Pels Law

Pels Law 2007 Maryland Trial Lawyer of the year. Source: MTLA Complex civil litigation. Electronically stored information. A general practice law firm.

Congratulations, Jon Pels!
Pels Law on Google

Congratulations, Jon Pels!

Jon Pels (far left) competed as per of Team Goldman in World Team Tennis at The Edgemoor Club. Over 110 members participated in the event over the course of the season, in honor of the club's 100th anniversary. Team Goldman won the Championships last night. Jon commented “I really enjoyed playing ...

Client Spotlight:  Tri-State Stone & Building Supply is a family-owned quarry at the intersection of River Road and Seve...

Client Spotlight: Tri-State Stone & Building Supply is a family-owned quarry at the intersection of River Road and Seven Locks Road in Bethesda. It is the only minor quarry in Montgomery County. Porto has served Montgomery County, The National Park Service, The District of Columbia, and residents and property owners in the Washington metropolitan area for nearly a century. Tri State mines a rare stone, which is the area's only indigenous quartzite stone. The County designated the quarry and property a Critical Area in recognition of its uniqueness and importance to the County. Its unique Carderock stone is matched in only three or four other places in the world. Tri State's quarry recently has provided historic matches at The White House, Arlington National Cemetery and Clara Barton Parkway. Arlington National Cemetery, Walter Reed, the National Institute of Health, Nationals Stadium, The National Zoo and Georgetown University have used Porto's material for new construction or historic matches, as has Wheaton's Brookside Gardens, Potomac's Glenstone Museum, and numerous County private schools, businesses and residences.

Phone: 301-365-2100
Email: [email protected]
Address: 8200 Seven Locks Road, Bethesda, MD 20817


Virginia Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Pels Law Firm's Client's Case

Pels Law Firm attorneys Christian Arndt and Katerina Newell successfully convinced the Virginia Supreme Court to hear a case dismissed by a Loudoun County court.

Virginia has a eight year statute of repose, which means that if you build a defective building and it collapses and kills someone, you cannot sue the builder if it has been more than eight years. The lone exception is if a contractor comes in and does work that modifies the property and if that modification involves equipment, not fixtures. There is a huge gray area in the law as to what constitutes equipment and what constitutes fixtures. Our client was an 18-year-old young man who entered the grain silo in Virginia, and pushed the button to get the conveyor belt to work so the material would flow into his truck. A loud explosion occurred, and the young man was killed when trapped under tons and tons of material. We learned that a modification was done that our experts believe turbo charged the flow that ultimately led to the demise of the silo.

It is difficult to get the Supreme Court to hear cases. Thanks to the good work of Christian Arndt's excellent writing skills and Katerina Newell's superlative research ability, the Virginia Supreme Court recently notified us that they will hear the full appeal.

The Pels Law Firm is proud to stand with victims and their families and prosecute these cases until every remedy has been exhausted. We are confident we will make good law, clarify what is a very gray area, and bring what limited justice is left for the family of this young man who died.

"I would like to thank Christian Arndt and Katerina Newell, who took the lead on drafting the well-pled appeal documents," said Managing Partner, Jon Pels.


Not often we receive kudos from opposing counsel:

"litigating against you and your law firm has been one of the toughest challenges I have faced in my 14 year career. Your tenacity remained steadfast throughout and I am happy our time to argue is coming to an end. I would certainly recommend you and your team to any client looking for an attorney in the DC area."

--Received from opposing counsel, following a recently concluded trial

The Pels Law Firm is pleased to announce that Paula C. Pels has joined the firm.  Paula graduated from The Ohio State Un...

The Pels Law Firm is pleased to announce that Paula C. Pels has joined the firm. Paula graduated from The Ohio State University in 1989, and then went to law school at the University of Dayton, graduating in 1993. While in law school, Paula clerked for a local judge and worked for an environmental law firm. She also won a Best Oralist Award at a Moot Court Competition in Washington, D.C. Upon graduation, Paula worked in Ohio, first for First American Title Company as a Title Attorney, and then at Baden and Jones where she gained experience in real estate law and litigation. Paula then moved to the area when she married her husband, Jon D. Pels, whom she met in law school and worked in the D.C. area as a consultant at Lexis Nexis. Finally, she worked at the BWW Law Group handling quality control for the law firm before approving and releasing foreclosure sales to docket. Paula has now joined the Pels Law Firm, LLC. Paula is admitted to practice in Maryland, the District of Columbia and is on inactive status in Ohio.

