Hildebrand McLeod & Nelson, Inc.

Hildebrand, McLeod & Nelson, better known as the "Hildebrand Firm" had its start in 1926 when Cliff Hildebrand (1899-1977) decided to reject the safety and financial rewards of corporate law and become a standard bearer and advocate for the working man. It all came about when Cliff was fishing the Sacramento River outside of Dunsmuir, California and befriended a brakeman and fellow fisherman who worked for the Southern Pacific Railroad. Upon finding out that Cliff was a lawyer he proceeded to inform him that a number of his co-workers had suffered serious injury while at work for the railroad and that they were unable to find an attorney to represent them as it appeared they were all fearful of the railroad's power and influence.

This intrigued Cliff, and he soon filed a half-dozen lawsuits against the railroad under the Federal Employers' Liability Act, a law enacted in 1908 as "a response to the special needs of railroad workers who are daily exposed to the risks inherent in railroad work and are helpless to provide adequately for their own safety." Sinkler vs. Missouri Pacific Railroad Co. (1957) 356 U.S. 326; 2 L.Ed.2d 799 at 802.

Unlike workers in other U.S. industries, railroad workers did not have worker's compensation protection. Their only remedy was (and is) to bring suit under F.E.L.A.

Shortly after filing those cases, the Chief Claim Agent for the Southern Pacific Railroad contacted Cliff and indicated, in so many words, that the Southern Pacific did not settle cases with lawyers, that they go to trial and win every time, and further more that if he, Clifton Hildebrand, did not drop the cases that were filed, he would have him disbarred in six months time. Cliff responded by telling him that up until that time, he had not made up his mind as to what kind of law he wanted to practice, but he said, "Now I know. I'm going to specialize in suing the railroads, and particularly the Southern Pacific for injured railroad men who are hurt on the job."

From that threat, the journey began. During the ensuing years, Hildebrand, through settlements and trials won millions of dollars for railroaders hurt on the job as well as for the other injury victims involved in car crashes and construction accidents. He was the pioneer in F.E.L.A. litigation west of the Rocky Mountains and his appellate decisions helped shape the liberal application of F.E.L.A. from coast to coast.

In 1930, Cliff was named as one of the original designated counsel for the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen.

In 1935, Hildebrand hired a young lawyer, Charles McLeod (1910-1991), to assist him with his burgeoning caseload. This association and later partnership was to last through both their lifetimes.

The team of Hildebrand and McLeod became so successful at winning just compensation for their clients that they became, in Cliff's words: "Public Enemy Number One" as far as west coast railroads were concerned.

The Hildebrand Firm repeatedly fought for the idea, against the judicial and political influence of the railroads, that injured persons are entitled to seek the best counsel. In the matter of the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen v. the State of Virginia, the court issued an opinion holding that the union had every right to refer its injured members to a lawyer or firm "with a reputation for honesty and skill in representing plaintiffs in railroad personal injury litigation." The court stated that "injured workers or their families often fall prey on the one hand to persuasive claims adjusters eager to gain a quick and cheap settlement for their railroad employers, or on the other to lawyers either not competent to try these lawsuits against the able and experienced railroad counsel, or too willing to settle a case for a quick dollar."

Over the years, the Hildebrand Firm has generated many offshoots. In the late 1940's. Cliff introduced George Bodel in Los Angeles to the workings of the F.E.L.A. The Bodel & Fogel firm existed for many years as the firm of Fogel, Feldman, Ostrov, Ringler, & Klevens. In the next 20 years the Hildebrand firm spawned many current attorneys working in the field, Dick Crow ran Hildebrand's office in Los Angeles and later became the Crow Firm. Cliff associated Carleton Reiter and Monte Bricker whose firm was know as Bricker, Zakovics, Querin, Thompson and Ritchy, and John Rossi in Denver where his practice is known as Rossi, Cox, and Vucinovich.

In 1964 Cliff stole Frederick Nelson away from the Southern Pacific Law Department and thus gained a brilliant and persuasive trial attorney. In two years he was made a partner and the firm's name became Hildebrand, McLeod & Nelson, a name which is retained to date.

In 1967, David Draheim was plucked away from the District Attorney's office expanding the trial staff to four lawyers. The firm continued to aggressively represent injured railroad workers and their families in all of the railroad crafts.

Following the retirement of Clifton Hildebrand and Charles McLeod in the late 1970s, Anthony Petru was hired fresh out of law school in 1980. Since that time, Anthony has secured dozens of large jury verdicts on behalf of the firm's clients.

The firm continues its long history of excellent and vigorous representation of railroad workers and others who suffer personal injuries. With an extensive practice extending throughout the Western United States, the firm will maintain offices in Oakland and Los Angeles.

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