techniques or thinking to prove his case. The
people he represents are very lucky to have
someone who goes to that level.”
As here: The jury awarded his client
$2.5 million, tying the then-record for a
wrongful-death award in California.
McClellan’s reward? In the aftermath,
he went to his mailbox and found a box
of chocolate perforated with tiny holes,
suggesting someone had poisoned it.
“There are some devoted Porsche fans
who don’t like their vehicles attacked,” he
says. “I shrugged it off.”
What Porsche fans don’t know is
that their enemy is a kindred spirit. As
a member of the Sports Car Club of
America, McClellan races cars himself. “I
like the speed, the maneuvering, the thrill
of it, the smell of it,” he says. “It makes it
easier for me as a lawyer, because I can
communicate with the experts more easily
and I don’t need to explain it to the jury in
a geeky fashion.” Even so, post-trial, he
sold his Porsche, figuring none of the local
dealers would do business with him when
it needed repairs.
McClellan is so at home in a garage
Car cases keep coming to him. In the
that he actually bought one. Each
morning, he and his employees park in a
garage he bought in 1989 that also stores
vehicles from ongoing cases—currently,
four crushed cars, a motorcycle and a
bicycle. “The injuries they witnessed
include death, quadriplegia, brain injury
and the loss of a leg,” McClellan says.
“They serve as a constant motivation, and
incentivize us to do the most, and the
best, for those that suffered or died.”
The garage can be a source of great
hubbub, as when a vehicle is on a
hydraulic lift surrounded by experts using
lights, cameras, and laser tracking and
measuring equipment. It’s even served as
a courtroom. Fifteen years ago, McClellan
wanted the jury to view a BMW involved
in a crash. “We had the garage made into
a courtroom, with an area for the jury, the
judge and all the other members of the
court,” he says.
late ’80s, McClellan litigated a number
of three-wheel ATV cases against Honda.
One of the largest verdicts, concerning
a 9-year-old girl who was rendered
quadriplegic, was featured on 60 Minutes.
In another ATV case, he compelled the
president of Honda Motors to testify; and
on the stand, the CEO broke into tears
when McClellan confronted him with a list
of all the children who had been killed or
maimed on his company’s three-wheelers.
McClellan lost that one anyway.
“The jury didn’t have any sympathy for
[the CEO] but felt that if the ATVs were
really unsafe the government would have
taken action. It did—about six months after
the verdict.” In fact, the Justice Department
used information from the case to ban all
three-wheel ATVs in the U.S.
WHEN VISITORS ENTER THE AIRY
environment of the McClellan firm,
founded in 1986, they see framed photos
of actors Andy Griffith (Matlock) and
Raymond Burr (Perry Mason).
“I learn a lot from those shows,”
McClellan says. “I’ll take a snippet from a
damage argument a character makes and
Some of his cases have wound up on
those shows as well. During the Porsche
trial, McClellan received a package in the
mail with a copy of a company report on
the vehicle’s handling and performance.
The official report said the car operated
fine, but this one, when translated from
the original German, detailed the oversteer
issue, calling it “poisonous.” McClellan
confronted the Porsche CEO on the
stand, asking, “When did you have the
report altered?” All hell broke loose. With
certain details altered, the incident was
resurrected on an episode of L.A. Law.
By design, McClellan’s firm has stayed
small: seven employees, 15 active cases,
each of which must have seven-figure
potential. “It’s tough to be out there on
your own,” says Herbert Hoffman, a retired
superior court judge. “He’s usually up
against insurance companies and major law
firms. He’s taking on high-stakes, complex
cases without an army of lawyers.”
But that’s how McClellan likes it. He’s
currently litigating a case against USC
and a USC public safety officer who was
allegedly driving 69 mph through a 25-
mph campus zone when he hit a student,
killing her. “This isn’t only about that one
incident,“ he says. “It’s about protecting
all the students who are affected by public
safety officers who aren’t properly trained
He adds, “It’s important to make a case
bigger than just the incident of the case.”
The Million-Dollar Verdict McClellan
Doesn’t Want to Talk About
McClellan has received a lot of publicity for his 110 seven-figure cases, but
there’s one he wishes hadn’t made headlines: a $1.1 million verdict for a
woman who was wrongly accused of shoplifting a 25-cent pair of pantyhose.
A Target security guard tried to get the woman to sign a confession that she
had switched price tags. In his research, McClellan found the guards were
subject to a quota system, so they would accuse people of shoplifting, have
them sign a confession, then let them go.
“During the settlement discussions,” he says. “I told them, ‘I am going to up
my demand by $50,000 a day, and you can stop it anytime.’” On the stand,
he made mincemeat of the guard, pointing out that the perforated price tag
couldn’t be switched without falling apart. He also cross-examined a store
executive named King, who, McClellan says, “acted like a king.” Target settled.
The bad part? “All the publicity from the case,” he says. “I didn’t want to
become known as the 25-cent pantyhose lawyer.”