Langdon & Emison
In 2018, Michael Manners successfully argued two of the biggest cases of his career.
The case of Spence v. BNSF Railway Co. resulted in a $19 million verdict for widow Sherry Spence, whose husband was killed when his truck was struck by a train. The other, Holdeman v. Stratman, was a $37.5 million case stemming from a motor-vehicle accident.
By then, he’d amassed more than 40 years of legal experience, but he said he has no immediate plans to stop on this particular high note.
“I intend to keep on doing it for a few more years, anyway,” he said.
A native of Independence, Manners studied history and political science at Central Missouri State University. He said he didn’t intend to go to law school, but he ended up there because he “didn’t like grad school too much,” he said.
Manners graduated from the University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Law in 1976. He said his experience as a member of a national moot court team and the debate team at CMSU taught him to think on his feet and impressed the importance of being well-informed.
Fresh out of law school, Manners said the only thing he felt “halfway competent” to do was appellate work. He started with Graham, Paden, Welch, Martin & Albano, which eventually became Welch, Martin, Albano & Manners. He handled the firm’s appeals and generated referral work as well, but in time he began doing more and more trial work.
In 2000, after practicing for 24 years, Manners said he found he’d lost some of his fascination with his work.
“You work till 11 o’clock at night, you’re back in the office at 5 o’clock in the morning to get ready for court. You reach a point where you say to yourself, ‘You’ve got to be crazy to actually do this for a living’,” he said.
Later that year, Manners became a Jackson County Circuit Court judge. During his 13 years on the bench, he presided over approximately 170 jury trials. He said he found the work to be interesting, but he missed the opportunity for in-depth research and analysis that his appellate practice had provided.
Manners left the bench on Aug. 1, 2013. Two days later he was back in court again, this time arguing as an attorney for Langdon & Emison. His time as a judge doesn’t give him an unfair advantage, he said, but it has affected his perception as an attorney.
“I think I have a better appreciation of arguments that work as opposed to arguments that don’t,” he said.
So it was when he began work on the Spence case. Following the original trial, a claims representative for BNSF reported witnessing a juror hug Sherry Spence. The juror related to Spence her own experience of losing a loved one in a motor-vehicle accident and going to court over it.
A subsequent Case.net search revealed that the juror had failed to disclose that information, despite several opportunities to do so. On appeal, the railway company submitted a brief raising eight issues, and Manners said his interest was drawn to the issue of juror nondisclosure.
Ultimately, the Missouri Supreme Court found that the railway company was not entitled to a new trial despite the juror’s nondisclosure of her own lawsuit because the defense team failed to conduct a reasonable investigation and failed to notify the court of problems before the jury was sworn in.
The company argued that the juror’s name had been misspelled, which hindered the Case.net search for her litigation history. The court disagreed, stating that attorneys became aware of the correct spelling four hours earlier, which was “ample time” for investigation.
“One thing that judges dislike, and I did too, is the idea of having to retry a case over something that could have been easily corrected,” Manner said. “Before it ever blossomed into prejudice.”
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