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Carothers DiSante & Freudenberger LLP’s Dave Carothers Gives Back to the Community and a New Crop of Young Lawyers

It is reasonable to assume that any attorney with an astounding 75 jury wins would be eager to boast about his success, but assuming anything has historically proven a risky wager. In the case of Dave Carothers, partner at Carothers DiSante & Freudenberger LLP, such an assumption would prove particularly foolhardy and would be proven false within minutes of speaking with the award-winning attorney.
On the contrary, Carothers is humble, authentic and devoid of any discernible ego. He is, however, absolutely dedicated to making sure he pays forward the generosity and help he’s benefitted from as the direct result of others’ selflessness and self-sacrifice. In short, Carothers is as real and sincere as it gets, with his success resulting as a by-product of simply “being Dave,” as he would say.
Despite the incredible number of jury trials he’s won, he’s never worked as a prosecutor. Instead, he attributes his admirable trial record to the fact that he’s very comfortable with who he is, what his strengths are, and how to talk to jurors, whether they’re Gen Y’ers or Baby Boomers.

“Everybody brings their own personality and characteristics to the job. For me, I grew up as a poor kid in L.A. and met a lot of different people and everyday folks in different situations. I learned to talk to people and they felt comfortable with me. That’s what I bring as an attorney. I portray a certain comfort level that makes me easy to talk to—like I could be someone you’re sitting next to on the bus or enjoying a beer with. At the same time, I zealously advocate my clients’ positions and do it in a way that people get it and aren’t offended. I’m respectful and in turn earn respect from others. But it was a long journey for me to get to ‘being me’ and ‘being Dave’ as an attorney. I had to find myself along the way,” he says.

12

A MOTHER’S LOVE PLANTS SEEDS OF LOVE FOR THE LAW
“I was born in rural Jackson, Mississippi. My mother didn’t want to raise two boys there because of the limited educational and economic opportunities. She put my twin brother and me on a Greyhound bus because she wanted a better life for us. She didn’t even have a high school diploma. We moved to Los Angeles and my mom was a domestic worker. She cleaned law offices on the weekends and when no babysitter was available, she would have us sit in the lobby while she cleaned. For her to have the smarts to hand us law books, such as a Treatise on Contract Law and tell us to read them while we waited for her was incredible,” Carothers recalls.
Carothers’ burgeoning love of law was further reinforced upon reading Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird when he was just 11 years old. “I thought Atticus Finch was so honorable and brave to defend Tom Robinson even though there was no way he would win. He did it because it was the right thing to do. I knew that was what I was going to do,” he explains.
His passion for advocacy was instantly piqued, and only reaffirmed through his childhood and life experiences. “I knew I wanted to pursue a profession that allowed me to represent businesses and entrepreneurs.”

All the same, Carothers admits that he didn’t think he’d have the means to become an attorney so he decided to serve his country first. He enlisted in the Navy in 1975, but continued to nurture his natural abilities in advocacy, even when he knew it might be hazardous. “I was on the U.S.S. Enterprise, and my rank was basically one notch above the bottom. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday was approaching, and a fellow serviceman wanted to take time off to honor the day. It wasn’t recognized  as a holiday at that time and he was being required to submit a chit and explain exactly where he planned to go and what he planned to do on the day off. He came to me and asked me what I thought. I wrote a letter asking why he was being forced to explain in detail exactly what he was planning to do. We never had to explain what we were going to do on Lincoln’s or Washington’s birthday. My senior officer came to me with my letter and said that the request was being honored without the chit, but never ever to write a note to the Captain like that again.” After four years of service, he left the military having earned the Navy/Marine Corp Expeditionary medal for services related to Iran and with two years of college under his belt.

13

Carothers enrolled at California State Dominguez Hills, where he would ultimately meet a second incredibly influential mentor. “Judge Norman Epstein was essential to the beginning of my career and has continued to play an important role in my life. He noticed a lack of African American attorneys in the courtroom and contacted my pre-law advisor to find a handful of African American students that he could personally mentor. I was one of the few selected,” he says. Judge Epstein is now the Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District.
Continuing he adds, “He helped me get into USC. He would have some of us go to lunch with him, and I would meet this friend, an elderly black man, who he would have incredible discussions with about the law. It wasn’t until years later that I realized it was Bernard Jefferson, one of the first black judges in California and the author of Jefferson’s Bench Book on Evidence.”

