2010 California Lawyer Attorneys of the Year
California Lawyer
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2010 California Lawyer Attorneys of the Year

March 2010


The California Lawyer Attorneys of the Year Awards recognize lawyers throughout the state whose legal work made a profound impact in 2009. They include a state Assembly member, law professors, sole practitioners, and lawyers from large international law firms. Their practice areas range from appellate law and intellectual property to employment law and disability rights. Among their successes: winning a record whistleblower settlement against a defense contractor, negotiating the first loan guarantee from the Department of Energy for a solar-panel manufacturing plant, and setting a precedent on the federal courts' ability to cap state prison populations. Altogether, we identify 27 accomplishments in 17 areas of legal practice that reflect the breadth of the California State Bar. Congratulations to all the winners.
-Chuleenan Svetvilas


Appellate Law

Timothy T. Coates
Greines, Martin, Stein & Richland, Los Angeles

In January 2009, Coates won a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court decision securing broader immunity for prosecutors in criminal trials (Van de Kamp v. Goldstein). Both state and federal prosecutors have long enjoyed immunity for actions connected with criminal charges they bring and cases they try - in short, for actions associated with the judicial phase of the criminal process. Coates got that rule expanded to cover prosecutors in their supervisory or administrative roles, an integral part of running a prosecutor's office. In this case it shielded John Van de Kamp from liability for decisions he made while he was Los Angeles County District Attorney; he had faced allegations of failing to implement an effective system to track the veracity of jailhouse informants.

Public trust in the prosecutor's office would suffer if officials had to constantly look over their shoulders to guard against personal liability, the high court ruled. Defending managerial decisions, often years after they are made, could impose "unique and intolerable burdens upon a prosecutor responsible annually for hundreds of indictments and trials," Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in citing an earlier holding.


Appellate Law

Sharon J. Arkin
Sole practitioner, Los Angeles

Thomas D. Haklar
Dougherty, Hildre & Haklar, San Diego

Kevin F. Calcagnie
Robinson, Calcagnie & Robinson, Newport Beach

Mark P. Robinson Jr.
Robinson, Calcagnie & Robinson, Newport Beach

Haklar and Robinson led a team with Arkin and Calcagnie that pulled out a ground-breaking victory in May at the California Supreme Court in a tobacco class action, In re Tobacco II Cases. Haklar filed the case in 1997 along with Robinson, who argued in front of the court. The team had critical support from Louisiana?based Robert L. Redfearn of Simon, Peragine, Smith & Redfearn; New Jersey-based sole practitioner Kevin C. Decie; and Robinson, Calcagnie & Robinson lawyer Karen L. Karavatos. The 43 holding breathed new life into Unfair Competition Law class actions in which consumers allege they relied on misleading statements and advertising. Under Proposition 64, passed in 2004 to curb such litigation, plaintiffs must show they lost money or property as a result of the unfair competition. Some courts had interpreted this to mean that each class member - not just the lead plaintiff - would need to show he or she suffered an injury.

But in Tobacco II, the state Supreme Court held that so long as the representative plaintiff meets the standing requirements of an injury, the claims of the entire class may survive. The ruling allows that some individuals may be members of a class even if they do not have standing to file suit on their own. Previously, a number of courts had denied class certification without a showing that all class members relied on the false claims.


Constitutional Law

Michael W. Bien
Rosen, Bien & Galvan, San Francisco

Donald H. Specter
Prison Law Office, Berkeley

Despite years of legal battles to correct problems in California's prisons, overcrowding skyrocketed while the quality of medical care for inmates plummeted. Bien and Specter tried a new tactic that yielded a first-of-its-kind legal victory and set a precedent on the ability of federal courts to cap state prison populations. In August, a special three-judge panel ordered the state to produce a plan for releasing roughly 50,000 inmates over two to three years to reduce the level of overcrowding from nearly 200 percent of capacity to 137.5 percent.

