It’s About Us! By C. Richard Newsome The Florida Justice Association has a long and distinguished history that I have always been proud to be a part of. As your new President, it is my hope that at this moment in time, we will pull together again like this organization has done so many times before and become the resolute “us,” the same steely and steadfast group that has overcome so much in our now almost fifty year history. This is really what has defined us for so long. Our organization is not defined by the person who happens to be President each year. Rather, it’s the US, those of us that fight each and every day and suffer through some of these challenges together that defines US and allows us to pick ourselves back up after we wage battle in the legislature or lose a noble fight on behalf of our clients before a jury in the courtroom. We don’t simply walk away; something inside of us won’t let us just walk away and throw our hands up in defeat. Instead, we keep going on because we know that there are people out there who need us, people out there who need our help. That is what makes US, each and every one of us, exactly who we are. We’re different from the guys that bill by the hour; we’re different from the firms that represent corporations and insurance companies. This steadfast determination and commitment to do what is right is what makes us special. I honestly believe that at this moment in time we have the chance to once again empower our organization and be the group that makes all the difference in bettering the lives of Florida’s consumers and patients. A few months ago I was at a baseball game with my son Grant. I ran into a friend of mine there who just happens to be a lobbyist for some of these insurance companies. He came up to me and asked about the FJA and when my term was going to be as President. I told him that my time was now and how excited and eager I was to finally lead our organization. He brought up how tough a year he thought we were going to have with some of the issues he and his insurance friends were expecting to push this next session, a regular laundry list nightmare for any civil justice attorney. With things like eliminating third party insurance bad faith and extending sovereign immunity to emergency room providers at the top of the list, it’s no wonder why he encouraged me to renegotiate my presidential term! FJA JOURNAL
Yet, despite my buddy’s good-natured warnings, I believe that we, that the US, will be there to battle these dangerous bills every step of the way. I believe that we will rise to the occasion because we’ve done it before, time and time again in the great past history of this organization. Together, our strength as an organization knows no limits. The cohesive strength and unity of our organization is something that has always inspired me and made me want to become a leader. The membership summit held back in December in Duck Key reminded me of “the power of US” and how important it is to stick together through both shared successes and setbacks. We talked about what we were as an organization and where we were going to go from this point forward. We made some changes and had the opportunity to find a brand new Executive Director who was ready to take the helm of the organization and bring her own fresh ideas to the table in an effort to reenergize the entire association. In addition, we got a lucky break in getting Steve Schale as our new Political Director whose own list of accomplishments is unmatched. Our brand new Board of Directors is also going to give us some great new energy in the year ahead and we have some truly new leadership on board, new leaders who are really excited about their roles as we move forward. We are now poised to move forward into the upcoming elections. We have a new Board of Governors for the FJ PAC and our stalwart firms are going to play an integral role in helping to decide where we make political contributions. We’re going to be about friend building and relationship building. We’re going to grow our key contact program and build upon these relationships one step at a time instead of putting it all into one race. I think that message has rung true with our stalwart firms who appreciate this new approach. I honestly believe that this is the path forward. We will be there as an organization. We will rise to the occasion. We’ve committed ourselves to change because we’ve looked at ourselves and asked who we could become, who should we become. We’ve taken the past year’s experiences and decided to change the organization and become stronger than we’ve ever been before. I know it’s not going to be easy but together, we can accomplish anything. I believe in US. I know we’ve done it before and I believe we can do it again. We have
Issue No. 546
some great opportunities in not only defeating some bad legislation but I’m hopeful that we can actually accomplish some things at a time when our enemies think that we are down and out. Never count US out. We are a great organization. We have such a proud history and have proven time and time again that we will do whatever it takes to succeed. We are on a new course and we are coming up to not only the same level we were before but becoming an even stronger organization. We will continue to get
stronger to not only face the challenges coming up over the next year with elections and through the 2011 Session, but I honestly believe that we are going to make some great things happen along the way as well. So buckle up! I’m excited, I believe in US, and I hope that you will continue to do so as well. Thank you for giving me the privilege and honor of being your President for the next year. I promise not to let you down and to give each of you 110 percent of my efforts.
DID ou You KNOW KN
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Issue No. 546
Action Report Volume 19
Issue No. 546
the Extra Mile
for the FJA and His Clients
By Debra Henley, Executive Director
he Florida Justice Association is extremely fortunate to have Rich Newsome as our next President. He has a solid working knowledge of the issues most important to your clients and your practice; he is adept at developing practical strategies for success and toward this end has built important relationships across both sides of the aisle; he is known as a hard-nosed litigator but also a passionate defender of the rights of Floridians. Since joining the Florida Justice Association in 1996, Rich has proven to be an effective advocate for Floridians whose voices are not often heard in the legislative process. He has fought to retain the Frye standard in Florida’s courts and defeated legislation that would have effectively granted immunity to retailers for defective foreign products. He fights to ensure that important incentives remain for the inclusion of safety features in automobile design and manufacturing for the protection of Florida’s drivers and passengers. It never ceases to amaze me how each President puts a unique stamp on their year as President. For Rich, product safety is sure to be the cornerstone of his FJA service and presidency. Those who have worked with Rich know that he is a superb attorney willing to go the extra mile for his clients. He has told me that he enjoys being an attorney because he can use his knowledge and experience to help
people who need it the most. It is already evident he feels the same way about the Florida Justice Association. His passion for public service dates back to the 1980s when he chose to work at the Capitol before going to law school. He has consistently strived to use his ability to persuade people, whether an elected official, a judge, or a jury for the improvement of the lives of his clients and for all Floridians.
