Danny and Celeste O’Keefe started DANCEL INC., an advertising and production company, in 1984 on St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans. Since then it has evolved into a multimedia agency that has found its niche in litigation support, working for both plaintiff and defense firms on cases ranging from corporate patent infringement to medical malpractice.
“We were ahead of our time in 1984 doing litigation support,” said chief executive officer Celeste O’Keefe.
The majority of what DANCEL Multimedia does is act as a consultant for attorneys at trial. It helps pick jurors and put together all the pieces of evidence to help the attorney present the case to the jury.
“It’s a different kind of advertising,” O’Keefe said. “We actually assist the attorney by branding the case. We do it all.”
That includes video presentations and even 60 Minutes-like documentaries to present the facts of the case. For example, after a fire in the Port of Gulfport storage facility, she said, “We had to video the entire building for several days, inside and out.”
Clients range from individuals to Fortune 500 companies around the country. DANCEL was involved with asbestos litigation in Pascagoula in the 1980s.
“It was the very first trial that allowed video recording of testimony in the courtroom in the state of Mississippi,” she said.
DANCEL filled the courtroom with 24 monitors for the judge, attorneys and jury. Other equipment included wireless microphones for the attorneys, video microscopes to show asbestos fibers to the jury and document cameras.
DANCEL is based in D’Iberville and has an office in New Orleans. Attorneys have employed the company to help them with their cases involving casinos, hurricanes and medical malpractice.
“We do work locally but we spend about half of our year in the Northeast and New Orleans,” she said.
High-profile attorney Abbe Lowell, one of President Bill Clinton’s attorneys, is among their clients. The company was hired for the Ford Firestone-rollover vehicle cases and the Rheem hot water heater burn cases. “We feel like we make changes to help consumers,” O’Keefe said.
The animator and graphic artists on staff create custom trial graphics and animations ranging from accidents to surgical procedures to help present the information in court.
“In these complex cases, we bring a lot of data down to a precise point. We put everything into something people can understand,” she said.
DANCEL often relies on surveillance video to support a case, incorporating slow motion or image enhancement techniques.
“It’s amazing what we can do with audiovisuals,” she said. In a case that a person was accused of robbing a store, she said, “We took the surveillance tape and enlarged and enhanced it and proved it wasn’t him.”
Verdicts in some of the DANCEL cases can reach into the millions of dollars. O’Keefe said their largest medical malpractice verdict in the state was $23 million. The case involved a mother in labor who was left without a fetal heart monitoring machine on, causing brain damage and lifelong care for the child, she said. One case for which they did a documentary yielded a $50 million verdict against an insurance company that bought out a smaller insurer. DANCEL worked on another medical malpractice case in the state in which a patient was told incorrectly that he had cancer. The jury awarded him an $8 million verdict.
A recent case in Louisiana dealt with the state building an overpass that was just 30 feet from the windows in a hotel.
“The state would not negotiate,” O’Keefe said.
The result: a $7 million verdict for the hotel owners.
By far the largest case, with an $865 million verdict, centered around a train explosion in New Orleans.
“We did a documentary like 20/20 or 48 Hours, with narrators and interviews with police and firemen,” she said.
The case was appealed and went all the way to the appellate court and was eventually settled.
DANCEL has 11 employees, down from 18 when Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005.
“We opened up right away after the storm,” O’Keefe said.
Sometimes the work week extends to 80 or 90 hours, she said. It’s hard to train employees in the many facets of DANCEL’s work, she said.
“We have a good staff. No one does just one thing,” she said. “It’s not something that’s taught in school.”
O’Keefe said they could have sold the company after the storm.
“Someone offered us a lot of money, but we said we were not ready to sell.”
Now, O’Keefe said, the work load continues to grow.
“We are the longest-running company that does what we do,” O’Keefe said. “No one does it the way we do it. We say, ‘let us brand your case.’ And no stone is left unturned.”