanted the Officer to make the murder look like a motor vehicle accident. Said the Officer, “I was supposed to force the boyfriend off the side of a road off of a cliff”. Plaintiff told the Officer that he would provide him with a description of the boyfriend and his vehicle. Plaintiff then paid the Officer a $200 cash down payment and the Officer arrested him.
After his arrest, Plaintiff claimed that the Officer’s allegations and the charges against him were false until he found out that the Officer had tape recorded their discussion about the proposed murder. Said the Officer, “Plaintiff denied the allegations to his family. Then, when we played the tape, Plaintiff and his wife and daughter all dropped their heads down”.The Plaintiff got his murder for hire conviction expunged and Plaintiff’s counsel got the subject murder for hire conviction excluded from consideration as evidence in his asbestos injury claim. However, we are informed that if Plaintiff had chosen to testify and his character or veracity was called into question, the judge would have allowed evidence on Plaintiff’s murder for hire conviction. Plaintiff subsequently dismissed his claims against our Client.
Client: An Automobile Manufacturer
Plaintiff was paralyzed in an 85 mph collision with a guardrail on a curving freeway onramp with a posted speed limit of 50 mph. He was not wearing his seat belt. Plaintiff alleged that the driver’s seat was defective because the seat did not prevent his unbelted body from being ejected when his vehicle impacted the guard rail at 85 mph.
By identifying and successfully interviewing the children of one of the witnesses to the subject collision, who were passengers in a vehicle traveling along the same roadway, we discovered that the Bentley had been involved in an illegal street race with a Ferrari and a Jaguar immediately prior to the solo guardrail collision. We also discovered that the Plaintiff suffered a broken neck in a prior collision in which he was also not wearing his seat belt.
Our investigation also revealed that Plaintiff’s only expert witness was conspicuously unqualified, having failed to complete any mathematics or engineering courses relevant to the subject matter in dispute.
The Expert’s 3 page curriculum vitae also included his claim that he was a certified flight instructor. Our investigation revealed that Plaintiff had no fixed wing rating and was only licensed to operate a hot air balloon. However, by default, the Expert’s Commercial Lighter-Than-Air Free Balloon with Airborne Heater rating allowed him to instruct other balloon operators and endorse their pilot certificates [per 14 CFR 61.133(a)(2)].
At the end of the Expert’s 2 day examination at trial, Defense Counsel asked the Expert a few questions about his “certified flight instructor” status. After listening to the Expert’s evasive responses, Defense Counsel rhetorically asked the Expert if he was “full of hot air”, which caused the entire jury to laugh at the Expert. The Expert then lost his composure and began to rant, rave, pull his hair and speak in tongues in front of the jury. Our Client subsequently received a defense verdict.
Client: A private party
In late 2001, we received an inquiry from the relative of a Northern CA public school employee alleging that the new County Superintendent of Public Instruction was abusing the power of his office by playing golf on school district time, inserting his cronies into key authority positions, directing public contracts to his friends and associates, and harassing and intimidating anyone who objected.
Our preliminary background check on the Superintendent revealed that he had been forced out of a previous job as Superintendent of Public Instruction for another Northern CA school district. The other School District’s allegations against the Superintendent included misappropriation of funds in excess of $100,000 and having sexual relations with two different school district employees.
We then spent several weeks submitting numerous public records requests to the Superintendent’s current employing school district. Among other things, we requested the qualifications, professional credentials, work experience and professional background that the Superintendent submitted in support of his application for his current job including but not limited to: curriculum vitae or resume material, biographical information, letters of recommendation, criminal and civil record checks, background investigations, and any other documents pertaining to Johnson reviewed by the District, Board of Trustees, or Human Resources company during the selection process from which the Superintendent was hired. After threatening to have us prosecuted for invading the superintendendent's privacy several times, the local school board finally claimed that the Superintendent's CV and the other documents we requested were no longer available.
The Lake County Record Bee then printed a story in which the publisher used our words to attack the Superintendent on the front page above the fold. “When public agencies deny members of the public access to basic documents – which are clearly public – it means they’re hiding something - like pink elephants in their underwear…. If it’s true that they [the School Board] didn’t check up on the guy, they should all resign, They could have hired a member of the Taliban or Jack the Ripper’s Cousin.” The next week, the Lake County Record – Bee wrote another story in which they resurrected the prurient details of the Superintendent’s dismissal by the other Northern CA school district.
In November of 2002, 4 of the 7 members of the current employing school district’s School Board were voted out of office. And, within a few months thereafter, the Superintendent was no longer superintendent of public instruction in that county.
