When his medical malpractice trial came to an end in April, Dr. Essam Quraishi an Orange County civil courtroom victorious. Quickly and unanimously, 12 jurors ruled that the gastroenterologist was not responsible for a patient’s death.
That was before his attorney, Robert McKenna III, showed up in one Online celebration videoHe boasted about his work, saying the case involved “a guy who was probably killed through negligence, but we kind of made it look like other people did it.”
Citing McKenna’s comments, the judge presiding over the trial overturned the verdict and remanded the case back to court. “I think I have to protect the system and say that the plaintiffs deserve a new trial,” Orange County Superior Court Judge James Crandall said at an Aug. 4 hearing.
The case involves Enrique Garcia Sanchez, 49, a forklift operator admitted to South Coast Global Medical Center in Santa Ana in November 2017. He had severe abdominal pain from alcohol-induced pancreatitis.
Quraishi inserted a feeding tube that accidentally pierced Sanchez’s colon, resulting in a fatal infection, according to the lawsuit filed by Sanchez’s family. The focus of the family’s case was the death certificate, which attributed the death to sepsis and peritonitis from a perforated colon.
Sanchez’s family asked for $10 million. In the gastroenterologist’s defense, McKenna pointed to mistakes made by other hospital staff and argued that Sanchez died of other causes. He asked the jury to ignore the death certificate, ridiculed the “personal injury industrial complex” and claimed the lawsuit was a form of “extortion.”
Shortly after winning the case, McKenna met with colleagues for an office party and invited a legal partner to ring a victory bell. A video of McKenna’s boastful comments was posted on his company’s social media page, but was quickly removed due to backlash in online legal forums.
McKenna apologized for what he called his “imprecise” remarks, saying they were “intended solely as an internal briefing for our staff” which he was unaware would be made public.
At a hearing to decide whether a new trial was warranted, Crandall said he found the celebration video “extremely important.”
“If he says on video that a guy was probably negligently killed, it’s more likely than not. Then he goes on to say, ‘But we kind of made it look like other people did it,'” the judge said. “It appears to be an admission of negligence. Appears to be an admission that the plaintiff should have enforced.”
Jorge Ledezma, the Sanchez family attorney, said McKenna inappropriately pointed the finger at other medical workers as culpable for Sanchez’s death, contrary to an agreement not to do so, and later bragged about it on tape.
“Well, boasting isn’t much of an irregularity,” Crandall said. “He’s a lawyer. But here’s the problem: stating that justice has not been done disturbs the court.”
In deciding that the plaintiffs deserve a new trial, the judge also noted a three-week break he allowed during the trial that may have affected the jury’s recall of information. He also said the jury foreman failed to mention in the jury’s selection that he had worked as an insurance agent for two years, which in itself may have been enough to warrant a new trial.
The judge said McKenna was “an excellent attorney” with a reputation for “honesty and integrity,” adding, “But good men make mistakes.” The Pope goes to confession.”
Noting that Sanchez was from El Salvador, the judge also expressed concern that McKenna used the phrase “Welcome to America” in his closing arguments.
“Remember when he spoke about the personal injury machine, he shouted ‘Welcome to America,'” the judge said. “I just think that can only be interpreted as an emotional appeal to invoke anti-Hispanic feelings.”
The judge said the jury, which had 26 minutes to reach a verdict, did not ask to see exhibits and apparently “did not examine the evidence,” saying its decision was “the result of some emotion.”
McKenna, a Huntington Beach attorney and founding partner of Kjar, McKenna & Stockalper, a well-known law firm, did not respond to requests for comment.
McKenna no longer represents Quraishi. At the hearing, the doctor was represented by Kenneth Pedroza of San Marino, who said McKenna’s videotaped remarks were intended as an exaggeration.
“It was a boast,” said Pedroza. “My words, not his. Right? And we all do. The stories get bigger and better every time we brag.”
Pedroza said the “Welcome to America” comment was a reference to America’s multimillion-dollar claims system for damages.
Another attorney representing Quraishi, Scott Nelson, said in an emailed statement to The Times that his client “strongly disagrees with the court’s decision to allow a new trial,” which he says amounts to “false statements ‘ attributed by McKenna ‘for the sole reason of self-aggrandizement’.
Nelson said that Quraishi’s treatment of his patient in this case was “up to the highest standards of care” and that the doctor received death threats after the media reported the controversy. Nelson said Quraishi will appeal the verdict for a new trial.
“The attempt by his former attorney to portray himself as a hero by misrepresenting the facts of the case and the tremendous damage done to Dr. Quraishi was inflicted by it, the story is here,” Nelson said.
https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-08-17/a-lawyers-bragging-prompts-o-c-judge-to-throw-out-winning-verdict-in-malpractice-case O.C. judge throws out verdict after lawyer bragged about it