In addition to the guidance and mentorship Carothers received from Justice Epstein, he was gifted with the opportunity to see just how much his mother had done for him and his brother by moving them out of Jackson, Mississippi, to Los Angeles. “During my second year in law school I was a summer associate at a law firm on Wilshire Blvd. I knew the office looked so familiar, but it wasn’t until a month later that I realized this was an office my mom used to clean. It showed me just how far my family had come within one generation—from cleaning the office to having a son that was a law student working at that office. It was powerful, so anytime I was feeling exhausted from studying, I would remember what my mom had done. She was this tiny woman with twin boys who worked three jobs, and here I was in a beautiful law library. I would say to myself, ‘Come on, Dave, you can at least put in another hour of studying,’” he says with an easy laugh.

SOWING A LOVE OF LABOR LAW
“I started off wanting to focus on traditional labor law and unions and actually clerked at the National Labor Relations Board in Region 31. My labor law professor at USC was instrumental to getting my start in employment law, especially with the NLRB and later employment litigation. He emphasized how this practice tries many cases in front of juries, which is what I’d always dreamt of doing. I wanted to be in the action of the courtroom,” Carothers says. By 1985, he would see his dream come to life.
“I joined premier civil trial firm McInnis, Fitzgerald, Rees, Sharkey & McIntyre in San Diego right out of law school. They had been around since 1940. A professor told me about the firm because he knew I wanted to try cases. I interviewed and they offered me a first-year job. I was the first African American lawyer at a firm that didn’t get much more Irish or conservative than they were, and I never felt out of place. I worked with partner Tom Sharkey, who had me trying cases within six months of being at the firm. Sharkey was well known in the California legal community and was the best mentor I could have had. I’m still close with him today,” Carothers says with a smile.

“Those days were our own little Camelot. It was that much of a fairy tale. I was a young lawyer, trying cases, and it was truly the best experience I could hope for,” he says. By way of example, in 1987, Carothers was involved in Higgins v. Maher as a first chair. “I was a two-year attorney at the time, and it took place in San Diego Superior Court, Court of Appeals. It was an employment litigation case of first impression in California and the Plaintiff alleged wrongful termination in violation of public policy. The Plaintiff, who held significant position within the Catholic Diocese, claimed he was terminated as a result of discovering and complaining about financial improprieties concerning the Bishop of San Diego. I argued that the Plaintiff was released from his duties due to performance and religious reasons and that based on the separation clause of the First Amendment, a civil court had no jurisdiction to hear the matter. The Trial Court and Court of Appeals agreed. It established the principle that the Bishop has the right to decide who preaches in the pulpit. It was a big case and a proud moment for me.”

14

FINDING HIS VOICE IN A NEW FIRM
According to Carothers, his success in cases such as that, along with his subsequent success at Carothers DiSante & Freudenberger LLP, which has been providing legal services to California employers for more than 20 years, can be attributed to being himself. “As an attorney if you aren’t comfortable with who you are, others will see that and your credibility is at risk. If the jury doesn’t feel that you’re authentic, they will never believe your side of the story. I’m not overly technical and I never talk down to jurors. I always need to be me.”
It is indeed a breadth of self-knowledge that Carothers spends so much time encouraging others to seek out. “I am very accessible to attorneys in my firm, but I don’t limit my help to attorneys at my firm. I am happy to have lunch with students, to offer advice if they ask for it, or just listen if they don’t want to hear it. I encourage young and future lawyers not to spend all of their time only hanging around lawyers. That is not who you’re servicing,” he says. Instead, Carothers says that he encourages the attorneys in his firm to “be around business people, build relationships and join many trade associations. I try to give the attorneys in my firm the same experience that I had. I give them the opportunities to interact with clients early on, strategize, and spend time away from their desk,” he says.

