Attorneys from Howd & Ludorf
Attorneys from Howd & Ludorf ()

Howd & Ludorf doesn’t have a roundtable of knights. But it has a roundtable of lawyers.

The Hartford firm, winner of the Connecticut Law Tribune’s 2013 Litigation Departments of the Year Award for municipal litigation, regularly holds group discussions on cases to use the firm’s brain trust of 19 lawyers.

Martha Shaw, a partner who handles cases involving police, education and employment, just got a new case involving a parks and recreation employee alleging on-the-job injuries. She quickly fired off an email to find out what other attorneys thought about the liability risks and the possible value of the case. “It’s invaluable to have a really good team that you can really trust that has a lot of experience and can really give you a sense of where they think a jury would go,” Shaw said.

Alan Dembiczak, a partner who handles police and serious general liability cases, said the firm is good at representing municipalities and other governmental entities because of the lawyers’ knowledge and experience.

Howd & Ludorf has “a very good open-door policy,” Dembiczak said. The firm’s lawyers meet en masse every few months to talk about effective ways to deal with legal issues, and emails on similar topics are frequently circulated. “By pooling our knowledge, the lawyers don’t have to invent the wheel every time,” Dembiczak said.

The firm, said its leaders, is dedicated exclusively to “public entity defense work.” Thomas Gerarde, firm manager and head of the municipal liability group, said his lawyers are constantly reading up on a wide variety of municipal law decisions and handling multiple cases or appeals that are “very important to municipalities.”

“It becomes a strategic advantage to make that kind of dedication,” Gerarde said. “I think that people who are out there in the business tend to know who is dabbling in [the practice area] and who is immersed in it.”

For example, the insurance carriers who provide coverage of towns in municipal risk pools and the corporation counsel for self-insured cities tend to know that Howd & Ludorf is immersed in this practice area, Gerarde said.

The firm had several wins in 2013 for its municipal clients. Gerarde estimates that five attorneys won jury trials in state and federal courts. Dembiczak won a jury verdict against a defendant who led Hartford police officers on a high-speed car chase and a foot chase and then filed a lawsuit claiming excessive force was used in his arrest.

Shaw won a case involving claims that Meriden police made an illegal entry and then took cash from a safety deposit box that allegedly shouldn’t have been seized. It was a great experience to have six police officers sitting behind her in the courtroom, Shaw said. And it was interesting to work with the judicial district’s state’s attorney and learn about legal concepts such as asset forfeiture. “It’s one reason I love being a lawyer,” Shaw said. “Oftentimes you have to learn a whole new area and you have to become an expert in order to win your case.”

Colette Griffin, a partner who leads the firm’s workers’ compensation practice, and Harrold St. Juste won a workers’ comp case in the Connecticut Appellate Court that focused on how much time an employer has to contest an employee’s alleged injury.

Griffin said workers’ compensation cases illustrate the “complexity” of municipal law. There are different statutes that apply to town officials, police officers, firefighters and teachers. There “are so many different facets that a municipality has, from educators to police and firefighters,” Griffin said. “It brings an additional intrigue” to the practice of law.

Even more intrigue comes from parrying with the plaintiffs bar, which often lobbies to limit the types of actions for which municipalities enjoy immunity from lawsuits. “We’re constantly in a battle protecting the immunities or clarifying what’s the scope of the immunities that municipalities have,” Gerarde said.

Howd & Ludorf handles every type of municipal litigation under the sun, Gerarde said, whether it’s claims brought by students injured in gym class, by developers who believe they have been unfairly denied permits, by accident victims alleging highway defects, or by parents upset by the services provided to schoolchildren with disabilities.

“When you work with municipalities, you get to meet a great group of people, who are your clients,” Gerarde said. “Municipalities are stocked with dedicated public servants.”•