In her time away from the Pels Law Firm, where she has recently begun to focus on marketing for the law firm, Paula enjoys managing her household of seven and running, biking, swimming, hiking and playing tennis at the Edgemoor club in Bethesda, Maryland. She is also involved in her church and her children's schools. Welcome, Paula!

How a Timeline Can Be Used as a Persuasive Exhibit By Maria Leonard Olsen, Esq. Pels Law had an actual in-person hearing...

How a Timeline Can Be Used as a Persuasive Exhibit

By Maria Leonard Olsen, Esq.

Pels Law had an actual in-person hearing this week, a rarity during the Covid era. The case had a complicated procedural history, in which the local government was forcing our clients to jump through multiple hoops to obtain relief from the “rain tax.” The rain tax is the Water Quality Protection Charge that Montgomery County charges property owners who have impervious surfaces on their property. The case provided another example of how the use of a timeline to show the damaging actions of your opponent can be a very effective exhibit in showing the trier of fact the merits of your argument, as it was in this case.

The tribunal was the Maryland Tax Court. The clients had been forced to appeal their case through four administrative agency levels and two courts. The litigation started in 2015 and the appeals process was changed during the pendency of this case, forcing the clients to re-file in another agency. There still is no resolution in this case.

The latest hoop the government constructed for our clients involved a motion to dismiss for lack of standing, five years into the litigation. Our strategy included showing the Court exactly what our clients have had to go through at the hands of the government to get their case heard. And it is not over yet.

Our lead attorney, Jon Pels, 2007 Trial Lawyer of the Year, had an excellent strategy for the hearing. He is adept at seeing the case through the eyes of a judge. His experience has equipped him to zero in on exactly what will persuade a judge to rule in a client’s favor.

Jon asked to approach the bench to hand the judge a timeline of the filings and actions in the case. With each major juncture in the case’s history, Jon referred the judge to an exhibit attached to the timeline. Jon highlighted the salient points contained in each exhibit along the timeline. The legal odyssey was aptly demonstrated and the injustice of the government’s actions was well-demonstrated.

The strategy worked. While the procedural history was set forth in the briefing papers submitted, the judge was impressed by the linear depiction of the case in timeline form. The lengths to which the government went to block the taxpayers’ efforts was starkly on display.

The Tax Court denied the County’s Motion to Dismiss, removing the final barrier prior to trial at the State level. A simple graphic exhibit proved to be just the right strategy to illustrate the injustice in this case.


HOW A GROUNDBREAKING CASE EARNED ME THE 2007 MARYLAND TRIAL LAWYER OF THE YEAR AWARD: How To Use the Learned Treatise Exception To the Hearsay Rule and Rules of the Road to Win Your Case

By Jon D. Pels, Esq.

In the early 2000s, a client walked into my office. He was an intimidating gentleman. His tattoos made him look like somebody out of central casting playing a biker in a biker gang.

He had spent the better part of his savings on a brand new home, which was a manufactured home that cost him about $50,000. His complaint? His home did not have footers to the frost line. He brought in a manual that clearly showed a mobile home, or at least what I thought was a mobile home, on the front.

The manual seemed to indicate footers to the frost line were required by the manufacturer. So, after meeting him and getting retained, I sent a simple letter to the mobile home park where the home is situated and also where the dealer retailer from whom he bought it was located.

The response was nothing short of a door being slammed in your face. The gist of it was that the county did not require footers for use in mobile home parks because they are, after all, mobile. More astonishing was that almost every county in the state of Maryland did not require footers to the frost line because these were mobile homes.

We learned this after having filed a lawsuit. It seemed that our case was at its bitter end.

