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Critical Mass

Since 1978, the plaintiff firm, which was founded by Vincent J. Bartolotta Jr. and Michael T. Thorsnes (retired), has consistently proven its ability to produce incomparable results for its clients, while maintaining the lean inner dynamics of a well-oiled machine. In fact, since the inception of the firm, their verdicts and settlements have surpassed more than $1 billion.

Yet, that’s not the reason any of the firm’s five partners chooses to practice law. “It just isn’t about the money. It’s about being given the opportunity to help people whose lives have been devastated. It’s about making a difference through good works,” declares Managing Partner Bartolotta. Indeed, one ideology has remained consistent throughout the firm’s history, no matter the number of partners or associates: “When you care, you put your clients’ interests first. Practicing law is all about helping people, and all of our partners are absolutely likeminded that way,” he adds.

As the firm enters into its 35th year, its partners continue to operate as a formidable force when its client’s lives are disrupted as a result of ineptitude, catastrophe or injustice. However, that’s not to say that the firm has ever pigeonholed itself as a firm specializing in one particular field. On the contrary, it’s the firm’s diversity of interests and strengths which cumulatively come together as individual cogs in a wheel, proving a powerful ally for plaintiffs.

Service in TBM's DNA
Thorsnes Bartolotta McGuire’s history is steeped in service, beginning long before the firm was founded in 1978. Namesake partners Vincent J. Bartolotta and John “Mickey” McGuire shared a common interest in service as a whole, years before serving individuals as trial attorneys. Both men have decorated military service records. Bartolotta received an honorable discharge as a Major from the United State Marine Corps, following active duty in Southeast Asia where he served as a radar intercept officer, Wing Legal Officer, and earned his negotiator’s stripes. Similarly, McGuire, a U.S Naval Academy graduate, served a 14 month tour of duty, wherein he received three combat medals for valor under fire, including the Purple Heart. He completed his service work at the Pentagon, where he served as press officer for Secretaries of Defense Laird, Richardson and Schlesinger. He too was honorably discharged after years of service, with the rank of Lieutenant.

The similarities between the men who have shared a firm for four decades don’t end there. Upon graduation from law school, both military veterans pursued careers in law, and initially began their careers in the field of defense,but neither attorney reaped much personal satisfaction from the work. Instead,they realized that their true passion was to help those faced with tragedy, injury,and injustice.The decision to pursue careers in plaintiff’s work did yield that personal reward that both Vincent and Mickey sought as individuals. More importantly, the underlying goal worked for the firm as a whole. Just three years after the two partnered up, Thorsnes Bartolotta McGuire had earned the designation in 1982 by American Lawyer Magazine as one of 20 outstanding new firms in the nation, and one of four from California. In 1983, the firm was selected as one of the seven leading firms in San Diego by San Diego Magazine. Individually, Vincent and Mickey each continued to earn recognition in the San Diego legal community. Both men were named to Woodward White’s Best Lawyers in America in 1987-the first year the list was publicized-and continue to be included each year. Each has received multiple Outstanding Trial Lawyer awards, and both have been honored to receive the Daniel T. Broderick Award for Civility, Integrity and Professionalism.

But where there are similarities, there are also differences. Vincent’s practice has an emphasis on business disputes, condemnation and major injury cases, which have often had him in the public spotlight. Mickey considers himself as a general litigator, who refuses to be tied to any specific categories of law. From bet-the-company litigation to personal injury, his practice has included trying cases including construction defects, landslide and subsidence claims, medical and legal malpractice, insurance company fraud, to products liability. Many of his largest victories for clients will never be available for public consumption however, because as one partner put it, “when Mickey gets involved, the defense wants to settle quickly and quietly.”

Bartolotta and McGuire had clearly alighted upon a formula that was working. Individual clients were being compensated for injuries caused by others such as in the case Doe v. Roe Company & Moe Contractors, which resulted in a settlement in excess of $14.5 million dollars for a personal injury case. The firm was also winning big for homeowners in construction defects cases including Albert J. Reed, et al. v. Davidson, et al.

Equally important to the firm is a sense of duty the partners feel in regards to leveling the playing field in fights against big, national corporations as in Davis v. USAA (1995), which established that an insurance company must notify a policy holder if a renewal results in a reduction in benefits. Similarly, Shepard v. Cal Farmers Insurance (1993) established the requirement that a health insurer advise a policy holder that a disability leading to Medicare coverage would result in restricted private coverage. While there may have been only one plaintiff, the results of these cases would ultimately benefit generations to come.

In other cases, the attorneys at Thorsnes Bartolotta McGuire were fighting essentially to make the world a safer place for everyone, such as in Foodmaker v. Vons (1998) which helped to create tougher food industry standards to protect the public against tainted meat. Similarly, Peake v. City of San Diego/U.S. Government (1988) was filed after two boys were killed when buried ordnance exploded in Tierrasanta. The outcome resulted in stringent standards being imposed on the military for clean-up of its old sites.

Enriching an Established Firm
As the firm continued to earn acclaim for its work on the behalf of plaintiffs in San Diego and beyond, McGuire and Bartolotta recognized that there are always areas to improve upon, in order to help not only clients, but the legal community at large. As a result, the firm became one of the pioneers of the use of laser disks and bar-coded evidence for the instantaneous retrieval and presentation of evidence to a jury. Indeed, it was the firm’s successful handling of Del Coronado Santee Townhomes Assoc.

v. LAR Development/ D.G. & Associates (1993) which helped to revolutionize procedures for litigation of complex cases, and won the applause of judges ever anxious to reduce unnecessary court time.

