John R. Griffiths (1934-2002)

John R. Griffiths
In Memoriam
By David S. Henningsen, Robinson & Wood, Inc.

On September 5, 2002, members of our legal community, friends and family came to mourn the death and celebrate the life of John Griffiths, who died on July 29, 2002.

John was born in Santa Barbara, California, in 1934. He later attended Stanford University and Stanford Law School. While at Stanford he met Ann Maris, whom he married in 1955. Together they raised four children.

After graduating from Stanford, John practiced law in the Palo Alto area and later became the managing partner of the law firm of Crist, Griffiths, Bryant & Biorn. He left this firm in 1990 to start his own mediation firm, which became known as Griffiths, Castle & Schwartzman.

In the early 1980's, John essentially founded the special master system for managing and mediating complex civil cases. John Griffiths became a most respected special master those skills were sought throughout California and the western United States. John loved the challenge of law and the complexity of the cases that were referred to him. He refused to turn down a challenge.

Over the past 20 years John has handled hundreds of complex construction cases. Prior to his death he and I recalled some of the many cases we had together. These cases went back to the early 1980's when I was a young lawyer. During our discussions I could not help but think of how many times he helped me out of a jam, covered for me, and basically taught me how to be a lawyer. After his death I found out that I wasn't unique; he treated everyone the same. He was a major force in the lives and careers of numerous lawyers, plaintiff and defense, earning him the respect of both sides. To all of us who knew him personally or had the privilege of working with him professionally, we knew a man of wit, a man of humor, a man of integrity and a man of honor.

As Jack Schwartzman, John's partner, said:

    "I have been approached by countless lawyers, experts and insurance adjustors who have told me that John literally raised them from pups, that he guided them when they were starting out and taught them more than their supervisors did. Others have recalled critical personal advice that John lent them. It seems like anyone in our industry who was making a significant career move sought John's guidance and he was always there to provide it. Others recall the small personal kindnesses John extended, like a note to acknowledge a job well done, or a lead on how to track down a great single-malt Scotch, or the latest magic sand wedge. My own lasting impression of John will be the great fun we had over the last ten years, his brilliant wit and his kindness and caring for all who knew him."
Despite being diagnosed with cancer in late 2001, John continued to handle the most complex cases up to the time of his death. Even after he went home to rest about one month before he died, John continued to advise his partners and counsel regarding strategy and resolution of cases. Without complaint he continued to do his job, be an example to co-workers and enjoy the blessings of his family and friends.

John's partner, Tom Castle, remembers:

    "As a partner, John was simply 'The Best'. I did have to get used to late night phone calls, often after 10:00 p.m., several nights a week. This became such a ritual that, after awhile, when the phone rang I simply answered, 'Hi, John.' The late-night phone calls frequently evolved into wide-ranging discussions about John's many diverse interests including his travels, charitable work, music he loved and politics. I am sure many people know John was a great fan of Payne Stewart but few people know he was also a fan of Rod Stewart.

    In the almost twenty years I worked with him, John's unflagging optimism and concern for others, even during his difficult final battle with cancer, never ceased and were an inspiration to all around him. I shall miss him terribly, but as the sadness recedes I will forever treasure the time spent with him and consider myself supremely blessed to have called him my partner and FRIEND."

Those of us who enjoyed a round of golf with John realized first hand his passion for the game. He often told me that the practice of law was a piece of cake compared to a three-foot putt for par in the ATT. Throughout his life John was blessed to be able to take numerous trips to Ireland and Hawaii where he could play the game he loved so much. We, on the other hand, were forced to hear over and over again each and every shot. It is only fitting that John's family chose to scatter some of his ashes in these places he loved so much.

Anne Goyette reflects:

    "John had a positive energy that was contagious. During mediations, he raced between break-out rooms and strategized for hours with scores of attorneys, carriers, principals and experts. He was almost as well known for his late night and weekend follow-up, as he was for his Come-To-Jesus reality discussions. He did not focus on mistakes, but rather on solutions. He understood motivations, sometimes better than they did. He could smooth out a contentious exchange with a golf story or family vignette. During the mediation process, parties often came to view John as their personal advocate, and many privately sought him out for support in times of career crises or personal tragedy. On top of his professional accomplishments, John was very much in love with his wife. He was connected to his children and grandchildren. I could not have asked for a more wonderful mentor."
There were many suggestions on how to honor and remember John. His family, friends and colleagues have decided that the best way to honor him is with the establishment of The John R. Griffiths Scholarship Fund at Stanford University Law School in his memory. This will enable young men and women to be educated as lawyers in John's name, a profession that he loved. Inquiries for donations should be made to Tom Castle, Ann Goyette or Dave Henningsen.

John's death will affect many people in different ways. He will be missed at work and at home. He will be missed in the hearts of his friends and colleagues. But one thing is for sure . . . those who knew him will never forget him. John was my confidant, my mentor, my teacher and most of all my friend. I will miss him.