2010 SF Trial Attorney of the year

Trial Lawyers Roll Out the Red Carpet

APRIL 26, 2010 | LAW PRACTICE
By Dhyana Levey
Daily Journal Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO - When plaintiffs' attorney Michael A. Kelly took on a medical malpractice case in Kandiyohi County, Minn., he joked that the toughest defense tactic his opponents would throw at him was venue.

Although the venue of the lawsuit presented a challenge - no one had won a plaintiffs' verdict in the one-hospital town of Hibbing in nine years - it ended in a multimillion-dollar verdict for Kelly's client and, Thursday evening, won him the San Francisco Trial Lawyers Association's Trial Lawyer of the Year Award. Rogers v. Affiliated Community Medical Centers and Rice Hospital, 34-CV-08-830.

Kelly, 58, handled the suit on behalf of a mother of a brain-damaged newborn who questioned the hospital's interpretation of a fetal heart monitoring strip. Originally, he was only going to serve as a minor technical advisor. But in January, Kelly took over as the lead attorney in the litigation and won a verdict totaling more than $13 million in February.

"The fact that he showed up and tried this case after all the discovery had been done is mind-boggling to me," said last year's winner Jeffrey Mitchell before he handed off the SFTLA award to Kelly. "Most astonishing, the defense had all the physicians sitting in the courtroom while he was trying the case." Kelly, an attorney at Walkup, Melodia, Kelly & Schoenberger since 1978, said in his speech Thursday evening that he was honored to be recognized for his work, adding "It's not the size of the verdict but the amount of justice that is delivered."

It was the San Francisco native and 1976 UC Hastings College of the Law graduate's fourth time to be nominated for the award, and he joked it might be harder to lose four times than win once.

In another first, Nancy Hersh of San Francisco's Hersh & Hersh became the first woman to win SFTLA's Lifetime Achievement Award on Thursday. Also, Walnut Creek attorney Scott Sumner received the Civil Justice Award and Mill Valley's Charlotte Venner became Distinguished Mediator of the Year. For his prize, Kelly was up against Daniel Dell'Osso of the Brandi Firm, Randall Scarlett of the Scarlett Law Group, Walter "Skip" Walker of Walker, Hamilton & Koenig and Donald E. Krentsa of Meisel & Krentsa.

"No one here is a flash in the pan," Kelly said in an interview before the event. "No matter who is given the award, it's flattering in and of itself to be selected, particularly in an era where they claim civil trials are vanishing."