Randy Rhodes is a partner at Rouse Frets White Goss Gentile Rhodes, P.C. Randy has spent the better part of his career fighting for individuals harmed by reckless and negligent actions of others, particularly those harmed in product liability cases and victims of sexual abuse. Among his incredible results, Randy has received verdicts of $100,000,000.00 and $125,000,000.00 for his clients. We sit down with Randy to talk about how his practice evolved from corporate defense lawyer to renowned plaintiff’s lawyer.
Lawyer Minds: Randy, how did you end up working with your current firm?
Randy Rhodes: I actually started as a summer clerk between my second and third year of law school with Baker Sterchi (a defense firm in Kansas City). While there, I just naturally gravitated to Evan, Mike, Tim, and Doug. I was the primary associate for those four. When the five of us spun off to start the current firm, it was meant to be.
Lawyer Minds: And what kind of work did you guys focus on early on when you started the practice?
Randy Rhodes: As with any new firm, we focused on whatever work we could get in the door. We had taken a lot of defense work with us to keep the lights on. Evan and I were running around the country doing those cases. Tim had his medical malpractice defense work. Rouse had a whole stable of commercial litigation and Doug started a contingency fee practice. We were fairly narrow in focus at that time, but Doug and I have become even more narrow as time has progressed.
Lawyer Minds: How did you end up gravitating towards more of the contingency fee work?
Randy Rhodes: That was always what Doug and I wanted to do, even when we were at Baker Sterchi and we really couldn’t do it all the time. Doug had given me a plaintiff’s case at Baker Sterchi during my second year and I really enjoyed it. When they branched off to start the new firm, Doug asked me if I wanted to partner and the next thing I knew we had a brand new law firm.
Lawyer Minds: What kind of cases do you work on now?
Randy Rhodes: My practice is limited to civil trials and appeals. Probably 60-65% of my work is product liability cases. The remainder is dedicated to medical negligence, professional negligence, sexual abuse cases, and just general personal injury cases.
Lawyer Minds: When you’re looking at a case, how do you decide it is a case you want to go all in on? Is it a gut feeling? Experience? A combination of those things?
Randy Rhodes: It’s all of the above.
The biggest thing is I have to like the client. You can have a client with an absolutely righteous, awesome case, but if you don’t like your client, the jury is not going to like him either.
And so I have to meet the client, or at least talk to somebody who I trust who’s met the client and we know the jury will like him. Liability is tough in these cases and no matter how righteous the case is, when the client is difficult to work with, they become much tougher.
Lawyer Minds: And you had a righteous case not too long ago involving the Boy Scouts. Can you tell us about that?
Randy Rhodes: I’ve actually had two cases in which I’ve represented young men who were sexually abused while they were involved in scouting. The first was the Shore case. Danny Shore was our client and he had been sexually abused by his scout leader for a little over five years before he finally was able to break away from it. We were fortunate to get Danny a $100 million dollar judgment in Johnson County, Missouri. We were able to get Danny some justice against an abuser.
The second case was John Hobbs. John was abused by his scout leader, who was also his family physician. He was prescribing John with serious narcotics and then getting him drunk and molesting him at night once the alcohol interacted with the pharmaceuticals he was prescribing. We got him a $120 million judgment in front of the Jackson County Circuit Court in Independence, Missouri.
Those were two fairly significant sex abuse cases that we wanted to be able get some justice for our clients where the criminal justice system really failed them.
Lawyer Minds: That’s really key because a lot of these sexual assault cases involved shortened statute of limitations on the criminal side and also on the civil side.
Randy Rhodes: Yeah. And one thing that I didn’t realize until I got into all these cases is that — take John Hobbs’s case where he was sexually abused at boy scout camps, but he’s still a kid and and we have to establish a date for of all those events. When you’re talking about a kid that was drugged up and drunk, it’s kind of hard to reconstruct all that for purposes of criminal prosecution. But, given the different roles and what you and I do for a living, it’s much easier on the civil side. Unfortunately, the criminal justice system doesn’t help as many sex abuse victims as it should, but on the civil side we’re often able to get them in the courtroom to tell their story and get some justice.
Lawyer Minds: And you just don’t fight those battles in the courtroom, you also take the battle to your State Capitols…
Randy Rhodes: I am all for testifying for bills that may help our clients and against those that hurt them. In particular, I’ve testified against statutes of limitation bills and in favor of removal of those limitations — for civil and criminal matters — especially for victims of childhood sexual abuse. I’ve also testified against proposals to limit the the ability for these victims to obtain a punitive damage award or collect a punitive damage award against sexual abusers. When it involves something that hurt the interests of my clients, I’m always happy to go to Jefferson city or Topeka and testify.
Lawyer Minds: And it’s important to do that because you can advocate for your clients in the courtroom, but if the courtroom doors are closed you don’t have much of a chance to get there.
Randy Rhodes: That’s absolutely right. When you go to those hearings typically the only people who testify in favor of harmful bills are people from insurance industries and against them are members of the trial bar and their clients. In fighting to lift all statutes of limitations on childhood sexual abuse claims, there was opposition. In particular, the insurance company that insured the Catholic church had an attorney arguing against lifting those limitations. But, we had half a dozen victims of childhood sexual abuse. It’s interesting to see what really happens in Jefferson City and Topeka and Washington D.C. when these bills come up.
Clients typically can’t afford to hire lobbyists, so those of us who represent the plaintiffs have to be vigilant about showing up and fighting for them.
Lawyer Minds: Powerful stuff. Thanks for continuing to fight the good fight. What are some other cases you are involved with?
Randy Rhodes: Well, I don’t limit my practice. If there’s something interesting that comes along I’m happy to look at it. Right now, I do a lot of vehicle product liability cases involving child seat and booster seats. But generally, anything car related, truck related, vehicle related, I’m involved in. The thing is, I don’t like just people arguing over money. I like representing people… something happened to them and they need to redress. Which has also led me to some professional negligence cases involving healthcare providers and lawyers.
I think we as a profession should police ourselves as much as we try to police everybody else. We are in it to protect people — individuals — we should always remember that.
Thanks to Randy for sharing information about his practice and the work he’s doing for his clients.