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    February 8, 2008  

Erin Brockovich

Celebrities in our midst!  Craigslist's Craig Newmark and former Apple CEO John Sculley, among others, at the upcoming Southeast Venture Conference. Feb 27-28, Tysons Ritz.  


Think you’ve got it tough?  Try being a plaintiff’s attorney in Virginia, which has a $350,000 cap on punitives.  And where your federal appeals go to the Fourth Circuit, which . . . well, enough said.  Although the appellate court has “been making my life difficult for 25 years,” Elaine Charlson Bredehoft has beaten the odds and carved out a more-than-successful plaintiff’s practice in Reston—The Washingtonian, for one, has called her the “area’s most effective personal-injury lawyer.”


Good thing that Elaine likes this line, which comes from Al Jackson, ex‑President of Government Micro Resources, Inc., for whom Elaine won a $5 million defamation verdict against his former employer.  But the quote applies just as easily to Elaine’s career.  She says that after making partner in less than four years at Walton & Adams, the Virginia firm steered her towards domestic relations work after the birth of her two daughters.  She decided to strike out on her own and established her own firm in 1991.  It’s grown to include a partner, Peter Cohen, and four associates.


Maybe it’s Elaine’s friendly Minnesota manner, or the nature of plaintiff’s work, but she sure does get a lot of gifts from clients. This one comes from a policewoman who suffered sexual discrimination.


Elaine focuses on sexual assault and discrimination, whistleblower cases (she won $3.1 million for a Leesburg police chief who called out town officials in a credit card scandal, despite asking for only $1 million), and business tort actions for high-level executives.   The unique challenges that Elaine faces in sustaining her practice include screening 50 to 200 calls a week from would-be clients.  For that, she’s developed a rigorous rule:  “If anyone’s a jerk in an initial phone call, we cut it off right there.”  (Elaine’s actual term may have been more colorful than “jerk.”)  She also finds herself playing wardrobe consultant—one client wanted to wear his favorite tie to court every single day—and insisting on the occasional haircut.


Elaine’s 2008 resolution:  less Diet Coke, more water.


Currently, Elaine is representing a former executive with Parsons Transportation, who was kidnapped and held for ransom while working in the Philippines.  Elaine says that despite the family’s desire to get involved, the company insisted on handling negotiations over a relatively small dollar amount (the demand was for about 200,000, in pesos)—while the executive suffered torture that permanently damaged his vocal chords.  The case is now before the Fourth Circuit over an arbitration clause. As ever, Elaine is relishing the challenge—and staying optimistic about the future.  “There are five vacancies on the court,” she says. “There could be a big change.”   

Cardinal Bank
Andrews Kurth
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