Mr. Belli was born to a pioneer family on July 29, 1907 in Sonora, Tuolumne County, and the heart of California's Gold Rush region. Doctors and educators were among his maternal forebears. His grandmother, Anna Mouron, was California's first woman druggist. Henri Mouron was professor of languages at St. Augustine's College and headmaster of the Young Ladies Seminary of St. Mary's of the Pacific, one of the first schools in California. On his father's side were many early California and Nevada settlers. His father, Caesar Belli, was born in Eureka, Nevada, and became a prominent banker in California's Mother Lode region.
Mr. Belli's legal practice, writings and lectures took him to all corners of the world, but he made his home in San Francisco with his four beloved dogs. He was married six times and had six children and 13 grandchildren.
Mr. Belli built his stellar career by defending the rights of the individual. After graduating from law school, he posed as an indigent for the Federal Government and rode the rails to observe the Depression's impact on the country's vagrant population. His findings were later used as the basis for transient relief programs throughout the nation.
He was admitted to the California Bar in November 1933, and served as counsel for the Catholic priest at San Quentin Prison. He took up the challenging task of defending men on Death Row.
His work in representing victims of personal injury and in raising personal injury awards to then-unprecedented heights earned him the title of "The King of Torts" by Life Magazine writer Robert Wallace in a 1954 profile. Wallace later wrote a book about Mr. Belli and his work, entitled Life and Limb. Mr. Belli won dozens of multi-million-dollar verdicts, totaling more that 700 million for his clients.
He has also been called the "Father of Demonstrative Evidence" for his pioneering work in illustrating in court the nature of his clients' injuries. His early use of photographs, movies, scale models, human skeletons, animals, prostheses, and other devices was dramatic, riveting and highly effective.
To admirers, he was a fighter for the little people. To detractors, he was a shameless self-promoter. There was no disputing his potency in a courtroom, reflected in six- and seven-figure damage awards, or his impact on the law.
Belli's performance illustrated his own description of what a good trial lawyer should be: "the ingredients of a trial lawyer are imagination and initiative. You need a feeling for the plaintiff, the desire to do him some good, and to stick with him through thick and thin, the guts to do just that when everyone is criticizing you. And a little law will help."
"I can love a big rich man as much as a poor little man," he once said, "but there are just a lot more of the poor little men." Belli passed away in 1996 at the age of 88.
Mr. Belli received numerous honorary degrees from colleges and universities throughout the United States, including New England College of Law, Columbia Institute of Chiropractic, and Western State University.
The Belli Society
Today, the Belli Society is a charitable organization that promotes the study of law by funding research, conducting lectures, seminars and moot courts and publishing legal articles. Members have convened in Israel, Poland, Cuba, South America, Jordan, Africa and other countries to establish relations with international bar associations.
The Belli Society's roster includes hundreds of the most distinguished members of the bar and bench. Officers, trustees and fellows include former California Chief Justice Rose Bird, James Ackerman, Harry Philo, Robert Cartwright, Ted Koskoff, Leonard Ring, Marvin E. Lewis, Sr., Phillip Corboy, Thomas Malone, Thomas Murray Jr., Dick Gerry, Dal Haralson and Lee Kreindler.Founder and moderator of the Belli Seminars. The Belli Society lectures have been presented at major law schools throughout the United States and abroad, including Harvard, Yale, Pepperdine, Princeton, University of California, Western State University, and many others.
However, Belli is better known for defending the "rights of the individual." His work in representing victims of personal injury and in raising personal injury awards to a new level has earned him the title "The King Of Torts," bestowed on him by LIFE Magazine in 1954.