However, my client spent his life’s savings, as many of us do, on his home and he was proud of it, as I am of mine. The manufacturer’s instructions seem to clearly indicate footers to the frost line were required but the defendants in what was my class action hired one of the best defense firms in the state of Maryland. Bob Ferguson and I have become friends after years of litigating this case against each other. Given his military and engineering background, he is one of the best in any construction defect type case in the state. He did not disappoint in our case and, partnering him with some of the best experts money could buy, created a formidable opponent.

Still we pieced together what we could and felt we were right. Most importantly, I turned to the learned treatise exception to the hearsay rule. I spoke to my geotechnical engineer and asked him whether this footer issue seems to be something that should be so obvious that we should not even need an expert. We had him write a report explaining that these homes are not really mobile anymore. It costs almost as much as the purchase price of the home to move it and none of these homeowners have that ability. Once the home is set, it almost always stays set where it is. If you do not have footers to the frost line, the heaving in the winter and the thawing in the spring and summer creates racking, which destroys the homes. They become out of level--doors swing open and cracks even appear in the home.

I will never forget that I was at mass at Blessed Sacrament Church in Washington, D.C. on Sunday with my wife and our five kids and somewhere I saw the following words: “A wise man digs down and builds his house upon a rock.” I wanted to give the correct impression that having a home sit on a proper foundation to the frost line is as old as the sea and it is not some newer trivial matter that we ginned up. I asked my expert if he believed that statement from the Bible was reliable. His answer was an emphatic “yes!”

So I created the first rule for my case, with credit to the holy Bible: “A wise man shall dig down and build his house upon a rock.” SOURCE: Gospel of Matthew (7:24–27) and Luke (6:46–49).

My expert testified at the daylong hearing for class certification. Judge Lenore Gelfman, the circuit court judge that ultimately certified my class action, seemed to receive this rule well. I also think everybody in the courtroom watching got a huge kick out of it.

Eventually, I got to the head engineer for the state of Maryland, Kanti Patel. I will never forget the moment, with a room full of lawyers squeezing in at the state headquarters near Baltimore to hear his testimony. His testimony was something like the following: “Mr. Pels is right. All of the counties are wrong and these homes need to have footers to the frost line.” I wrote a huge dollar bill sign on my notepad and tried to cover up my smile.

It seems that the laws of physics apply equally on either side of the fence, whether you live in a mobile home park or outside of it.

The key to winning this case were the rules I created, which are featured now in Pat Malone’s excellent litigation support book, The Rules of the Road. Malone found my rules interesting and has become a good friend over the years. In this case, we created a roadmap with steppingstones numbered one through 50 that no one could credibly dispute. It started with that foundational one from the Bible, which is as old as the tides from where it flowed.

The defense’s experts did not look credible. We ultimately settled the case. Trial Lawyers for Public Justice found out about the case and nominated me for the Trial Lawyer of the Year award in 2007. I was in Alabama litigating the case when I received a notice from the Maryland Trial Lawyers Association that I had in fact been selected as the winner. I have no political connections with the Trial Lawyers and truly felt honored for them to select me because it was a litigious case that took a lot of time and resources that we advanced on behalf of our client as the class representative.

Litigants need to understand the exception inside and out to be able to use it properly. It astonishes me that many very good trial lawyers even to this day do not fully understand the rule and exception. I have had one say to me, “Well, if the expert didn’t put it in his report and actually rely on it in informing his opinions in the report then it’s useless.” This is not true. For this exception to the hearsay rule to apply, the expert needs to bless either the source, e.g. the author, or the actual statement, whether or not it is in his report. An expert can never put every source into a report. Some things are so fundamental that of course he has used them even though he might not cite them specifically in his report. Remember, if the source or the actual statement is deemed reliable, it can be read to the jury or the judge and the damage is done. You can even use the opposing parties’ experts to get them to agree that the source or statement is reliable.

Most of the jukebox experts these days, or ones that you put a quarter in and they will sing any song, will simply deny that it’s reliable. When you point out that it was written by some of the same associations that they are members of, it hurts the credibility of this expert.

