AFTER HANDLING A TWO-ENGINE FAILURE AT 9,000 FEET, NOTHING FAZES BRETT GODFREY IN THE COURTROOM BY AIMÉE GROTH
CONTROLLING THE SECOND
There was a moment when Brett Godfrey
thought he might die.
He was steering a twin-engine Cessna 421
over the Rocky Mountains late on a Friday
night, after a grueling week of trial in San Jose,
Calif. He and a colleague had just dropped
off their client in Salt Lake and were en route
to Denver to enjoy a three-day weekend. The
second leg of their journey started smoothly,
but at 23,000 feet, the first engine died. By
midnight, they hit a thick layer of clouds and
things got worse. Godfrey called air traffic
control to schedule an emergency landing in
Provo, Utah, and as he steered the plane to
9,000 feet the second engine failed.
“I could see the runway at that point,”
Godfrey says. “If I had landed in the reservoir
we would have died. By sheer luck, it was
actually the smoothest landing I’ve ever had.
Air traffic control didn’t expect us to make it.
“After an experience like that, standing
up in the courtroom against a harsh judge
Godfrey has always been a risk taker.
He not only flies planes, he jumps out of
them. He’s done more than 2,000 skydives
as part of a team with world-famous
skydiver Keith Walter. He’s not 100 percent
fearless, though. “I still panic,” he says. “The
was nothing in Mozart’s life but music. Going
to law school and flight school is like a dog
chasing two rabbits—you’re not going to
catch either one.”
Godfrey responded by reciting a passage
from To Be a Trial Lawyer by criminal defense
attorney and U.S. Marine Corps veteran F.
Lee Bailey. “He lists a number of great points
about why lawyers should also be fighter
pilots,” says Godfrey, “including how pilots
understand early on that they must make
decisions rapidly and they must make those
decisions correctly. And so do trial lawyers.”
In the end, Godfrey went to flight school,
then finished his J.D.
Today the Godfrey | Johnson attorney
handles complex medical and aerospace
cases with a lot of science behind them. In
one of his earliest, most challenging cases,
he represented several corporations with
racketeering claims against the computer
platforms they used to run their businesses.
Even though Godfrey had failed computer
science in college, he taught himself the
operating system Unix.
“One of the best things I’ve learned is that
Flying keeps him sharp.
I’m a student for life,” he says. “When I picture
myself taking the deposition of an expert in a
room full of lawyers, I ask myself, ‘Do I want
to be embarrassed?’ When I picture the end
result, it has to be blood spilled in court—and
it’s not going to be mine.”
Godfrey has a meticulous way of preparing
for trial. As soon as he gets a case, he brings
his team into the firm’s media room—“some
guys would call it a war room”—which
includes a big magnetic wall. “The second
I start hearing the facts of the case, I’m
starting to formulate possible theories,” he
explains. “If we have an operating theory, we
always know what our goals are, and can act
much more decisively.”
To date, Godfrey has led 89 trial cases to
verdict as lead counsel.
“Mental and emotional control is a huge
part of the firm I run,” he says. “It’s one
thing to feel pressure, but to be affected is
a conscious decision. You have the power to
control that second. It’s hard to teach, but it
can be taught.”
He learned law and airplanes from his
father, Paul Godfrey, a renowned trial lawyer
in Cheyenne, Wyo., where Brett grew up.
He’ll never forget a case he attended at age
11. “My dad was representing Texas Gulf, and
there was a virtual lynch mob in Rock Springs,
Wyoming,” he says. “It was an employment
case. People were overturning cars. I
remember walking into the courtroom with my
paperback book thinking, ‘I hope no one knows
I’m with the bad guy.’ But my dad’s speech
calmed the entire town down. It was pretty cool
riding home with him in a Gulfstream jet.”
More often, his father flew around
Wyoming and into neighboring states in a
six-seat propeller plane, and he encouraged
his son to sit in the front seat next to the
pilot, who eventually let him steer. By age 14,
Brett had logged 75 hours of stick time. By
16, he was taking off and landing.
That passion stuck with him, and he decided
to drop out of law school midway through to
go into the U.S. Air Force. His dad put him on a
call with Gerry Spence, a longtime friend.
“Gerry is someone I idolized; I had known
him since I was 5, and he wanted to convince
me not to do it,” Godfrey says. “He said there