Pro Bono Heroes: How big (and small) companies helped win the Sandy Hook settlement

March 1 – In some ways, the lawsuit brought by the families of five children and four adults killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting against gunsmith Remington Arms Co resembled a David versus Goliath fight.

Represented by the 18 lawyers Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder, the plaintiffs sued in 2014 what was then the largest rifle manufacturer in North America. Moreover, they ran into what was widely seen as an insurmountable hurdle: blanket immunity for gun manufacturers in mass shooting cases under the Lawful Arms Trade Protection Act.

Koskoff’s attorneys didn’t work pro bono — they took on the case off the cuff. But they received pro bono help at critical times from several companies that helped pave the way for a historic $73 million settlement on February 15.

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The plaintiffs may have been David, but they had some Goliath backing themselves.

These pro bono heroes include Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, litigation partner Christopher Boehning, and attorney Janus Schutte, who led a team of more than 30 associates, attorneys and associates at the firm to work on issues related discovery and Louisiana Bankruptcy over the past two years. years.

At Munger, Tolles & Olson, partner Donald Verrilli Jr, a former United States Solicitor General, rejected Remington’s candidacy for consideration by the United States Supreme Court.

And when Remington declared bankruptcy twice, attorneys including Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan partner Susheel Kirpalani and Selendy Gay Elsberg partner Faith Gay stepped in to shield possible lawsuits. Father-son duo Taze and Ty Shepard of three Sparkman Shepard lawyers volunteered as field boots in Alabama, where Remington’s bankruptcy was pending.

“I have nothing but praise for the wider legal community who have stepped up to help in areas our firm does not specialize in, particularly Supreme Court practice, bankruptcy and getting the best from ESI’s discovery,” lead attorney Joshua Koskoff told me. All of these companies should be justly proud of the work they have done on behalf of families’ fight for justice, and we owe them a debt of gratitude.”

Remington attorneys Paul Williams of Day Pitney and James Vogts of Swanson, Martin & Bell did not respond to requests for comment.

Koskoff said that in the early years after the complainants in 2014 Remington sued in Connecticut Superior Court, he and co-lead attorney Alinor Sterling were on their own.

The prevailing attitude among their legal peers was basically “Good luck with that,” he said – and no wonder. No comparable litigation had ever succeeded.

Koskoff took a new approach to the complaint, alleging that Remington violated Connecticut’s unfair trade practices law by aggressively marketing the Bushmaster AR-15 military assault rifle used in the attack to young men prone to abuse. violence. Adam Lanza, 20, shot and killed 26 people on December 14, 2012.

Initially, the suit was going nowhere. Connecticut Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis dismissed the case in 2016 for lack of standing.

The turning point came in 2019 when the state Supreme Court revived it, allowing the families to pursue their claims. Remington quickly appealed the decision to the United States Supreme Court.

Enter Verilli.

A native of Wilton, Connecticut, just 20 miles south of Newtown where the massacre took place, Verrilli told me in an interview that the case had special resonance for him.

“In fighting for families, I felt a deeply personal commitment,” he said.

Verrilli wrote a powerful, 40 page memory urging the high court to dismiss Remington’s motion for writ of certiorari.

The brief included a strong procedural argument. In other words, Remington was appealing an interlocutory decision of the Connecticut Supreme Court. Because there had been no final judgment on the merits, he argued, the case was not ripe for reconsideration.

But Verrilli told me he also recognizes that the issues raised “go well beyond procedural issues.” It was a matter of fundamental justice. »

His memoir reflected that too. The weapon used by Lanza “was designed for military combat, specifically to inflict maximum lethal damage on the enemy,” he wrote. Remington’s “marketing emphasized precisely these characteristics of the firearm”.

On November 12, 2019, the Supreme Court dismissed the certificate without comment.

The case, which at that time had not progressed beyond the motion to dismiss stage, was remanded for discovery and further processing.

That’s when the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence connected Koskoff with Paul Weiss (who in 2016 helped start the Gun Liability Task Force) for help in uncovering and gathering evidence for trial.

In a blister request to compelBoehning sued Remington for failing to meet its discovery obligations.

“Remington treated discovery like a game,” he wrote on July 2, 2021. “Remington sought delay and obfuscation at every turn.”

On the front page of the motion, Boehning also included cartoon images of ice cream, Santa Claus, and a weightlifter—examples taken from material that Remington (inexplicably) returned in its document production.

His message? Sandy Hook was “a terrible tragedy, and that’s how you (Remington) treat it,” Boehning told me. “Images have power.”

To complicate matters further, Remington filed for bankruptcy twice, first in 2018 and then in 2020.

Kirpalani, who chairs Quinn Emanuel’s bankruptcy and restructuring firm, pro bono worked with Koskoff when Remington first filed Chapter 11. His goal, he told me, “was simple, ensure that federal bankruptcy law would not negatively impact the rights of victims.” families to pursue their remedies outside of bankruptcy.

Likewise, Gay said she “appreciated the opportunity to play a modest role in the bankruptcy case.”

Local bankruptcy attorney Ty Shepard said working on the Sandy Hook case “has been one of the highlights of my legal career”.

Remington’s assets were sold to multiple buyers in 2020 for $159 million.

In the second bankruptcy proceeding, Paul Weiss partners Kyle Kimpler, Elizabeth Sacksteder and William Clareman helped lead efforts to protect Sandy Hook’s claims.

In total, more than 30 lawyers at the firm have spent at least 10 hours on litigation or bankruptcy, 16 of whom have each spent more than 100 hours on the file.

Under the terms of the settlement, Remington’s four insurers agreed to pay the families the full amount of available coverage, totaling $73 million.

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Jenna Greene writes about legal business and culture, taking a broad look at trends in the profession, the faces behind the cases, and the quirky courtroom dramas. A longtime columnist of the legal industry and high-profile litigation, she lives in Northern California. Contact Greene at [email protected]

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