About Our Founder: Jean-Pierre Garnier

Jean-Pierre Garnier (known to all as “J.P.”) was born in Paris in 1933. Having left France with his mother and older brother shortly before the German invasion of Paris, he was raised in Algiers. During celebrations on the day Paris was liberated, his mother met the American who soon would become J.P.’s step-father and bring him and his family to America. After surviving a car roll-over on their way to the port of Oran, they set sail for the United States in 1945. The S.S. William McLean arrived in Philadelphia on Christmas Eve (after a tumultuous trip that prompted an NBC station to report that their ship had been lost at sea).

J.P. spoke no English when his family settled in Arlington, Virginia, but learned the language quickly. He earned money by delivering the Washington Post and the Evening Star newspapers, and won tickets to attend Washington Redskins football games by securing new subscriptions (some of which he ordered and paid for himself). He ushered at Buckingham Theater and also worked at Hot Shoppes drive-in. Upon graduating from Washington-Lee High School, he headed north to Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts, where classes were taught in French. Determined to become a U.S. citizen, he learned that volunteering for the draft was the most certain path to that goal. He served in the U.S. Army (Wolfhound Company of the 27th Infantry Regiment, part of the 25th Infantry Division, Schofield Barracks, Wahiawa, HI), where he joined the renowned Army swim team. By the time of his honorable discharge, he had acquired a new bride. They moved to the Oakland area at first, and later drove cross-country with their new baby daughter to settle in Arlington, Virginia.

While attending night classes at Georgetown Law School, J.P. worked during the day, first at J.C. Penney and then in the FBI fingerprint division. His second child (and future law partner, Michael), was born while J.P. was still a law student. J.P. passed the bar exam prior to graduating (in two and a half years), enabling him to go to work as soon as he graduated from law school (ranking second in his class) in 1960. He then joined the Arlington law firm of Tramonte & Kohlhaas. As the only litigator in a successful real estate firm, he regularly accepted court-appointed cases to acquire as much trial experience as possible while building his personal injury and product liability litigation practice. He coached a men’s basketball team with a fellow attorney who became a judge soon afterward. His fellow coach then recommended J.P. to various clients, including a large insurance company. Thanks to that recommendation, J.P. was privileged to represent several major corporations that later became self-insured, laying the groundwork for J.P.’s career-long representation of multiple pharmaceutical, elevator and escalator, and rental car companies (some of which remain clients of the firm to this day, nearly a half-century later), as well as a wide variety of other clients.

By 1965, J.P. was the father of six children. His infectious enthusiasm for recreation led most of his close friends and their families to take up skiing, highlighted by many annual ski trips to Canada with dozens of adults and an even larger number of children. He also became a private pilot and regularly flew small planes for both business and pleasure.

In 1982, with the real estate market in a downturn, J.P. amicably left his law partners at Kohlhaas, Garnier & Webb to establish a solo litigation practice. His son, Michael joined the firm in 1984, followed by youngest son, Robert in 1992.

J.P.’s flying hobby ended on the evening of December 17, 1984. While he and Michael were flying to a deposition in Louisville, both engines quit on his Cessna 357 Super Skymaster. With no lighted airport within gliding distance, the plane crashed in rural Pendleton County, Kentucky. After spending two weeks in a small hospital (including emergency surgeries for lumbar fractures), J.P. and Michael returned to Virginia. Through months of inpatient rehabilitation, J.P. dispelled the doubt as to whether he would be able to walk again. He and Michael gradually resumed their law practice, and J.P. eventually was able to resume most of his favorite activities (even skiing).

During the 1980s and 1990s, J.P. served as national trial counsel for a major pharmaceutical company (while the firm also represented a growing array of clients in Virginia and Washington, D.C.). He and Michael defended product liability lawsuits in at least twenty-two states across the country.

In his spare time, J.P. enjoyed boating, traveling, cruising, taking long car trips, and restaurant dining. He returned to France, particularly Nice and Cannes, as often as possible. In 2006, he retired from the law firm of Garnier & Garnier, P.C. and relocated to a harborside cottage in North Beach, Maryland. He enjoyed several more cruises to various destinations that he had not previously visited, as well as frequent spontaneous driving trips.

