Walking backwards to school in 50-below-zero wind chill factor while growing up in Michigan, nationally acclaimed trial lawyer Eric Dubin always dreamed of living in Southern California. After winning the $30 million jury verdict against actor Robert Blake, Dubin was invited back by the Detroit Tigers to throw out the ceremonial first pitch, a moment Dubin says, “Proves that crazy hard work, combined with passion and opportunity can make dreams come true.”
His most recent $10.2 million jury verdict for a young boy’s family created a cutting edge path around the strict MICRA cap and will be published in the upcoming 2016-2017 CACI companion guide solidifying his position as one of the top trial lawyers in California.
From Midwest to West Coast
Dubin’s interest in pursuing a career in law occurred when he attended a local Detroit courthouse on a middle school field trip. There, he witnessed two trial lawyers fiercely battling in a courtroom and afterwards making friendly dinner plans on the elevator. That professional interaction fascinated Dubin.
“I have always been an athlete and it reminded me of sports where the really great athletes play extremely hard on the field, shake hands when the game is over and don’t throw dirty punches. They play with heart and talent. First and foremost is the love of the game and respect is earned both on and off the field,” Dubin says. “That’s the kind of lawyer and person I want to be when it comes to practicing law. I care so much about my clients and our justice system. My passion and effort is always 100 percent on every case I accept.
“I also never throw the first punch, so to speak,” Dubin laughs. “However, I consider myself one of the best counter punchers in litigation if opposing counsel chooses to play that way. For me, trying cases is about obsessive preparation and powerfully presenting the truth to the jury with honesty and passion. I take my responsibility of seeking justice extremely serious. Every case and every client is special and deserves my absolute best. That’s what I bring to the table.”
On his way from Michigan to California, he earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Arizona. Upon his 1992 graduation from California Western School of Law, Dubin interned at the San Diego Court of Appeal participating on several published opinions. He next accepted a litigation position by a large defense firm in Los Angeles, gaining a tremendous amount of trial experience handling hundreds of cases all over Southern California. He married his college girlfriend, Dalia, and they now have a 12-year-old boy, Jakob, and 14-year-old girl, Alexa.
Mentoring a Young & Hungry Dubin
During his years as a defense lawyer, Dubin was always eager to go to trial when the evidence warranted. The concept of nuisance settlements never sat well with him, nor did aggressively defending cases against deserving plaintiffs. As a bonus for winning a big case that year, the defense firm rewarded him with a trip to Napa where Dubin met legendary trial lawyer Gerry Spence who was the keynote speaker at the annual Defense Bar meeting. Dubin and Spence spent some time talking about Spence’s trial college, which was exclusive to plaintiff lawyers and Spence offered to train Dubin should he open the plaintiff ’s firm he was already contemplating. It was an opportunity Dubin jumped at after resigning from defense work and trained with Spence once a year for about five years.
Under Spence’s mentoring, Dubin learned the importance of exposing personal flaws to a jury. By doing so, it opens up the jury and allows them to be moved. For example, people don’t go to theaters to see how well actors memorize their lines, but to connect and be moved by the story. The same can be applied to law and the jury. This lesson about not being the “perfect lawyer,” but rather a “real lawyer,” is only one of many invaluable lessons Dubin learned from Spence. Dubin also states that Spence’s mentoring validated his unique way of trying cases.
“I come out like Mike Tyson in his prime; no question is fluff and I just let the truth flow to a just verdict,” Dubin says.
Among his friends is renowned attorney Tom Mesereau most famously known for acquitting Michael Jackson of all 14 charges in a child molestation indictment. The two attorneys share immense respect for one another, despite meeting under an unfavorable situation.
“I met Tom Mesereau when he was opposing counsel for Robert Blake and we had a big fight at Blake’s first deposition at the L.A. County jailhouse,” Dubin explained. “Years later when the trial was over, I wrote a book about winning high profile trials that included several chapters about Tom and his strategies on both the Blake and Jackson case. Tom called me and told me he read and loved the book. We made dinner plans and we’ve been great friends ever since. I always feel extremely proud when outstanding attorneys like Tom or Dan Callahan refer cases to my firm. It is the ultimate compliment and I always deliver my referral fees with a bottle of Cristal to show my appreciation.”
