Forgive the tabloid headline. Venable partner J. Douglas Baldridge is actually quite discreet when discussing his famous client. But he spent last week litigating under a blinding media spotlight, with everyone from People Magazine and Inside Edition to The New York Times covering Taylor Swift’s six-day federal trial in Denver.
“Man, what a ride,” Baldridge said. “After 30 years, you kind of know how to try a case. But here, there was so much going on outside the courtroom, it added a whole new dimension. We were on trial every waking moment. It was a brand-new experience to walk out of court every day and have an extraordinary number of reporters and cameras in your face.”
He kept his cool—and declined comment—throughout the trial. “I didn’t say a word until we had the win,” he said. “What I had to do was try it and win it inside the courtroom. That’s what I do. I’m not an outside-the-courtroom guy.”
The pop superstar was completely vindicated in her clash with disc jockey David Mueller, who Swift testified “grabbed my bare ass” at a pre-concert meet-and-greet in 2013.
Mueller was fired two days after the alleged groping, and blamed Swift, her mother Andrea Swift and radio promotions director Frank Bell for getting him canned. (Baldridge represented all three). The DJ demanded $3 million for interference with contractual obligations and tortious interference with business relations.
Swift counter-sued for assault and battery, and asked for $1 in damages.
“It was not about trying to bankrupt the man or take his money,” Baldridge said. “To her, it was about making a statement. It wasn’t her fault, she didn’t do it.”
Or as he put it in court, “Grabbing a woman’s rear end is an assault, and it’s always wrong. Any woman—rich, poor, famous, or not—is entitled to have that not happen.”
Based out of Venable’s D.C. office, Baldridge was not an obvious pick to represent Swift, who according to Billboard was the highest-paid artist of 2016.
In legal circles, he’s made a name successfully litigating pay-for-delay pharmaceutical cases—wildly complex, billion-dollar battles at the intersection of antitrust and intellectual property, with regulatory overlay from the FDA and FTC to boot.
But his practice is eclectic. Or as he put it, “I’m a garbage man. I do a little bit of everything.” And he likes to be in court. “I’m not a paper litigator,” he said.
In addition to some shareholder, real estate and First Amendment disputes, he’s also represented a few celebrities starting with Tiger Woods in 2006. (They have a mutual friend, he said, which is how he got the chance to pitch for the initial business, a dispute involving unauthorized use of a photo of the golfer.)
He first represented Swift when she was sued in 2014 by clothing company Blue Sphere for infringing its “Lucky 13” trademark. The case settled on confidential terms in 2015. Along the way, he got to know the 27-year-old’s close-knit family, striking up a friendship with her father, Scott.
He has nothing but praise for the singer, who he described as one of the most genuine people he has ever met. “She’s a principled person, and I’m not just saying that because she’s my client,” he said. “She has an incredibly low ego for someone so famous. She listens, she’s a very quick study … She contributed to the defense.”
The trial team also included Venable partner Danielle Foley and associate Katie Wright
Juror selection began on August 7—the first time in his three decades as a litigator that not one juror tried to get out of being selected, Baldridge said, laughing. He described the panel of six women and two men as “dispassionate,” and said they gave few outward signs of their feelings.
They never got to decide Mueller’s claims against Swift. On August 11, U.S. District Judge William Martinez tossed the suit against Swift on a Rule 50 motion, though he kept alive the claims against her mother and Bell, as well as Swift’s counter-claims.
After four hours of deliberation, the jury on August 14 sided with team Swift across the board.
The case was remarkable in part for the blunt, powerful testimony Swift delivered on the stand when she testified on August 10.
One key piece of evidence was a photo snapped at the meet-and-greet where Mueller’s hand, while not actually visible, appears to be suspiciously low on Swift’s backside.
Mueller’s attorney, Gabe McFarland, conceded the photo was “awkward” but said there was nothing visibly inappropriate happening.
Addressing him by first name, Swift on the stand responded, “Gabe, this is a photo of him with his hand up my skirt—with his hand on my ass. You can ask me a million questions—I’m never going to say anything different. I never have said anything different.”
McFarland pressed on, noting that her dress in the photo is not visibly ruffled.
“Because my ass is located in the back of my body,” Swift said.
If Swift was so upset about the incident, Mueller said she could have taken a break from meeting other fans. “Your client could have taken a normal photo with me,” she responded.
He also pointed out that she was closer to Mueller’s girlfriend in the photo. “Yes, she did not have her hand on my ass.”
McFarland wanted to know why no one else saw the grab. “The only person who would have a direct eye line is someone laying underneath my skirt, and we didn’t have anyone positioned there,” Swift said.
When he suggested that Swift’s bodyguard could have intervened if there was inappropriate contact, and asked whether she was critical of him, she responded, “I’m critical of your client sticking his hand under my skirt and grabbing my ass.”
And Swift refused to let McFarland make her feel guilty about Mueller losing his job. “I’m not going to let you or your client make me feel in any way that this is my fault. Here we are years later, and I’m being blamed for the unfortunate events of his life that are the product of his decisions—not mine.”
Was there a risk in a star witness giving such unflinching, even antagonistic testimony? Baldridge said it came down to the Swift being herself and being honest.
The starting point, he said, was to ask “What are you honestly feeling?”
The answer was anger and disappointment—and that was what came through, to brutally brilliant effect.
“It was important to her to be who she is,” Baldridge said.
Contact Jenna Greene at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @jgreenejenna.