Bien and Specter prevailed despite the restrictive Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995, passed by Congress to discourage inmate litigation and limit the ability of a single federal judge to order prisoner releases in overcrowding cases. It requires a three-judge review panel to consider such cases. Although a handful of these panels had been appointed nationally, none had come to trial and concluded such a sweeping release order. Bien focused on proving inadequate mental health care (Coleman v. Schwarzenegger), while Specter pressed claims of inadequate medical care (Plata v. Schwarzenegger). In facilities built to hold fewer than 100,000 inmates but packed with 170,000 as the population peaked, they argued, an average of one inmate per week died from inadequate care. Overcrowding was the primary cause, the panel found.

Not everyone embraced Bien and Specter's strategy of taking the issue to the federal panel. Some worried that the new overcrowding challenge would let the state delay population reductions even longer. But over the years, courts have issued more than 70 orders in the California litigation that the state has ignored or violated, notes corrections specialist and attorney Michael Hamden of North Carolina. "On the contrary," he says, "the release order is remarkable."


Constitutional Law

Adam B. Wolf
ACLU National Legal Department, Santa Cruz

Wolf argued his way to the most significant U.S. Supreme Court victory for students' constitutional rights in 40 years, vindicating the Fourth Amendment rights of students against strip searches. The case involved a 13-year-old Arizona girl subjected to a strip search by school officials on the basis of uncorroborated accusations she possessed ibuprofen in violation of a school policy (Safford USD v. Redding).

Although in recent years the Supreme Court has allowed searches of students' lockers and backpacks and curtailed their right to speak out in school settings, the justices drew a line at forcing youngsters to disrobe. The 8?1 ruling bolstered the privacy rights of students, although it did not go so far as to hold personally liable the school officials who conducted the search. In his last opinion before retirement, Justice David Souter wrote, "What was missing ... was any indication of danger to the students from the power of the drugs or their quantity, and any reason to suppose that [the girl] was carrying pills in her underwear." No pills were ever found.


Criminal Law

Richard Marmaro
Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, Los Angeles

U.S. District Court Judge Cormac J. Carney stunned the white-collar defense bar by dismissing criminal and civil fraud charges against former executives of Broadcom. His December ruling in USA v. Ruehle not only turned heads among defense attorneys and prosecutors, but it also called into question whether the backdating of stock options is even illegal - implicating several similar cases set for trial this year.

The case was a major victory for Marmaro, who represented the lead defendant, William J. Ruehle, Broadcom's former chief financial officer. For several years, the microchip giant and its leadership had faced damning allegations from the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission that the company illegally backdated stock options. According to observers, Marmaro helped to convince Judge Carney that prosecutors not only leaked grand jury testimony to the press, but also intimidated three key witnesses in the case and assisted in shaping the testimony of another.


Criminal Law

Justin P. Brooks
California Innocence Project, California Western School of Law, San Diego

Eric S. Multhaup
Sole practitioner, Mill Valley

Jan Stiglitz
California Innocence Project, California Western School of Law, San Diego

Christopher J. Plourd
Sole practitioner, San Diego

Brooks and Stiglitz led the California Innocence Project (CIP) to win reversal of convictions in 2009 for three clients who had been imprisoned for many years. Earning the release of a wrongfully convicted person is one of the legal system's most difficult feats; only 27 post-conviction exonerations occurred nationwide last year, according to the New York Innocence Project's annual list. CIP was responsible for all of the California exonerations, after working on the cases for as many as nine years.

In July a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge granted a motion by CIP and Plourd to dismiss charges against Reggie Cole, convicted in 1995 for a shooting death and sentenced to life in prison without parole. In August a San Bernardino County judge granted CIP's request to reverse the murder conviction of William Richards, who was tried in 1997 and sentenced to 25 years to life. In September a U.S. Central District Court judge granted a petition filed by CIP and Multhaup, reversing the 2002 attempted murder conviction of Rafael Madrigal Jr., who was sentenced to 53 years to life in prison for a gang-related shooting incident. In each case, CIP presented exculpatory evidence and new testimony proving the innocence of the client.