FORKLIFT HORSEPLAY LEADS TO SEVERED LEG
Client: A U.S. Vehicle Manufacturer
A forklift operator who was not wearing his seat belt flipped over a forklift which severed his left lower leg. Plaintiff alleged that the forklift he was operating was defective. Co-worker interviews revealed that the plaintiff and another forklift driver had been having a “doughnut” competition on company time with an audience composed of co-workers. Co-worker interviews also revealed that Plaintiff, a multiply convicted felon, had been selling drugs at work.
Our investigation also revealed that Plaintiff was pretending that he could not walk without crutches. The video evidence we collected showed the Plaintiff pretending to have difficulty walking with crutches; and then showed the Plaintiff sans crutches running back and forth between his vehicle and a gas station convenience store and walking up stairs carrying one grocery bag in each hand.
COACHED INTERVIEWS OF CHILDREN LEAD TO CHILD MOLESTATION CONVICTIONS
Client: An Insurance Carrier
About 28 years ago, a teacher at a Reno, NV daycare center called Papoose Palace, was accused of more than 60 acts of child molestation, convicted of four, and sentenced to 4 life prison terms. A multimillion dollar civil suit was subsequently filed against the daycare center and its insurance company. Our investigation of plaintiffs’ evidence in support of their civil suit revealed that the children who made the accusations were coached.
It all started when one child made a minor accusation. That child’s mother contacted several other parents and found no similar complaints. Unpersuaded, the child’s mother hired a private psychiatrist to interview many of the school children. Our interviews of dozens of the children enrolled at the daycare center and their parents revealed that the psychiatrist questioned the children in an extremely leading manner, i.e. “Isn’t it a fact that the teacher touched your private parts”.
We also performed a very thorough background investigation on the convicted school teacher. Our background investigation showed that prior to the criminal acts he allegedly perpetrated while employed at the Papoose Palace, the school teacher’s record was clean. So, hiring that teacher to work at the Papoose Palace daycare center was not a negligent act.The information we collected resulted in a substantial reduction in financial liability for the daycare center and their insurance company.
Client: Automotive Defense Counsel
The Decedent had been trapped and incinerated in an older, improperly maintained vehicle manufactured by our Client. The Decedent’s 2nd wife and Plaintiff had also been previously married. Though Plaintiff alleged that she had divorced her previous husband, she was unable to produce a copy of her final divorce decree or any other divorce filings. Plaintiff was also unable to identify the jurisdiction where she had filed for divorce.
Our extremely detailed search of family law records filed in every county in several different States failed to produce a divorce record. However, the Court found that Defense Counsel’s inability to find Plaintiff’s final divorce decree was insufficient to establish that she was still married to her previous husband. Instead of requiring that Plaintiff prove that she had in fact divorced her previous husband and was not simultaneously married to two people, the Court found that Defense Counsel needed to produce Plaintiff’s previous husband.
We subsequently traced Plaintiff’s previous husband to San Ramon, Mejicanos, El Salvador. At the time, this area of El Salvador was under the control of a drug mob. We sent our investigator to the area with five members of the National Police, all armed with automatic weapons.
We eventually found Plaintiff’s previous husband living in a crack house in Mejicanos. Since he had no identifying documents, we drove him to his birthplace in San Miguel, El Salvador where he obtained identity documents. We then escorted him to San Salvador where he confirmed during his video deposition that he was still married to the Plaintiff.The Plaintiff subsequently admitted that she was a bigamist. The jury was annoyed that Plaintiff had lied to them about her marital status; and our Clients obtained a defense verdict.
A recent arrival from Asia had been introduced to an Asian banker by a recent acquaintance. She was asked to advance funds to the banker so that he could complete a real estate deal. He explained that he would repay her the following week, which he did. At that time, he told her that as a gesture of his appreciation for her help, he wanted to bring her into a very profitable real estate investment. She invested $250,000; her investment failed to generate positive cash flow, and so the other three investors (acting together) advised her that they had to sell the building before more money was lost. She agreed, and the building was sold at a ridiculously low price-to the bank that the banker worked for! Gladding & Michel's investigation revealed that these three partners had ten dummy corporations, most of which existed only on paper. Needless to say, these men were never to be found. Using confidential sources, we located two of the partners and they were forced to appear in court where our client won a $400,000 judgment. Despite the fact that these partners had pulled this scam on numerous occasions, this was the first time anyone had ever succeeded in physically locating them and bringing them to justice.
THEFT OF PROPRIETARY INFORMATION Client: A Silicon Valley Electronic Laboratory Equipment Manufacturer
A manufacturer of electronic lab equipment had reason to believe that their competitor was stealing trade secrets, including lists of their customers. In addition, they suspected that their competitor was gaining unfair advantage, as the firm could not have been producing their equipment at their regular place of business with the facility and personnel reported in public records. Finally, it appeared that the competitor, who was attacking their firm with expensive and frivolous lawsuits, was gaining access to their legal documents, sometimes within a day of the arrival of the documents in the client's office. Gladding & Michel conducted an electronic countermeasures sweep of the client's office and production facility. Although no bugs were found, we did identify numerous security weaknesses in their telephone and fax system, as well as the protocols for the distribution, storage, and accounting of internal documents, and provided technical assistance in implementing secure control of company documents.
