A team-oriented trial attorney, Steve Kelso's extensive jury trial experience enables him to strategically develop pending matters with an eye toward effective trial presentation. Mr. Kelso's practice focuses on defending complex commercial disputes, particularly ones involving franchises. Mr. Kelso has successfully represented franchisors in various state and federal courts, before administrative agencies, and on appeal. He also has defended national companies in commercial, class action, labor and employment, intellectual property, personal injury, and insurance coverage disputes.
Before joining the firm, Mr. Kelso served in the U.S. Air Force Judge Advocate General's Corps. While in the Air Force, he tried over 30 jury trials and served as lead trial counsel and supervising attorney on the Air Force's most complex jury trials.
Mr. Kelso's experience includes:
- Mercedes-Benz USA, LLC v. Star Automobile Co. (Georgia) — A Mercedes, Nissan, and Volkswagen dealer attempted to sell its three dealerships in one transaction to a proposed buyer that Mercedes-Benz USA, LLC ("MBUSA") did not want as an authorized Mercedes-Benz dealer. Mr. Kelso initiated a federal court action on behalf of MBUSA seeking to enjoin the sale because packaging multiple dealerships together abrogated MBUSA's contractual and statutory rights of first refusal on the Mercedes-Benz portion, and therefore the dealer breached its dealer agreements with MBUSA and violated Georgia's dealer act. The court granted MBUSA's motion for a preliminary injunction and enjoined the sale. The dealer eventually sold the dealerships to MBUSA's preferred candidate.
- Chrysler Group LLC Franchise Arbitrations (48 states) — In December 2009, Congress granted those dealers whose agreements were rejected in the Chrysler LLC bankruptcy the right to binding arbitration to seek addition to Chrysler Group's dealer network. 418 rejected dealers demanded arbitration. WTO served as national counsel. As a supervisory member of WTO's franchise team, Mr. Kelso was lead counsel in 10 matters in Arizona, Colorado, and Nevada, and personally conducted four arbitrations. Mr. Kelso also was a key member of the strategic development, national coordinating, and witness preparation teams. In addition to training dozens of local trial counsel and overseeing their workup and arbitration of assigned matters, Mr. Kelso prepared scores of company and expert witnesses, and developed many of the key themes, theories, and strategies used in all matters.
- Borders v. Aspen Equestrian Estates, LLC (Colorado) — Mr. Kelso and WTO partner Carolyn Fairless won this case in a trial before the court. WTO was retained in the last few months before trial to defend against a real estate investment company's claims that WTO's client caused the loss of a two million dollar investment when it prevented the sale of a real estate before the real estate market crashed. Despite rulings made before WTO's retention that the basis for interfering lacked merit as a matter of law, following the trial the court ruled for WTO's client on all issues of liability, causation, and damages.
- Auto Stiegler, Inc. v. Mercedes-Benz, USA, LLC (California) — Mr. Kelso was part of the team that successfully tried a case to verdict before a Los Angeles jury. The plaintiff lost on all of its claims and the jury returned a verdict in favor of the franchisor on all six of its counterclaims, including an award of punitive damages. At trial, Mr. Kelso conducted direct and cross examinations, including the direct examination of his client's liability expert.
- DaimlerChrysler Motors Company LLC v. Lew Williams, Inc. (California) — Mr. Kelso successfully argued this case before the California Court of Appeals. The published decision preserved a favorable trial court finding and established an important precedent guaranteeing the right of automotive manufacturers to enter into litigation waiver contracts.
- Granite State Ins. Co. v. Ken Caryl Ranch Master Ass'n (Colorado) — Mr. Kelso won this case for the insurer in the trial court, but the judgment was reversed by the Colorado Court of Appeals. Mr. Kelso successfully petitioned the Colorado Supreme Court to review the case and argued before the Court. The Court's published opinion restored the complete victory for the insurer and makes it easier for commercial property insurers to understand and follow Colorado's statutory notice requirements.
- Oxymagic Franchise Dev. Corp. v. Oxi Fresh Franchising Co. Inc. (Colorado) — Mr. Kelso defended this national franchisor from claims related to infringement, unfair competition, and trade secrets and led the franchisor to a successful settlement that preserved its marks and rights to operate throughout the country.
- Beasley v. Anheuser-Busch, Inc. (Colorado) — Mr. Kelso's detail-oriented defense of this case resulted in the involuntary dismissal of the plaintiff's claims due to discovery abuses by plaintiff and plaintiff's counsel.
- United States v. Miller (California) — Mr. Kelso was lead trial counsel for the United States and delivered all of the arguments in a 19-day jury trial that resulted in an officer's conviction on multiple counts of sexual assault and kidnapping.
- United States v. Erickson (Washington) — Mr. Kelso was lead trial counsel for the United States and delivered the arguments that resulted in a sentence of life in prison for a father convicted of various counts of aggravated child abuse.
United States Air Force
United States Air Force Judge Advocate General's Corps
Circuit Trial Counsel, Travis Air Force Base, California