The Robert Blake Case
Before the Robert Blake case catapulted Dubin’s already successful career, he had accomplished teaching ethics and legal remedies courses at Whittier Law School and hosted a show on LA FM 97.1 Talk Radio called, “Legally Speaking with Eric Dubin” – a call-in show on CBS Radio where listeners could ask questions and Dubin would provide answers. He had Howard Stern’s time slot on Saturday mornings and was featured on the cover of the Daily Journal.
One Saturday morning during his radio show, a woman heard the show and called Dubin after distraught that Robert Blake had killed her sister, Bonny Lee Bakley, and destroyed her sister’s character to the entire nation. She sought Dubin’s help for what became not only one of the biggest cases since the OJ Simpson trial, but also one of the peaks of Dubin’s career. The case was the largest investigation in LAPD history resulting in millions of documents and 75 witnesses called at trial.
After the state of California lost the criminal trial, Dubin would have to both prove Blake killed Bakley and that she was not the horrible mom/person the Blake camp and media portrayed her to be. Dubin moved into an apartment close to the Burbank courthouse to work 22-hour days.
“It was wall-to-wall boxes and documents,” Dubin recalls. “At the time, it was the largest investigation in LAPD history. Every witness had thousands of pages of detective statements, preliminary hearing testimony, criminal trial testimony, recorded statements, depositions and media interactions. Every witness I called during that three-month trial had a mountain of documents that needed to be mastered by me and their direct examinations had to be tweaked to avoid any mistakes they made during the criminal trial.”
Dubin’s opposing attorney, defense lawyer Peter Ezzel, hadn’t lost a trial since 1970 and was reported to have a 150-3 lifetime record for winning jury trials. In the end, Dubin prevailed with a $30 million verdict in general damages to the Bakley family.
“I’ve never been intimidated by another lawyer and that’s not cockiness; that’s preparation,” Dubin explains of his pre-trial preparation. “I know what’s on page 59, line 4 from memory. They usually don’t, especially when other defense lawyers at the firm do the work up.”
During the trial, Dubin gained mass amounts of national and worldwide publicity, appearing hundreds of times over the years on news programs including The Today Show, Good Morning America, The Fox News Channel and CNN. He also has appeared in newspapers around the world and received prestigious front page profiles by both the L.A. Times and Orange County Register. He has written several books, including, “The Star Chamber,” and the second, “Reasonable Doubt with Larry King.” He is a frequent speaker, recently giving a national webinar for CAOC on winning high-profile trials. He has also been invited to speak at schools and events throughout the United States.
“I’m very proud of the work I did getting justice for the Bakley children and proving that Robert Blake killed Bonny Lee Bakley,” Dubin explains. “Like many of my former clients, I am still very close with the family. I remember at the time Newsweek ran a great article that said, ‘We may not have captured Osama Bin Laden yet, but at least we proved Robert Blake killed his wife.’ My mom in Michigan was very sick at the time, but was able to come out before the trial and watch me in action. After she died, the L.A. Times profile was published and the picture they used was one – I had never seen before – of me giving a press conference at my office. Right in the middle of the picture is my mom glowing with pride, making that already very special recognition beyond magical. I was very lucky to have an amazing mom and understand what unconditional love is.”
Changing MICRA & Wrongful Death Damages Law
As of recent, Dubin took on a case involving a disabled 15-year-old who died at Lonika Homes, a Mission Viejo care facility. The boy suffered from cerebral palsy and a seizure disorder. He died from a seizure after Dubin claimed staff failed to give him the anti-seizure medication and delayed calling emergency services after finding him unresponsive. Defense argued they did nothing wrong and even if they did, any damages were capped at $250,000 and no elder abuse rights existed because the child was not yet 16 – to qualify as a dependent adult.
In 2015, Dubin won $10.2 million in punitive and actual damages for the death of his client’s son following the 10-week jury trial. Dubin successfully found a way around the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA) – a law that has been in place for nearly 40 years, which places a $250,000 cap on pain and suffering damages in medical malpractice cases – by proving that the facility worked to conceal its mistakes after the boy’s death causing more damage to his family.
Dubin’s groundbreaking way around the MICRA cap also provided a path to obtain punitive damages in wrongful death cases based on post-death conduct. Dubin’s case and ways to get around MICRA will be featured in the 2016-2017 California Civil Jury Instruction Companion Handbook, along with his verdict forms and personal comments.
