Alumus Michael Maguire Continues Loyola's Legacy of Leadership at Premier Trial Advocacy Organization
When Michael Maguire ’77 was formally sworn in as president of the American Board of Trial Advocates in January, becoming the 10th Loyola Law School, Los Angeles alum to helm the prestigious advocacy organization, he articulated his principal policy goal: bolstering the jury trial, which he calls the crowning achievement of the U.S. justice system.
It’s no surprise that trials matter to Maguire, managing attorney of Michael Maguire & Associates. As the chief of insurance giant State Farm’s staff counsel office in Orange County, his attorneys go to trial 20-30 times a year defending policyholders against liability claims. For Maguire, trials are a linchpin of the American democracy.
“Juries fulfill the vision and promise of the founders that the people would play an essential democratic role in our judicial branch,” he says. “Juries keep the law grounded to the values of the community – determining guilt or not, protecting personal rights and defining reasonable conduct and fair damages.”
A love of jury trials is nothing new for Maguire. One of his favorite Loyola Law School memories was trying traffic cases as a certified law student with the Orange County District Attorney’s Office. Continuing with the office after graduating in 1977, he worked his way up to prosecuting a slew of murder trials.
Yet the share of court cases going through to trial has been falling for years and trending downward. According to Maguire, there are several reasons for what is often dubbed the “vanishing civil jury trial.”
“The costs and delays of protracted litigation really prevent many citizens from true access to justice,” Maguire says. “Our courts have been underfunded for years, and our discovery process bloated. And some judges view trials as somehow a failure of the justice system, so they push attorneys and litigants to settle.”
Those few dozen trials that Michael Maguire & Associates defends every year make up only 3-4 percent of the in-house firm’s annual load of about 800 cases. “That fairly matches the percentage of cases going to trial in most all courts in California,” he says. “We need trial results to serve as important benchmarks for settlements of similar cases in a jurisdiction. For every case we try, 100 other suits or claims are settled.”
Another reason for the decline in trials is “the rise of forced mandatory arbitration clauses in employment and consumer contracts of all sorts,” he adds. “Arbitration is fine in an arms-length deal when voluntarily agreed to or when agreed to post-dispute.” But he and ABOTA oppose what he calls “forced arbitration,” where the right to jury trial is waived in buried pre-dispute terms-and-conditions language for bank accounts, credit cards and ride services.
Elsewhere, Maguire has been focused on reinvigorating ABOTA’s Save Our Juries public-awareness campaign to build greater appreciation for the constitutional right to trial and the value of jury service.
Increasing public knowledge of and appreciation for jury trials has been ABOTA’s guiding principle since its 1958 founding by Loyola Law School alumnus Mark P. Robinson Sr. ’49, who became its first president, and Fred B. Belanger ’55, who would go on to lead the group in 1964. Both alumni saw the need for an organization that could work to strengthen the fabric of the jury trial system.
Over the years, ABOTA leaders included many other Loyola Law School alumni: William A. Kurlander ’50 in 1967; Hon. Desmond J. Bourke ’50 in 1968; Henry J. Bogust ’55 in 1970; Robert C. Baker ’71, Baker Keener & Nahra, LLP, in 1994; Thomas V. Girardi ’64, Girardi | Keese, in 1999; Donna M. Melby ’78, Paul Hastings, in 2005; and the founding president’s son, Mark P. Robinson, Jr. ’72, Robinson Calcagnie, Inc., in 2014.
Today, the influence of the organization born in Southern California extends to all 50 states via its 96 chapters. On its path to becoming one of the country’s top associations of trial lawyers, ABOTA and Loyola Law School have forged a unique bond: The attorney organization has been a staunch supporter of Loyola’s Journalist Law School since its 2006 launch. Operated by Loyola’s Civil Justice Program, whose director John Nockleby is an ABOTA honorary diplomate, the four-day legal boot camp for reporters has helped nearly 500 journalists improve their reporting on the law.
That all fits with the agenda of Maguire, who has worked on ABOTA’s push to increase jury trials by making them faster and less expensive. He helped spearhead passage a few years ago of California’s Expedited Jury Trials Act, which sets rules to complete certain smaller trials in just one or two days.
“Lawyers think they need more time to present their cases and repeat their points over and over because that’s what they learned from their mentors,” he says. “They really don’t. Today’s jurors just want them to get to focus on the real issue(s) and get to the point.”
Maguire’s interest in law and trial work began even before he enrolled in law school. While an undergraduate student, Maguire worked as a messenger for the Orange County District Attorney’s Office. He noticed that many of the best trial lawyers in the office had gone to Loyola Law School, and they encouraged him to apply.
“I am very proud of my Loyola degree and value it more and more each year. Loyola Law School has produced many accomplished lawyers who generously give back to their communities, and especially a lot of very fine trial lawyers,” he says.
[Photo credit: Rick Kraemer, Executive Presentations]