Susman Godfrey Founder Loses Battle With COVID-19

By Dorothy Atkins
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Law360 (July 15, 2020, 1:09 AM EDT) -- Susman Godfrey LLP founder and renowned trial lawyer Stephen Susman passed away Tuesday after fighting a weekslong battle with COVID-19, which he contracted while recovering from a bike accident, according to his family.

In a post on the CaringBridge website, his wife Ellen Susman announced that her husband died peacefully with his family by his side. He was 79 years old.

"Our gallant Steve left us today," she wrote. "He fought a valiant battle, from his accident to rehab, but the combination of COVID and his weakened lungs were finally too much for his body. We are brokenhearted, but at peace with the fact that he is free and whole at last."

Susman had been admitted to a hospital in Houston on April 22 after sustaining a traumatic brain injury and breaking multiple bones in a bicycle accident, according to his family's posts. Although he was initially in a coma, he regained consciousness and was eventually transferred to a rehab facility in May where he began his slow recovery.

But three days after undergoing a surgery, on June 21, Susman had developed pneumonia and was diagnosed with the novel coronavirus. His family wrote that they will never know when he contracted the virus and whether it occurred at the TIRR Memorial Hermann rehab facility or at the Memorial Hermann hospital where his surgery took place.

Although he was stable at times in the weeks following his diagnosis, Susman eventually succumbed to the disease.

On Tuesday evening, Susman's colleagues and onetime courtroom opponents took to Twitter to honor his memory and to express their condolences to Susman's family.

Susman Godfrey partner Jacob Buchdahl told Law360 on Tuesday that Susman was an "incomparable trial lawyer, mentor and friend." He also wrote on Twitter that the legal profession will be "less creative, less colorful, less generous and a lot less fun without Susman."

"He was a true legend, a towering courtroom giant," Buchdahl wrote. "I'm forever proud to have been his partner and to practice law under his name. I will miss him terribly."

Susman Godfrey partner Ryan Caughey praised Susman as a "legend and a force of nature."

"I've never met anyone else so full of life," Caughey wrote on Twitter. "He taught everyone at SG that you can be a world-class litigator while remaining kind, generous, and fun. Working cases with Steve was a privilege of the highest order. I'm shattered. RIP."

Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison LLP partner Kannon Shanmugam said he once had the pleasure of being Susman's partner in a moot court at a conference.

"I argued; Steve entertained," Shanmugam wrote on Twitter. "He was one of the giants of our profession, and the world is a poorer place without him. Condolences to Ellen and the entire Susman family."

Paul Grewal, a former magistrate judge who recently left Facebook to join Coinbase as its new chief legal officer, also recalled facing off with Susman in court and watching him in action as a judge.

"Susman Godfrey kicked my behind as an adversary and blew me away while I was on the bench," Grewal wrote. "But more impressive than even Steve's legendary trial skills? The group of lawyers he attracted and developed as colleagues. My condolences to them and to Steve's family."

Susman started his elite Houston-based litigation boutique in 1980 after winning a record-shattering, half-billion-dollar antitrust settlement and leaving a small personal injury and maritime law firm. He more recently founded the Civil Jury Project at New York University, which studies the decline of the civil jury trial and holds educational programs and forums for state and federal judges.

Before his crash, Susman had long been an avid bicyclist. Over the past decade, he participated several times in a two-day, 150-mile charity bike ride between Houston and Austin to fight multiple sclerosis, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars in the process, according to Susman Godfrey.

He also led bike rides through Houston that ran dozens of miles, sometimes multiple times a week. He was on one such ride with Susman Godfrey colleagues on April 22 when his front wheel hit a snag in the pavement in Houston's Old Braeswood neighborhood, sending him over the handlebars.

Susman's family plans to hold a private family ceremony Thursday, and a shiva over Zoom on Sunday afternoon that will be open to his friends and family, according to a post on the Caring Bridge website. The family added that they will hold a celebration of Susman's life when it is appropriate given the current health environment.

--Additional reporting by Brandon Lowrey. Editing by Breda Lund.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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