By the time John Jerry Glas got the call last spring, the pipeline owner was desperate to find an attorney willing to take a breach-of-contract case against one of the largest oil companies in the world. “My old law firm of 20 years dropped us like a hot potato because the money ran out,” says Dale Behan, who with wife Linda co-owns Lindale Pipeline, a self-described mom-and-pop operation in Texas. Other lawyers had turned them down as well.
A few phone conversations later, Glas, chair of Deutsch Kerrigan’s civil litigation department in New Orleans, told Behan, “I’ll do it.”
The case might have been a stretch for Glas, a civil defense attorney—this would be his first-ever jury trial as lead plaintiff counsel. Nevertheless, he soon found himself conducting voir dire in Houston’s 8,000-seat NRG Arena. Although the pandemic forced the potential jurors to fan out in the cavernous arena with microphones and headsets, Glas did what he does best: connect with every single one. Quickly memorizing each person’s name, he chatted with the 60 perfect strangers as though he’d known them forever.
“This was the most unbelievable demonstration of amazing intellect and photographic memory that myself, the judge, the jurors or the opposing counsel had ever seen,” Behan says. “It was so marvelous and entertaining that the opposing lawyer, [Houston litigator] Fields Alexander, a brilliant lawyer in his own right, made the comment, ‘Well, if you are looking for me to follow Mr. Glas’ demonstration of total recall of your names today, I am sorry. You’re gonna be out of luck.’”
At the end of the trial, the jury was out less than two hours before returning a favorable verdict of $27,144,404.50—the bottom of the range Glas had asked for, to the penny.
“Based on being with him in the courtroom for two weeks straight in Houston,” says Behan, “Jerry Glas has gotta be one of the best trial lawyers in the United States.”
A tall man with a welcoming smile, quick wit and a reputation for going out of his way to help others, 52-year-old Glas has, to date, tried a total of 114 cases as a prosecutor or defense attorney for commercial clients in industries ranging from insurance to manufacturing. He is known for his careful listening skills and ability to distill complex details into arguments that win over juries.
“Jerry is methodical in his analysis of documents, testimony and strategy,” says Raymond Lewis, a partner at Deutsch Kerrigan. “His instincts about what will be most impactful to pursuing his client’s best interests are second to none.”
Adds Lewis, who served as co-counsel in the Lindale Pipeline trial, “Jerry’s cross-examination of the defense expert was about as perfect as any I have ever seen. He boiled the expert’s entire testimony down to five simple charts that favored our primary theories in the case. … He followed up that cross-examination with a powerful closing argument that jurors said afterward was impressive and clearly established that our client was entitled to the eight-figure award.”
Part of his skill stems from an instinctive understanding of body language. “[Before I got married,] when I was dating somebody, I tried to notice every frown, every body movement,” Glas says. “I would just notice everything, and I could adjust or adapt. When I’m in front of a jury, if any one of those jurors shifts in their chair, I notice it. And I obsess about never being disrespectful. Putting together a perfect trial is like putting together a perfect date when you’re not the best-looking guy or star on the football team. You’ve got to really work for it. It’s about earning the jury’s trust and respect and not getting in their way. … It means something to the jurors when I stand up and they raise their hand from the 57th row of NRG Arena and I say, ‘Yes, Ms. Johnson.’ They’re just stunned.”
When asthma prohibited Glas from playing outdoors as a boy, his mom would take him to the local bookstore. Settling into an overstuffed green chair at home, he rationed his books to keep from devouring them all at once. His first oratory competition came in fifth grade. By his senior year of high school, he was state Lincoln-Douglas debate champion.
Set on becoming a philosophy professor, he earned his master’s degree at the University of Toronto while living in a basement apartment beneath a neighborhood grocery store and “freezing my butt off.” But after teaching at NOLA’s Jesuit High School—his alma mater—for one year, he decided to follow his second dream: to “catch the bad guys.”
“There are a lot of similarities between teaching ninth and tenth graders and being a trial lawyer,” Glas says. “If you could teach the trinity to ninth graders, then you’ve got a real chance of explaining a personal injury case to a jury.”
In 1997, the year after he passed the bar, he joined the high-caseload district attorney’s office in Orleans Parish. His first judge trial in magistrate court—”It was like the old television show Night Court; it was insane,” he says—still embarrasses him. When Judge Joseph I. Giarusso Jr. declared the defendant not guilty of the misdemeanor, Glas stood up and objected.
“Bailiff, call all the defense attorneys into the courtroom,” the judge instructed. Then, in front of the crowd and to Glas’ horror, the judge proceeded to berate him at the top of his lungs.
"I mean, if you’re going to make a mistake, make it at full speed,” Glas says.
He never made that one again, and remains grateful to this day for the lesson and for the way Judge Giarusso subsequently took him under his wing. He learned to trust the legal process, win or lose. The biggest lesson his prosecutorial work taught him, though, was how to conduct voir dire: “There was a time when jurors knew nothing about trials. Someone with gray hair and blue eyes would stand up in front of them and say, ‘Trust me. This is what your verdict should be.’ And they would trust him. … Now jurors know that they’re the most important people in the courtroom, and what they really want is lawyers to be good waiters. They want lawyers to just bring them the facts.”
Glas went on to try 91 criminal trials as ADA, including an emotionally draining one against a man charged with sexually abusing three young sisters. “He had groomed each girl until finally he got caught” after the middle child became pregnant, Glas says.
