In the trial, set for Sept. 8, a bevy of high-powered lawyers will battle to set ground rules for suits stemming from the 1985 crash. As lead counsel for the committee of victims' lawyers, Windle Turley will seek punitive damages against the airline, an unusual move that hinges on proving Delta guilty of ``gross neglect.''
Turley, 48, brings to the case a reputation as a tough opponent and a pioneer of state-of-the-art techniques such as videotapes and detailed visual aids.
But along with the sophisticated tools, he projects the enthusiastic verve of the country preacher he once planned to be, taking an emotional approach to cases that is not always popular with other lawyers.
The combination has resulted in millions of dollars in settlements and court victories.
``If I was on the other side, I'd try to figure out how I could settle with him,'' said Dallas attorney Mike McKool, who hired Turley as a rising star in the 1960s.
The videotape has become Turley's signature.
His law firm puts together ``mini-trial'' packages for insurance companies and ``day-in-the-life'' segments for the courtroom, to show jurors the extent of injuries. In one such segment, a paralyzed teen-ager was shown making repeated unsuccessful attempts to negotiate a ramp during a snow storm.
Despite criticism that the approach is too emotional, Turley defends the tools as a way to balance scales already tipped toward the well-spoken and well-heeled.
``Justice should never turn on how well one speaks. But it does,'' he said. ``If you speak well, if you articulate well, whether you're injured or whether you've been accused of a crime, you will get a better day and a fairer day in court.''
Turley's most famous cases include a $3.8 million settlement for a former cheerleader paralyzed in a Swiss Skyride accident at the Texas State Fair; a court order grounding all DC-10s after the 1979 Chicago crash; and a 1972 victory against Cessna, in which he set aviation law precedent by trying the case on the basis of the plane's ``crashworthiness.''
Despite his successes, Turley has been criticized for walking a fine line between dedication and ambulance-chasing, a charge he flatly denies.
He's also noted for withering bursts of temper, but in the relaxed surroundings of his plush Dallas office, fitted out with an airy terrace and a fireplace, Turley projects a bouyant charm, something colleagues say belies his courtroom intensity.
``You think he's kind of mild-mannered and everything, but don't let it fool you. He can be hard as he needs to be when the time comes,'' McKool said.
The solicitation criticism was fueled by the State Fair case, in which Turley filed the lawsuit less than 48 hours after the 1979 accident. He counters that he already was representing the victim's brother-in-law in another case when the accident occurred. …