The firm has also always held that service extends beyond the courtroom. According to Bartolotta, “we work hard to improve the quality of life for our clients and then enjoy sharing the rewards of our legal practice by improving the quality of life in our community. We take as much pride in our giving as we do in our courtroom work.” To that end, Thorsnes Bartolotta McGuire has always sought out ways to be of service to its neighbors and fellow citizens through pro-bono work and charitable giving.

“Members of the firm participate in various legal-oriented programs such as the American Inns of Court, Law Week, the Lawyers Club, Consumer Attorneys of San Diego, Friends of Legal Aid, Volunteers in Parole, the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund, and other non-profits that benefit both the public and the profession,” says McGuire. In fact, Thorsnes Bartolotta McGuire was among the first law firms in the nation to volunteer as pro-bono representatives for the 9/11 victims before the Special Master. Elite firms across the nation have all agreed to represent the victims on a pro-bono basis, absorbing all the costs of doing so. 100% of the funds awarded go to the victim’s heirs. To date, the firm has obtained more than $12 million for victims of the attack.

All of this goes to clearly show that “it is the people at Thorsnes Bartolotta McGuire who make the positive impact on the world around them,” according to McGuire. To that end, Vincent and Mickey knew exactly what they were looking for when it came to adding new partners.

In Kevin Quinn, they found a likeminded attorney hungry to fight for justice, due to his own nightmarish ordeal with a surgeon. Quinn, who had studied at the United States Military Academy at WestPoint before suffering an injury so severe that he was honorable discharged, had experienced personal suffering as the result of medical malpractice. “I had injured my knee skiing and needed surgery,” Quinn says. “When I woke up from surgery, the surgeon’s assistant said to me ‘Look, we’re sorry, but we operated on the wrong knee first,’” he recalls.

Furious that as a result of the mistake he would require another surgery, he sought the advice of an attorney. “The attorney got my surgeon to agree to pay for my next surgery, so it wouldn’t cost me anything. Then a couple of weeks later I saw that same attorney holding a press conference with the surgeon. He was his attorney too. I was so angry; I decided immediately that I was going to go to law school, to make sure nothing like this ever happened to anyone else.”

Quinn’s drive to ensure that others aren’t subjected to the same fate he was led him to a practice primarily in medical malpractice. To illustrate his commitment to achieving that objective, it was Quinn’s client who won the first settlement against Shiley heart valves in 1993. Not surprisingly, within just a few years, Quinn received an Outstanding Trial lawyer award for one of the first elder abuse death cases tried under a newly enacted state law.

Diversifying the Partnership
As TBM has continued to evolve, its partners have clearly proven to themselves that core principles such as hard work and integrity are mandatory characteristics that any attorney interested in joining the firm must have. However, unlike many firms which are dedicated to a highly niche practice, TBM prefers diversity in its cases and its team. It’s not surprising then, that after associate Karen Frostrom won an Outstanding Trial Lawyer award for her work on Mesdaq v. City of San Diego et al, it was clear that her sheer talent in the courtroom, coupled with her focused efforts and expertise in the areas of Eminent Domain and Real Estate, had earned her a position as partner in the firm. Since then, she has gone on to win two more consecutive Outstanding Trial Lawyer Awards in 2007 and 2008, for Southern v. University of California and Anderprises adv. Caltrans, respectively.

In 2012, TBM was eager to add another attorney to its partnership, and found just the right mix of determination to help people and a unique specialization that would allow the firm to diversify its caseload in Ian Fusselman. Fusselman, who’d been a cadet in the Civil Air Patrol and first flew a plane solo at 16 years old, had spent his early years in the legal field clerking for a complex litigation firm which specialized in representing victim of catastrophic aviation and automobile accidents. Upon graduation, he joined a Los Angeles defense firm, and found himself representing the target defendant in the litigation that arose from folk singer John Denver’s fatal airplane crash. He uses his expertise in aviation law as one branch of a comprehensive practice that also includes catastrophic personal injury cases, insurance litigation and construction litigation. To date, in his 8 years with the firm, he’s helped the team at Thorsnes Bartolotta McGuire to recover more than $100 Million for clients. Fusselman became the firm’s fifth partner in 2012.

Reaching Critical Mass
While each and every partner of the Thorsnes Bartolotta McGuire team has been recognized for their individual efforts, none underestimate the value of the overall team support they receive from their colleagues, and supporting staff. According to Quinn, “Everyone has a team mentality. We have a lot of sports and military background, which emphasizes the team. Of course, there is friendly competition among us, but it works. We all share ideas and everyone is absolutely equal.” Seconds Fusselman, “the system we have put together is incredible. From our graphics and A/V support to our paralegals, to our secretarial staff, we have such diverse backgrounds, that it sounds cliché, but we really are like a family.” Frostrom agrees. “We are on our way to the moon. It is crazy busy, and we’ve built a great team that can take it on.”

However, as Vincent is quick to point out, there would be no team, and therefore no team success, were it not for the underlying desire of each partner to do what is right, and give their all to every client. “There is really no secret about what we do. We really care for our clients and each case gets a piece of our souls.”

For the last four decades at least, that has clearly been enough to bring about sufficient change for thousands of clients, and fellow citizens.


Thorsnes Bartolotta McGuire LLP

2550 Fifth Avenue, 11th Floor San Diego, CA 92103
Office: 619-236-9363 Fax 619-236-9653

Attorney Journal | Volume 112, 2012

Jennifer Hadley

Jennifer Hadley is a Staff Writer for Attorney Journal

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About the Author: Jennifer Hadley is a Staff Writer for Attorney Journal

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