20 Under 40Originally Published January 21, 2009 In California’s Daily Journal
When Sugden’s law partner, Scott Ferrell, is in the trenches on a complex intellectual property case, he says he usually logs off the computer and hits the pillow around 1 a.m. When Ferrell awakes a few hours later, he says, “it’s common for me to have a dozen new emails from Dave” about the case that Sugden typed out while he was sleeping. Colleagues say Sugden’s near round-the-clock work approach and sharp legal wit has helped build the type of resume claimed by only the most seasoned practitioners.
Though Sugden’s been a lawyer just seven years, he already has racked up four multimillion-dollar judgments. His biggest was a $47 million punitive damages verdict two years ago on behalf of telecommunications giant Nortel Networks.
He also won $5 million, $10 million and $20 million “consent judgments” for the company in the past few years – awards in which a defendant corporation agrees to pay a judgment when faced with hard evidence on claims, such as warranty fraud and illegal product marketing.
Sugden this month was named sole managing partner of his 24-attorney litigation boutique, Call & Jensen in Newport Beach. He also found time to write a widely praised book on brand protection focusing on the concept of gray marketing – a phenomenon in which a company’s products are illegally distributed.
“Dave has a Herculean work ethic,” Ferrell says.
A native of Vancouver, B. C., Sugden moved to California to play baseball at Pepperdine University, where he earned a history degree in 1998. He earned his law degree there three years later, gravitating to the field after watching his father practice business litigation while growing up. He joined Call Jensen & Ferrell right out of law school. He said the partners let him cut his teeth quickly on complex cases.
“As a young lawyer, I hit the ground running,” Sugden says. “I got in trial and got deep experience almost immediately, helping me grow relatively quickly for my age.”
While Sugden said his dogged work schedule has helped fuel his big results, he said another secret to his success is being respectful of everyone, whether it be jurors, judges or opposing counsel.
Lu Pham, a Dallas-based attorney who faced off against Sugden last year, called him “one of the best lawyers I’ve ever worked against.” Pham agreed to the $20 million consent judgment after Sugden argued that Pham’s client, Alliance Telecom, had stolen Nortel’s software. Pham said Sugden was “well prepared.”
“Not only does he know the law, he knows his facts inside and out,” Pham said.
In several instances, Sugden has convinced judges to allow him to go into defendant companies with the U.S. marshal’s office to conduct “surprise searches and seizures” of evidence, such as incriminating emails and other documentation. He says such evidence has dramatically bolstered his arguments and led to big awards.
Sugden tries to leave the office by 5:30 p.m. to spend time with his wife, Marni, a marketing executive, and their two children, Charlotte, 4, and Audrey, 3. He says he tucks the kids in bed and then logs back on the computer, working into the middle of the night. He says he catches a “few” hours of sleep before heading back to the office around 9 a.m. “The hours are long,” Sugden says.“But fortunately I like the work, so it’s not too bad.”