Karen Koehler, aka “The Velvet Hammer,” travels the country year round to give presentations to trial lawyers. For lawyers in the Pacific Northwest, mark your calendars for the upcoming Oregon Trial Lawyers Association (OTLA) Convention at Sunriver Resort (Aug. 4 – Aug.6 ). For those of you who haven’t met her in person yet, please understand why she is one of the most sought after trial attorneys in the country: She is a powerhouse in a petite package.
Here’s an excerpt from OTLA’s convention newsletter:
“I was meant to be a part of this place.”
That’s how Brad Moore, the newly elected President of the Public Justice Foundation, described the natural fit he sees between his work as a trial attorney and his commitment to Public Justice’s work.
Noting that his firm – Stritmatter Kessler Whelan – “has done three cases with Public Justice over the years,” Moore says that “The work that Public Justice does is right up my alley.”
The road leading to his year-long Presidency at the organization’s helm, which has just kicked off, began as early as Public Justice itself. He was introduced to the organization through his law partner and mentor, Paul Stritmatter, who is a founder of Public Justice. That, in turn, led to a close friendship with former president Jack Landskroner, who guided Moore on the path to his current leadership position on the board.
A career as a litigator, however, wasn’t always a sure thing.
Moore grew up with a lawyer for a dad (who would later become his law partner), and a mom who served as Majority Leader in the Washington State House of Representatives. His own journey to the law began, in part, as a tour guide through the Canadian Rockies. Moore led over 50, eight to ten day motorcoach tours throughout British Columbia and Alberta, and his stint as a tour guide revealed how comfortable he was with talking and engaging with people of varied backgrounds. As a result, “talking with and in front of jurors has come somewhat natural to me,” he says.
That, along with an influential Philosophy of Law class in college, led to Moore becoming a passionate advocate for insureds and consumers, injury victims and victims of defective products. His work fighting for those seeking justice makes him a perfect choice to lead Public Justice.
In addition to guiding Public Justice’s existing work in the States, Moore says another priority for his tenure as President will be finding ways to build relationships and associate with Canadian lawyers to pursue high impact public interest lawsuits in Canada.
“The things we care about as a public interest organization here in the States, Canadians also care about,” he notes. “Canadian trial attorneys are fighting so many important battles that are the same as we’re facing here: environmental degradation, preserving access to civil justice and civil rights advocacy, like this year’s Trial Lawyer of the Year finalist from Nova Scotia.”
“That’s why I’m looking into how we can create a strong presence up there.”
Reaching out across borders is another talent that comes naturally to Moore. Outside of his work and home in Seattle, he also has a home in Thailand. He has been fascinated by Southeast Asia since his first trip to the region in the mid-1980s, during which he became one of the first Americans to enter Vietnam following the end of the war.
Now Moore, who succeeds Esther Berezofsky as President of Public Justice, will turn that same passion for reaching out, building alliances and fighting for justice to his new role leading the organization into 2016.
NOTE: This article was republished from PublicJustice.net.
As potential clients continue to call our firm, more details about what the FDA knew and didn’t do with its knowledge continue to surface. When I first learned about the “dirty duodenescope” problem at Seattle’s Virginia Mason, I wondered how much information that the FDA had regarding these duodenescopes used for endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) procedures. Then, when the latest news broke about the UCLA Medical Facility’s similar issues with improperly cleaned duodenescopes, I realized that this issue extends well beyond just a couple of medical facilities. The problem relates to the fact that these thin, flexible scopes are extraordinarily difficult to clean. Even UCLA’s latest announcement of using a toxic gas to clean these duodenescopes are doubtful per the FDA. This begs the question, then, why hasn’t the FDA done more to ensure that devices are not used until a more practicable ways to clean the device are identified?
Now, remember when Obama signed an Executive Order last fall to combat antibiotic resistant bacteria? I do. So do some federal lawmakers, who are now asking Congress to investigate what the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and device makers are doing to prevent further patient deaths and infections. Earlier this week, Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) sent a letter to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, pointing out that outbreaks related to contaminated medical scopes “have national security ramifications.”
In an LA Times interview, Rep. Lieu reminded us of Obama’ executive order, issued this past September that made it a national security priority to combat antibiotic-resistant bacteria such as CRE (which stands for Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae). The California congressman pointed out that an FDA safety alert issued last week post the UCLA incident does not give the public assurance that further outbreaks can be prevented, “While federal agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are combating superbugs, the current recommended sterilization procedures would continue to result in superbug outbreaks and deaths.”
