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September 11, 2018

Skills, empathy set apart personal injury lawyer

Photo/Don Del Rosso
“It’s much more satisfying representing people than corporations,” Kevin Locklin says of the career change he made.
He just becomes your best friend, because he cares so much about what’s going on in your life. He really becomes part of your situation.
— Tina Butler, Goldvein
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
The personal injury lawyer has a passion for the courtroom and justice.

Sure, the work pays well when Kevin Locklin wins or settles big cases.

Like his peers, Mr. Locklin typically gets one-third of a jury award or settlement.

But, nothing quite compares to the back-and-forth between attorneys that takes place during a jury trial or the pleasure derived when clients prevail, Mr. Locklin insisted.

“I love it,” admitted the Manassas-based lawyer, who lives in Warrenton and operates a satellite office in Old Town a few minutes from his home. “There’s not a better high, or better feeling than playing that intellectual chess game.”

When a jury awards a judgment, and “you see the joy in your client’s face or they hug you, you just know they had their day,” Mr. Locklin added. “That sounds kind of corny. But, they had their day in court.”

The 63-year-old lawyer speaks from plenty of experience.

In the last 30 years, he “easily” has tried more than 300 personal injury lawsuits, including 25 death cases, Mr. Locklin said.

Three went to trial and resulted million-dollar or more jury awards for clients.

Most personal injury and death cases settle out of court because of litigation’s cost and the advent of mediation, a less expensive and contentious alternative, he said.

“The cost of litigation is insane now,” largely because of “expert expenses,” Mr. Locklin said.

Plaintiffs also prefer mediation because, “they’re afraid to go to trial,” he said. “They don’t like the courtroom.”

> Video at bottom of story

Perhaps no recent judgement has proven more satisfying to Mr. Locklin than a Fauquier County Circuit Court jury’s 2016 decision to award a $6-million judgment to the survivors of Jacklyn B. Butler of Goldvein.

The lawyer sought $5 million for the family.

Three years earlier, a drunken killed Ms. Butler, 24, in a head-on collision on Route 651 while she drove to her parents’ home.

In September 2014, a Fauquier County Circuit Court jury convicted Dwayne E. Baker of aggravated involuntary manslaughter in Ms. Butler’s death.

The conviction carried a sentence of one to 20 years in prison.

But the jury gave Mr. Baker, legally drunk when the deadly wreck occurred, a six-year sentence.

Dissatisfied with the sentence, the Butler family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Mr. Baker in Fauquier County Circuit Court.

“The jury, in my opinion, didn’t value Jacklyn’s life enough to give him” a longer sentence, Tina Butler — Jacklyn’s mother — said in a telephone interview last week.

In July 2016, the seven-person jury awarded the $6 million judgment.

“It was never a money issue,” Mrs. Butler said of the wrongful death suit. “It was about honoring Jacklyn.”

The Butler family knew Mr. Baker couldn’t make good on the jury award, she said.

“We didn’t want the money,” Mrs. Butler said. “I had made a promise to my husband, before he had died, that I would continue the wrongful death case.”

Larry Wayne “Chuck” Butler died of cancer in July 2014.

A successful wrongful death lawsuit would mean further punishment for Mr. Baker and might spare others the loss they suffered, Mrs. Butler said.

The $6 million judgment will remain on the books and loom over Mr. Baker for the rest of his life.

“He’ll never be able to get financing,” Mr. Locklin said. “He’ll never be able to get a driver’s license, until he pays it. And, he’ll never be able to pay it.”

He described the judgment as “another way of seeing that (Mr. Baker) was going to be punished, because his conduct was outrageous.”

Mr. Locklin collected no fee, because Mr. Baker likely will pay no portion of the judgment.

“That case was tried on principle,” he said.

Mrs. Butler praised the lawyer’s efforts.

“When he needed to talk to you, he was very direct, very honest,” she said. “He just guided you along and just continued to let us mourn and took care of us.

“He was there to take care of people who were completely broken.”

Her family couldn’t have asked for better legal representation, said Mrs. Butler, who has recommended him to a friend needing legal help.

“He just becomes your best friend, because he cares so much about what’s going on in your life,” she said. “He really becomes part of your situation.”

Lisa Wheeler of Culpeper talks the same way about him.

