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Meet the Messina & Hankin Team

Mary E. Gram

Partner

Mary E. Gram is a Partner at the Temecula Valley office of Messina & Hankin. Ms. Gram is an experienced appellate and trial attorney focusing in commercial litigation matters in both federal and state court. She has litigated a wide variety of business disputes from inception through appeal, with experience in insurance-related litigation, various business torts, aviation and products liability matters, and professional malpractice. She has also acted as trial and appellate counsel in trust disputes and cases of alleged elder abuse, as well as in personal injury and wrongful death matters.

In recent years Ms. Gram’s practice has been primarily focused on appellate matters. In that capacity, she represented clients in several appellate cases involving matters of first impression, including a dispute regarding the interpretation of certain provisions of the Davis-Sterling Act governing the conduct of California homeowner’s associations boards of directors when holding elections, the application of comparative fault principles in actions involving professional negligence and a seminal case regarding the disqualification of counsel based on conflicts of interest.

For many years prior to joining Messina & Hankin, Ms. Gram was a member of the Business Trials Practice Group at Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP. While there, she was trial and appellate counsel in numerous complex multi-million dollar cases involving alleged fraud, breaches of fiduciary duty, professional negligence of insurance brokers, lender liability, breaches of contract, and alleged insurer bad faith. She has litigated on behalf of insurer clients, including Underwriters at Lloyds of London, which in one instance resulted in a victory for the defense in a jury trial that was selected as one of the top ten defense verdicts of the year by the California Daily Journal. Ms. Gram has also represented plaintiffs who were wrongfully denied insurance coverage, including prevailing at a jury trial on an insured’s behalf which resulted in a $10 million verdict.

Throughout the years Ms. Gram has also endeavored to give back to her community through pro bono work, including undertaking pro bono adoptions of foster children for Public Counsel and handling matters for indigent clients of Legal Aid.

Areas of Practice

  • Appellate Practice
  • Civil Litigation and Trials
  • Business Litigation
  • Insurance Litigation
  • Personal Injury and Wrongful
  • Death Litigation
  • Trust and Elder Abuse Litigation

Education

  • Southwestern University – Juris Doctor summa cum laude, law
    review, moot court – first place oralist, dean’s list
  • University of Oklahoma – Bachelor of Fine Arts with Honors

Memberships & Associations

  • State Bar of California 1993

Get to Know

Mary E. Gram, Esq.

  • What made you choose a career in law?

    I was drawn to a career in law, and in particular to complex business litigation, trials, and appeals, because I wanted to engage in intellectually challenging, dynamic work that involved assisting clients in resolving issues that often posed an existential threat to their financial security or to a business they had built through years of hard work and sacrifice. I was also appalled when I observed various large businesses unfairly targeted with meritless litigation based solely on their “deep pockets” and their perceived amenability to settlement despite a case’s obvious lack of merit. I was attracted to the idea of working with such companies to efficiently but aggressively litigate such claims, thereby hopefully deterring future frivolous filings against them.

  • In your opinion, what sets your firm apart from other firms in the area?

    The level of the experience all of the attorneys at Messina & Hankin is unparalleled when compared with competinglocal firms. Each M&H attorney has more than 20 years of experience in their respective field in state and federal court, some with years of experience practicing at large firms, and all M&H matters are handled by well-seasoned professionals.

    In addition, the various areas of practice of the firm’s members are uniquely complementary, so that when unexpected issues that can, and often do, arise during the course of business litigation matters or transactions, they can be promptly recognized and addressed seamlessly by the M&H team. With experience in real estate, labor and employment, insurance, complex tax matters, debt restructuring, probate, insolvency matters, and appeals, we are ready to efficiently and effectively handle almost anything that is likely to come up.

  • What is a case you're particularly proud of?

    One jury trial that I co-chaired was selected as one of the top ten defense verdicts of the year by the California Daily Journal. We represented an insurance carrier against plaintiffs demanding coverage for an alleged multi-million dollar theft of jewels from their business premises. They further alleged the denial of their claim by the carrier was made in bad faith and sought punitive damages. Despite security videotape of the purported robber entering the premises, and despite the fact that the plaintiff was found by independent witnesses hogtied inside the locked premises with the safe emptied out, we were able to “prove a negative” – i.e. the robbery was staged and the plaintiffs’ claim was a carefully planned, improper, and illegal attempt to defraud the insurer.

    Another case I am especially proud of is a month-long jury trial representing a plaintiff against his aviation insurance broker, whose negligence we alleged had led to the cancellation of the client’s multi-million dollar aviation insurance policy. The cancellation issued by the insurer was asserted to be effective retroactively to a date and time that was 12 hours before one of the client’s helicopters had crashed, resulting in multiple fatalities. We stepped in to handle the trial against the broker after the litigation had been on-going for nine years, after the trial court had ruled the retroactive cancellation by the insurer was valid, and after the client’s business had been decimated and he had been forced into bankruptcy. The client had been beaten down by the protracted litigation and had essentially lost all faith in the judicial system and we had just six weeks to digest the massive amount of information that had been generated and prepare for trial. After a month-long jury trial, it was extremely satisfying to hear the jury render a verdict of more than $10 million in our client’s favor.