The FDA acknowledged that cleaning the ERCP duodenoscopes to the manufacturers’ specifications may not remove all of the deadly bacteria that can be passed from patient to patient.
In the meantime, family members of Virginia Mason patients who now know about the link between these ERCP procedures and the recent superbug outbreak are asking important questions. For example, the Biglers’ heartbreaking story came out last week in the Seattle Times. Mr. Rick Bigler, a 57 years old insurance exec, was suffering from pancreatic cancer. Only after his wife, Theresa, requested his medical records, did she find out that he had suffered from an E.coli infection. As the Seattle Times article points out, ERCP procedures are linked to these types of infections. What is alarming is that the Seattle outbreak is the largest of its kind in the U.S. But, unlike the UCLA Medical Facility, which was also recently reported to have similar issues with the superbug-dirty-duodenescope issue, Virginia Mason did not reach out to its patients. While UCLA had informed 180 individuals about the possible contamination, the Seattle medical facility insisted that its situation was somehow different because the outbreak apparently spanned over a larger period of time.
Understandably, family members of Virginia Mason patients who likely contracted the superbug, have many questions that they want answers to: Some of them have contacted our law firm, given SKW’s track record as renowned attorneys in the areas of products liability and medical negligence. If you have questions, we are interested in comparing your stories with the ones that we’ve already learned about. Email us at Counsel@Stritmatter.com or call us at 206.448.1777.
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And so this day comes each year and I brace myself. The day itself is not quite as emotional anymore (thank goodness), now that it’s been 13 years. Rather than numb myself to the sadness, it’s helped me to understand how other families must also deal with untimely deaths of their loved ones.
Many of us commemorate the passing of a loved one by leaving flowers at a site or by donating to a memorial fund. My father and I had set up the Lawrence Kim Memorial Fund for undergraduate scholarships at Carnegie Mellon within months after 9/11. The scholarship continues to grow and will outlast all of us.
Worth mentioning is those friends and colleagues who take a moment to share with me that they’re thinking of me and my family. This means an amazing amount. It’s their figurative flower that they’re resting at my brother’s memorial. At Carnegie Mellon University, where my brother graduated, a lovely tree was planted in his honor shortly after Larry was killed on 9/11. The Dean of Humanity and Social Sciences paid tribute to Larry and large numbers of alumni, friends, family, and well wishers left flowers and mementos. They still continue to do this, but not nearly as much as in the months and few years that immediately followed 9/11/2001.
At SKW the attorneys are more tuned into the significance of the death anniversary or the birthday of the deceased. This is in large part because of the many wrongful death clients that the firm represents. So when an anniversary arrives of the tragic loss of a family member, these busy attorneys stop, pause and feel for their clients who continue to mourn their loss.
This morning, Karen was the first person who saw me when I entered the office. She looked at me with tears in her eyes. “I’m thinking of you and your family today.” Warmth enveloped me as I imagined her laying a fragrant bouquet of flowers at Larry’s memorial tree. Thank you Karen and thank you to all of my friends (you know who you are) who took a moment to send me a message of remembrance. As hackneyed as the phrase has grown, we will never forget.
It’s that time of the year again…
Editors of the ABA Journal announced today they have selected Karen Koehler’s Velvet Hammer blog as one of the top 100 best blogs for a legal audience. Karen continues to attract a large following via her Velvet Hammer blog with helpful tips to other litigators and for anyone who enjoys a well written account/perspective on a trial lawyer’s life.
Please cast your vote for the Velvet Hammer blog now! (The registration required to vote takes about 3 seconds.)
Longtime Hoquiam resident, Paul Stritmatter, and his wife, Mary Elizabeth, have made a huge improvement to their community in Grays Harbor County. Recently, The Daily World wrote up a piece on the Paint the Corridor project, which only came about because of Paul’s and Mary Elizabeth’s vision and commitment to Hoquiam. Stritmatter Kessler staff, including our one and only Tricia Reid, rolled up their sleeves to get almost 70 houses painted.
Check out the article and the video below to learn about the amazing work! Hats off to the Stritmatters, Tricia, and the rest of the hard-working Paint the Corridor crew!