J.P. loved to spend holidays and special occasions with his children, their spouses, and his grandchildren. He and his older brother, Claude, remained close (and always conversed in French) until Claude’s untimely death in 2008. The gradual decline in J.P.’s health led him to move back to northern Virginia in early 2009. Despite his medical concerns, he enjoyed the opportunity that his move provided to spend more time with family and friends. During the several months before his death, he focused on cultivating a closer relationship with God and seeking a greater understanding of God’s undeserved grace. Even as various conditions undermined his physical well-being, his spiritual health soared. He acknowledged that God had showered him with undeserved kindness, and he never stopped being thankful for the life he had enjoyed. After a lengthy illness, J.P. passed away on May 7, 2009, leaving three sons and their wives, three daughters, a son-in-law, and fourteen grandchildren.


Here are a few highlights of memories shared with the Garnier family by various professional colleagues and associates upon J.P. Garnier’s passing– reflecting a legacy that Robert and Michael aim to honor and uphold in their ongoing law practice:

“He seemed to just light up the room with life and light.”

“I always found him a delight to work with — smart, prepared, and full of insight. Not to mention larger than life.”

“JP was, without a doubt, the best attorney I have ever worked with.”

“He was simply an outstanding trial lawyer. Beyond his significant talents as an attorney, he was extremely personable and delightful to be around. He always had a kind word and was genuinely interested in his colleagues.”

“And everyone who knew him from the courtroom knew they were witnessing the best.”

“If you never tried a case against him you missed a treat.”

“If all attorneys were like JP there would be no lawyer jokes.”

….And more detailed comments and reminiscences from a memorial blog for J.P. Garnier (May 2009):

J.J.B. (Northern Virginia attorney)– May 11, 2009:
I met JP 40 years ago, having come to the bar a few years after him — in Arlington. I was always impressed with his professionalism and knowledge of the law. He was simply an outstanding trial lawyer. Beyond his significant talents as an attorney, he was extremely personable and delightful to be around. He always had a kind word and was genuinely interested in his colleagues. I will miss him.

A.F.H. (In-house attorney, Schering Plough Corporation)– May 11, 2009:
JP was, without a doubt, the best attorney I have ever worked with. He was not only a colleague, he was a great mentor and friend. He epitomized “le joie de vivre” (hope my French is correct). I will miss him.

M.M.W.W. (In-house attorney, Schering Plough Corporation)– May 11, 2009:
…I feel badly personally that I can’t make the Memorial Service. That is especially true because JP, with whom I spent many hours, was so instrumental in successfully defending Schering Plough in so many cases. During my time at Schering I met many hundreds of lawyers, but I never met one who had your dad’s true love of trying lawsuits or with his innate abilities to successfully do so. I think he tried twenty-five product liability lawsuits in a row for Schering Plough, and difficult ones at that, without a single loss. I can’t imagine that there are many attorneys in the United States with that type track record.

As you well know, your dad lived with much gusto and an appreciation for the fine things in life. I have lifted many a glass of wine with him as he recounted his many travels, the wonderful hotels he stayed in, memorable meals, time he spent on his boats etc. However, I never spent any significant time with him when he did not also discuss his family, and it was obvious how important family was to him. He was immensely proud of you and Robert. You were lucky to have him, imperfections and all, as a father and I to have him as a valued colleague and friend.

You may rest assured that when I am in Canada, I am going to order a very expensive bottle of wine, and drink a toast to one of the finest trial attorneys I have ever seen!

J.K., M.D. (San Diego, California)– May 11, 2009:
I am indeed saddened to learn of JP’s illness and death. He was one of the most unique persons I have met. Clearly he knew how to live life to its fullest—-however, what made him so very special to me was his ability to be an attorney far superior to anyone else. This is because he loved his profession and worked very hard to make sure that the correct outcome resulted from his efforts. If all attorneys were like JP there would be no lawyer jokes. As an allergist I worked with JP 2-3 times as a consultant—why I do not understand because he always knew far more than I did–but always let me “teach” him. He will be missed by many. Have a great journey JP.

