The Epic Poem of David Golub

How one literature lover fights for the little guy—and wins

Published in 2007 New England Super Lawyers — November 2007

Are you a lawyer? Live in Connecticut? Then expect someday to read the collected works of David Golub––if you haven’t already.

Granted, you won’t find his pieces filed between Fitzgerald and Hemingway, but for the people of the Nutmeg State, the 58-year-old’s work is every bit as canonical––he’s the man Connecticut chose to bring down Big Tobacco and he recently won a record victory on behalf of its small towns, wrangling with Supreme Court justices and saving two lives along the way.

The Golub household was a literate one, where discussion was encouraged and progressive politics ruled. His father was a dentist who worked around the state, including at the federal prison in Danbury. His mother went to Columbia Law School, but didn’t begin to practice until her 60s.

“One was expected not only to talk about ideas and feelings but to be able to back up whatever you said,” says Rabbi Mark Golub, David’s older brother. “And in a household full of bright people, David was the brightest. He was a voracious reader, was able to do puzzles in his mind.”

At Yale University, it was no surprise when the constant reader’s first love turned out to be literature. Golub seriously entertained the idea of becoming a writer. “Aside from, of course, wanting to be a major-league baseball player,” Golub says, chuckling. “I wanted to do fiction, maybe criticism––Hemingway, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, those were the writers I had in mind. But though I wanted to write, I always had law in the back of my mind. I thought being a lawyer could change the world.”

Golub’s idealism was put to the test almost immediately after he graduated from Yale Law in 1973. He taught a trial-practice clinic in Hartford for the University of Connecticut, and took on a grueling load of criminal cases and appeared in courtrooms from day one.

“I was a month out of law school, and I was teaching students trial practice, and I was a week ahead of them,” Golub says. “It was ridiculous to say I could teach them experience, because I had no experience. I could only teach them what I intuitively knew.”

Over the next two years, Golub developed a plain-speaking courtroom style and a solid appreciation for taking the time to pore over evidence. He also learned to put his literary talents to use formulating vivid arguments for judge and jury.

Golub gained a reputation in Yale circles, and attorney Richard Silver offered him a spot in his Stamford firm, now Silver Golub & Teitell. Golub’s been there ever since. He began to try an eclectic collection of cases where he’d get to challenge institutional arrogance and stand up for an underdog––or, as he puts it, “have fun.”

Soon after moving to Stamford, Golub argued a habeas corpus case before the U.S. Supreme Court, mere days after he qualified to argue there. But the justices didn’t buy his arguments about how police should properly identify a suspect, and Golub lost the case 7-2.

He’d return a decade later, a more seasoned attorney, representing––of all clients for a stalwart Democrat like Golub––the state Republican Party in its bid to decide who could vote in its primaries. Golub argued that it was vital to the democratic process for a political party to be able to try to attract new members, to which the new chief justice, William Rehnquist, blurted an infamous retort.

“He said, ‘What’s so good about opening up and enhancing the democratic process?’ And then he quickly caught himself,” Golub says, laughing. “The Washington Post ran that the next day as an example of how the Court was changing.”

Nevertheless, the justices ruled in favor of Golub’s client.

Beyond his successes before the Supreme Court, Golub has taken some cases that were literally matters of life and death. In 1987, he was part of a team that convinced the Florida Supreme Court to overturn the death penalty for Charles Proffitt, who was part of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case reaffirming the death penalty 11 years earlier.

“Many people describe [David] as seeming so easy at what he does, talking without notes,” says Kathryn Emmett of Emmett & Glander, Golub’s partner on the Proffitt case, and now his wife. “He’s relaxed with people in the courtroom and [is often humorous]. But I know how much he thinks things through.”

In Connecticut, Golub may be most remembered for his tobacco case. In 1996, Connecticut gathered a team of lawyers to sue the major tobacco companies for the harm their products had caused to its citizens. Golub was lead counsel, coordinating a comprehensive and daunting effort that tested the limits of the attorneys’ knowledge, skills and endurance.

“It was a bracing experience for everybody,” says Tony Fitzgerald, who was on the team. “In the tobacco case we had 500 law firms to contend with and we just didn’t have the time to take as organized an approach as I’d normally take to a much smaller case. It was litigation at the speed of light, and he was definitely the leader of that effort, and a good one. He does the work of 10.”

Though Connecticut never went to trial (the case was settled nationally in 1998), its team was given special praise, and the state was awarded an extra $375 million.

Golub hasn’t slowed down. In June, he won a record $35.9 million judgment against the quasi-public Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority, which had given a $220 million loan to Enron Corp. and then passed on the loss––in the form of higher waste disposal fees––to 70 Connecticut towns when Enron went bankrupt. With people as high up as then-governor John Rowland urging the municipalities not to complain, only one affected town, New Hartford, was willing to take the agency on, in 2003. It was a David-and-Goliath scenario that appealed to Golub, and the attraction was mutual––New Hartford’s 6,200 people immediately accepted Golub.

“The chemistry was good right from the beginning,” says Bill Baxter, first selectman of New Hartford. “He has a style that is non-threatening, and he has an incredible mind in terms of retaining information and statistics.”

The case became a class action lawsuit last year, and when it was won, all 70 municipalities reaped the benefits.

The CRRA has since appealed, but knowing Golub, the CRRA decision is surely one he’ll look forward to defending.

“It was a battle,” Golub says. “The case was a lot of fun to try.”

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