This month’s spotlighted VADA member is Michael Garnier of Garnier & Garnier, P.C., in Herndon. A lifelong Northern Virginia resident and longtime member of VADA, Michael has served on the Board of Directors and as Chair of the VADA’s Product and Toxic Torts Section. He has focused his practice over the past three decades on the defense of product liability and personal injury litigation.
1. Where were you born?
2. What type of law do you practice?
Personal injury and product liability—on the defense side, primarily. (Though it’s not all I do, many know me for my frequent defense of elevator companies.) Our law firm consists of my brother and me, and the sole focus of our practice is civil litigation.
3. Spouse? Children? Pets?
Wife: Linda. Children: Four adult children (whose privacy trumps my impulse to brag on them), and one daughter-in-law. Also, one little grandson (who helps me understand that odd tendency of some older folks to accost strangers with “Let me show you pictures of my grandkids”). Pets: When our oldest son entered the military, Linda and I “inherited” his Belgian Malinois named “Danger.”
4. How long have you been a member of VADA?
More than a quarter century.
5. What have you enjoyed most about your time in VADA?
Gathering with colleagues from all across the Commonwealth for learning and socializing. (My cases take me to all parts of Virginia, and thanks to VADA, I often already know Co-Defendants’ counsel wherever my clients send me.) I also have enjoyed getting to know some of our loyal VADA sponsors over many years of conferences.
6. What do you like most about practicing law?
I have always enjoyed getting to know people from all walks of life, on all sides of my cases (other attorneys and their clients, my clients, court reporters, experts and other witnesses, judges, and court personnel), all in the context of real-life stories and problem solving. I also love learning something new in virtually every case on a wide variety of subjects, especially ones that were not the focus of my liberal arts education. (Travel in connection with work can be a great perk, too-- especially a few trips to defend an elevator case in Maui several years ago.)
7. Who is the most fascinating person you have ever met?
I’ve been blessed to know some amazing people (ask me about them sometime), but one person in particular comes to mind: my law school friend, Kaign Christy. My first year at William & Mary, he and I shared such activities as the “Ambulance Chase 5K Race” and the Law School Christian Fellowship group. My second year (his third), Kaign’s incremental persuasion (peer pressure) induced me to train for and run the seventh annual Marine Corps Marathon together (before marathons were trendy). Our friendship deepened as we logged many miles on the trails and streets of Colonial Williamsburg. Kaign always had an engaging personality, a keen sense of humor, and a gift of encouragement that brought out the best in others.
We stayed close friends with generally parallel lives after Kaign moved to Arizona. We both got married, had kids, practiced law, and coached youth sports. Then in his early 40s, Kaign left behind his Arizona law firm and his home in beautiful Sedona to move his close-knit family to Cambodia. During several years in Phnom Penh, Kaign successfully spearheaded International Justice Mission’s (IJM’s) fight against human trafficking. In 2005, IJM’s founder, Gary Haugen, said Kaign “is not only an excellent lawyer who operates with great precision, but also brings to bear a tremendous heart of compassion for the children he rescues in Cambodia.” Kaign stayed humble even after Prime Minister of Cambodia made him an honorary two-star general in recognition of his successful cooperative efforts with local authorities to rescue sex-trade victims and bring perpetrators to justice.
After several years directing the IJM field office in Phnom Penh, Kaign moved to the Philippines. Again, he was instrumental in securing justice for victims of sex trafficking, cyber-sex trafficking, police brutality, property grabbing, and other forms of violence against the poor. Next, he did a stint at IJMs’ home office in Crystal City, Virginia (during which he and I enjoyed a number of hikes), and then resumed law practice in Arizona for a few years. In 2014, Kaign and his wife moved to Ghana, West Africa in 2014 to start a new IJM field office, with a focus on ending brutal and perilous child slavery in the fishing industry on Lake Volta. As often as possible when he traveled back to IJM’s headquarters, we would meet up so I could hear Kaign’s true stories and further plans for setting captives free and—always-- for fanning the flames of faith and excellence in his IJM colleagues.
At each of these IJM field offices, Kaign built bridges of cooperation with local authorities and raised up teams of local attorneys and staff who would carry on the work he helped establish. Kaign was an amazing, well-loved motivator of his teammates at IJM—and of most others who crossed his path. A key feature of IJM’s annual field team retreats was a 5K run fondly called “the Kaign” (“No paign, no gaign”).
Sadly, Kaign passed away suddenly while on furlough from Ghana in late 2017. In his memory, IJM has named their main conference room at its headquarters in his honor, “The Kaign Christy Room” as a tribute to his years of selfless success helping to set captives free. Kaign’s legacy of contagious faith, humor, humility, passion, and zeal to bring justice to the oppressed lives on in the work of International Justice Mission.
8. What is the last movie you saw in a theatre?
“Burma Free Rangers”—one of the most amazing, riveting, powerful, and inspiring true adventure stories I have ever seen on film.
9. What is the one app on your phone you cannot live without?
I might enjoy certain other apps more, but it’s hardest to imagine how I got along without Google for the first half of my life (okay, more than half of my life, but who’s counting?).
10. What book is currently on your bedside table?
That would be “books”: The Logic of God by Ravi Zacharias; ESV Men’s Devotional Bible; C.S. Lewis, The Signature Classics (collected works); Mary Curzon—A Biography by Nigel Nicolson (about a cousin who reportedly inspired the character Cora Crawley in Downton Abbey); Darwin Devolves by Michael Behe; The Vagabonds (The Story of Henry Ford’s and Thomas Edison’s Ten-Year Road Trip) by Jeff Guinn; Directorate S by Steve Coll. And a few more….
11. What was your first job?
Starting when I was about 13, I worked for a local music store playing various electronic organs and keyboards that they placed in stores, malls, bank lobbies, fairgrounds, restaurants, on river cruises, and the like—initially during the Christmas holidays and then year-round. (Since I only looked about nine or ten at the time, the music store’s theory was, “If that boy can play that thing, so can my kid…”) Eventually, six of us teenagers went out in little teams known as “Kitt’s Kids.” In later high school years, I also was an engraver at a Tysons Corner jewelry store.
12. What was your favorite subject in school?
Shop class for sure, but also French—and I found the subjects of biology and chemistry fascinating even though I didn’t really like the classes themselves.
13. When I am not at the office, I like to …
Spend time with my family, including my little grandson, try to stay in sprint-triathlon shape year-round, and make (or listen to) music (among other pastimes).
14. If I wasn’t practicing law, I would be …
…content doing any number of things. Since I really was focused on practicing law from an early age, I didn’t grapple with alternatives much. Perhaps I could have been a starving musician (but prefer to keep that for enjoyment rather than sustenance). I might have chosen some form of graphic design, advertising, or maybe something involving writing and editing.
15. What is your favorite sports team?
The Washington Capitals. (I have been a charter fan since 1974-- before most of us in Virginia knew much about ice hockey.)
16. What is your favorite travel spot?
Though it has been a long time, France (especially Nice and surroundings, and also Paris, where I lived for most of a year before law school).
17. What secret talent do you have that no one knows about?
Lately, not too many know that I can juggle (a bit—no chainsaws) and ride a unicycle (not necessarily at the same time).
18. What advice would you give someone who just passed the bar?
Among other things: “Don’t ever confuse making a living with making a life.”
19. What is your definition of success?
I still challenge myself with the definition a church youth group leader told me before my high school graduation: “Success is neither wealth nor fame, nor even happiness, but seeking, finding, knowing, and doing the will of God.” I juxtapose that definition with this verse in Micah 6:8, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”