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Front Page - Friday, March 25, 2016

Challenges push attorney Jeffrey Granillo to greater heights

Jeffrey Granillo is a litigator at Chambliss, Bahner & Stophel, where he focuses his practice on personal injury, product liability defense, intellectual property disputes, and commercial disputes. - (Photo provided)

It’s human nature to choose the path of least resistance – unless you’re Jeffrey Granillo. The young attorney is where he is today partly because he’s placed himself within environments in which he would be challenged to grow and excel.

He touches the wall behind where he’s seated in his office at Chambliss, Bahner & Stophel. “I have Richard Bethea on one side of me, and former Chief Justice William Barker on the other,” he says, looking every bit as awed as he sounds. “I’m excited about working side by side with people of that caliber. They push me and test me.”

Granillo can trace his proclivity for being challenged back to Catholic high school in Bakersfield, Calif., where he grew up. A talkative kid who liked reading, doing research, and putting together arguments, he was active in speech and captain of the debate team. By the time he graduated in 2001 and traveled to New York to attend classes at Cornell University, he already knew he wanted to become a lawyer.

“Everybody said I should be a lawyer, but I wanted to be an engineer,” he said. “Eventually, I decided I was never going to be a great engineer, and that my skill set was better suited for litigation.”

Granillo describes Cornell as a humbling experience in which everyone in his dormitory had been at the top of their class in high school. Granillo also found the environment to be stimulating, and was soon competing alongside those same students on the debate team.

With an undergraduate degree in Policy Analysis and Management (the closest thing he could find to political science at Cornell) tucked under his arm, Granillo moved to Atlanta to attend Emory University School of Law. Although he chose Emory because it took him closer to his brother, who was attending Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., he once again found himself surrounded by people who stood out academically. Like a horse whip slapping the flank of a thoroughbred, this gave him the incentive to work even harder to succeed.

“When you place yourself among the best, it brings you up,” he says. “Even if you’re not at the top, you’re in that pool, and that can only make you better at whatever you’re going to do.”

Granillo had ambitions of working in the political field, but a summer interning with a Senate Finance subcommittee convinced him Washington, D.C. wouldn’t be the best place for him to raise a family. So, with a law degree tucked under his arm, he took a clerkship with Whitfield County Judge Cindy Morris in Georgia. Although he was still planning to return to California, his blueprint for his life changed dramatically when he met his future wife, Leanna, while living and working in Dalton. When she took a job with the district attorney in Ringgold, Ga., the south suddenly looked like a great place to bring up kids.

“I didn’t want to leave my relationship with her behind, so I applied for a job at Chambliss, and was fortunate to get the position,” he says.

Granillo is a member of the Chambliss Bahner’s litigation section. He focuses his practice on personal injury, product liability defense, intellectual property disputes, and commercial disputes. He’s tried or resolved numerous serious personal injury actions on behalf of the injured, including actions involving brain injury, disfigurement, loss of limb, and death. In 2014, Granillo recovered over $2.3 million through settlements or trial for his clients. Granillo also has extensive experience defending products alleged to have caused injury, including mobile construction equipment, industrial rock crushers, conveyors, industrial wood chippers and grinders, hot oil heaters, and asphalt plants.

Despite the expansive scope of the matters he’s handled, Granillo has found that the devil truly is in the details. He crosses his office and lifts a teal-painted, semi-circular machine part off a windowsill and points to a tiny grease fitting on the outside of it. The case that revolved around the part involved the death of a worker, and hinged on whether or not someone could connect a hose to the fitting. “When you take a case in which a horrible accident has occurred, you have only a broad sense of what might have happened,” he says. “But the details can make all the difference, so I really delve into the facts.”

Granillo has a history of zealous advocacy. In 2009 and 2013, he recovered monetary sanctions against two major national corporations totaling over $100,000. In 2012, an opponent voluntarily dismissed his action without payment after Granillo filed a motion for sanctions for discovery violations.

As a member of Chambliss Bahner’s intellectual property section, Granillo has represented clients in trademark, copyright, and patent infringement actions in a variety of federal courts across the country. This area of his practice has been nothing less than fascinating to him. Granillo spent several years litigating over the patent for a stretch wrap (it all looks the same until it’s viewed microscopically, he says) and once litigated for two years over the design of a wall covering.

He returns the machine part to its place on the windowsill and retrieves a small square of the covering, which to the uneducated eye looks like a piece of plain, red wallpaper. Granillo knows the legal issues with which the two sides wrestled, though, and took them seriously. “Now when I stay in a hotel, I look at the wall covering,” he says.

Although Granillo wakes up thinking about his cases and pours a considerable amount of energy into them, his reserves must be substantial because his work doesn’t end there. Rather, he’s also channeling the vigor of his youth into a number of professional and civic volunteer endeavors.

Granillo is currently president-elect of the Chattanooga chapter of the Federal Bar Association, which puts him in line behind Donna Mikel and current president Lindsay Archibald, both of whom he says will be tough to follow. Granillo isn’t backing down from the challenge, but is spearheading the FBA’s plans for Constitution Day 2016, when volunteers will introduce local school children to the court.

Granillo is also a member of the governing body at First Presbyterian Church in Dalton, chair of that city’s Historic Preservation Commission, and secretary of the Chattanooga Lions Club. Four boxes and a milk crate packed with the club’s records are stacked against the wall Granillo shares with Bethea, attesting to his responsibilities with that organization. It’s a service he gladly provides, as the Lions Club is dear to his heart.

“When my dad was little, he was one of nine kids living in a two-bedroom house,” he says. “His parents couldn’t afford to buy him glasses, but the Lions Club made sure he got a pair.”

If the law is Granillo’s bread and butter, then his family is his lifeblood. The windowsill on which the machine part rests is also home to several photos of his wife and their two children – Andrew, 4, and Hannah, 1. A blue dinosaur his son gave him so he could have a toy at work occupies a small parcel of real estate on the windowsill, and a gallery of colorful, messy children’s artwork fills the wall below.

Even though Leanne is taking time off from the practice of law to be with their children, Granillo makes a point of being home for dinner, playing with his son afterward, and then helping to put the kids to bed. “I love my job but I have to keep my responsibilities here in balance with my family and the other things in my life,” he says.

One of the “other things” includes renovating the old house in Dalton in which he and his wife and kids live. He says the long-term project has been like an HGTV episode that lasts five years. Granillo is also a big golfer, as the trophies placed on top of a bookshelf in his office suggest. He and his teammates at Chambliss Bahner (Mike St. Charles, Hal North, and Jeffrey Maddux) have won the Chattanooga Bar Association’s annual golf tournament every year but one since he joined the firm in 2008. The trophies are topped with yellow ball caps Granillo won while playing on the Superior Court judges team in Dalton. “We didn’t get fancy trophies, but we did get bragging rights,” he says.

Granillo has earned the right to boast about his law practice, but he doesn’t. Instead, he remains as humbled as he was at Cornell. Surrounded by extraordinary talent, he sees only greater heights to scale. In the meantime, he’ll continue to be in awe of where his work has taken him.

“If someone had told me in high school that I was going to travel across the country defending products, and that I was going to learn how industrial plastic wrap is composed at a molecular level, and that I would litigate over the patent for a wall covering, I wouldn’t have believed it,” he says. “But the practice of law is unpredictable. You never know what’s going to happen, and that’s one of the reasons I love it.”