a 95% win record in trying personal injury and product liability cases, and punitive damages in the millions, it’s no wonder people are talking about “how sweet it is” when it comes to civil litigator Dennis Sweet. The 48-year-old Jackson, Mississippi, native is a partner at Langston, Sweet & Freese.
Civil cases represent 80% of Sweet’s workload. But you won’t always find him in a courtroom. Many of his suits are settled and never make it to trial. When Sweet does walk through the doors of a courtroom, all eyes are on him. The s
tatuesque 6-foot-5-inch attorney always appears to have the world in his hands. There’s no sugary approach to the way he persuades jurors or confronts witnesses. “I go in and try to hammer away,” says Sweet, adding that he doesn’t “apologize for asking for large sums of money.”
It’s no wonder he has grabbed the national spotlight with victories such as a $144 million verdict against Ford Motor Co. (the largest wrongful death verdict in Mississippi’s history) and a $400 million dollar verdict against American Home Products, makers of the Fen-Phen diet pill.
“The general public often views mass tort litigation as jackpot justice because that’s how companies on trial sell it. A lot of times, victims’ families can’t get any justice in the criminal courts, so their only recourse is to file a civil suit,” says Sweet, who is a member of the slave reparations coordinating committee’s legal dream team.
Although he earned his stellar reputation as a civil litigator, Sweet cut his teeth in criminal law, trying civil rights and anti-death penalty cases. The George Washington University grad’s first job out of law school in 1980 was as a staff attorney in the District of Columbia Public Defender’s Office and later at the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery Alabama.
The million-dollar-verdict man, however, remains humble. As he sees it: “There are no small cases — only small lawyers.” — Carolyn M. BrownIsaac K. Byrd Jr.
Byrd & Associates
Career Highlights: The National Law Journal named Byrd & Associates one of the “winningest” 50 law firms with a verdict totaling $150 million in 2001. A top mass tort litigator, Byrd earned his law degree from Northwestern University School of Law.
Power Play: Byrd won a recent landmark $513 million settlement in Ayers v. State of Mississippi, a 27-year class action battle over Mississippi’s unequal funding of the state’s historically black universities.
Harry S. Johnson
Whiteford, Taylor & Preston
Career Highlights: Johnson represents insurers and manufactures in product liability, medical malpractice, and lead paint lawsuits. The University of Maryland law scholar is president of the Maryland Bar Association.
Power Play: Johnson was counsel for a major manufacturer in a class action involving over 8,500 plaintiffs and counsel to a major manufacturer in over 350 breast implant cases filed in Maryland and the District of Columbia.
Michael D. Jones
Kirkland & Ellis
Career Highlights: The National Law Journal recognized Jones as one of the nation’s top 10 trial attorneys.
The Georgetown University Law Center alumnus is