Latham & Watkins
Specialty: Environment, securities litigation
Law School: Vanderbilt, 1969
He may not be popular with the little guy, but defense attorney Ernest Getto has developed quite a following with corporate America. For the past 30 years, his client roster has included the likes of IBM, Xerox and Occidental Petroleum, provoking the ire of small-town plaintiffs along the way.
“It boils down to solving problems for the client. My former partner, Max Gillam, always used to tell me, ‘Never confuse winning with solving the problems,’ ” Getto said.
Such was the case with one of Getto’s most notable defenses. It involved 3,500 people suing 14 companies, alleging that the area’s air and water had been polluted by dumping industrial waste at the Stringfellow site in Riverside County. The plaintiffs sued for hundreds of millions of dollars, but the case was settled for about 5 percent of that amount, Getto said.
“We were successful in keeping plaintiff experts off the stand. We were successful in cross-examining plaintiffs and hurting their credibility,” Getto said.
His biggest challenge is translating the essence of a case into layman’s terms. “Many of my cases involve chemicals. Your average citizen has an inherent fear of chemicals. You have to point out to the jury that chemicals are dangerous, but not always,” he said. “After all, aspirin is helpful, but you can overdose and die from it.”
Not one to be pigeonholed as an environmental and product liability lawyer, Getto won a case for the Directors Guild of America, whose members were suing the guild over its pension plan.
Getto is currently representing the guild in a suit brought by director Tony Kaye, who alleges that the union did not support his application for a pseudonym in credits on his film, “American History X.”
Getto says he enjoys being in the midst of such struggles. “It’s nice to work in the different industries which are completely different,” he said. “The challenge of constantly fluctuating between these types of cases makes the job invigorating.”
Nola L. Sarkisian