CSUN alum makes case for fresh view of the law

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Joel Douglas generally doesn’t like lawyers. But Joel Douglas is a lawyer.

“Most lawyers are very taken by themselves (and) they start believing and carry that,” said Douglas, a CSUN alumnus. “I try to not let that happen to me. – Trial lawyers don’t get along very well in a sense that you have big egos.”

To defuse that ego, Douglas does something uncharacteristic of most lawyers in the courtroom: He displays humor.

“I pride myself in using humor,” he said. “I believe in using humor to get points across. Sometimes judges don’t have a sense of humor, but that doesn’t prevent me from being who I am.”

Peter Osinoff, a lawyer at Bonne, Bridges, Mueller, O’Keefe and Nichols, the law firm Douglas works at, said Douglas enjoys his own jokes quite a bit, even though they sometimes fall flat in the courtroom.

“He likes to bring the humor out of the situation,” Osinoff said.

Even with the sense of humor he brings to the courtroom, his peers acknowledge the dedication and passion he puts forth in his profession.

“He is an extremely talented lawyer,” said Carmen Vigil, Douglas’ law partner. “He is a warm and giving person.”

Vigil, who has known Douglas for 12 years, said she believes that Douglas cares for the firm.

“He finds creative solutions to a problem,” she said.

Vigil said Douglas takes some of the most difficult work and crafts defenses very quickly, and she compares his work as a lawyer with the physical characteristics of an onion.

“He peels the layers back,” she said.

Some people who know Douglas say they believe he takes great pride in taking good care of his clients.

Osinoff said Douglas is a persistent advocate for his clients as long as he believes that his clients’ reasons for their case have merit.

Douglas said he decided to become a lawyer after he realized that he did not want to become a doctor.

“I did not want to suffer through physics, chemistry and mathematics. Since I argued with my parents and sister real good I figured that it was the natural alternative,” he said. “So when I headed (into) law I went into medical malpractice – best of all worlds.”

Douglas majored in political science at San Fernando Valley State College, which later became CSUN.

“I thought it was the most enjoyable education I’ve ever had,” he said. “I felt that the teachers were good, the classes were great. Even though it was a very big campus, I felt very much at home.”

After he received his law degree at Loyola Law School, Douglas passed the bar and in 1974 joined the firm he is currently with.

“In those days, we (the firm) had about nine to 10 lawyers,” Douglas said. “And the big issue was, do we grow or stay small, and that apparently (was) one of the reasons they used to hire me.”

Douglas is primarily a defense lawyer, and mostly works on medical malpractice suits, as well as some appellate work.

Douglas said he believes that all lawyers need to have a drive to succeed.

“You need to be motivated, hopefully enjoy what you are doing, and not everybody enjoys what they are doing,” he said. “I happily enjoy what I do.”

Douglas said he worked on some significant cases that have involved celebrities in his career as an attorney in Los Angeles.

“I’ve had a chance to ring my bell and beat my chest and become famous on the backs of my clients, but that’s not my style,” Douglas said. “I’ve had some cases that I pride myself to keep the press out of.”

He worked on the homicide case of Phil Hartman, who was murdered by his wife in spring 1998. His wife committed suicide soon after. The deaths were partly blamed by Hartman’s family on Hartman’s wife’s taking of the prescription drug Zoloft. In that case, Douglas represented Arthur Sorosky, a psychiatrist who prescribed the drug to Hartman’s wife.

Another case he worked on involved a Los Angeles International Airport customs agent who killed his two bosses and later committed suicide, again with an alleged connection to prescription drugs.

Douglas said he has worked on several psychiatric cases and administrative cases that involved life insurance and health care providers who were challenged by regulatory agencies.

Still, Douglas said he believes his chosen profession defines him as a person. He lets other activities, like his work for the Boy Scouts, do that instead.

“I take great pride in being a scout master,” he said.

Douglas said he was a scoutmaster for a Boy Scout troop for 15 years.

Douglas said he believes that being a scoutmaster taught him about higher values and knowing the principles of leadership, and building a team.

“Most jobs get accomplished through shared leadership, instead of a boss style of leadership and a lot of trial lawyers don’t get that,” he said.

In keeping with the values he learned as a scoutmaster, Douglas said he believes that as a litigator a person takes a position, but that person can take a reasonable position and the reasonable position always prevails.

“Sometimes in the course of practicing law, you see some frightening injustices and sometimes feel very stymied by them, particularly when you feel that there has been judicial misconduct that sometimes occur,” he said. “The question is how much of a scene do you make out of it.”

Douglas said he believes in the principles of justice and in doing what is right.

“Lawyers can in fact be helpful in crisis, and will help you and give you solid advice so you can make intelligent decisions in what to do,” he said.

Osinoff, who has known Douglas since 1984, said Douglas has become more focused and has also been learning different areas of practicing law.

After 31 years of being a lawyer, Douglas said he still has a passion for law.

“I’m very much in love with the law, very much in love with what I perceive to be the side of justice, the side of right,” he said. “You can even have rightness when you’re wrong.”

Douglas’ love for his work also extends into his opinions on salary.

“I would do it without pay because it’s enjoyable. It’s nice to be able to help people. It’s nice when people look up to you and count on you,” he said.

John Barundia can be reached at jcb44123@csun.edu.