Gladding & Michel also traveled to the site of the client's competition, and determined that they were outsourcing production to an assembly plant in the Southwest. Since the competitor was a privately held company, financial information was not available in public documents. Our analysis of financial records in the competitor's recent divorce file, which had been overlooked by attorneys handling the case, provided up-to-date detailed financial information on the firm. All of this information proved invaluable in the client's bargaining to end the legal attacks by their competitor.
LOCATING AND INTERVIEWING 200 WITNESSESClient: A National Car Rental Agency
A national car rental agency was hit with a class action lawsuit by hundreds of former employees. At issue were claims related to conditions of work, unpaid overtime hours and failure to reimburse cash expenses. Gladding and Michel organized a database of over four hundred class members, correlated these subjects to their geographic places of work and former coworkers, and located and interviewed over two hundred former coworkers and managers over four months. The information gathered in this intensive effort resulted in a sizable reduction of the amount of the client's multimillion dollar settlement.
CONTESTED WILL: Client: Rightful Heirs in an Ethnic Community
One day, a priest was visiting an ethnic cemetery and noticed that a burial was in progress. When he inquired, he found out the person being buried was a long-time member of his church! It seems that this 90-year-old had died and been quasi-clandestinely buried, unbeknownst to his friends and parishioners. Meanwhile, his assets were being grabbed by a mysterious woman who had recently introduced herself to him as a long-lost relative. Gladding & Michel’s investigation uncovered a tangled web of connections within this ethnic community, and numerous inconsistencies in the statements of the mystery woman along with disturbing misrepresentations of his cause of death. This investigation led to our cooperation with local law enforcement regarding a possible homicide. Meanwhile, the rightful heirs were able to prevent the misappropriation of the deceased's considerable assets.
WRONGFUL TERMINATION OF A WHISTLEBLOWER Client: The Terminated Manager
A newly hired manager of a LIMO discovered that her firm was not performing on a large contract it held with the state government, and was instead skimming millions of dollars off the top in "administrative costs." The manager attempted to get the company to perform on the contract and was rebuffed. She went to the state regulatory agency and advised them of the situation; the state investigated and the LIMO lost the contract and was fined millions of dollars. However, the manager lost her job. Through a series of highly sensitive interviews with other female employees, Gladding & Michel determined that the corporate officer who fired her had a long history of sexual harassment. Uncovering this history strengthened her legal claim that she was the target of his revenge for both corporate and personal reasons and allowed her to prevail.
Client: A U.S. Metal Producer
UNFAIR FOREIGN COMPETITION I
A U.S. manufacturing firm requested that we investigate unfair competition by a U.S. competitor who had allied with an Asian firm. The firm was alleged to be avoiding higher tariffs on their product by sending it through Latin America , where the country of origin markings were removed and replaced with the Latin American country's markings, to make it appear that the product had been manufactured in the Latin America country. From there, it appeared that the product was being sent by truck from Mexico to Chicago , where it was again re-stamped to make it appear that it was US-made.
We sent our investigator to Latin America , where he was able to identify and photograph the product at the warehouse of the firm that was involved. The client turned this information over to U.S. Customs for further action.
Client: A U.S. Electronics Manufacturer
UNFAIR FOREIGN COMPETITION II
A U.S. electronics manufacturer suspected that an Asian competitor had given illegal incentives to locate a production facility in Silicon Valley . Gladding & Michel was instructed to find out what incentives had been granted and report to the CEO within one week. City, county, and state governments were very sensitive on this issue, and state officials refused to give access to their files. Armed with our knowledge of the Public Records Act and our research on recent state legislation regarding disclosure of economic incentives that makes all records related to these incentive packages public once the negotiations are concluded, we succeeded in pressuring state officials into opening up their files in Sacramento and San Jose . Our comparison of the files made it clear that certain documents had been purged, but no illegal incentives had been offered. The CEO had the information he needed to reassure his management, board and stockholders that nothing illegal had transpired.
BOW HUNTING BRINGS DOWN A FRIVOLOUS LAWSUITClient: A U.S. Automaker
A U.S. automaker was served with a multi-million dollar lawsuit for an alleged defect in its product. The plaintiff contended that he had been severely disabled by an auto accident and was unable to practice his profession. Gladding & Michel worked with the defense, which built its case over two years. The plaintiff’s case began to collapse when our investigators located a photograph of the plaintiff posing with an animal he brought down with a bow and arrow. While the case was in trial we located additional proof of the plaintiff's hunting activities at exotic game ranches in Texas and California . The jury returned a verdict exonerating our client.