Criminal Law

Michael Rubin
Altshuler Berzon, San Francisco

Rubin won a rare reversal - of both a death sentence and the defendant's original conviction - which will set James Horton II free later this year. Rubin, an employment attorney by trade, first took the case in 1985, the year Horton was sentenced to die for killing a drug dealer. Eleven years later, he and his team at Altshuler Berzon got the California Supreme Court to overturn Horton's death sentence - breaking a string of 110 straight affirmations. Rubin then pursued numerous state and federal appeals of the original conviction. Finally, last November, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge John Torribio agreed with the defense and ruled that the prosecution could not call its previous "star witness." That victory led to a plea deal with the prosecution and Horton's scheduled release after 27 years of incarceration.


Disability Rights

Russell C. Handy
Potter Handy, San Marcos

Handy secured a decision clarifying the long-standing murkiness among state statutes and between state and federal laws about proof required of Californians with disabilities who seek relief from discrimination (Munson v. Del Taco, Inc.). He was assisted by the Berkeley?based Impact Fund's Brad Seligman, who filed an amicus brief and shared argument time.

While dining at a Del Taco restaurant in San Bernardino, Kenneth Munson, who is paraplegic, found several architectural barriers that violated state and federal public accommodations laws. After he sued in 2006, Del Taco remodeled the restaurant to accommodate wheelchair users. However, a legal question remained unsettled: Whether a plaintiff seeking damages under the Unruh Civil Rights Act must prove that the defendant discriminated intentionally, or with "deliberate indifference to the plight of disabled customers." In June, the California Supreme Court unanimously ruled that injured plaintiffs need not prove discriminatory intent.


Disability Rights

Henry C. Su
Howrey, East Palo Alto

Su led by example last year logging more than 800 billable hours in 15 pro bono cases. Though Su customarily focuses on intellectual property litigation, many of his pro bono efforts concerned disability rights - including a significant victory for nearly three million individuals. Su and Arlene B. Mayerson of the Berkeley?based Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund were lead counsel in the case, in which The American Council of the Blind joined with two classes of plaintiffs nationwide. They alleged that the Social Security Administration's (SSA) massive mailing program denied blind and visually impaired people meaningful access to benefits as required by section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

After a federal bench trial that capped four years of litigation, the decision in American Council of the Blind v. Astrue concluded that communicating with blind beneficiaries through CDs and Braille would often be less costly and more expedient-and ordered the SSA to offer those by April 15, 2010.


Elder Law

R. Prescott Cole
California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, San Francisco

Last year Cole spearheaded landmark state legislation that helps protect elderly consumers who are contemplating reverse mortgages from being bilked by aggressive and abusive marketing tactics. Reverse mortgages, which allow homeowners to convert equity into cash, have been popular as the economic downturn forces more California seniors to seek ways to supplement retirement income and pay medical expenses. Though the arrangement benefits many "equity rich but cash poor" seniors, a growing number have been gouged by entities charging exorbitant interest rates.

The Reverse Mortgage Elder Protection Act, signed in October and sponsored by attorney and state Assemblymember Mike Feuer (D-Los Angeles), eliminates one avenue of abuse by prohibiting any reverse mortgage counselor from having a business relationship with a broker or lender. It also requires lenders to provide clients with a list of nonprofit counseling agencies, along with a suitability checklist specifying issues to discuss with a counselor before a loan application is approved. Elder law advocates say the new legislation will help get rid of fly-by-night counseling services and enable consumers to make informed choices about their financial options.


Employment Law

Catherine A. Conway
Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, Los Angeles

Rex S. Heinke
Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, Los Angeles

Conway and Heinke helped stem the recent flood of large verdicts against large employers-notably winning appeals of class action judgments against their client, Starbucks. In Chau v. Starbucks Corp., they persuaded the Fourth District Court of Appeal to reverse a trial court's ruling that the coffee megachain's policy of divvying tips among workers was illegal-overturning a $105 million damages award to a certified class of baristas. The trial court had found in 2008 that Starbucks violated California Labor Code section 351, which prohibits employers from collecting gratuities left for employees. But the appellate court held the prohibition does not apply to money left in a collective tip box for services performed by a team of employees - including the baristas and those with "limited supervisory duties" who work alongside them.

