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The Daily Journal recognized Jenner & Block in its “Top Verdicts” report of the largest and most significant verdicts in California in 2017 for its victory in a trial over the rights to writer John Steinbeck’s works. In September 2017, the team, led by Partner Susan J. Kohlmann along with Partners A.J. Thomas and Alison I. Stein, won a federal jury verdict of $13.15 million in damages on behalf of Waverly Scott Kaffaga, who is Steinbeck's stepdaughter and executor to the Estate of Elaine Steinbeck, the author's late third wife. The win in the US District Court for the Central District of California was a complete victory for the client.
The estate has faced a series of legal battles over control of the rights to the author’s works dating back to a 1983 settlement agreement in which the heirs agreed to grant Elaine Steinbeck control over the works in exchange for increased royalties. In 2008 and 2009, Jenner & Block successfully represented the estate in a landmark case involving Steinbeck’s now-deceased son’s attempt to exercise termination rights under the Copyright Act. “For the jury, it was important to try and tell the story in a chronological way, so they could see the court had reviewed these same issues,” said Ms. Kohlmann in the profile about the verdict, adding that Ms. Kaffaga was “forced to bring this case after it became clear they wouldn’t abide by the previous rulings.”
In November 2017, the firm won another victory for the estate. In this matter, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the 2015 dismissal of copyright claims against Ms. Kaffaga and the estate’s beneficiaries. Ms. Kohlmann led the team in that case as well.
The team on the US District Court for the Central District of California matter included Associates Jonathan M. Diaz, Stephanie Krent, Brittany R. Lamb, Gretchen O. Stertz and Andrew G. Sullivan. Paralegals Jeffrey Phillips and Alonso Ponce, legal secretary Laura Saltzman and legal assistant Kathryn Schaub also contributed to the litigation.