Shifting the Odds

Richard W. Schulte and the best spot in America for a fair fight

Published in 2007 Ohio Rising Stars — July 2007

Richard W. Schulte sees the legal system as a well-refereed arena—one of the last places a regular person can take on a big company in a fair fight. “You’re on a level playing field,” he says. “You’re treated equally.”

The Dayton attorney spends 14 hours a day, six days a week in that arena. He was one of the first lawyers in the country to file a claim against corporate giant Johnson & Johnson for safety concerns with the Ortho Evra birth control patch. “It was a real risk,” says the partner at Behnke, Martin & Schulte. But it’s one that’s paid off now that there’s multidistrict litigation. Schulte, 38, is currently working on consolidated pretrial proceedings with some of the top attorneys in the country. “You essentially form a law firm, but it’s for this one case,” he says. “You’re representing the interests of every Ortho Evra case.” Schulte, who is serving on the marketing, science and trial selection committees, describes himself as “probably the youngest guy in the room.”

After attending Quincy College in Illinois, Schulte earned his law degree from Valparaiso University in Indiana. Then came a fellowship with Lloyd’s of London and Schulte quickly started his own firm. Today, Schulte focuses on class actions and mass torts.

While he enjoys working on big cases, they don’t bring him the same personal satisfaction as helping individual clients. He resolved a case for a grandmother in her late 60s who was shocked multiple times with a stun gun in the lobby of the police department in Franklin, Ohio. According to news reports about the incident, the woman refused to get up from a chair to be handcuffed, so an officer Tasered her. Then she fell to the floor and the officer fired the stun gun several more times as he tried to handcuff her.

The incident was widely covered by the press, from Court TV to Inside Edition. “I like to use the media to my advantage in these cases,” says Schulte, who has appeared on the Today show, CNN and MSNBC. “A lot of times [the opposition] doesn’t want to be exposed.”

While Schulte normally approaches TV appearances with a calm demeanor, he admits getting a little nervous before going on Good Morning America to talk about another client. “They tell you, ‘There are going to be 13 million people watching and don’t screw it up,’” he says. But despite the butterflies, Schulte and his client were excited about the appearance and had the chance to meet hosts Charles Gibson and Diane Sawyer.

He was invited on the show to talk about the case of the “Whiskey Swigging Bride.” Schulte was representing Michele Hemphill, a woman whose off-color wedding photo unexpectedly showed up on a greeting card 22 years later. It featured Hemphill drinking whiskey and smoking in her wedding dress before the ceremony. Hemphill, a mother of three and active church member, wasn’t pleased.

“Sometimes it’s just as important to the client for [their story] to be exposed in the media as the money,” Schulte says. He enjoys taking on cases that depart from the norm, ones where his client might not be able to find another lawyer to work on the case.

It’s an approach that keeps him extremely busy. Right now he has cases in roughly 20 states, and his hectic schedule means he only sleeps five hours a night. Schulte can’t spend too much time resting, he says. “I want to get in a position where I can handle more complicated and challenging cases and do that on a regular basis.”

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