Power Broker

Todd V. McMurtry carries on a family tradition in his litigation and municipal practice

Published in 2015 Ohio Super Lawyers — January 2015

Todd V. McMurtry has forged his own reputation as an outstanding litigator in northern Kentucky, but he credits his father with blazing the trail.

McMurtry remembers his mother telling him and his younger brother, “Don’t bother your dad; he’s in trial.” He would read about his father’s cases in the newspaper and visit Stephen McMurtry’s office. His uncle loves to tell the story of overhearing two homeless men talking in front of the public library. “One said, ‘You know, who you need to talk to is Steve McMurtry,’” McMurtry recalls. “He had helped out enough people over the years where he had a reputation.”

All of this made an impression. “If you asked me at age 16 what I was going to do, I’d say, ‘I’m probably going to be a lawyer,’” says McMurtry, who is now a shareholder managing the litigation practice group at Gerner & Kearns in Fort Wright. “I was always intrigued by it.”

In high school, he sharpened his persuasive speaking skills by joining the National Forensic League—now the National Speech & Debate Association—and by watching his father in the courtroom during summer breaks. Then at Centre College, he majored in history. “What do you do with a history degree other than go to law school?” he asks.

After graduating from Salmon P. Chase College of Law at Northern Kentucky University and proposing to his fiancée, he took some advice from his father.

“He said, ‘You’ve got your whole life to practice law. I recommend that, after you guys get married, go do something different for a couple of years, because it’ll be good for you in the future.’”

So McMurtry headed to Washington, D.C., to work as a fundraiser for the Republican National Committee. As Northeast regional director for the Republican Eagles—at the time a $10,000-per-person donor club—he helped with campaign-finance compliance work and providing general advice. In 1988, he even got the opportunity to meet President Ronald Reagan and future President George H.W. Bush and Vice President Dan Quayle at the Republican National Convention in New Orleans. “It was certainly a great experience on how to handle yourself around rich and famous and powerful people,” he says.

After nearly three years with the RNC, he spent the next two working for his college fraternity, Beta Theta Pi, based in Oxford, Ohio. As executive director, he helped develop an early college fraternity risk-management policy.

In 1991, McMurtry went to work for his father’s firm in Covington, Kentucky. He cut his teeth on cases involving construction clients, real estate issues, mechanic’s liens and commercial litigation. Then McMurtry was involved in handling a wrongful death lawsuit against two fraternities at the University of Kentucky when a student died in a car accident after getting intoxicated at the fraternities’ parties. “We got a pretty substantial $1.2 million verdict in that case, in partial settlement, partial verdict,” he says. “So I used what I learned about fraternities to some other fraternities’ detriment.”

In a spinoff of that, he persuaded his college fraternity to hire him as outside general counsel. For five years, he worked across the country for Beta Theta Pi on cases involving people suing the fraternity for everything from dog bites to alcohol intoxication to date rape.

Today, about 30 percent of his practice is business and municipal law and the rest is litigation, which includes a fair amount of real estate cases. Licensed to practice in Kentucky and Ohio, McMurtry represents banks in complex foreclosure litigation for homes and commercial buildings. In his municipal work, he represents three cities in Kenton County: Fort Wright, Villa Hills and Park Hills. Construction cases also make up part of his workload, though these became an especially small area during the recession.

He is currently representing Fort Wright in a class action against the Board of Trustees of the Kentucky Retirement System. The city alleges that the board made high-risk investments that aren’t permitted by Kentucky statute with retirement funds of employees including police officers, firefighters and teachers.

McMurtry estimates that over the past decade, he has tried one to two civil jury trials a year and two to five administrative trials—smaller-scale litigation, such as when a city is involved in a removal hearing for a municipal employee or elected official. He says, “I always picture myself with one of those wheelie briefcases running around from court to court.”

McMurtry’s three children also grew up with the “don’t bother your dad; he’s in trial” mantra. And it worked on them just as it did on him. His daughter Ana Cristina McMurtry Moore passed the bar last summer and started the LL.M. program at Southern Methodist University last fall. His two sons who attend DePauw University and Washington and Lee University, also are considering careers in the law.

McMurtry says, “It’s in the blood.”

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