In 2015, Ms. Wheeler’s son Hunter suffered whiplash, shoulder and ankle injuries in a vehicle accident that took place on an Interstate 495 exit ramp near Alexandria.

Mr. Wheeler, 26, had been delivering a hearth when a driver rear-ended his pickup truck.

The next day, Ms. Wheeler and her son met Mr. Locklin in his Manassas office.

“Within 15 minutes, literally, my son and I both felt like we had known Kevin our entire lives,” the 50-year-old retired bookkeeper said.

Mr. Locklin “was genuinely concerned about” her son “and who he is,” she said.

He still calls occasionally to ask about her son and family.

“You don’t get people like that very often,” Ms. Wheeler said. “What you see is what you get. There’s no false pretenses.

“He’s not your typical, pushy injury lawyer.”

Mr. Locklin negotiated a settlement that covered her son’s medical costs, which she estimated at $20,000.

The payout exceeded the doctors’ bill but not by much, Ms. Wheeler said.

From the start, Mr. Locklin impressed judges and colleagues alike.

Retired Virginia Court of Appeals Judge Johanna L. Fitzpatrick learned first-hand of his courtroom skills nearly 40 years ago.

“I first got to know Kevin in the early ’80s, when I was a circuit court judge” in Fairfax County and he worked as an insurance defense lawyer, Judge Fitzpatrick recalled. “It was just clear he was what I’d call a comer.

“He was very smart, very well spoken and extremely well prepared. As a new lawyer, as a young lawyer, he just stood out in my mind.”

The judge described him as a get-to-the-point, non-nonsense lawyer who understood the law inside out.

He also demonstrated a rare and selfless interest in his clients.

“He has the ultimate concern for their best interests,” Judge Fitzpartick said. “It is never about Kevin; it’s always about what’s best for the client.”

Jack Johnston’s Northern Virginia firm, which no longer exists, hired Mr. Locklin in 1982.

Like others, Mr. Johnston described his former partner as empathetic and prepared.

But Mr. Locklin rises above most personal injury lawyers because of his willingness to go to court if the circumstances merit that, he said.

“He’s not afraid to try a case,” said Mr. Johnston, a Reston-based sole practitioner who specializes in personal injury cases. “A lot of lawyers are afraid to do that. They will settle a case for less than they should.”

He ranks Mr. Locklin among Virginia’s top five personal injury lawyers.

Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Mr. Locklin earned a bachelor’s degree in business management from Franklin & Marshall College.

He attended the school on a full scholarship.

Uncertain about a career, Mr. Locklin applied to law schools at the suggestion of his college track coach.

“ ‘It’ll make you more well-rounded, and you don’t have to practice law’,” the coach advised him.

In 1979, Mr. Locklin got accepted by and attended the George Mason University School of Law.

While in law school, he also worked full-time for two years in the Department of Justice’s special litigation section.

Mr. Locklin later served as a law clerk for the U.S. District Court in Alexandria and the Prince William County Circuit Court.

In 1982, he joined Slenker, Brandt, Jennings and Johnston in Northern Virginia.

He left the firm, which no longer exists, after 10 years to start his own practice.

“I got tired of representing corporations,” Mr. Locklin said of the decision to leave the firm, where he had been a partner. “And I got tired of seeing people make a decent offer on a case and, because the attorney didn’t know what he was doing, the jury ended up giving them half of what they deserved.

“It’s much more satisfying representing people than corporations.”

Based in Manassas, his two-lawyer firm — Locklin & Coleman — has five support staffers and a second satellite office in Leesburg.

Mr. Locklin represents a New Baltimore girl who, through her father, seeks $3 million in damages because of injuries she suffered in a November 2016 traffic accident near Remington that also caused the death of her younger brother.

The lawsuit has been set for a March 27-28 jury trial in Fauquier County Circuit Court.

Mr. Locklin declined to comment on the case.

In the peak pre-mediation days, he handled 20 to 25 jury trials a year.

Nowadays, he does five to 10 annually.

He works six days a week and show no signs of slowing down.

His wife Mary wants him to retire in about four years.

“I don’t know,” said Mr. Locklin, who eventually envisions a reduced workload. “I would love to just be around and help on the bigger cases.”

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