Where Pit Bulls Fear to Tread

Anywhere near attorney Paul Geller

Published in 2009 Florida Super Lawyers — June 2009

Two summers ago as Paul Geller was driving home, he came across a pregnant woman and her dog being mauled by a pair of pit bulls. Unbelievably, other cars were just driving by. Geller screeched to a stop, jumped out, and kicked and shouted at the attacking dogs until they ran off, later to be captured by police.

After an ambulance rushed to the scene, Geller even drove the woman's dog to an emergency clinic.

It probably helped that the class-action litigator with Coughlin Stoia Geller Rudman & Robbins' Boca Raton office is also a nationally ranked jiu jitsu competitor. But the incident also reflects his philosophy of life and the law.

"In this world—and I don't mean to get sappy—I'm not sure that people help each other as much as they should," he says. "I don't want to be one of those guys who just drives by."

Born in Brooklyn and raised in New Jersey, Geller started off at the University of Florida aiming to be a doctor. He was headed for med school but lost interest. A school counselor suggested law school, which seemed a better fit. Along the way, he discovered his love for jiu jitsu. And, even though he says it's not because he likes to fight, in the courtroom he's earned a reputation for doing just that, and winning.

"I always root for the underdog, the little guy," Geller says. "The thing I love so much about class action is it really levels the playing field. It enables David to stand up against Goliath. It enables a group of people to say, 'It's just not right.'"

His firm has grown into one of the best in securities class actions, with cases including the $7.2 billion settlement against energy giant Enron. Geller had a lead role in the $3.2 billion Tyco International settlement, which was the only settlement in the country over $1 billion in 2007 and alone accounted for nearly 45 percent of that year's total settlements in the United States.

But the case he calls the most personally satisfying involved an elderly woman who fell for a magazine subscription come-on and thought she'd won a sweepstakes. His client was a lead plaintiff in a case in which American Family Publishers settled for $38 million and agreed to change its practices.

"It feels a little bit better when you can look at those kinds of clients and say, 'You know what? What they did to you is unfair, and we've made sure that they're never going to do that again.'"

Successful as he's been with his legal talents, Geller admits there are times he wishes he could use some of his mat skills to settle his courtroom battles. "I've had lots of courtroom opponents I would love to use jiu jitsu on," he says. "Thus far, I've been able to control the inclination."

The woman attacked by the dogs is doing well. "She required plastic surgery on her face," Geller says. "I have met her little daughter, who is perfectly fine." Even the dog, Midnight, recovered, after surgery and hundreds of stitches. The woman is suing the pit bulls' owner and the city of Delray Beach. At this trial, Geller may get to play an unaccustomed role: as witness instead of attorney. But as usual, he'll be on the underdog's side.

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