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BHC - Castle 021105

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    Profile of:
    Nomi Castle

    “The original verdict was probably one of the worst decisions in the history of our state’s public works construction law.”
    —Nomi Lynn Castle

    By John L. Seitz – Courier Managing Editor

          Two weeks ago, a longtime Beverly Hills resident and principal of a Century City boutique law firm, won a precedent-setting reversal in a high profile public works project litigation from the California State Court of Appeal.
          For Nomi Lynn Castle, however, achieving another such victory has become standard operating procedure. The fact is that in 21 years of practicing law, she has yet to lose a trial.
          This remarkable record was put to the acid test when her client, Tutor-Saliba-Perini, filed a $16 million claim in 1995 against the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority for invoices, primarily due from the construction of the Redline subway system.
          Despite the involved members of the MTA staff confirming the validity of these unpaid bills, the matter ended up in a jury trial six years later.
          Rather than agreeing to settle, however, the MTA instead decided to fight the matter in court and enlisted the services of a large, aggressive law firm which filed a cross-complaint against Tutor-Saliba-Perini in 1999 four years after Tutor-Saliba-Perini sued to collect for their unpaid work. Two more years of litigation resulted in a highly controversial verdict by the judge against Tutor-Saliba-Perini for $60 million, $31 million of which was to compensate the MTA for the public funds that were expended for its attorney fees.
          The California State Court of Appeal has now reversed that judge’s decision including a majority of the sanctions while ordering that a new trial be set.
          “The original verdict was probably one of the worst decisions in the history of our state’s public works construction law,” said Castle.
          “With this going on for an entire decade, it has taken its toll in time and effort on all parties. At least we now have the opportunity to get this adjudicated correctly in a fair trial, at last.”
          In legal journals throughout the nation, this reversal has already caused a virtual firestorm and may be the subject of law school debate in the future as the trial itself has been one of the more closely watched in the history of public contracting.
          Born in Chicago, Castle arrived in California at age five and grew up as the daughter of a structural draftsman in Burbank with her three siblings: a brother David, now a rabbi, an author and a lawyer in the religious courts in Israel; a brother Jonathan, an inventor and electronics engineer; and a sister Rebecca, a psychologist.
          “Frankly, I was kind of a handful as a teenager—an early bloomer, shall we say—and ended up graduating from Fairfax High School at 16, getting married at 18, and becoming a divorcee with two children by 20.
          “Suddenly being a single mom, at least I had learned how to type so I always managed to get steady clerical jobs to support us.”
          Her first productive and long-lasting assignment in which she learned the whys and wherefores of the construction business turned out to be working on Wilshire Blvd. in the Chancellor’s office for the California State University system. Emanating from this base of operations came virtually all financial and operational decisions affecting the huge network of 23 schools spread from Sonoma State on the north to San Diego State in the south.
          “Almost by osmosis, for the first time in my life I was exposed to the construction industry because we were always heavily involved in major building activities from one campus to the next. I learned all about capital outlay contracts and claims and the process of public competitive bidding.”
          While this initial exposure to what was to become her life’s work was going on by day, she was already taking a full load of night school classes at Los Angeles City College and UCLA Extension with the goal of becoming a licensed paralegal. Once that had been achieved, she had started teaching legal classes at LACC part-time and working full-time as a claims consultant and paralegal.
          Thereafter, Castle decided to pursue a law degree itself, eventually earning this in 1983 from Southland University, the Pasadena offshoot of Chicago’s La Salle University.
          After passing the California Bar exam the first time out, she started her own law firm. “Of course, there weren’t any associates in those days—just myself and a secretary,” stated Castle. “However, we were very fortunate having clients from day one and never looked back since.”
          Her first work with Ron Tutor and Tutor-Saliba Corporation was in 1974 where she worked on construction litigation as both a claims consultant and paralegal.
          Through the years her business relationship with that company has grown significantly. She is “particularly honored to have represented Ronald Tutor during the firm’s entire 21 years in business.”
          Amazingly, her organization has never had to change addresses in its two-decade+ history. Located in the Watt Plaza on Century Park East, it has occupied three different suites as it has expanded some 20-fold, now numbering 10 lawyers and a substantial support staff.
          Even more remarkable is that this boutique operation, unlike most others of its size, has not found it necessary to market its services. Every piece of business has come in via personal recommendations from other clients or via attorney referrals.
          It is often a rule of thumb that smaller firms spend an inordinate amount of time on a single large case and then have nothing in the pipeline once the big job is completed.
          “Fortunately, we’ve never been in that position and there always seems to be plenty to keep everyone here constantly busy,” she declared.
          When asked how her firm is able to compete toe-to-toe with competitors often 40 times larger, Castle said her team thrives on complex legal matters and is willing to go the extra mile to strategize and deliver positive results to their clients.
          “The much larger firms pay their inexperienced, young associates a fortune just because they got a degree from one of the ‘Ivies’. Then they work them to death with 80-hour weeks before weeding them out. No wonder so many end up hating law after only being in it a few years,” Castle pointed out.
          “Our mindset is entirely different and I want people to actually have a life. I don’t think anybody works harder than we do but it’s a total team effort with real camaraderie and no jealousy. Besides that, our people think of this as their second family. It makes for a much better environment all around.”
          While the firm often delves into a variety of subjects including disputes with government agencies, regulations, insurance work, malpractice and bankruptcies, the crux of their activities, in fact 90%, involves the specialized field of construction law.
          This is a relatively small, tightly knit cottage industry with a set of complex rules and regulations which have to be closely adhered to before, during and after any building project—public or private.
          “Being a construction attorney encompasses far more than handling building defects or injury matters. Instead, it requires knowledge of statutory schemes regulating the public and private industries plus a keen understanding of the roles and inter-relationships among owners, designer professionals, inspectors, construction managers, lenders, regulatory agencies, contractors of all tiers, suppliers and fabricators.”
          “Everything has to be documented and signed off on to the smallest of details. For instance, if notices are not correctly posted a minimum of 20 days prior to the start of a project, contractors may lose many of their rights should litigation be initiated later on,” Castle pointed out.
          “In any type of construction work, it is necessary to have a working familiarity with all documents and schedules because the contractor, sub-contractors, architects, engineers, insurance companies and even the inspectors themselves can be and often are named in a potential lawsuit. These days, every ‘t’ has to be crossed and ‘i’ dotted. Nothing is left to chance.
          “A perfect example of these preliminaries is what’s currently going on with all the controversy in our own Beverly Hills concerning the Montage Hotel situation—and that’s just in the preliminary stages. Multiply that several thousand times over with all projects we get involved with and you see what keeps us always hopping in construction law.”
          Being the firm’s chief litigator and trial lawyer, she has also experienced many memorable and unusual cases representing clients in non-construction related businesses.
          Besides her more than full time “day job” of running Castle & Associates, she spends much of her spare hours enjoying her daughter Leeba Isenberg (wife of Henri Isenberg, a VP with Symantec Industries, and mother of Ezra, Elly and Sara); her electrical engineer son Danny Hoisman and his wife Rachel, mother of Nikki, Jeremy and Jake; her niece, Dr. Rachel Castle, an anesthesiologist at UCLA’s Olive View Hospital, whom she currently shares her house with; and her parents who still live in the house in Burbank where she grew up.
          “Having a wonderful family, a second family here at the office, clients I enjoy, wonderful friends, a job I love and a home in Beverly Hills, who could ask for anythingmore?”
          For a hard working dynamo like Nomi Lynn Castle, perhaps a few more hours in the day to enjoy it all would be the only thing now missing.

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