It is really important to create these rules early on in the case. The clients are often great assets because they are so vested in finding sources. Remember that your rules are a living breathing document that will be amended from time to time, but can be used over and over in briefing the case. They also can be used to buttress your client’s expert opinion, making the expert’s testimony as Daubert-proof, i.e., admissible, as possible. If your expert is citing two treatises that are reliable and uses them to form his opinions, it is not likely that a judge will exclude his opinions.

I now use the rules strategy in almost every case, especially complex civil ones. Without them, I do not think we would have won this case. And without our successful use of the learned treatise exception to hearsay rule, it is unlikely that our approach would have carried the day.

Complex Business Litigation in the Time of Covid—How Do You Participate in a Trial Online?By Pels Law Attorney, Maria Le...

Complex Business Litigation in the Time of Covid—
How Do You Participate in a Trial Online?

By Pels Law Attorney, Maria Leonard Olsen

​Trials are starting again during the pandemic. Because of the pandemic, courts were closed for months. Since the wheels of commerce must go on, people needed to learn how to meet online. So more business is being conducted virtually. After much delay, cases on court documents began to move.
​Our first online trial happened in August of 2020. It started 20 minutes late. We were ready on time. The delay came from technical difficulties experienced by the other parties. Some parties participated from their homes. Anyone who does so must have a camera on their computer, as well as a working microphone. Consider using headphones and ensure that background noise is minimized.
​Our first online trial was an arbitration conducted by the American Arbitration Association. We used Zoom as the online service. I am not sure that jury trials would be appropriately conducted online but, to date, that issue has not come up at our firm.
​This online trial went well for us. It did not go so well for our opponents. The arbitrator fell asleep during their cross-examination of one of the witnesses. He also let slip a comment that reflected his disdain for a line of questioning the respondent’s counsel was pursuing.
​Technical issues were minimal and the parties were cooperative. There were many documents involved in this case, but the parties were able to provide the documents beforehand to the arbitrator and other parties. Justice was served in this brave new world.
​We learned multiple lessons during our online trial experiences:
(1) Be patient and flexible. Things arise online that may be different than in a courtroom. Most of us are still learning the ins and outs of online transactions.
(2) Watch your facial expressions because you are continuously on camera. The Respondent’s smirking during opening statements did not serve him well.
(3) Teach all participants how to turn off audio, mute themselves (when not testifying) and stop video of themselves. If more than one person has audio on, there can be feedback, echoing or other noise that is disturbing to others.
(4) Use two monitors for the counsel and two for the witness. That way, one monitor can have all parties showing and one can show the document/exhibit.
(5) It is a good practice to provide hardcopies of all exhibits in advance to the judge, opposing counsel and witnesses.
(6) Hire a tech person to help things go smoothly. Online trials are new territory for most of us, so unusual challenges are likely to arise. Digital Evidence Group of Washington, D.C., did an excellent job of displaying exhibits on multiple screens and enlarging them when necessary.
(7) Be careful of what you say. Much more can be picked up, heard and seen by others when gathered online than when in person. Microphones can be sensitive. In fact, one of the judge’s comments (which he undoubtedly did not intend anyone to hear) was heard by the litigants. The comment happened to be critical of the other side’s presentation. Always leave someone from your team listening to the zoom room during breaks. Opponents may use this time to endear themselves to the judge/arbitrator.
(8) Keep your mask on if you are not speaking/testifying. Help to keep others, and yourself, safe.
​In short, litigants should not be hesitant to participate in online trials. They are safer for all of us, and may even serve to reduce more quickly the backlog of cases on our nation’s court dockets. If you have any questions, feel free to contact one of our attorneys.


4845 Rugby Avenue
Bethesda, MD

Accessible via the Bethesda Metro stop.


