Committed to the Seventh Amendment
Personal injury lawyers Leto Copeley, Valerie Johnson and Ann Groninger are not hesitant about taking cases to trial. “We are disappointed if we don’t go to trial,” Johnson said.
“Preparing to go to trial is challenging. But we like to go to court.”
“There is a reason our founding fathers made sure that the access to civil jury trials was in the Bill of Rights,” said Copeley, referring to the Seventh Amendment which guarantees the preservation of the right to trial by jury.
On a Wednesday in April, Groninger was in trial in Union County representing a bicycle rider who had suffered a significant brain injury after being hit by a car. At the same time, in Durham, Copeley and Johnson were preparing to go to trial in a case involving a school bus driver who was injured when the bus he was driving was rammed by an extended cab truck.
They settled the next day, just as the trial was set to begin. “We were geared up and hoping to go to trial,” said Copeley.
“I tell potential clients from the first meeting that I’m going to prepare your case to go to court. Of course, cases get settled before trial for various reasons, but if you want a settlement for optimal value, we must be prepared to go to court,” said Copeley.
“The defendant or the insurance company is not going to take a case seriously unless they know you are willing to take it to trial,” said Groninger.
Copeley Johnson & Groninger PLLC was started in 2011. The three had been partners with Patterson Harkavy LLP, a workers’ compensation and civil rights firm with offices across North Carolina.
The three attorneys have taken very different paths.
Leto Copeley grew up in rural New Jersey. She attended Hunter College in New York City where she earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology. After graduating from Harvard Law School, she moved to North Carolina to clerk for Judge James B. Mc- Millan of the United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina.
“I was interested in practicing someplace that was not New York. I was looking for an atmosphere that was a little less Type A because I have that Type A tendency.”
Valerie Johnson is from Henderson, North Carolina. After graduating from UNC with a degree in education, she taught second and third grade in Chapel Hill. Johnson then returned to school, graduating from the UNC School of Law.
“I always intended to go to law school, but my family has a long history in education. My father was an administrator, my sister was an elementary school principal, and my brother is a medical school professor.”
Her mother is a celebrated teacher who recently received an honorary doctorate from her alma mater, Shaw University. “My mother was a chemistry teacher who pioneered the use of recycled materials to have enough instructional supplies for her students. She taught me how to make the most of what is available.”
Johnson attributes her upbringing as the reason she is so passionate about her work. “It was a small town, and everyone knew everyone. We all knew to look out for each other. I like to think that I still am looking out for other people.”
Ann Groninger grew up in New York, New Jersey and Michigan. “I was always a bike rider as a kid. I was always trying to ride further and longer. I left home on my bike in the morning, rode around all day and didn’t come back until dinner,” recalled Groninger.
Groninger graduated from Michigan State University with a degree in engineering and earning her Juris Doctor from Tulane University Law School. She puts her engineering degree and interest in biking to use in her practice.
Groninger devotes a portion of her practice to teaching bicycling safety. “I like to think the people I reach are, in the long run, safer. But there are a lot of things a bike rider can’t control. They can control themselves but not other people on the road.”
“I have handled a lot of bike cases, I’ve litigated a lot of bike cases. I understand a lot of misconceptions about how bicycles operate. When somebody calls me and said they were in a crash on their bike, I either have ridden there or dealt with very similar crashes in similar situations and understand what happened. When the defense makes claims that make no sense at all, I know how to explain it to the jury.” READ THE REST OF THE ARTICLE.