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Defender to the Stars

By Megan Kinneyn | Sep. 2, 2007

Law Office Management

Sep. 2, 2007

Defender to the Stars

Defense lawyer Debra Opri reaches for the stars. By Claudia Rosenbaum

By Claudia Rosenbaum
      Edited by Jeanette Borzo
      Attorneys who represent flashy clients often get caught in the spotlight's glare. But L.A. attorney Debra Opri, who has defended a string of big-name stars, says her modest personal life creates an equanimity that has kept that spotlight from growing uncomfortably hot.
      "I vowed to never let myself get tainted by the excess," says Opri, who lives in an unpretentious Santa Monica neighborhood with her husband and four dachshunds. By eschewing the over-the-top glitz and glamour her clients embrace, Opri says, she can afford to turn down any business that doesn't suit her. "The reason I live simply is because I'm not afraid to say 'I quit'-and my clients know that. They know that I will walk."
      Recently, for example, Opri walked out on Larry Birkhead, father of the late Anna Nicole Smith's baby. Their split itself is now the subject of multiple lawsuits, but Opri says legal matters?not money?caused the rupture. "When the client's wishes and your wishes and strategies start to deviate, that's when it's time to go," says Opri, who originally trained in film and television but later got her JD at Whittier Law School.
      Whether representing James Brown or Michael Jackson's parents, Joe and Katherine, Opri's modus operandi has been to let the media represent her clients' positions outside the courtroom while she defends them inside the courtroom. This dual strategy helps the founder of Los Angelesbased Opri & Associates land clients such as Pamela Bach-Hasselhoff, representing the actress in her bitter child-custody dispute with TV star David Hasselhoff, of Knight Rider and Baywatch fame.
      "She will get out there and battle and fight for her clients," says Shelly McMillan, who was opposing counsel in the James Brown case. "She is not afraid of taking unusual positions."
      "I know when to push and when to pull back," Opri says, adding that this sense of balance "is why they come to me."

Megan Kinneyn

Daily Journal Staff Writer

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