  • What steps do you take to prepare for a difficult case?

    In all cases, a diligent, careful, and extremely through fact investigation at the outset of any litigation is crucial. Assuming facts not in evidence is to be avoided at all costs. Then, after thoroughly analyzing those facts under the applicable law, explaining to the client the various approaches, procedures and legal strategies available, we clearly outline the potential consequences, risks, rewards, and costs each avenue presents. If I perceive that a case is going to be particularly difficult for some reason, the action I would take will obviously depend on the nature of the perceived challenge. However, I would make sure that our preparation and strategic analysis has left no stone unturned and make sure the client is 100% crystal clear on the risks and obstacles we anticipate, emphasizing to them the consequences of the difficulties we anticipate and the strategies we propose to deal with them. This vigorous strategic analysis and very close client communication in difficult cases must be ongoing, making appropriate strategic adjustments as difficulties recede or increase until the matter is resolved.

  • How do you view your role in the attorney-client relationship?

    My role is to partner with my client to conduct the litigation and trial and to make sure they are clear on all aspects of the matter we are undertaking together. I believe that listening is the key: First I must understand what my client wants or needs in the given situation (often they don’t know what they want or need at the outset); ascertain the factual circumstances that exist; and then honestly and forthrightly undertake to obtain the desired outcome, or to clearly communicate to my client why, in my view, their goal is unattainable, unduly risky, or ill-advised.

    My role is somewhat different depending on whether my client is a seasoned in-house counsel of a large company who “knows the drill” or a newcomer to the litigation process. In any event, I strive to bring my clients to a place where they are making decisions based on a calm, logical, rational analysis of their situation in circumstances that, by their very nature, often arouse anger and a desire for revenge. While very aggressive litigation tactics are often warranted, they should be undertaken with a cool head, and with no illusions about the potentially debilitating nature of protracted litigation and all associated risks and costs that will likely ensue.

  • What sets you apart from other attorneys? Why is this important?

    In my years of experience, I have found that many litigators and trial attorneys do not adequately consider the “long game” early on – i.e. the long term consequences of strategic decisions they make at the outset of the case - or appreciate that they are making important decisions on incomplete information or assumptions. While unexpected matters often arise in discovery, I have often found that opposing or co-counsel proceed focused on short-term goals and then find themselves digging themselves out of a litigation hole they should have seen coming as an obvious risk of their early case decisions.

    I am the opposite – I carefully analyze all available information and play out the various scenarios at the beginning to the extent it is possible. I quickly adapt to changing facts or new information if that information suggests that my original strategy is no longer ideal. I am still extremely proud that during my tenure at the large firm where I worked for years, matters that other associates had mishandled strategically in some fashion were assigned to me to figure out how to solve the problem (I was told that my nickname from the partners I worked with was “the Chessmaster” – I obviously loved that). Careful and on-going strategic planning is important to avoid negative outcomes as well as the needless expenditure of fees to correct a problem that never should have developed in the first place.

  • How does having experience benefit your clients?

    My experience allows me to evaluate cases and analyze issues efficiently. I have also personally witnessed the disastrous consequences that can flow from inadequate investigation, preparation, and the crucial importance of responsiveness to the client’s needs, questions or concerns. Through the years I have observed that attorneys often let too much time slip by without realizing that the client has not been updated as they should have been. Responding to a client’s inquiry or concern should never be put off until “tomorrow.” No matter how comfortable I am with the status of the case, they are the priority and deserve my utmost attention and responsiveness at all times.

  • In your opinion, what is the most rewarding aspect of your job?

    As a litigator and appellate counsel focused on business disputes and torts, I take great satisfaction in providing clients with assurance that I have their back in extremely stressful situations, where their fear of potential financial ruin is not unfounded. I also find it rewarding that my work is never boring – I am constantly learning about new businesses and must keep up with rapidly evolving changes in the law, as technology, social media, and other developments are changing and challenging how business is conducted and how the law applies given those changes. I find that the ongoing intellectual stimulation associated with successfully putting together the puzzle pieces regarding each new matter is extremely rewarding.

  • What advice do you most often give your clients & why?

    It is crucial that you tell me everything – good and bad. Don’t hold back negative information or documents. If I know about it we can deal with it and rationally make our game plan, but it must be with full and complete knowledge that we make our plan so that I can protect them and provide the best advice. Surprises later in the process increase the likelihood of negative outcomes and increase costs and fees.

Awards

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