Thanks to all of you who voted for Karen’s blog! Not only is KarenKoehlerBlog.com in the 2012 ABA Top 100 Blawgs, it is again (2nd year in a row) #1 in the “Trial Practice” category.
For those of you have not checked out Karen’s personal blog, you are missing out on some fascinating tidbits and pieces of practical advice for lawyers.
Congratulations, Karen! Keep up the great blog!
SKW’s Brad J. Moore was recently elected Secretary of Public Justice Foundation, a national non-profit public interest law firm. Since he began his career as an attorney, Brad has spent countless hours as a volunteer for Public Justice.
Brad is also the Foundation’s State Coordinator for Washington State, making presentations about Public Justice’s cases and mission. He explains, “Many of our cases don’t result in a fee. We take some of the hardest cases where an important legal issue is unclear… We give those people a shot they would likely not get from a private firm.”
The Public Justice Foundation challenges arbitration agreements (AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion), such as those hidden in boilerplate fine print on payday loans and credit card agreements with unconscionable interest rates and class action bans. It demands federal-level responsibility on behalf of inmates whose medical treatment is neglected, ignored, or refused by prison officials (Castaneda v. United States). The Foundation also aims to protect rights before and after they are violated, fighting against disparate treatment under Title IX (Flood v. Florida Gulf Coast University).
Because of top-notch representation, the Foundation has produced significant results. “The Foundation’s staff attorneys are literally a Who’s Who of civil rights, consumer protection and environmental lawyers from around the country. We have world-class litigators.”
Indeed, Public Justice is fortunate to have a litigator like Brad Moore as its Secretary.
The following is reprinted from the King County Bar Bulletin, June 2012 issue.
“The Velvet Hammer” is a perfect moniker for Karen Koehler. Her disarmingly soft touch belies her tough-as-nails representation of wrongful death and catastrophically injured clients.
While raising three daughters (Cristina, Alysha and Noelle), Karen has managed to raise the bar as one of Washington’s top trial lawyers. Her Oprah-style trial approach has earned her the recognition of her peers as a Trial Lawyer of the Year by the Washington State Association for Justice (WSAJ).
Most recently, her 1½-year-old blog (KarenKoehlerBlog.com) catapulted to the top of the charts as the American Bar Association’s No. 1 Trial Practice blog.
Karen is as technical as she is creative. Her logical German father is a retired UW professor of biological structure. Her intuitive Chinese mother is a retired general practice lawyer. They taught her to be proud of her mixed race and that it wasn’t necessary to fit within a stereotype. As a result, Karen takes delight in challenging trial lawyer “norms.”
“You can be serious and do a good job without having to take yourself too seriously,” she says. She is on a personal quest to show the general public that “lawyers are real people too.” This is what makes her blog so appealing to a large cross section of society.
“We lawyers are our own worst PR enemies,” Karen says. “Look at the awful ads on everything from television to taxi cabs. The Internet is clogged with lawyer garbage. Our best hope is to stop adding to the caricature and humanize ourselves.”
Karen obliges through her website, blog, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, P’interest, and any other new social network device that her daughters learn and tell her about. She has changed the way the law firm of Stritmatter Kessler Whelan (SKW) portrays itself – from the ads she conceptualizes to the booklets she shepherds through completion.
For the past decade, Karen has been writing trial diaries that reflect her love of courtroom drama and her desire to have fun – from the time she lost a shoe and wore flip flops while cross-examining a witness to the time the entire jury panel, judge, defense counsel and everyone else in the courtroom applauded her witness on a spinning bike. Her stories enthrall as much as they inform.
Justice Steven González admits with a chuckle, “While not in trial, I enjoy reading her blog.” About what makes her interesting in the courtroom, he explains, “Karen is not afraid to disagree – whether it’s with opposing counsel or with the court. Her arguments are excellent and make a good record effectively.”
Another judge who also enjoys Karen’s blogs and trial diaries when not presiding over one of her cases is Judge Richard McDermott. “Her trial diaries are a refreshingly candid account,” he says. “While self-effacing, they are poignant and accurate. What a great tool she’s provided for young lawyers.”
In commenting about her as a trial lawyer and her courtroom presence, Judge McDermott says, “Karen is very special. When she’s in the courtroom she looks like she wants to be there. Unlike too many attorneys, she’s always well prepared.”