Court reporter– May 14, 2009:
I’m a court reporter who worked with JP only once sometime around 1980 in Virginia on a malpractice deposition. I never forgot him, even with just [one] encounter. He seemed to just light up the room with life and light. Sometimes in life you meet certain people unlike anyone else, there’s something special and unique about them, and he was one of those people for me. I’m sorry for your loss and I will remember him always as a fine man.

M.E.R. (VP and Associate General Counsel , GlaxoSmithKline)– May 17, 2009:
I had the good fortune to watch JP and Michael try a case together (successfully of course) for our company in the mid-1990s. What a great team they made! JP had so much experience and trial savvy and seemed to fear very little (except, perhaps, what a company witness might say despite the impeccable preparation he had received from JP and Michael). Of course, by that time, Michael had evolved into an excellent lawyer in his own right; still, JP was nevery shy about sharing the wisdom he had gained from years of experience at the bar. As a relatively inexperienced lawyer at the time of our trial, I appreciated JP’s patience in tolerating my input and the way he would bring me around to his way of thinking.

Over the years, I had several other matters, though no other trials, with JP. I always found him a delight to work with — smart, prepared, and full of insight. Not to mention larger than life. I only wish I could have worked with him more often than I did.

I also wish I had retained more of what he told me about the details of his life. I remember that it seemed fascinating and exotic, something the pictures on this page seem to confirm. Michael, if you are ever so inclined, I would love to see some text to accompany the pictures and more description of the very interesting and full life your dad lived.

E.G. (Northern Virginia attorney), May 2009:
Robert, sorry to hear of your Dad’s passing. He was a great guy and a tremendous lawyer. We had many cases over the years and he was always kind courteous and ready to discuss airplanes and boats at a moment’s notice. He will be missed and unfortunately the younger members of the bar (not you or Michael) seem not to have as much time for the fun things about the practice of law.

D.C.W. (Northern Virginia attorney, friend), May 2009:
Your father touched so many people. And everyone who knew him from the courtroom knew they were witnessing the best.

C.K. (Northern Virginia attorney), May 2009:
I was saddened to hear of your father’s passing last week. JP was a brilliant trial lawyer, and he was admired by all who knew him. I am certain he was a wonderful father and teacher to you both.

I was introduced to your Dad by my mentor, Henry R. Furr, Esq., in the early 70’s when I first began practicing law. Henry highly regarded your dad’s legal acumen and when the two of them interacted, I found it fascinating as a young lawyer.

Your dad’s passing leaves a big hole in Northern Virginia’s legal community, and he will be sorely missed.

Robert Hall (Northern Virginia attorney, friend), May 7, 2009:
A good friend of the trial bar moved on to eternity today – J. P. Garnier. While he was primarily a defense lawyer doing pharmaceutical products defense and defending cases for Hertz, Zurich and others, he took the plaintiffs’ cases he could.

In his mid-70s and retired from active practice he continued his travels so long as his health permitted. If frequent cruise miles had been offered, J.P. would have owned a cruise line. With the strong hint of a French accent, a fascination with good food and fine wine, and equipped with a creative and inquiring mind, he made his mark as a trial lawyer many years ago and continued to do so right down to his retirement. If you never tried a case against him you missed a treat.

I was privileged to have been his friend.

He didn’t talk about it much, but a number of years ago he was flying his twin engine Cessna 337, headed for Louisville, Kentucky for depositions, his lawyer son Michael as his passenger. The plane was just out of its annual inspection. Pilots know that is when a plane is its most dangerous, not its safest. The sun had set and the hills of Kentucky had gone opaque in the darkness beneath him when first one engine and then the other quit. Cincinnati Approach Control tried to vector him to the nearest private field, one without operating runway lights, but he never made it. His crash into the hills in the darkness sheared off [the left] wing as the fuselage snaked its way between huge oak trees. He and Michael survived, but with badly fractured backs. Michael could walk after his surgery, but J.P. was paraplegic.

After two weeks he was flown in an air ambulance back to the Washington area where he entered Mount Vernon Hospital for further treatment and therapy. After several months there he walked out, and within a couple of years had resumed his skiing in Canada. He took adversity in stride, much as he handled his final illness.

I thought that those who knew J.P. would want to know of his passing. For those who never had the privilege, I wanted you to have a peek through the window at a life well lived.