James I. Montgomery, Jr. answers questions from Gibbs Giden’s Meghan Behar. After 22 years James is leaving Gibbs Giden this month to start his new position as Superior Court Commissioner.
Where were you born?
I was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky
What was your first job?
James: My first legal job was with the firm of Daniels, Baratta, & Fine in 1982. It was my introduction into civil trial work and where I learned to be a trial attorney. My very first job was working in a laundrymat/cleaners in the evening while in high school.
How did you find your path to law?
It started in high school when I was deciding what profession I was going to pursue. I jokingly said a doctor or lawyer, but I did not want to be a doctor. Since then, I was locked into law and set myself on a pre-law path in college followed by law school.
Let’s talk about your journey as a trial lawyer. I’ve heard some people say your performance was a true masterclass. What goes into the preparation to execute on that level?
During my time in law school, I thought I was going to be a corporate lawyer. When I was searching for that first job, I was fortunate to join a litigation firm and was mentored by an outstanding trial attorney who allowed me to handle cases from inception through trial. I learned a long time ago that the key to being successful is “preparation, preparation, preparation.” The preparation includes knowing the law applicable to your case, thoroughly knowing the facts of the case, evaluating strengths and weaknesses, and knowing the rules and procedures of the judge to which you are assigned. The preparation includes understanding the case you want to present, the case the opposing party wants to present and being ready for the unexpected.
What is your favorite charity?
St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. They play such an important role in treating kids suffering from cancer.
Favorite football team.
My favorite football team changes as my circumstances change. Currently it is USC Football since my son is a member of the USC Marching Band.
Favorite lunch spot.
Any place that has a great hamburger
Favorite vacation spot.
The Caribbean and the beautiful water and people.
Who is your real-life hero?
My father was my real-life hero. He raised five children while working multiple jobs to support his family. He grew up at a time where segregation was very overt but had the strength and fortitude to be the first Black to integrate a military facility while in the Air Force and integrate a post office in a rural community as a supervisor during his employment with the US. Post Office. He was a person who was able to get along with anyone. He respected others and was respected as well. He was a great role model for me, my brother, and many others. He had a big heart and always believed in helping others.
What was your career high point (as a lawyer)?
I am extremely humbled and proud about being inducted into the John M. Langston Bar Association’s Hall of Fame. As a Black attorney, I have been motivated by the many judicial officers and attorneys of color I’ve met over the past 40 years. It is such a great honor to be associated with so many of those I looked up to during my career.
Favorite thing about working at Gibbs Giden.
The family atmosphere. When I arrived in November 1999, I was welcomed with open arms by personnel at all levels, from Ken Gibbs, partners, associates and staff, and it has continued to feel that way over the past 22 years. It is no coincidence that so many attorneys and staff have worked at the firm for 20 and 30 or more years.
You’re a passionate supporter of the Inner City Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles, (ICYOLA). What does the Orchestra mean to you?
This amazing orchestra is the largest majority Black orchestra in the country. It has given so many talented young people the opportunity to showcase their talent in an orchestra setting in magnificent venues throughout the community. The organization has assisted many of its members in getting into college, allowed them to flourish and maximize their potential as musicians and more importantly, encouraged that discipline and talent to apply to all aspects of life. My son has benefited from the orchestra being a member since the age of 10 and I have personally seen how this orchestra has shaped and enriched him with all his endeavors.
If you had to choose one word to describe what it has been like being an attorney for 42 years, what would it be?
Rewarding. I have been fortunate to represent so many wonderful people who needed legal assistance.
What made you want to become a Commissioner?
Serving as a Court Commissioner would further provide me with the opportunity to give back to a judicial system of which I have personally benefited as a forty-plus year practicing attorney. Reflecting upon the great responsibility of judicial officers while walking through the halls of the Stanley Mosk Courthouse, I would observe people in the hallways looking for resolution in the family law, probate, small claims, and civil courts; some with legal counsel assisting them and many without. I would sit through hearings and listen to the testimony of many individuals seeking to negotiate the complex legal system. These observations fueled my aspirations, knowing that I would have the opportunity to provide an important service to so many.
If there was one piece of advice you could give to a young trial attorney, what would it be?
At the beginning of the litigation, look at what the end requires. Evaluate early the law and elements that apply to your particular case, determine the facts that exist, and the facts needed to prosecute or defend the case and then create your discovery plan. Continue to evaluate and reevaluate the case as the case progresses through the pleading stage, the discovery process and ultimately preparation for trial. In preparation for trial, analyze and thoroughly understand the minute details of the facts of the case and the applicable law. Most importantly, be yourself, be honest, be civil and be ethical.
On behalf of everyone at Gibbs Giden, we want to offer our sincerest congratulations on James’ appointment as Los Angeles Superior Court Commissioner. This is a remarkable achievement and testament to his dedication, hard work, and service to the legal profession. HIs work ethic, calm, cool, and collected demeanor will truly be missed! James is a true professional who has shown that excellence is something to aim for daily. As the next chapter of his life unfolds, Gibbs Giden will be eagerly reading every page. We wish James and his family the absolute best and look forward to seeing what he accomplishes as Commissioner.