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The Pels Law Firm: The Face of Zealous Trial Advocacy

The Pels Law Firm, located in downtown Bethesda, specializes in complex civil litigation and handles a wide variety of matters, including personal injury, employment discrimination, electronically stored information, criminal defense, high-end asset divorce and business law. With the knowledge, experience and resources found at a larger firm, Pels offers clients the personalized attention and tailored service one would expect from a boutique practice. The firm’s proven trial strategies have been applauded by such publications as A Plaintiff Lawyer’s Guide to Proving Liability. Its team of lawyers, led by battle-tested and results driven trial lawyer, Jon Pels, who was named Maryland Trial Lawyer of the Year in 2007 by the Maryland Trial Lawyers Association, hail from top 10 law schools. Additional information is available at

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Justin Sadowsky has broad litigation and appellate experience. He has handled cases in state and federal courts, administrative agencies, and before arbitrators throughout the country. He also has drafted appellate briefs before a wide range of State Supreme Courts and federal Courts of Appeal, as well as the United States Supreme Court. Before joining the Pels Law Firm, Justin had worked as a litigation and appellate lawyer with a major global firm, where he played substantial roles in trial and litigation teams in major antitrust, public international, and bankruptcy cases. He also drafted a successful appellate brief on behalf of High Tech Corporation in the landmark Federal Circuit case Kyocera v. ITC and developed the legal analysis that became the basis for the successful petition for certiorari in the landmark Supreme Court arbitration case Stolt-Nielsen v. Animalfeeds. Justin also worked at a large East Cost firm where he litigated disputes in trial and appellate courts on a diverse range of issues, including patent law, insurance coverage, sovereign immunity, public pension reform, business corporations, employment law, and maritime law. Justin also maintains an active pro bono practice volunteering on behalf of the ACLU’s National Prison Project. Before starting his practice, Justin graduated from Columbia Law School as a James Kent Scholar and clerked for the Honorable Daniel M. Friedman of the United State Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, honors about which the Pels Law Firm is particularly proud. Justin is licensed to practice in Washington D.C., Virginia, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, and the U.S. Supreme Court.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Another Challenge to the Montgomery County Rain Tax Legislation The Pels Law Firm Weighs in on Amendments to the Water Quality Protection Charge ROCKVILLE, MD, March 5, 2018 – The Pels Law Firm, which is representing 25 Montgomery County property owners in litigation challenging the County's imposition of the Water Quality Protection Charge (WQPC) upon them and/or denying statutorily-required credits against the Charge, will testify at the Montgomery County Council's public hearing tomorrow at 1:30 p.m. on Bill 1-18, which amends County law regarding what some call the "rain tax." Attorney Maria Olsen will testify at the hearing and suggest additional changes to the WQPC in writing. The firm's clients oppose the rain tax as unfair, particularly in its implementation, and will submit written comments on the inequities of the law. In addition, The Pels Law Firm will oppose Bill 1-18's transition language, which could require taxpayers to appeal their cases twice, once before the Montgomery County Board of Appeals (BOA) and then again before the Maryland Tax Court, simply because their appeals were filed and may still be pending at the time the Bill takes effect. Such a result would be inequitable, unjust and likely unconstitutional. If Bill 1-18 passes in its current form, taxpayers will be forced to incur substantial additional time and resources litigating before the BOA and then, possibly, before the Tax Court. County property owners should not be penalized simply for having filed their appeals before introduction of this Bill. Moreover, taxpayer funds will be expended unnecessarily if the County attorneys are required to twice litigate the same matters. Such consequences are likely not the Council's legislative intent. Join The Pels Law Firm in contacting your Council members to register your views on the rain tax. The Council's agenda, legislative packets and live online coverage can be accessed here: About The Pels Law Firm: The Pels Law Firm handles a wide variety of complex cases and represents a diverse group of clients. Our attorneys litigate cases in federal and state courts, administrative tribunals, arbitration and other forums for alternative dispute resolution. The Pels Law Firm has been a leader in general business and business tort litigation, focusing on finding innovative solutions to complex disputes. We have significant experience representing both plaintiffs and defendants in litigation involving construction defects, non-compete agreements, business divorces, tax matters, employment law, shareholder and partnership control issues, breach of fiduciary duty, fraud, conversion, conspiracy, negligence and related civil causes of action. The firm has offices in Bethesda, Maryland, and Vienna, Virginia. For more information, visit Contact: Maria Leonard Olsen, Esq. [email protected] (301) 986-5570 # # #