Photo by Hugh Williams.
If a big case is going on in Southern California, there's a good chance John Taylor is involved. The renowned plaintiffs'lawyer at Los Angeles' Taylor & Ring is representing the family of Lana Clarkson in its civil action against record producer Phil Spector, who was convicted in April of second-degree murder in the 2003 shooting death of Clarkson. Taylor also represents survivors of the September 2008 Metrolink train crash, as well as victims of the scandal-plagued UCI Liver Transplant Program.
Born in Detroit, Taylor relocated to Los Angeles with his family at an early age and has been here ever since, aside from his undergraduate studies at Ohio University and law school at McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento. Taylor didn't start his private career representing the little guy. After a brief stint as a public defender, he worked as a defense-side insurance lawyer. He switched sides and eventually became a founding partner at Greene, Broillet, Taylor & Wheeler, a prominent plaintiffs' firm.
Taylor says he decided to set up his own firm in 2002 with fellow name partner David Ring to return to a smaller-sized practice. Throughout his career, Taylor has been known not only for big cases, but also big verdicts.
Lawdragon: So how did you come to represent the Clarkson family against Phil Spector?
John Taylor: I had a prior relationship with the lawyer for the family. Sorry, I know that isn't very exciting. But it was getting close to the statute of limitations [in February of 2005], and at that point they came to me. They had waited until about the day before the expiration of the statute of limitations before filing the suit because they did not want to interfere with the original criminal case.
LD: This may be obvious, but what's the family's reaction to the guilty verdict?
JT: The family is pleased with the verdict, and pleased that the jury rejected the trashing of Lana Clarkson that the defense engaged in during the first trial and the second trial. In fact, the defense kind of started doing that since the time Lana Clarkson was killed. The family is glad that the jury rejected that.
LD: Because Spector has already been found guilty, what needs to happen in the civil case?
JT: The verdict doesn't act as a complete determination of issues for the civil case, so there is still evidence to put on - and different evidence. In the civil case, the damages suffered by Donna Clarkson [Lana's mother] will be a big focus. There will be a lot more evidence about the relationship between Lana Clarkson and her mother, and just how important she was to the family.
LD: Aside from the damages, can the guilty verdict at least serve as a determination in the civil case that Spector committed the murder?
JT: No, and that's because of the ongoing criminal appeal by the defense. The criminal judgment is not a direct carryover into the civil case. The judgment is not final until the appeals process runs out.
LD: So you'll also be putting on evidence similar to the evidence that the prosecution put on about the actual crime.
JT: That's right.
LD: The Metrolink crash [which led to 25 deaths and more than 100 injuries] was one of the biggest stories in recent years. Who do you represent and what's the status of that case?
JT: We represent two of the survivors. So far, the case has been going through the process of getting the claims consolidated in front of one judge. The lawyers who represent the plaintiffs and the lawyers who represent Metrolink have been working out how we're going to proceed with the case and exchange information, given the size of the case and all the pleadings. It's still at an organizational level at this stage.
LD: Tell me how you made the transition into plaintiffs'work.
JT: I worked briefly as a public defender and then a number of years doing defense work, but that didn't feel right. Defending insurance companies and other corporations against claims - to try to get people to take less money for their injuries or for somebody in their family being killed - just didn't feel good. I was lucky enough to meet [famed plaintiffs'lawyer] Michael Piuze, and I worked for him. I learned a lot. Both from my time as a public defender and working with Michael, I really enjoyed having an individual client - a person - to represent and help. That offered a much more compelling story and was much more rewarding work for me.
LD: What's one of the earliest cases that you won that stands out as particularly memorable?
JT: One is Mollet vs. Farmers Insurance. Farmers used to keep a list of lawyers who represented minority clients, mainly black and Hispanic people, and the company handled claims by those lawyers differently. The list was secret; it was circulated among Farmers executives, claims supervisors and senior lawyers. If one of these lawyers representing a claimant filed a claim, Farmers would make no attempt to settle and instead would force the lawyer to spend all sorts of money to handle the claim. Mr. Mollet had never before been injured throughout his career, and he was only off work for a month, and it took them three or four years to resolve his claims. He didn't know his lawyer was on that list. We tried the case two times and wound up with a $5-million verdict in 1988. That was really gratifying.
LD: That's incredible that Farmers would do that.
JT: It was nuts. Mr. Mollet was a really nice guy. He worked for the City of Los Angeles as a trash man and never missed time from work. They would make comments about his appearance and clothing and mimic his speech and stuff like when summarizing his deposition testimony. It made me very angry.
LD: Aside from some of your recent high profile cases, do you tend to focus on any type of plaintiffs' work?
JT: No, I've been really lucky to be able to try a lot of different cases: car accidents, products liability, insurance bad faith, professional negligence and even some types of business cases. It keeps it fresh. The people and families are always different. I like to believe I can have some good impact for them after something really bad has happened to them.
LD: Do you have a favorite part of trial?
JT: Cross examination. It's the most dynamic part of trials. All trials are dynamic. No matter how you map out a day and hope for things to happen, it never goes the way you expect. Some people don't like that. But for me, that's the challenge of it, the enjoyment of it.
LD: What do you do for fun away from the office?
JT: I play ice hockey. My father transferred out here when I was very young and Iwas exposed to hockey early on. - I actually was the stick boy for the first two seasons of the L.A. Kings [1967-68 and 1968-69] after the expansion. I played as a kid and through college, and I try to get out two times a week in pick-up games with guys I've played with for years now.
LD: Where do you play?
JT: There are rinks around. In El Segundo, a facility where the Kings practice. There's also a place in Valencia. You're always moving around, going to where you can be accommodated. You usually get late times. Most of the time we're playing after 10pm at night.
LD: I guess that works OK for a lawyer.
JT: It's pretty good. Always a weird time - either very early or very late.