The jury found the defendant guilty of three counts of rape. “To sit there, see the sisters hold hands while the verdict was being read, and getting justice for them—that was one of the most important cases and moments that I ever had.”
Later, as a special prosecutor in the appeals division, Glas thrived on the duality of trying first-degree murder and rape cases while writing appellate briefs. Then one unexpected assignment brought it all to a screeching halt.
In the spring of 1999, post-conviction attorneys for John Thompson, a Black man about to be executed for the murder of a prominent New Orleans businessman, discovered a crime lab report indicating their client had not committed an unrelated-but-crucial carjacking that happened three weeks after the killing in 1984. During the struggle, the perpetrator’s blood stained one of the victims’ pant legs. The teens in the car later saw a photo of Thompson in the newspaper and identified him as the man who had assaulted them.
Knowing an armed robbery conviction could be used against Thompson in the murder trial, the D.A. tried him for the carjacking first. Thompson was convicted of both crimes and given the death penalty for the latter. But the blood on the victim’s clothing wasn’t Thompson’s—a fact that his lawyers believed had been deliberately hidden. One of the assistant district attorneys even admitted as much to a friend shortly before his death.
Glas led the grand jury probe and recommended an indictment. “The office made it clear that we were not going to do that,” he says. “So I resigned in protest. … I didn’t have a doubt in my mind that [one of the prosecutors] had intentionally withheld blood evidence in order to get the conviction and, to me, that was everything we had stood against.”
That same morning, the prosecutor’s office pulled the plug on the grand jury probe. But the armed robbery conviction was eventually thrown out, Thompson was found not guilty during the murder retrial, and a jury awarded him $14 million—$1 million for each year he’d spent on death row—in a lawsuit against the D.A.’s office. The U.S. Supreme Court later reversed that decision, with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg writing for the minority and mentioning Glas’ resignation in her dissent.
No sooner had Glas quit his job than Deutsch Kerrigan senior partner Bob Kerrigan, who’d heard that the young prosecutor was up for grabs, called him that same day and interviewed him, saying, “You’re coming to work here. See you tomorrow morning.”
“And I’ve been here the last 22 years,” says Glas.
The firm’s open-door policy, he says, was a godsend. “They taught me how to practice law, and they did it in a very short period of time. I owe them everything.”
Glas, who has since taught numerous trial advocacy courses at two law schools, now mentors young attorneys at the firm. “The only bigger thrill than getting up in closing argument in a case is watching someone that is trying a case with you get up and do the perfect cross-examination or the perfect direct examination. I don’t think I ever stopped wanting to be a teacher. So people here at the firm get more advice than they want, and more instruction than they need. But they humor me and they put up with it because they know it’s what I love.”
Glas had just handled a criminal case in 2012 for a Winn Parish officer charged with manslaughter with a Taser product when the electrical weapon manufacturer decided to hire a new national trial attorney. He did so well at the company’s mock trial audition that, a couple months later, he parachuted into a case in St. Louis involving a 17-year-old who claimed that Taser was responsible for his cardiac arrest and severe brain injury at the hands of a police officer. The plaintiff was seeking $12 million and at least that much in punitive damages.
“And,” Glas says, “I broke every rule I have.”
Throughout the trial, Glas took careful note of his opponent’s unsuccessful attempts to trap the officer into admitting she deliberately aimed at the teen’s chest. So instead of calling Taser’s 11 expert witnesses, Glas stood up and said, “Defense rests.”
“The plaintiff attorney went nuts,” he recalls. “The judge, who had not really ruled in favor of us on anything, said [to him], ‘You rested. This man rested. I’ll give you 24 hours to prepare your closing argument. I’ll see you all tomorrow.’”
The jury awarded a zero verdict in favor of Glas’ client. “It was the most difficult trial strategy decision I’ve ever had to make,” Glas says. “But it was the right one for the client.”
The reason Taser executives trusted Glas to make such a surprise move, says general counsel Isaiah Fields, is simple: “His instinct. Jerry understands jurors. He recognized that the plaintiff had not made his case and that the jury would recognize that, so he made a bold and highly unconventional recommendation to the company that we not call any witnesses. We trusted his instincts and it worked.
“Jerry is the best trial lawyer I have ever seen in action, by a mile,” Fields adds. “He is a joy to work with and a Jedi in the courtroom.”
Walking in Their Shoes
John Jerry Glas had just joined Deutsch Kerrigan in 1999 when he was asked to handle a pro bono death row case on behalf of a young man who confessed on video to stabbing a girl to death during an armed robbery. In his former role as an assistant district attorney, Glas had handled such cases from the prosecutorial side and convicted several perpetrators of first-degree murder, but this was different.
The public defender’s office, he determined, had failed to present to the jury all of the details about the man’s childhood, which might have lessened the severity of the sentence. “This guy’s father—what he did was horrible,” Glas says. “You wouldn’t believe it.” After reviewing the new evidence, the victim’s brother and the Baton Rouge ADA agreed to let the defendant serve a “life contract”—one of the first in Louisiana history—with no parole and no probation. After eight years and a new sentencing phase, the prisoner’s death penalty was vacated. He is still serving time in the Louisiana State Penitentiary.
“It’s a completely different type of stress, driving to Angola to meet with your client, who, if you fail, is going to be executed,” Glas says. “As a former prosecutor, I don’t think I ever put myself in the shoes of the criminal defense attorneys who handle capital cases. If I had, I would have treated them with a lot more respect and patience, no doubt.”