The recent string of Metrolink commuter accidents has helped midwife Los Angeles' newest tort boutique.

Ringler Kearney Alvarez opened for business on Feb. 1 and will represent passengers injured when a Metrolink train hit a vehicle in Glendale last year, along with victims of another crash in Placentia and a third crash in Burbank that caused one passenger to become a paraplegic.

The firm is led by attorney Jerry Ringler, who tried the first 150 suits prompted by an April 2002 head-on collision between a Southern California Regional Rail Authority commuter train and a Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway freight train that killed two people in Placentia. So far he's won a $9 million verdict for one injured passenger. Ringler also won a $160 million insurance fraud verdict representing a doctor's group against Nor Cal Leavitt Insurance in 2003.

Ringler said the new firm is an ideal partnership because of his extensive trial experience and attorneys' Tom Kearney and Paul Alvarez's talent in trial preparation.

"We joined on a case where (my partners) wanted a significantly experienced trial attorney to join in various lawsuits where they were handling the pretrial litigation, and we found we worked extraordinarily well together," Ringler said. "While all of us are capable of preparing a case and all of us can try a case, my greater strengths are in trial and their greater strengths are in preparing cases."

Alvarez and Kearney have been representing plaintiffs for the past five years with an emphasis on class action and complex financial matters. They have also done commercial litigation and appellate work.

Although the firm's initial slate of suits is rail-heavy, Ringler said personal torts will only be a component of the practice. They will try business torts, financial fraud and wage-and-hour cases. The firm plans to file several new cases this month.

Family Heirlooms
Just who has the rights to works found after the death of musicians and other artists? Family members or corporate entities such as Hollywood studios and recording companies?

A recent decision involving the estate of Hank Williams and Polygram Records Inc. is shining a light on this murky area. A Tennessee Court of Appeals decision on Jan. 20 affirmed a trial court's earlier decision in favor of Williams' heirs, Jett and Hank Williams Jr.

In their case against Legacy Entertainment Group LLC and Polygram Records, the two sons secured ownership and distribution rights of 10 hours of recorded material. No dollar amount has been tied to these recordings, though Williams' material remains popular more than 50 years after he died.

While the Tennessee decision does not carry precedent in California, this is the first time that heirs of a performer have been given rights of exploitation when the performer was under exclusive contract.

"I think the real take-away is that Hank died in 1952 and this is 2006. Fifty four years later, recordings of Hank Williams are now, after a fair amount of litigation, owned and controlled by his heirs. This is not anything that someone was thinking about at the time," said Vincent Cheiffo, an attorney at the Los Angeles office of Greenberg Traurig LLP, who handled the case for the Williams family.

Greenberg specializes in bankruptcy, corporate and entertainment law.

This and That
Somewhere along the way, plaintiffs' attorneys got a bum rap. Now, they're responding by hiring top-notch public relations professionals to head their professional organizations.

The Consumer Attorneys Association of Los Angeles named public relations whiz Stuart Zanville its executive director in January. Zanville has headed the local GolinHarris International office and represented Knott's Berry Farm and the Los Angeles Turf Club Inc., which operates Santa Anita Race Track. He joined the association as marketing director 18 months ago.

"I think that for quite long time there has been a large amount of misinformation presented to the public as to who trial lawyers are, what they do and what they believe in," Zanville said. "And I think the public is beginning to understand that trial lawyers protect people from unsafe products, unsafe medicine and unfair business practices."

Also, the American Trial Lawyers Association in Washington last year hired a top PR person as its chief.

Some local firms are still trying to catch up with last fall's blistering series of associate pay increases. L.A.-based behemoth Manatt Phelps & Phillips LLP and the much smaller Steefel Levitt & Weiss both announced the same first-year associate pay increase last week, to $135,000, up from $125,000. Manatt is catching up with Irell & Manella LLP and Quinn Emanuel Urquhart Oliver & Hedges LLP, which gave their first years raises back in October. Steefel is the first local firm of its size to raise rates to larger firm standards. Price war anyone?

Bingham McCutchen LLP named Sandra Lee Montgomery partner. She is a member of the bank, commercial and structured finance group Foley & Lardner LLP elected two partners: Deepak Nanda, a business law specialist, and Keith C. Owens, a litigator Steefel Levitt & Weiss is welcoming Amy B. Briggs, a shareholder in the litigation practice, and Elizabeth Strahlstrom, a real estate specialist Troy & Gould P.C. recently promoted Christopher A. Lilly to partner. Lily focuses on contract, securities and entertainment litigation, copyright matters, labor and employment law.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger appointment two judges to benches on the Los Angeles County Superior Court: Suzette Clover and Hector Guzman. Clover, 51, of Glendale, has been in the United State's Attorney's Office since 1987. Clover is a Republican. Guzman, 44, of Rancho Palos Verdes, has been deputy district attorney with the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office since 1989. He was in charge of the East Los Angeles District Attorney's Office. Guzman is a decline-to-state. These positions pay $149,160.

*Staff reporter Emily Bryson York can be reached at (323)549-5225, ext. 235, or at .

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