Top Litigators: John Walsh
Litigation practice head sees success through strategy

by Tony Flesor

After having spent about half of his career in government, most notably working as a former U.S. Attorney for the District of Colorado, John Walsh has had plenty of experience working in high-stakes issues in the public eye. Now at WilmerHale, he is frequently an integral part of major litigation for major clients.

Walsh, who leads WilmerHale’s complex civil litigation, investigations and white-collar criminal litigation practice in the Denver office, has coordinated the efforts of litigators across WilmerHale’s offices to represent clients close to home in cases that had a significant public component. His successes have shown that being an effective litigator doesn’t necessarily involve courtroom sizzle — instead, he frequently steps in to mitigate damage for clients, reaching favorable out-of- court settlements and even turning a trial loss into a desirable outcome.

Walsh said much of his work involves crisis management. That came into play when, in May 2017, Anadarko approached WilmerHale, and Walsh, after the Firestone home explosion that killed two men, injured one woman and set into motion a major political push to regulate the oil and gas industry. Walsh and his team went to work researching what had happened and engaged with the families’ counsel to settle all of their claims against the company. According to the rm, the resulting agreement helped the company continue its focus inspecting, servicing and ensuring the safety of its operations in Colorado.

“A terrible tragedy took place in Fire- stone, and when we came in, the idea was to figure out what had happened … to the best of our ability and then look for ways to bring that tragedy to as fair a resolution and as just a resolution as possible,” Walsh said. “That motivated the strategy from the beginning.”

He approaches many large-scale cases in much the same way. He said he believes it was his time as U.S. Attorney that taught him to approach a case by considering its possible outcomes and working to make sure those possibilities are addressed.

“That’s something we try really hard to get across to our younger attorneys,” Walsh said. “Yes, you’re in the litigation department, but litigation is a tool, and you always have to have in mind what’s the best thing for the client, and litigation may be the right way to get there or the possibility of litigation may help you bring it to a resolution some other way.”

Also last year, Walsh served as lead counsel to DaVita Healthcare Partners after another rm represented the company in a jury trial that resulted in a $383 million judgment for a group of plaintiffs who sued the company after three patients died during dialysis treatment. Walsh and a group of WilmerHale attorneys stepped in to take over the case after the trial, challenged the judgment on several legal principles and began negotiations with the legal representatives of the families to determine whether a settlement could be reached.

Walsh said WilmerHale began work on the case within a month of the June jury verdict and reached a settlement by November. According to WilmerHale, the final settlement amount represent- ed 6 percent of what the jury awarded the plaintiffs. In addition to bringing down the dollar amount, Walsh said success was not having that large trial award out there as a loss for the company. He said that even having a big resolution in a case can be an appropriate resolution, or the best resolution, when considering the time, cost, attorneys fees and even attention that litigation requires.

To read this story and other complete articles featured in the March 11, 2019 print edition of Law Week Colorado, copies are available for purchase online.