Judge Mary Yu describes Karen as “an extraordinary trial lawyer; she is intuitive with jurors and creative with her presentation. I truly appreciated her sense of humor, intensity and willingness to experiment with me as we took one of her cases (a jury trial) up to Seattle University School of Law. The one word that comes to mind when I think of Karen is ‘courageous.'”
Karen’s energy level (she calls it her hyperactivity disorder) has shown no signs of waning over the years. (Does she ever sleep?) And in case you are interested, she is not shy about being “51 years alive.”
Karen runs more than an hour every day, usually with her dog Nala. “It’s how I meditate,” she says. She manages a demanding caseload with SKW and did so even when she recently served as WSAJ president. She frequently speaks around the country for trial lawyer associations and the American Association for Justice where she is also a board member.
She has been an adjunct professor of trial advocacy at the UW where she has taught for seven years with Bill Bailey. And, in 2010, she started the Female Trial Advocacy Program that offers classes through WSAJ.
In 2011, Karen wanted to make a difference outside of the legal arena. She created (with SKW’s significant support) and now serves as the president of the Spinal Cord Injury Association of Washington (SCIAW.org). SCIAW is a partner of the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation.
Karen’s daughter Cristina organized SCIAW’s first large event, the Green Lake Walk and Roll, which raised over $11,000. The second Walk and Roll will be October 6 and is expected to be at least twice as big.
Karen’s high-profile cases include:
Kime v. City of Seattle: The Kime case is well known by Seattle residents who were around in the early 2000s. Young Kris Kime was trying to help an innocent victim, who was being attacked during the Mardi Gras riots of 2001, when he himself was then beaten to death. Despite Kris’s friends pleas to the police, who stood nearby, the officers complied with the mayor’s orders to do nothing. Suing the city was a way to hold it accountable for decisions that led to avoidable death and injuries.
Ethel Adams v. Farmers Insurance Company: Michael Testa rammed his girlfriend’s truck as he chased her down Aurora Avenue. The truck crossed the centerline where it flipped upside down on top of and head-on into Ethel Adams, almost killing her. Adams’ insurance company, Farmers, decided not to pay the claim because road rage was not an “accident.”
The public became outraged as media covered the lawsuit. The insurance commissioner threatened to shut Farmers down in Washington, at which point it changed its mind and paid on the policy. Adams then sued Farmers for bad faith. One year after Adams was hurt, the governor signed the “Ethel Adams Bill” into law – when an innocent person is injured in a car accident, the insurance company can no longer play the same word games.
Perez v. “Construction Company”: SKW, through Karen, Paul Stritmatter and Kevin Coluccio, brought a lawsuit on behalf of Candelario Perez and his three dependent children in the Eastern District of Washington in Spokane. In 2008, Perez was tightening barbed wire to a fence post when he fell backwards off a cliff in Eastern Washington, tumbling head over heels down a canyon wall. Perez became an instant quadriplegic.
For a year and a half the SKW team battled with the general contractor, which had failed to provide any fall-protection safety. SKW even went with all five of its experts to the cliff with proper safety gear. Exactly two years after Perez’s tragic injury, the case settled for $7 million – the available policy limits.
Both the general and subcontractor are still in business and working together. But there is now a difference. Today, their workers attend regular safety meetings, minutes are kept, fall-protection gear is provided, and there is a fall-protection system in place.
Karen will be the first to say that she’s not an island. She is still best friends with her former law partner Pat LePley. She credits the strength of the Stritmatter firm for helping her to blossom these past eight years. She has a picture of her paralegals Anne Roberson and John Meyers front and center on her desk because they “get it all done.”
Her network of extended family and dear friends grounds her. Cristina, her eldest daughter, is on her way to Gonzaga University School of Law. Alysha, a junior at the UW, created and is president of UW Yogis – a 200-member group. Noelle has completed her freshman year and is heading to school in Nashville for a music business degree.
Karen Koehler personifies the new-era trial lawyer. She improves the image of our entire profession, while obtaining significant results for her clients as only “The Velvet Hammer” can.
Paul Stritmatter, a former Trial Lawyer of the Year and Champion of Justice, is a partner at Stritmatter Kessler Whelan. Stritmatter’s blog, FightSubro.com, is also quickly catching up with Koehler’s personal blog in terms of readers. Catherine Fleming is an attorney at SKW. She contributes regularly to the firm blog at pnwinjurylawadvocate.com.