Thirteen Schools Before High School

Military brat Vickie E. Turner finds her home in San Diego and trial law

Published in 2009 San Diego Super Lawyers — June 2009

A military brat, Vickie E. Turner spent much of her childhood on the move. But it wasn't until she applied to law school that she realized just how far she had traveled.

"When I was a child, we lived in Okinawa, Japan; New Mexico; Texas; Washington, D.C.; Georgia; Las Vegas," Turner says, ticking off stops in her father's military career.  "When I was filling out law school applications, I discovered that I had attended 13 schools before high school."

Turner never resented her family's adventurous life—in fact, she maintains that the constant uprooting made her into the independent, confident woman she is today, but she was happy to put down roots in San Diego.

She's been practicing law for 26 years, ever since earning her J.D. from the University of San Diego School of Law. After winning the prestigious International Academy of Trial Lawyers award for Excellence in Trial Advocacy, Turner accepted a position at the firm of Luce, Forward, Hamilton & Scripps, where she was named partner in 1989.

By 1998, Turner and her husband were busy raising three boys, and she was lured away by a smaller law firm with a reputation for offering attorneys more control over their personal and professional lives. Now she's a name partner at Wilson Petty Kosmo & Turner.

"I like it here," Turner says. "San Diego is my home, and this firm is a perfect match for me."

At WPKT, Turner established a general civil litigation practice focusing on products liability and business litigation. The majority of the firm's 22 attorneys are female, and of the four named partners, two are women and two, including Turner, are African American.

Turner says she prefers the more intimate environment such smaller firms create.  

"In a large firm, you are controlled by the demands of overhead," Turner says. "You have to bring in so much money, you have to bill a certain amount. At a small firm, you can have the same kind of quality of clients, but you don't have the same amount of overhead. When a client hires my firm, they're getting a community of attorneys, a shared experience. It's better for everyone."

Turner has attracted many sizable clients to her firm, including General Motors, GlaxoSmithKline, Honda, Ford and Cummins Inc. She is regional counsel for GM, representing the company in 12 states.

In her most memorable case, Turner represented an auto manufacturer in a lawsuit brought by the family of a young woman who died what Turner describes as "a horrible death." In their lawsuit, the woman's family maintained that vehicle error caused the accident; Turner and her colleagues argued that the woman had actually fallen asleep at the wheel.

"We were in trial for about five weeks and most of the time it appeared that many members of the jury were crying," Turner says. "Since I was on the defense side, I was completely panicked. The jury was clearly sympathizing with the plaintiff. I was in trouble."

To bolster their case, Turner and her all-female team called a number of expert witnesses, including metallurgical experts. "It was highly technical information," she says. "It took time to understand what the experts were saying, and even more time to explain everything for the jury."

In the end, the jury found in favor of her client. "While the sympathy for the woman's family remained," Turner says, "by the end of the trial we were able to see the jury become objective. They realized that the accident wasn't actually caused by the vehicle. The jury made the right decision. It was sad, but it was an objective decision."

Turner believes strongly in the power of higher education to help individuals live up to their full potential. She backs up her beliefs through a deep involvement with Pathways 2 College, a local nonprofit that works to help African-American children and their families gain the skills needed to prepare them for the college admissions process. Turner serves on the organization's board of directors.

"It's a way for me to give back," she says, "to help others gain the advantages of a college education, and see beyond any expectations that the world has set out for them."

Turner knows about exceeding expectations. While her parents enthusiastically supported her decision to go to college, they were less excited about her applying to law school. She already had a job—working undercover for the Las Vegas Gaming Control Board—so their reaction was tepid.

"They were cautious," Turner recalls. "The thought of me leaving a job to go back to school was a little daunting to my parents. Why would I take a risk when my future looked set? But I was confident that I could do it-and I did. Now they are thrilled."

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