By Michelle Locke DALLAS - When the crash of Delta Air Lines Flight
191 lands in court, the man taking on Delta will be a million-dollar
plaintiff's lawyer who blends high-tech legal tools with the
old-fashioned eloquence of a circuit preacher.
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
Despite his successes, Turley has been criticized for walking a
fine line between dedication and ambulance-chasing, a charge he
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. …