Kansas City, Missouri
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Sylvester “Sly” James, Jr. was born on December 9, 1951 in Kansas City, Kansas. He has been married to Licia E. Clifton-James since 1981 and he is the father of four children: Eric, 37; Malik, 35; Kyle, 20; and Aja, 16.He attended and graduated from Bishop Hogan High School in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1969. He was president of his junior class. While in high school, he was the lead singer in the Amelia Earhart Memorial Flying Band (later re-named Manchester Trafficway) from 1965 to 1970, during which the band was the opening act for the Jefferson Airplane during their performance in Kansas City.He entered the United States Marine Corps in 1971. He was stationed in California, Japan and the Philippines where he served as a military policeman for four years, and received an honorable discharge in 1975.
Mr. James graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English (cum laude) from Rockhurst College in 1980. While in college, Mr. James was a member of the Student Senate and the TKE fraternity.
Mr. James attended Syracuse University Law School from 1980 to 1981. He then transferred and received his Juris Doctorate (cum laude) from the University of Minnesota Law School in 1983. While in law school, Mr. James was a student director in the Legal Aid Clinic and a member of the Black Law Student Association moot court team, which placed second in the 1982 national competition.
Mr. James joined Blackwell Sanders Matheny Weary & Lombardi as an associate in August 1983. He became the first African-American partner in the firm’s history on January 1, 1990. As an attorney at Blackwell Sanders, Mr. James practiced extensively in the areas of personal injury and insurance defense litigation.
In ten years of practice at Blackwell Sanders, Mr. James tried cases concerning legal malpractice, insurance contracts, malicious prosecution, personal injury and intentional torts. He was also appointed by the federal district court to represent defendants in several criminal cases, including United States v. Gilbert Dowdy, et al., a nine-week trial, in which he successfully defended Samuel Dowdy, the only one of 12 defendants who neither pled guilty nor was convicted.
On January 18, 1993, Mr. James and fellow Blackwell Sanders Matheny Weary & Lombardi partner Nancy Kenner, left to form their own firm, Kenner & James, P.C. The firm emphasized a practice in plaintiff’s personal injury, medical malpractice, and nursing home negligence.
In December 1998, Paul Kavanaugh joined Kenner & James as a partner and the firm name changed to Kenner, James & Kavanaugh, P.C. The firm continued to emphasize its practice in the areas of personal injury, medical malpractice, and nursing home negligence.
In February 2002, Mr. James left the Kenner, James & Kavanaugh firm to form The Sly James Firm, Trial Lawyers, P.C., now The Sly James Firm, where he continues to emphasize a practice in plaintiff’s personal injury, medical negligence, nursing home negligence and civil litigation.
Mr. James has an active and varied trial practice. He has tried cases concerning medical negligence, legal malpractice, personal injury, products liability, business disputes, and nursing home negligence in the federal and state courts of Missouri, Kansas and Arkansas.
In November 1994, he tried the case of Michael Smith, et al., v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company to a substantial verdict. He was one of 6 class counsel who represented 2100 Missouri prison inmates who were illegally housed in Texas. Working with other class counsel, Mr. James helped to obtain the largest known settlement at that time ($2.25 million) for prisoners against a private prison company in the United States. He was also on the Steering Committee and one of the class counsel representing victims of Robert Courtney, a pharmacist convicted of diluting chemotherapy medications of hundreds of cancer patients.
In nearly 30 years of practice, Mr. James has tried in excess of 85 cases to verdict. Mr. James has also been appointed by judges of the Jackson County Circuit Court to act as a special master in litigation cases. He has also acted as neutral mediator and arbitrator in excess of 100 cases.
Mr. James is active in political, community and civic activities. He has been a member and board secretary of the board of trustees of the Eye Foundation of Kansas City, Inc.; a member of the Civic Council of Greater Kansas City Education Committee; a member of the board of the United Way; executive board of the Committee for County Progress; the steering committee of the Partnership for Children, a joint project of the United Way and the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation; president of the board of Bishop Hogan High School; a member of the board of trustees of Notre Dame de Sion schools; a member of the board of Operation Breakthrough; and a member of the board and vice-chair of the Genesis School. He is also a graduate of the Kansas City Tomorrow program sponsored by the Civic Council of Greater Kansas City.
Mr. James was appointed to the board of directors of the Economic Development Corporation of Kansas City, Missouri and to the board of the Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority (LCRA) by former Mayor Kay Barnes. Recently, he was also appointed to the boards of the Enhanced Enterprise Zones of Kansas City and the Jackson County Ethics Commission. He served as one of four co-chairs of the Save Our Stadiums committee, a successful tax initiative to refurbish the Truman Sports Complex in Kansas City in 2006.
Mr. James was president of the Kansas City Metropolitan Bar Association in 2003. Between 1992 and 2002, he was a member, secretary and later the president of the Missouri Board of Law Examiners. Mr. James is a director of the Kansas City Bar Foundation and vice president of the Public Interest Litigation Clinic. He was formerly the vice-president of the board of directors of Legal Aid of Western Missouri and treasurer of the Jackson County Bar Association.
In the past, he has also served as a member of the Missouri Bar Foresight Committee; the Missouri Supreme Court ad hoc Committee on Judicial Circuit Boundaries; the Missouri Supreme Court ad hoc Committee to examine Rule 2 (Judicial conduct), and chairman of the KCMBA Sports and Entertainment Law Committee. He has also served as the chair of the KCMBA Nursing Home Negligence Committee, as a member of the KCMBA CLE Committee; the chair of the KCMBA Emergency Preparedness Committee; the board of governors of the Missouri Bar Association; a master in division II of the KCMBA Inn of Court program; and a member of the Jackson County Bar Association.
He is currently the chair of the KCMBA Diversity Committee. He is a fellow of the American Bar Association and a member of the board of governors of the Missouri Association of Trial Lawyers (MATA).
Mr. James has spoken on various litigation and trial topics at ATLA/AAJ seminars in Puerto Rico, Toronto, Palm Springs, Hawaii, Seattle, Chicago, Miami, New Orleans, and Montreal, as well as ABA seminars in Toronto and Seattle.
He has spoken at numerous CLE programs in Missouri, Kansas, Iowa and Arkansas. He has also published articles regarding nursing home litigation in ATLA’s Trial Magazine, as well as other writings for other publications and seminars.
In additional to representing plaintiff’s in complex litigation, Sly also serves as the mayor of Kansas City, Missouri.
Litigation Percentage: 100% of Practice Devoted to Litigation
Bar Admissions:Missouri, 1983 U.S. District Court Eastern District of Missouri, 1983 U.S. District Court Western District of Missouri, 1983
Education: University of Minnesota Law School, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1983
J.D., Doctor of Jurisprudence
Honors: Cum Laude
Rockhurst College, Kansas City, Missouri, 1980
B.A., Bachelor of Arts
Honors: Cum Laude
Honors and Awards:
“Best of the Bar,” The Business Journal, 2004
Professional Associations and Memberships:
Kansas City Bar Association, 1988 – 1993
Jackson County Bar Association Treasurer
Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys
Heart of America United Way
Committee for County Progress
Kansas City Agenda
Missouri Association of Trial Lawyers
Missouri Board of Law Examiners
Kansas City Metropolitan Bar Association
Co-Chair, Committee on Small Firm and Solo Practice
Tau Kappa Epsilon