Harvey Levine was enjoying a life of travel in the early 1970s when he decided on an extended visit to Southern California.
“I thought I was going to stay in San Diego for a year,” said Levine.
Instead, he became a fixture in the downtown legal community, not to mention a supporting actor in local cases and controversies.
After the city of San Diego and developer Roque de la Fuente had their differences, Levine worked on behalf of the city to collect defense costs from the city’s insurance carrier.
Long after the 2003 Cedar Fire pushed a San Diego Chargers game to Arizona, Levine helped the city collect on an insurance claim stemming from lost revenue.
After Chargers linebacker Steve Foley was shot by an off-duty police officer in 2006, Levine worked on behalf of the football player to get a $5.5 million settlement.
Today, the 64-year-old Levine is one of two attorneys representing a child of a 28-year-old Sacramento-area woman who, in January 2007, lost her life after drinking a large amount of water during a radio station contest. He expects the case to go to trial in the fall.
Long And Varied Career
Levine arrived in San Diego 38 years ago. Having pursued advanced law school degrees, and after finishing a year working on legal projects for the United Nations in Italy, Levine got a teaching job at the University of San Diego.
He changed his mind about staying in town for only a year when “the work started getting exciting and challenging.” The prospect of running and playing tennis here also appealed to the Brooklyn, N.Y., native.
Today, he is a principal of Levine, Steinberg, Miller and Huver. He has litigated more than 1,000 insurance-related bad faith actions. Seventy-five of those cases resulted in verdicts or settlements in excess of $1 million each.
However, not all of his cases are against insurance companies.
In 1986, Levine won $9.1 million from General Motors for a San Diego family. He did it by proving that faulty welds made the back of their automobile collapse during a freeway collision, seriously injuring a woman riding there.
The car was a “deer season car,” Levine said, produced at a time of year when skilled welders at Midwest auto plants took time off to go hunting. He brought in a witness from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, a national security lab, to testify on the quality of the welds.
The case involved some degree of financial risk.
Levine said he spent $820,000 to prepare his case against General Motors. “I borrowed a lot of money,” he said. By Levine’s account, General Motors offered $1 million to settle. Levine opted for a trial.
Levine recalled the manufacturer’s attorney saying at the end of the trial that Levine was repeating the phrase “deer season,” but had not introduced any evidence showing the car was produced during that time. Levine says he went to an obscure piece of evidence with the date of the car’s shipment. It was the middle of deer season.
The courtroom, he said, was silent.
‘Fine Trial Lawyer’
Levine is “one of the finest trial lawyers in the United States, bar none,” says David Casey, senior partner with the San Diego firm of Casey Gerry Schenk Francavilla Blatt & Penfield and himself a trial lawyer.
Levine’s many awards include a spot in the State Bar of California’s Trial Lawyer Hall of Fame, which he got in 2007.
Though his teaching job at USD lasted roughly 20 years, Levine still teaches, lecturing international groups on trial technique. A group from Mongolia recently showed up for a talk in Hawaii. There was a little bit of a cultural disconnect. The group didn’t seem to know what to make of the pig prop Levine used to reinforce his message of not being a pig during trial. But he eventually elicited laughter from the group.
Levine is at heart a showman.
In another example of the road not taken, Levine said he was approached for an appellate judge position at the end of Jerry Brown’s governorship, in the early 1980s. He declined.
“I was very young and I liked being a lawyer,” he said, citing the preparation, the momentum, the uncertainty and the excitement of a trial.