“Creating this viable path around the unfair and outdated MICRA wall is monumental for children and victims rights and now can be used by all in the future. It does not get much better,” Dubin says. “While I still get invited to speak about Blake and high-profile trials, lately, the majority of requests have been to speak about the details of how to get around MICRA and the punitive damage restriction in wrongful death cases. I am more than happy to spread the word.”
One of a Kind
A unique characteristic that Dubin carries is that he handles all of his cases personally. He admits to having a large administrative staff, but the one thing he’s adamant about doing himself is depositions and all pre-trial preparation.
“I don’t even trust my own summaries let alone someone else’s,” Dubin jokes. “It’s just how I win; preparation and knowing my case better than anybody. Winning jury trial starts in deposition, so as a trial lawyer, I need to be the one taking the deposition. I’m beginning to realize that I can’t do everything and have amazing lawyers like Janice Vinci, who I love and trust wholeheartedly. At the same time, the difference between me and one of these mega firms is when you hire my firm, you’re hiring me.”
One example that truly displays Dubin’s reputation on the California and national level is the recent GM recall. He represented a family of four that test drove an SUV that had exploded. The family barely escaped the flames. After Dubin appeared on Good Morning America, he contacted GM identifying himself and stated that they had until Friday to recall the SUVs or face an immediate injunction. On that Friday, GM recalled nearly 200,000 SUVs, a result Dubin calls a true bucket list moment.
“Our safety can never be optional in corporate America; their profits must never come first,” Dubin says.
Dubin’s passion for helping people has been recognized on both a personal and professional level. He was named The Best Lawyer in Orange County by OC Weekly magazine in 2013 for the work he did on the Kelly Thomas/Slidebar matter in Fullerton, where the police were charged with killing an unarmed homeless man captured on tape. In 2005, he was named one of the Great Guys of Orange County by the Orange Coast Magazine.
In 2016, Dubin received the Hero of Hope award by the Los Angeles charity organization n-Action for his work representing victims achieve justice in the community. Dubin also volunteers with Mesereau at the Mesereau Free Legal Clinic in South Los Angeles, where the two attorneys alongside fellow judges, lawyers, college students and activists volunteer their time to provide free counsel to disadvantaged residents. Dubin is also on the honorary board of Los Angeles Trial Lawyers Charity and recently worked with them preparing and serving meals at a homeless shelter for women in downtown L.A., which he calls, “extremely gratifying.”
Though Dubin has been dubbed with a reputation for being one of the fiercest plaintiffs attorneys in California, he remains humble and down-to-earth outside of the courtroom. When it comes down to providing results, Dubin admits that he’s never thought about money or losing when he’s litigating. He uses the analogy of playing in the Super Bowl with the perspective that the true athlete just wants to win for the love of the game by playing their best and not thinking about anything but the moment.
“That’s not to say we won’t take the million-dollar bonus or endorsements for winning when its over,” Dubin laughs, “but I only know one way to do this job and that’s with everything I have, killing myself with my passion and my time for victims and families in real need. That’s who I am; that’s what I do.”
Future of Dubin Law
Circling back to his dream of California, being on the cover of both L.A. and Orange County magazines is surreal to Dubin stating that he grew up watching “L.A. Law.”
“To go from watching ‘L.A. Law’ in Michigan to doing what I’m doing now in Los Angeles is a dream come true,” Dubin says.
Dubin plans to continue devoting his life to representing families and children who suffered from catastrophic events. He also looks forward to continuing his work with newer Southern California lawyers who aren’t afraid to go to trial with the hope to change the old insurance defense ways, for which he states need to change.
“I think there is fraud out there, but there are also mass numbers of true and very deserving victims that are unfairly perceived from the start – that should not be the mindset,” Dubin clarifies. “Or insurance companies hoping that these victims never find good lawyers that know the real value – that, to me, is really disgusting. I firmly believe that 100 percent justice is never optional. That’s my goal every time. If an insurance company is willing to give that to my client, wonderful. But if they don’t, I’m more than happy, every single time, to let a jury do that for them.”
Dubin’s advice to those seeking a legal career is fairly simple: you have to be passionate about it.
“You’re not going to be an amazing doctor if you only ‘kind of want to go to med school,’” Dubin expands. “If it’s in your heart and soul and you have a gift for it, you might be the one that cures cancer. I feel the same about being a lawyer. It’s not about becoming rich or wearing nice suits; a huge part of America’s greatness is founded in our core values of fairness and justice. If you believe that and you’re willing to devote yourself to that, then I say, ‘I look forward to practicing in the same world as you someday.’”