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Steven M. Kelso is a commercial litigator that has tried more than 40 trials, agency actions, and arbitrations to verdict, decision, or award. Steve focuses on defending franchisors and motor vehicle manufacturers/distributors in disputes with franchisees and dealers.

With deep experience in pre-litigation dealer network counseling, Steve also represents his clients in various state and federal courts, before administrative agencies, and on appeal. He has delivered precedent-setting arguments that have shaped franchise and related commercial law throughout the country. His appellate experience includes preserving motor vehicle manufacturers’ and distributors’ ability to enforce litigation waivers in the face of anti-waiver statutes. His clients span a range of industries, including automotive, trucking, consumer services, and health care.

Steve develops litigation strategies with his clients’ legal and business goals in mind. Steve goes beyond traditional representation to create tailored, innovative narratives to effectively demonstrate to judges and juries how his clients’ businesses work. As a result, he has defended companies and franchisors against lawsuits attacking their business models.

Steve began his legal career by serving in the U.S. Air Force Judge Advocate General's Corps. While in the Air Force, he served as lead trial counsel and supervising attorney on a range of complex jury trials.


  • Franchise matters
  • Dealer Network
  • Commercial disputes



  • DaimlerChrysler v. Lew Williams, 48 Cal.Rptr.3d 233 (Cal. Ct. App. 2006): Won a precedent-setting judgment from the California Court of Appeals, which preserved a trial court finding that guaranteed the right of automotive manufacturers to enter into litigation waiver contracts under a relatively common anti-waiver dealer act provision.°
  • Granite State Insurance v. Ken Caryl Ranch Master Association, 183 P.3d 563 (Colo. 2008): Appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court a case which had been reversed by the Colorado Court of Appeals. Following arguments, the Colorado Supreme Court's published opinion restored the complete victory for the insurer in this precedent-setting case of first impression and made it easier for commercial property insurers to understand and follow Colorado's statutory notice requirements.°
  • Borders v. Aspen Equestrian Estate (Colo. 2010): Defended against a real estate company's claims that client's interference caused the loss of a $2 million investment when it prevented the sale of a shopping center before the real estate market crashed. The court ruled for the client on all issues of liability, causation, and damages.°
  • Settled breach of contract dispute involving a supply chain agreement between two large food distributors.°
  • Beasley v. Anheuser-Busch (Colo.): Obtained involuntary dismissal, through detail-oriented litigation, of a plaintiff's claims due to discovery abuses by the plaintiff and plaintiff's counsel.°
  • Continental Imports v. Mercedes-Benz USA (Tex. 2020): At a two-week evidentiary hearing before a two-judge panel, successfully defended a challenge by an existing Mercedes-Benz dealer that sought to prevent MBUSA from establishing a new dealership. The proposal for decision, which was adopted by the state agency, allows MBUSA and its candidate to establish a new Mercedes-Benz dealership in Austin, Texas. The agency decision was affirmed on appeal. Continental Imports, Inc. v. Mercedes-Benz USA, LLC, No. 03-21-00377-CV (Tex. App. Jan. 6, 2023).
  • Represented franchisor Comfort Dental Group in a dispute in which a sub-franchisor challenged the legality of the underlying business model.°
  • Star Houston v. Mercedes-Benz (Tex. 2014): Represented Mercedes-Benz USA in multiple challenges brought by a dealer against MBUSA's incentive programs, including its nationwide, comprehensive dealer performance bonus program. A two-judge panel issued a proposal for a decision vindicating the program. The matter settled shortly after issuance.°
  • Chapman Las Vegas Dodge v. Chrysler (Nev. 2013): Defended Chrysler against a protest filed by two local dealers to stop Chrysler's establishment of a new Las Vegas dealership.°
  • Mercedes-Benz v. Star Automobile (M.D. Ga. 2011): Won a preliminary injunction in Georgia for Mercedes-Benz USA in a dealership breach of contract dispute involving the sale of a dealership to a proposed buyer that MBUSA did not want as a Mercedes-Benz dealer.°
  • Co-managed with one other law firm the response to requests from 418 dealers for arbitration relating to the bankruptcy of Chrysler Group LLC and following Chrysler's termination of those dealerships.°
  • Auto Stiegler v. Mercedes-Benz USA (C.D. Cal. 2006): Won a complete jury verdict in a franchise dispute in Los Angeles, defeating plaintiff's claims and winning all six counterclaims and an award of over $7 million, including punitive damages, for Mercedes-Benz USA.°
  • Oxymagic Franchise Development v. Oxi Fresh Franchising (Colo.): Defended a national consumer services franchisor from claims related to infringement, unfair competition, and trade secrets, and led the franchisor to a settlement that preserved its marks and rights to operate throughout the country.°
  • United States v. Miller (Cal.): Represented the United States (as a former Air Force JAG trial counsel) and delivered all arguments in a 19-day jury trial that resulted in an officer's conviction on multiple counts of sexual assault and kidnapping.°
  • United States v. Erickson (Wash.): Represented the United States (as a former Air Force JAG trial counsel) and delivered the arguments that resulted in a sentence of life in prison for a father convicted of various counts of aggravated child abuse.°

°The above representations were handled by Mr. Kelso prior to his joining Greenberg Traurig, LLP.

  • Major, United States Air Force, Judge Advocate General’s Corps, 1997-2004
    • Circuit Trial Counsel, Travis Air Force Base, California, 2001-2004

Recognition & Leadership

  • Listed, Super Lawyers Magazine, 2009-2011, 2013-2023
    • Selected, Colorado Super Lawyers – Litigation, 2021 
    • Selected, Colorado Super Lawyers – Franchise/Dealership, 2020, 2022-2023
    • Selected, Colorado Super Lawyers – Civil Litigation Defense, 2013-2019
    • Selected, Colorado Super Lawyers Rising Stars – Franchise/Dealership, 2010-2011
    • Selected, Colorado Super Lawyers Rising Stars – Civil Litigation Defense, 2009-2011
  • Listed, The Best Lawyers in America, Franchise Law, 2018-2024
    • Named, "Lawyer of the Year," Franchise Law, 2020
  • Selected, Law Week Colorado, “Lawyer of the Year,” 2010


  • J.D., cum laude, Notre Dame Law School, 1997
    • Articles Editor, Notre Dame Law Review
  • B.S., University of Colorado at Boulder, 1994
  • Colorado
  • U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado
  • U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan
  • U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin
  • U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces