Skip Miller: L.A.’s Hired Gun

L.A.’s Hired Gun

All Around Defense
Louis (Skip) Miller

CAREER PATH Christensen White won a beauty contest in 1989 to represent Los Angeles in a five-year-old lawsuit over the city council’s downsizing of a median strip owned by Southern Pacific Railroad. On the eve of a summary judgment hearing, Miller helped negotiate a $3 million settlement in a case that could have cost the city $90 million. The firm now has a contract to advise the city attorney’s office on punitive damage-related issues; attorneys are paid at an hourly rate, with a maximum expenditure of $200,000.

SIGNIFICANT CASES Miller successfully defended the city against a religious-persecution claim by the police department’s number two official, Robert Vernon, after a council member asked the Police Commission to investigate whether officers had been proselytizing for Christianity on the job. After the 1992 Los Angeles riots, when Police Chief Daryl Gates seemed ready to renege on his promise to resign (which would have abrogated the selection of new chief Willie Williams), Miller advised the city to play the public relations game rather than talk tough and risk more civil unrest. Officials announced that they believed Gates would be a man of his word and allow the new chief to come in; “Sure enough, he backed down. No lawsuit, no turmoil.” Miller helped litigate’ the civil lawsuit filed by Rodney King, advising the city not to contest liability in King’s beating by police: “We all knew there was a lot of potential exposure and we didn’t want to impassion the city and the jury again.” King, who had been seeking $50 million, was awarded $3.8 million and no punitive damages.

Last fall Miller represented Los Angeles City Councilman Nate Holden in two sexual harassment lawsuits brought by a former employee; after a bench trial, a judge dismissed the woman’s claims.

Currently, Miller is defending the City of Beverly Hills and several of its top officials in a recently filed suit accusing police of discriminating against black males when stopping them in the street. In Cardiz Land Co. v City if San Bernardino et al., he is representing Waste Management Inc., developer of the world’s largest landfill, the Rail-Cycle Project, which plans to use trains to transport garbage to the San Bernardino desert.

ON HIS IMAGE Miller’s aggressiveness-both with opponents and firm associates-has earned him, among other names, the moniker “Prince of Darkness.” Miller insists that much of this is “ancient history” and that, at least with his colleagues, he’s “mellowed out.” But he adds: “It’s not important for me to be a nice guy. I am pro­fessional at all times-tough, but professional.”

WHY CITIES COME TO HIM “The [Los Angeles] city attorney’s office is very cost-conscious, so it uses me only as necessary. What skills do I bring to the case? Evaluation, exposure [the ability to esti­mate the potential legal and financial exposure], and the ability to devise successful strategies. We’ve won every case so far. Clients don’t like to lose, and my job is to be sure that doesn’t happen.”

FIRM: Christensen, White, Miller, Fink, Jacobs, Glaser & Shapiro (Century City)

SPECIALTIES: Defense lawyer in civil rights, entertainment, sexual harassment, real estate, multi trust securities, and environmental cases. Almost 90 percent of his practice is litigation, 10 to 15 percent for the City of Los Angeles

VITAL STATISTICS: University of Denver (BA 1969), UCLA School of Law (1972); Wyman, Bautzer, Christensen, Kuchel & Silbert (1973-1988-now defunct; 13 partners broke off to form Christensen White); 49 years old

REPRESENTS: City of Los Angeles (as well as several members of L.A. city council), City of Beverly Hills (including mayor and council members), TriStar Pictures, Bob Dylan, Nick Nolte, Waste Management Inc., Vons Companies Inc., Southern California Gas Co.