February 2016 Bar Bulletin
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February 2016 Bar Bulletin

Profile / Blake Marks-Dias

The Debater

By Gavin Skok

 

Blake Marks-Dias has a passion for oral advocacy and a very successful history as an advocate. For many years our firm and our firm’s clients have been putting their faith in Blake’s courtroom advocacy skills.

This was especially true in 2015, when Blake’s top-notch trial lawyer skills won three important jury trials for our clients. In each, Blake was co-lead counsel with three separate partners, each of whom was participating in his or her first trial and relied upon Blake for his trial expertise.

I first met Blake in the competitive world of high school debate in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Blake grew up in Spokane and I grew up in Auburn. We were cross-state rivals, competing to win the same tournaments (frankly, he was better and won more tournaments).

Sports figures sometimes talk about being “rivals on the court and friends off the court.” That pretty well summed up our relationship back then. It also sums up Blake’s current relationships with many of his attorney adversaries, except now it is “rivals in the court and friends out of court.”

After high school we became teammates at Gonzaga University. Blake went on to become one of the most successful college debaters of the 1990s, winning numerous national circuit tournaments and earning the award of “Top Speaker” at the 1995 National Cross Examination Debate Association Tournament. The transcript of Blake’s final round at the national tournament has for the last 20 years been included as an appendix in the leading college textbook on argumentation and debate. The other appendix is a transcript of the Clinton/Dole presidential debate.

It seems Blake was born to argue, so it was no surprise that he went on to law school. As it turns out, we once again became teammates on the University of Washington School of Law’s Moot Court Honor Board. Blake’s oral advocacy successes continued; he competed at the World Finals of the Jessup Moot Court Competition and was selected to the Order of the Barristers.

Following law school graduation, Blake quickly gained courtroom experience at a small litigation boutique, working with renowned trial lawyer Anne Bremner. Blake says, “I learned a lot of great trial skills from Anne, but two things in particular stand out. First, fully embrace your client’s cause. The jurors can tell. Second, know the evidence rules backwards and forwards. I still have and regularly use the little blue Making and Meeting Objections book that I ‘borrowed’ from Anne nearly 20 year ago.”

Blake so impressed Judge Robert Alsdorf during his first jury trial that Judge Alsdorf invited him to become a founding member of the William L. Dwyer Inn of Court. Blake is still active in the Inn and serves on its Board.

Our longtime friendship turned serendipitous 12 years ago, when my firm, Riddell Williams, was looking to hire a lateral attorney. I thought of Blake and we have had a blast working together ever since.

Blake has done a lot of great work over the last 12 years, but 2015 in particular was a special year for him and for our firm. Three Riddell attorneys put their faith in Blake and asked him to serve as co-lead counsel in significant jury trials. Recognizing his expertise and the value he brings in the courtroom, our clients also welcomed Blake onto their trial teams when it became clear that the case was headed for trial.

These were no minor trials. The first, in March, was a Pierce County Superior Court condemnation trial. The case involved the amount of “just compensation” to be paid to property owners in exchange for our client’s utility easement. The property owners, arguing that the land had significant development value, asked the jury to set the compensation at more than $1 million. The jury, following a two-week trial, instead agreed with our client’s position and set the compensation at less than 3 percent of the amount the property owners argued for.

The second trial, in May, claimed that our public university client harassed the plaintiff (an employee) and ultimately fired her based upon her national origin. She sought more than $2 million in damages. Blake tried the case over three weeks, and tied it up with what several people have referred to as a phenomenal closing argument. The result: The jury quickly returned a defense verdict.

The third trial, in late November and early December, was another employment discrimination case. The plaintiff alleged that our client, a Fortune 100 company, harassed, discriminated and retaliated against him on the basis of his race, religion and national origin. He sought punitive damages. The jury issued a defense verdict within a few hours after the end of the trial.

Blake, among other trial duties, gave the closing argument in each of these cases — his favorite part of the trial. Each of these cases was of great importance to the colleagues who made him part of the trial team and, most especially, to the clients.

Blake also finds time to give back to the community. He currently serves on Childhaven’s Board of Trustees. He is also the president of the Board of Northwest Health Law Advocates (NoHLA), an organization committed to promoting access to health care and basic health care rights.

But what Blake likes to do more than anything else is spend time with his family in West Seattle. His wife, Jodie, is also a licensed attorney who worked for Northwest Justice Project and then in private practice. They first met in college, but did not start dating until that most romantic of seasons: bar exam prep.

Jodie has now taken on the much more important role of helping to raise their two sons, Hudson (8) and Langston (5). Blake’s time with his family includes volunteering as a soccer and t-ball coach. His sons are not yet old enough to debate, but when they are, I have a hunch Blake would be more than happy to help.

Successful debate requires cooperation and teamwork (debaters compete in two-person teams). Blake views litigation in the same way: “In each of the three 2015 trials, I was blessed to be working with partners who were absolute masters of the subject matter and the facts of the case. And they are all great lawyers, which was no surprise at all. I think collaboration produces the best results, and it’s a big part of why I love what I do. The other part is that I love to compete and, especially, to win.”

“What a proving ground for a trial lawyer,” according to Ted Prosise, a senior consultant at Tsongas Litigation Consulting and former director of debate and professor of communication. “For eight years Blake trained and conditioned his mind in the art of argument, refutation, controlling an argument narrative and using creative argument to undermine the opposition’s story.”

“Debate teaches creative argument, on the fly, develops instincts and a sense of what to attack and what can be ignored,” says Prosise. “It teaches one how to make choices when time is limited and efficiency is paramount. I remember Blake’s style and success when I was still a collegiate debate coach. His current success doesn’t surprise me given his training in debate.”

I consider myself extremely fortunate to have had the chance to compete against Blake as a debater, go through seven years of college and law school with him, and work with him as a colleague and a partner. In addition to being an outstanding lawyer and advocate, Blake is a fantastic human being whom I admire and learn from. I’m very proud to call him my partner and friend.

Gavin Skok is the chair of Riddell Williams’ Litigation Group. His practice emphasizes class-action defense, unique or challenging commercial disputes, and privacy and data security issues. When he’s not practicing law, Skok enjoys spending time with his daughter, wakeboarding and wake-surfing, and looking for those rare sunny days in Seattle.

 

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