Born to be an attorney…or an artist
Unlike our Past President Michael Haggard, whose father was heavily involved with the FJA, Rich Newsome didn’t have the benefit of a lifelong legal mentor. Rich grew up in a middle-class home in Orlando, with his father working as a construction contractor and his mother a high school teacher. He has a younger brother, Pete, and sister, Kelly. July Action Report
From an early age, Rich showed an affinity for taking on tough, complex tasks with vigor and dedication. Rich isn’t the type of person to half-heartedly approach a task or set easy goals for himself. He approaches everything full-throttle! “Rich always seemed to be someone who had great ideas and would just run with it,” said his brother Pete. Like most children, Rich wanted to build a fort in his Orlando backyard. But instead of the usual haphazard construction, Rich took a week to dig a large hole in the ground and build an elaborate structure on top. “He was always someone that had big ideas and would immerse himself in whatever had captivated him,” Pete said. Rich liked to set seemingly impossible goals for himself. Despite his thin build, Rich was determined in high school to play for the football team. “He was the skinniest offensive lineman that ever played,” Pete said. “He wanted to play football and prove that he could do it. He played on a great team and they did really well; they were in the state playoffs.” Rich could have taken on any career and done well — even being an artist. He had a natural talent for drawing at an early age. “He could have been an artist if he wanted to,” Pete said. Thankfully, by the time Rich had started college at Florida State Univer-
sity, he was drawn to the idea of practicing law as a way of influencing the world. “He saw law as a way to make decisions that would affect everyone else,” Pete said. “He fell in love with it.” After graduating from Florida State with a degree in political science and economics, Rich went to law school at the University of Florida, a faithful Seminole in Gatorland. While approaching his law school graduation in 1989, Rich sought the advice of experienced trial attorneys about what his career goals should be. He called Greg Barnhart, whom many of you know is a successful personal injury attorney in West Palm Beach and a Past President of the FJA. “He called my firm looking for a job,” Barnhart said. “He wanted to be a trial lawyer. I suggested he become a prosecutor. I told him ‘You’ll get a wealth of experience with a bunch of different lawyers, you won’t have tons of time and a lot of resources, but you’ll learn to be comfortable in a courtroom.’” Rich took that advice to heart and became the youngest U.S. Attorney ever at the age of 24. While working as a prosecutor in Orlando, Rich met a young woman named Marcy one evening. Marcy said he had the good sense to track her down the next day at the radio station where she worked, asking her on a date. Soon, they became a couple. But just like any good attorney, Rich wanted to better understand the terms of their relationship. On a trip from Sarasota to Orlando, Rich asked her what her expectations were of the relationship. Marcy told him she loved him and wanted to marry him. “What’s my timeframe?” Rich asked. Marcy set a deadline of one year for a proposal. “And then what will happen?” Rich pressed, thinking it was a deposition. “I will walk away,” Marcy told him. “No hard feelings, but I will need to move on.” Those of us who know Rich are not surprised that Rich waited 363 days before proposing to Marcy! Thankfully, Marcy can laugh about this now. “We lived happily ever after,” Marcy said. AR 2
They married a year later in Orlando and now have three children, Caroline, 13, Grant, 9, and Grace, 7. It’s clear that Rich adores his family, often talking about his children’s latest accomplishments and expertly juggling the responsibilities of the FJA, his private practice, and time with his family.
