Attorneys say that Veteran Costa Mesa attorney Thomas S. Salinger knows how not to lose a jury and how to make complex concepts understandable. But for a telegram, Thomas S. Salinger might not be in the business of restoring dignity to hundreds of homeowners. Salinger’s parents, Harry and Irene, were heading home from vacation when they got a telegram that Nazis were going through their Berlin home. Salinger’s father was an appellate court justice and at the time Hitler was rounding up all the Jewish judges and sending them off to concentration camps. Salinger’s parents decided on the spot to leave Germany, first for Palestine, then for the United States, where they settled in Los Angeles. After the war, Harry Salinger was instrumental in securing compensation for thousands of Jews who had lost their property during the Nazi regime in Germany. He died in 1982, but for Thomas Salinger, he remains an inspiration and the reason he got into law. “In a day and age where everyone is concerned about how many cases they bring into the office, he was concerned about helping people.” Not too long ago, after winning a $4.8 million verdict for plaintiffs who lost their homes because the County of Los Angeles diverted excessive water runoff through a storm drain in their neighborhood, the son fully realized what it was like to follow in the footsteps of his father. After the jury came back with its verdict, one of the home owners went out of his way to thank Salinger for his dedication. “That reminded me of my father, when he would come home and show me a note from a client saying how he helped them to survive,” recalls Salinger, 55, a partner in Rutan & Tucker of Costa Mesa. “That’s what the law used to be. At times, it still can be like that.” Salinger has spent most of his career, including his 28 years with Rutan & Tucker, representing numerous home owners in construction defect and landslide cases. It’s the kind of representation that sticks in people’s minds, like it did with Donald Royer, executive vice president and general counsel for Downey Savings and Loan of Newport Beach, who asked him to represent the lender in a recent claim of negligence against Los Angeles County and its Flood Control District, Thompson v. Geoplan Inc., and Martin v. County of Los Angeles, SC033363 (L.A. Super. Ct., verdict March 22, 2000). Royer, who met Salinger 16 years ago when he opposed him in another landslide case, called him in after property owners in the area filed a cross-complaint against Downey. “He demonstrated then he knew how to win, work hard and was smart,” Royer says. “He was very dogged in what he knew and needed to prevail. He knows how not to lose a jury and how to make something complex understandable.” Using hours of depositions taken in discovery and, later, old photos, blown-up poster boards and a host of graphics during trial, Salinger used the same persistence to achieve victory in this most recent case. “What was really special about this case,” says co-counsel Steve Goon, “was that it’s rare for a lawyer at a very large firm to represent an individual who suffered this kind of tragedy and help them get what’s coming to them.” “Cases like these are always challenging,” says Salinger, “because they involve very interesting technological and geological issues, but also because they involve something important to somebody’s life – their home. “When problems happen in the business world, you can retire to the sanctuary of your home. But when something happens to your home, there’s no place to go.” Salinger, whose wife, Lynda, owns an advertising agency, grew up in the Los Angeles area and received his law degree from the University of California, Boalt Hall, in 1971. After a clerkship with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, he was hired at Rutan & Tucker, where’s been ever since. He was made partner in 1977. Garvin Shallenberger, former head of the trial department there, remembers recruiting him while following up on another recommendation. The person who gave him Salinger’s name said he should consider him. “He was extremely enthusiastic and gave a good report,” says Shallenberger, now retired. It took one interview to hire him. “He turned out to be one of the most dedicated lawyers I know,” says Shallenberger, who was co-counsel on the first case Salinger ever tried, a landslide claim. “I had to leave in the middle to try another case and he finished it off,” Shallenberger recalled. It ended with a large jury award for the plaintiffs. Since then, Salinger, among other things, has represented homeowners in construction defect claims against developers, as well as public agencies in landslide litigation, which has become his specialty. He also handles financial issues. While he enjoys the impact he can have on someone’s life, Salinger doesn’t relish the impact some of these cases can have on his clients. For instance, he and his wife had to repeatedly cancel plans for a trip to Greece as the Downey case became more and more complex. They did make it, once the trial was over. More importantly, he was able to live up to a promise of taking his son Jordan, 14, skiing. “As soon as the trial ended, I was able to make it up to him,” he adds. After all, a father’s impact on his son is important, too. SNAPSHOT Thomas S. Salinger Law school: University of California, Boalt Hall, 1971 Career highlights: Partner, Rutan & Tucker, Costa Mesa, 1977-present Case types: Construction, landslide, real estate, title insurance and commercial litigation © 2000 Daily Journal Corporation. Reprinted with Permission.