Carrying his weight: Litigation specialist saw career writing on the wall

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By Sheila Pursglove

Legal News

Had Todd Gattoni carried a little more weight, he might have been a pro wrestling star of "Friday Night Smackdown."

Instead, he became an attorney and star of courtroom smackdowns, wrestling with litigation cases.

A native of Dearborn and Plymouth, Gattoni--an attorney with Dykema Gossett in Detroit since 2005--captained the wrestling and cross country teams at Plymouth-Canton High School, and was recruited by several colleges, including Columbia University.

"Sensing I didn't have a 'big-time wrestling' career in my future as a 126-pounder, I instead decided to go to the University of Michigan and focus on academics," he says.

With a U-M degree in political science under his belt, he spent several months in Washington, D.C. as an interim legislative correspondent for Education and Health Care for U.S. Senator Donald Riegle. He would periodically join Senator John Glenn in walking from Union Station to the Dirksen Senate office building; met numerous U.S. senators, including Robert Dole, Ted Kennedy, and Carl Levin, and several Supreme Court justices; and attended a senators-only reception with members of Baseball's Hall of Fame in Senate Minority Leader Dole's office, where he met Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Warren Spahn, and other baseball greats.

"Senator Riegle learned I was a baseball fan so he told me to pretend to be his son for the day, and he called ahead clearing me to attend the event."

Gattoni also enjoyed taking runs through the Mall, Arlington Cemetery, and up the Potomac, often finishing his treks by sitting by the Lincoln Memorial and looking across the Potomac at President Kennedy's eternal flame flickering in the night.

In 1991, he graduated from DePaul University College of Law in Chicago near the top of his class. Living two blocks from Wrigley Field, he enjoyed watching Cubs games and running along Lake Michigan in Grant Park.

Tapped as a summer associate by several firms in California, New York and Illinois, he gave the Golden State the nod--"given the fact I was single, I had never visited California, and I was intrigued by the California lifestyle, and at that time, the booming dot.com economy," he says.

"One of my law school highlights involved skipping out of Property and Con Law classes to watch F. Lee Bailey in action defending a NFL player in a federal trial."

Gattoni eventually became a litigation partner at a California-based law firm, and transitioned as a partner in the San Francisco office of Reed Smith, an AmLaw top 15 firm, after the two firms merged in 2002.

He originally planned on giving California a 3-year "tour of duty" to assess whether it was the right fit. Marriage, a family, and law partnership kept him in the Bay area for 15 years, where his trial career got off to a running start, defending his first year a U.S. Olympic swimmer in a personal injury car accident case.

"Although it was a clear liability accident--with my client at fault--I obtained a unanimous 12-0 defense verdict after a four-day jury trial," he says.

After participating in several high-profile trials in California, he was invited by the general counsel of a multi-national contract security company to serve a deputy GC overseeing litigation in North America.

"After initially politely declining the offer, I was told by my law firm that I would be leased to the client, and I would accept the assignment serving as outside deputy general counsel. This experience gave me valuable in-house counsel experience overseeing outside counsel and coordinating litigation," he says.

He also was selected to serve as a judge pro tem in the California Superior Courts in Alameda County, and was recognized as a "California Super Lawyer."

Gattoni was actively involved in community service. In 1999, he was elected to the Oakland Zoo Board of Trustees, and began a 3-year term as the youngest board member in its history, joining community and business leaders that included the president/CEO of Charles Schwab, chairman of the SF Federal Reserve, chairman of the Men's Wearhouse, and chairperson of several hospitals and health networks. In 2002, he was elected president and served three consecutive years.

"During my tenure, I'm proud of the fact we raised an unprecedented amount of money--roughly $30 million in two years--to fund one of the best children's zoos in the U.S.," he says.

"I believe in putting my time, effort, and money where my heart is in supporting the community. My family sponsored and funded construction of the North American Otter exhibit at the Children's Zoo. The zoo recently celebrated the birth of several new baby otters that are a big hit."

As zoo president, Gattoni met notables like primatologist and anthropologist Jane Goodall; and in 2002 he served as a member of a Cultural, Trade and Political Delegation to China, where he attended a state dinner in Beijing, attended by China's vice premier and ambassador to the U.S., held at the Great Hall of the People--the same room where President George W. Bush met the Premier of China during a visit three weeks earlier.

Gattoni signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Chinese government regarding cooperative efforts to bring Giant Pandas to the Bay Area, and enjoyed state guided tours of the Great Wall, Forbidden City, and other sites.

In 2005, Gattoni and his wife decided to move their family--three sons and a daughter--back to the Great Lakes State to be near friends and family.

"I'm somewhat of a born-again Michigander, since Michigan never leaves your blood," he says. "Returning to the enjoyable Detroit Metro area, living in Northville, and working at the RenCen in Detroit, is a welcome homecoming of sorts. Northville is a beautiful place to live, and I'm optimistic about Detroit and the region's future with its current strong leadership."

A member of both the California and Michigan bars, Gattoni joined Dykema as part of its litigation department and the pharmaceutical and medical device practice, and where his national litigation practice has flourished

"I'm very impressed with Dykema's management team, the diverse and national clientele, the firm's national platform including coastal offices, its vision and strategic plan, its quality attorneys and staff, and the balanced approach to maintaining a successful practice and quality life outside of the office," he says.

"As an attorney, I try to represent every client to the best of my ability, and I pride myself in ensuring that things are 'done right.' Trying hard, taking a personal and professional interest in clients and cases, and not liking to lose, often translates into favorable outcomes for clients. I'm fortunate to practice at a terrific law firm and to have the pleasure of representing great clients."

Most of his work involves defending clients in mass tort, class action, and high exposure product liability, business and environmental/toxic tort litigation. The firm recently obtained summary judgment in a class action pharmaceutical case on behalf of a national retail pharmacy, and summary judgment on behalf of a national retailer in an employment-related matter.

Gattoni recently enjoyed a three-day cruise on a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier at the invitation of a client whose brother is captain of the carrier. The ship sailed from Florida to its homeport of Norfolk, Va., after a tour of duty supporting U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

"It was an awe-inspiring trip to watch roughly 5,000 dedicated and men and women operate this state-of-the-art nuclear carrier as it came home from a successful mission, and watch fighter aircraft break the sound barrier during fly-bys," he says.

"The most touching moment was watching the sailors as they disembarked and were greeted by loved ones who hadn't seen them for over six months--including new mothers holding babies that were born while their fathers were out to sea--with the song "I'm Proud to Be An American--God Bless the USA" playing over the ship's loudspeakers.

"Whew, it was a tear-jerking event."

Gattoni enjoys coaching his children's sports teams, and supporting their schools. He spearheaded a landscaping beautification project at the local elementary school, and during "March is Reading Month," dressed as a Musketeer and read portions of "The Three Musketeers" to classes.

He ran in the Detroit Free Press half-marathon--his first race in more than 25 years--finishing in the top 4 percent of almost 9,000 runners who completed the race. He is pleased to see his children following in his footsteps, and proudly reports his sixth grade daughter just clocked a 6:14 mile.

Published: Thu, Jun 23, 2011

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