A huge heart
Rich left his job for the U.S. Attorney to work for a defense firm, often referred to in trial attorney circles as “The Dark Side.” And while Rich defended automobile manufacturers against product liability lawsuits, he quickly discovered that this wasn’t the side he wanted to be on. After one particularly tough day working to defend Ford in a lawsuit over a tire tread separation that had caused a fatal rollover, Rich called his wife Marcy. “I can’t do this anymore,” he told her. By that time their daughter had been born, and it broke his heart to see a family suffering because of the negligence of a car manufacturer. He decided to switch sides and become a plaintiff ’s attorney. “That’s what Rich is all about,” said Robin Porter, his longtime firm administrator and case manager. “He has a huge heart and passion for people.” After a stint working at an Orlando firm led by plaintiff ’s attorney Robert Overchuck, Rich opened his own practice in 2002. He specializes in catastrophic complex injury cases with an emphasis on automotive and tire defects. July Action Report
Greg Barnhart shared his thoughts on what makes Rich a successful attorney: “Rich is a superior attorney,” Barnhart said. “He went into an area of law that is very tough. It’s very expensive when you are suing manufacturers of defective products. They fight to the death and it’s difficult to win. But Rich is a prepared, thoughtful litigator. If you are prepared and you know your case and the law then you will more than likely win most of your cases and that is what Rich has done.” But Rich brings something else to the table beyond his litigation skills. He is passionate about helping people whose lives have been devastated. He goes out of his way to help his clients, even beyond the scope of litigation. If a paraplegic client is in need of a laptop, Rich will find him one. If a client needs help qualifying for Medicaid, Rich will work to ensure health care coverage. He is considerate of his clients’ needs and delivers. He’s also helped draw national attention to consumer safety issues, taking a client to Washington, D.C. for a press conference on the Firestone tire recalls. At the time, Firestone had not yet recalled a certain type of tire that had killed one of Rich’s clients, an 18-month old girl. After the press conference the tires at issue were recalled. I’d like to share with you a letter one of Rich’s clients wrote to him after her case was settled. This client had lost her husband in a car accident and wrote a letter
your family and I hope they know it was to help another family that very much needed your help. I just wanted to say thank you.” One thing about Rich that never changed over the years is his ability to throw himself into something and commit 100 percent – whether it’s a case he’s working on, or a new hobby. His brother Pete shared a story about Rich deciding to train and run in the Florida Ironman triathlon several years ago, a grueling event with a back-to-back 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride and a 26.2 mile marathon. This ambitious goal was surprising to Pete because Rich had just finished his first triathlon at a much smaller distance. Still, he threw himself into training and finished the Florida Ironman in Panama City in 2008 with “a smile on his face,” Pete said. “He never does anything halfway.” And as we have heard over and over again, his clients feel that way too.
Anyone who has worked with Rich can testify to his passion for helping people. It truly is what drives him each day to do the best he can for his clients and for the Florida Justice Association. He’s been deeply involved with the Florida Justice Association since he joined in 1996. He has been our point person on products liability including battles of Frye vs. Daubert, retailer immunity, and the crashworthiness doctrine. He is a tremendous asset to our team in fighting these critical issues and in navigating the complex legislative process. Rich takes a pragmatic approach to politics, and for him this means building relationships with elected officials and donors. A successful FJA President needs the respect of the elected leaders in Florida politics as well as the respect of our members, and Rich has both. As a result of his pre-FJA experience working in the Capitol, he is probably one of the most legislative savvy presidents we have had. We look forward to a session with Rich at the helm because he is an outstanding strategist and focused advocate for our cause.
to Rich thanking him. He keeps this letter to remind him why he goes to work each day. “After the accident I was not sure about anything, I knew I had to take care of my kids and I wasn’t sure how to do that by myself. You flew up to Dallas and met with me even while you were about to have a baby … Here it is 13 years later and I live in a beautiful house and have enough money that I do not have to work …You helped me through the toughest time in my life and I will always remember how much you helped me. You took a lot away from July Action Report
This is a challenging year for the Florida Justice Association in part because it is an election year in which there are more open, •
contested seats than there have been in over a decade. Many of our members do not realize the amount of time Rich devotes on their behalf attending to elections operations and fundraising. As President of the FJA, Rich also serves as the FJ PAC Chairman. These duties take a significant amount of time away from his family and we are grateful to have their support and understanding. Thank you to Marcy for “lending”
us your husband and to Caroline, Grant and Grace for “lending” your father to us for a year. Rich has also helped guide the Florida Justice Association in its revamping of our website, which was recently unveiled. He was instrumental in pushing the FJA to improve its technology and the way it serves you – our members! This project
was of critical importance to Rich and he brought it in for a successful landing. I am excited about the many projects we are working on that will improve and enhance the value of FJA membership for all of you. It will be an exciting and challenging year ahead, but rest assured that Rich, your leadership team, the staff and I are motivated, focused and ready to promote, protect and defend the civil justice system.
The Florida Justice Association has been guided by a series of strong, committed leaders since 1961, each willing to go to great lengths and make equally great sacrifices to protect and uphold the principles of justice in Florida. We owe them each a great debt of gratitude for their devoted and selfless service. But behind every good President is a supportive family, each sacrificing a great deal on behalf of the FJA in their own right. Our presidents take precious time away from their families and loved ones to lead the FJA in its battle for justice. The law partners and friends, children and spouses, contribute immensely to the cause of FJA by lending us an important component of their lives. It is with great admiration and respect that we recognize their sacrifice.
Howard and Fran Coker
Making time to acknowledge those whose love, support and understanding allows FJA to continue its ongoing mission to protect the safety of Florida’s consumers was the wish of Fran Coker, beloved wife of FJA Past President Howard Coker. Fran recognized the integral roles played by family and friends in the life of our volunteer President. On a personal note, I would like to mention that Fran has a special place in the hearts of the FJA staff who had the privilege to know her. She cared deeply about the people who live this association and its mission each day, taking her time to prepare baked goodies for staff each week of session and always generous with her kind remarks and inspiring words of support. We think of Fran Coker often here at FJA Headquarters. It is in her honor that we are proud to recognize FJA’s newest President, Rich Newsome and his family, and hope to capture the essence of Fran’s wish in our brief sketch of Rich and the importance of family in his life. July Action Report