Part of being himself includes a dedication to giving back to others in additional ways too. “Judge Epstein is an incredible person. He reaches out to do things for people with no agenda and without fanfare. He is so humble and he has no right to be, because he is smart as all get-out, but he is pure of heart. I try to follow that example,” he says.
To that end, Carothers’ track record of giving back is lengthy, to say nothing of admirable. He’s held past board memberships with Mercy Hospital’s Finance Committee, Inner-City Games Foundation, Neighborhood House Association and San Diego Police Review Board. He has also provided pro bono counsel to Inner-City Games Foundation.
Moreover, in 2014 when his firm launched a charitable partnership with Wounded Warrior Project in celebration of Carothers DiSante & Freudenberger LLP’s 20th anniversary, Carothers was also appointed as chairperson for the initiative.

“It’s a charity that hits home for me and some of my colleagues, and the partnership engaged all employees firm-wide to raise awareness, funds and support for WWP and its mission. I’m happy to report that our relationship with WWP has continued,” he says simply.
Carothers is indisputably one of the state’s preeminent labor and employment attorneys, boasting all of the accolades that accompany such status. From an AV-Preeminent rating to inclusion amongst Best Lawyers in America, San Diego Top Attorneys, Super Lawyers, membership in ABOTA, and more, there’s frankly not much he hasn’t accomplished. His firm counts more than 40 attorneys in its five offices throughout California, and Carothers has tried and won cases all over the state. But even after 30 years of success, he still looks for ways to be helpful to up-and-coming attorneys, in order to pay back the debt of gratitude he owes his mother and the various mentors who have helped him get where he is today.
“By sharing the origins of my passion for trial cases, and my humble beginnings, I hope to inspire other attorneys to give back to the community and to help the next generation of attorneys. There’s no resting on my laurels. For me, I had to find out who and what I was about, and imagine my life being that person. That’s what I encourage others to do.”

15» EDUCATION

  • University of Southern California Law Center, J.D. – 1985
  • National Labor Relations Board, Region 31, Law Clerk – 1983
  • California State University, Dominguez Hills, B.A., Public Administration – 1982

» PUBLICATIONS

  • "Avoiding Legal Traps Involving Employment References," San Diego Commerce – 1997

» WRITTEN OPINIONS

  • Higgins v. Maher, 210 Cal.App.3d 1168, 258 Cal.Rptr.2d 763 – May 1989
  • First Amendment right of Catholic bishop to make ecclesiastical based employment decisions

» PRESENTATIONS

  • "What's Trending in the Inland Empire in California Employment Law," Riverside Employment Law Seminar – April 2015
  • "Bullying in the Workplace," University of San Diego Diversity Committee – April 2015
  • "Religious Institutions Employment Law Training," Religious Institution – May 2014
  • "Employment Law and The Provisions of SLS Services," CSLN 2014 Leadership Conference – March 2014

» CIVICS ACTIVITIES/PAST BOARD MEMBERSHIPS

  • Mercy Hospital's Finance Committee
  • Inner-City Games Foundation
  • Neighborhood House Association
  • San Diego Police Review Board

» PROFESSIONAL AFFILIATIONS/LEADERSHIP/AWARDS

  • Martindale-Hubbell AV© Preeminent™ Rated
  • Selected as one of San Diego's Top Attorneys in 2013, 2014 & 2015 by The Daily Transcript
  • Best Lawyers in America, Litigation - Labor and Employment – 2013, 2014 & 2015
  • Listed, San Diego Super Lawyers – 2012–2015
  • Commissioner to the Fair Employment and Housing Commission - Appointed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger – November 2008
  • American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA) – 2005 to present
  • Federation of Defense and Corporate Counsel Committee member and founding participant – 1999 to present
  • Continuing Education of the Bar's CEB Annual Employment Law Update
  • Frequent lecturer on litigation-related topics
  • Carothers DiSante & Freudenberger LLP, Executive committee – 2001 to present
  • San Diego office managing partner – 2000-2015
  • Chair, Wounded Warrior Project firm-wide partnership

» PRO BONO

  • Provided counsel to Inner-City Games Foundation

Contact
Dave Carothers
Carothers DiSante &
Freudenberger LLP
www.cdflaborlaw.com
(858) 646-0007
4510 Executive Drive, Suite 300
San Diego, CA 92121

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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