Defense Attorney Is Batting a Thousand
From Daily Journal Extra: Litigation Files published on April 12, 2004.
By Amy K. Spees
Encino attorney Gregory Stone has racked up an impressive batting average in the courtroom.
Stone, 40, has defended clients in 45 jury trials and never lost once, he says.
“I’ve taken [requests for] millions [of dollars] to juries, and my clients haven’t paid a dime,” Stone says. ” I’m just very proud of my accomplishments.”
To Stone, who says his only courtroom loss was a suit in which he represented the plaintiff, the defense end of a lawsuit is easier because the burden of proof rests with the plaintiff.
“I was one of his victims,” says Steve Glickman of Beverly Hill’s Glickman & Glickman. Glickman was Stone’s opposing counsel in a slip-and-fall case against Ralph’s Grocery Co.
“If you really wanted to look at qualities that make a great defense attorney, [Stone] has all of them. He’s smart, creative, personable and honest,” Glickman says. “If you’re going to lose a case to somebody, you want to lose to somebody who’s one of the stars in the trial bar.”
Ira Rosenblatt, Stone’s partner at Stone, Rosenblatt & Cha, says Stone has racked up “an awful lot” of jury trials for an attorney who just turned 40.
“In a one-on-one situation, for Greg, it’s very much about the endgame,” Rosenblatt says. “There’s clearly going to be a winner and clearly going to be a loser, and Greg’s not interested in second place.”
To make sure his client wins , Stone sometimes plays detective . Stone remembers another slip-and -fall suit against Ralph’s that gave him a chance to go hunting for evidence. Glickman was not involved in that suit.
The plaintiff, a young bodybuilder, wanted to be compensated for back surgery he ‘d had after a slip-and-fall. Looking at X-rays from the plaintiff’s surgery, Stone couldn’t believe the man was hurt so severely from the incident.
“There was a Dr. Fox mentioned in one medical report,” Stone says. “So I looked in the phone book and sent letters to all the Dr. Foxes in a 20-mile radius. The records came back and said the plaintiff fell off a roof two months before and needed back surgery but was afraid to have it.”
The plaintiff left the courtroom during a recess in the middle of Stone’s cross-examination. He never came back, Stone says, and the suit was dismissed.
Rosenblatt says that Stone has taught him the importance of thorough due diligence and that, to be closer to the evidence , Stone insists on putting together his own trial notebooks, which some attorneys hand off to paralegals.
“Sometimes, you do find needles in haystacks,” Rosenblatt says. “And sometimes, on the defense side, you can use that needle to pop the plaintiff’s balloon.”
Another of Stone’s most memorable wins was a false imprisonment suit tried on Court TV just before the O.J. Simpson trial in 1995. Stone, who was representing a security guard and his employer, says the plaintiff was an African-American man accused of shoplifting.
The guard had handcuffed the plaintiff for two hours and denied him restroom privileges before the police arrived. Stone says he was worried about the case ‘s outcome because the TV cameras made him nervous and the courtroom, Central Civil West, had the reputation of being plaintiff-friendly.
“The jury deliberated for 31/2 days,” Stone says. “I was starting to think my career was over until they came out with a defense verdict.”
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ruth Essegian heard the case and says she was impressed with Stone’s composure.
“He was a good attorney and did a good job for his client. You could always tell he did his homework,” Essegian says.
Stone admits the vast majority of his suits are resolved through settlements. For instance, he recently settled a suit for a Manhattan Beach police officer who was prosecuted and acquitted on excessive force charges. Stone represented the man in a civil suit filed against him, which settled confidentially after jury selection.
Stone has represented other police officers. The Beverly Hills Police Department tapped him to defend Officer Paul Kramer, who faced false-arrest, excessive-force and civil-rights claims.
Kramer had been impounding a car for excessive parking violations when the owner arrived, got in the vehicle and drove away. When he caught up with the car, Kramer says, he had to remove the driver physically.
The first jury hung, but after the second trial, Kramer won.
“[Stone] was very articulate and made a lot of common sense,” Kramer says. “His points are well thought out before he presents them.”
Stone graduated in 1989 from Southwestern University School of Law, where he was managing editor of the law review.
He got his start as a summer associate at Cotkin, Collins & Franscell in Los Angeles. Name partner George Franscell acted as Stone’s mentor and handed the young attorney a lot of responsibility, Stone says. Stone was the solo chair on two jury trials in his first year, one in Los Angeles Superior Court and one in federal court.
“George Franscell said, ‘I’m here if you have any questions. Otherwise, just handle it,”‘ Stone says. And he did.
“They nicknamed me the golden boy after the first couple years I was there, because I wanted to try everything,” Stone adds.
Thirteen years ago, Stone’s life came to a crossroads.
Driving through Encino one Saturday on his way to a pick-up basketball game, Stone came across Rosenblatt at a four-way stop.
The former college roommates spotted each other through their windshields. They pulled to the side of the road and began to reminisce. “He had just gone out on his own from a big firm,” Stone says. “He had an office, a secretary and a computer. He also had a few clients.”
Stone was working for the Law Offices of Anthony Serritella in Pasadena and had always wanted to be his own boss. The pair stayed in touch and, soon after, penciled out a partnership, which they incorporated in 1992, three months after starting work together.
The attorneys found new office space in Encino and, with Stone’s client Ralph’s Grocery Co., began building a practice.
Stone has represented Ralph’s in general civil litigation, including premises-liability cases such as slip-and-fall and false imprisonment. Lately, Stone has represented the company against allegations that the grocery’s pharmacies had not warned about medicines that caused adverse reactions if taken with other drugs. Ralph’s handled the recent grocery workers’ strike in-house, Stone says.
The grocery chain was supportive of Stone’s move and stayed on as a client, gaining the fledgling firm instant credibility with other companies, Stone says. Still, business was slow at first.
“The highlight of the day was when the phone rang or the mail came,” Stone says. Today, their business litigation firm, Stone, Rosenblatt & Cha, has 16 lawyers.
Stone is a third-generation Los Angeles native. Though his parents were accomplished professionals who own a chain of day spas, neither was a college graduate, and Stone wasn’t pushed toward high education, he says.
“I worked really hard to become a lawyer, so I hate lawyer bashing and unethical behavior,” Stone says. “Our firm’s philosophy is we understand practicing law is a business – there’s no question about it – but it’s a profession first.”
When Stone gets stressed, he falls back on family. He is married to his high-school sweetheart, Bea Stone, who is an attorney, a credentialed teacher and a certified personal trainer. She currently is a stay at home mom taking care of their three children: a boy, 11, and two girls, 10 and 5.
“I’m a big family man. When I get stressed about a trial, I have to look at the big picture and realize none of this stuff will be important 50 years from now,” Stone says. “I have pictures of my kids in my office, and every now and then, I just need to glance up and take a deep breath.”