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Trial lawyer John A. Tarantino seems to be all over the legal radar screen these days. Recently he was on the winning end of a $9.1 million judgment that was upheld by the Rhode Island Supreme Court in a precedent-setting insurance case. Last month, he appeared on the CBS program “48 Hours” in his role as defense counsel for Roger Williams University in a negligence case involving the death of a student. He is often quoted in the local Rhode Island and legal press on litigation issues, including toxic tort and environmental matters. And he travels the country lecturing on trial techniques and has written books on product liability, discovery, evidence and drunken driving defense. Colleagues describe Tarantino, president of Adler, Pollock & Sheehan in Providence, R.I., as a “worthy opponent,” a “true gentleman” and a “model of civility” in the courtroom. “He is an outstanding trial lawyer. You would be hard pressed to find any attorney who would not speak highly of his competence and demeanor,” said Providence lawyer R. Kelly Sheridan, former president of the state bar association and a sometime opponent of Tarantino’s. Tarantino, also a former president of the Rhode Island Bar Association, is a well-respected trial attorney who started his career developing a niche defending drunken driving cases. Since then, he has been counsel in a number of precedent-setting cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, and state and federal courts involving issues of constitutional law, antitrust, intellectual property, product liability, toxic tort and employment law. An air of confidence comes through as he rattles off his accomplishments without hesitation as if it’s routine. But, his legal career has been anything but routine. Tarantino has had success in the past few years representing Textron Inc. in two landmark environmental insurance cases that went before the Rhode Island Supreme Court. In one case, Textron Inc. v. Aetna, the supreme court ruled that a pollution exclusion clause was ambiguous affording coverage for Rhode Island policyholders who do not intentionally or recklessly pollute the properties of others. Andrew C. Spacone, associate general counsel at Textron, described Tarantino’s work as “truly exemplary.” “John had the skills to take the arguments and craft them in a way that was focused before the court,” Spacone said. “He is superb at oral argument and makes a good presentation.” Having a major company like Textron hire a Rhode Island lawyer, when it could pick an attorney from anywhere in the country, speaks well for the bar and for Tarantino, Spacone said. QUICK STUDY When Tarantino was asked earlier this year to argue the very complex insurance case before the state supreme court in an attempt to save the $9.1 million judgment for his client company, his answer was an unqualified yes. What nobody told him when he first agreed to orally argue Insurance Company of North America v. Kayser-Roth on behalf of Kayser-Roth was that he’d have just three weeks to prepare. He had to review thousands of pages of trial transcripts, familiarize himself with numerous briefs, examine more than seven volumes of appendices and discuss the issues with the case’s original trial counsel. “It was a very challenging assignment,” said Tarantino almost matter of factly. The supreme court upheld the lower court’s judgment that an insurer had breached its policies with Kayser-Roth by failing to defend and indemnify Kayser-Roth ordered by the EPA to clean up a Superfund site in Rhode Island. The decision set precedent in the insurance arena. Tarantino, a graduate of Boston College Law School, crafted his trial skills defending drunken driving cases when he first began at Adler Pollock in the early 1980s. While many lawyers were reluctant to take on such an “unpopular” crime, Tarantino used the cases to create a niche for himself. He viewed the cases as “sophisticated pieces of litigation” and as such educated himself in chemistry, physics and ways of presenting evidence. He has tried hundreds of such cases, winning a considerable number of them. From there he began to lead seminars on OUI defense for the American Bar Association and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. He has also written two textbooks and numerous articles on the topic and is managing editor of the DWI Journal of Law and Science, a publication on drunk driving defense. “I was looking for good trial experience. In these cases I was exposed to expert witnesses,” he said. “I really learned a lot from these.” Since his days defending OUI cases, Tarantino has developed what he calls an “eclectic” practice for both plaintiffs and defendants. His practice and his dedication to it has at times extended beyond Rhode Island’s borders. ON THE ROAD AGAIN Such was the case in 1988. Tarantino moved his wife and children with him to California for a year where he successfully handled an antitrust case that eventually made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The high court reversed the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on a writ of certiorari that eventually lead to settlement of the case. It was a case that had many naysayers, except Tarantino. “It was a real terrific opportunity to sort of see everything that can go wrong and then go right in a case,” he said. “To me, the most important thing was what I first heard it in the drunk driving cases and then in this case, ‘you can’t win, you can’t win … ‘ we were hearing it from everyone. It was not an attitude of giving up so long as we believed we had a chance.” Working on a number of noteworthy cases has put Tarantino in the media spotlight, a place that can bring surprises. Tarantino’s participation in the “48 Hours” program, focusing on the safety of college campuses, turned out to be an eye-opening experience. Although the show’s reporters and producers had interviewed him for more than two hours, his actual on-air time was about one minute of the nearly 15-minute segment shown last month. Although he was limited in what he could say because the federal lawsuit against the university is pending, Tarantino said he spent time educating the show’s producers about a lawyer’s need to adhere to the rules of professional responsibility. “Rather than say to them ‘I can’t answer that,’ we dealt with the issue of what I could talk about up front,” he said. “It made for a good and free-flying interview.” From his experiences dealing with the media, Tarantino said the biggest mistake lawyers can make is not responding to the press. “Lawyers are concerned about their obligations and that’s important. A lot of times I think lawyers get away with ‘no comment.’ But that might not portray lawyers well. They can appear arrogant and aloof,” he said. When not lawyering or speaking to the media or traveling to give a seminar, Tarantino spends time with his wife and three children. His wife, Patrice, is a former teacher who still spends time in the schools working with students and also teaches adults to read. Their daughter Christen is about to graduate from Boston College, while daughter Lauren is a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania. Their son Michael is a sophomore at East Greenwich High School.

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