Conway and Heinke also prevailed in another Starbucks case in which 135,000 unsuccessful applicants for jobs at 1,500 of the company's venues throughout California each sought statutory damages - for a potential liability of about $26 million. The class claimed the Starbucks job application form violated California's law prohibiting employers from asking about marijuana-related convictions. While acknowledging that a disclaimer on the form was ambiguous, the appellate court granted Starbucks's motion for summary judgment, ruling that the named plaintiffs were not protected under the statute because they had no marijuana convictions.


Environmental Law

David J. Lazerwitz and

Sky C. Stanfield
Farella Braun + Martel, San Francisco

Thanks to the pro bono work of Lazerwitz and Stanfield, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) must re-evaluate thousands of miles of trails in the Western Mojave Desert that were designated over the past 30 years as off-road vehicle (ORV) routes. The lawyers, working with Robert Wiygul of Waltzer & Associates in Biloxi, Mississippi, on behalf of seven environmental organizations, won a summary judgment requiring the bureau to adhere to federal statutes and its own regulations to protect sensitive environmental resources. A federal district court in San Francisco ruled that the bureau violated the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 and the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, which mandate that environmental considerations - such as impacts to wildlife, soils, watersheds, vegetation, and cultural resources - be minimized in designating off-road vehicle routes. The BLM manages the California Desert Conservation Area, 25 million acres of public land in the southern part of the state that is home to many protected animal and plant species.


Environmental Law

Andrew A. Bassak
Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, San Francisco

Rachel B. Hooper
Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger, San Francisco

Donald B. Mooney
Sole practitioner, Davis

A team of lawyers representing California Trout, Trout Unlimited, and a local citizens' group helped defeat plans to build a water bottling plant that would siphon water from springs feeding the McCloud River. In 2003 Mooney sued the local water district for alleged violations of the California Environmental Quality Act after it conditionally approved the Nestlé Waters North America Inc. facility. A Siskiyou County judge voided the original contract in 2005 on the basis that it created an entitlement for Nestlé but an appellate court ruled that the contract itself wasn't subject to regulation under California law.

Mooney and his clients brought in Bassak and Hooper, and together they devised a strategy to oppose the project by, among other things, challenging deficiencies in Nestlé's environmental impact statement and the county's environmental review. The team was aided by San Francisco?based Manatt partner Stephen S. Mayne; Shute Mihaly partner Richard S. Taylor; and Brian J. Johnson, staff attorney at Trout Unlimited in Berkeley. Manatt's work was pro bono, as was a portion of Mooney's.

In May 2008 Nestlé announced that it would scale back the proposed plant by 60 percent. The company then opted out of its contract with the water district and reopened negotiations. And last September, Nestlé withdrew its proposal to build in McCloud, citing plans to construct a bottling plant in the Sacramento area instead.


False Claims

Eric R. Havian
Phillips & Cohen, San Francisco

The failure of an inexpensive transistor in a very expensive government spy satellite system led to the largest whistleblower settlement ever by a defense contractor: $325 million. Havian pressed scientist Robert Ferro's False Claims Act case in a long-running battle that prompted the Air Force to overhaul its nondisclosure rules. A researcher for Aerospace Corp., the Air Force's main outside technical advisor on space projects, Ferro demonstrated that the TRW Inc. transistor would fail if placed in the satellite. But TRW did not inform the government that the component was faulty, and used a nondisclosure agreement with Aerospace to muffle Ferro. The litigation showed not only that scientists knew as early as 1995 that the microtransistor would fail in satellites, but also that a satellite did fail for that reason and the company attempted to cover up the true cause, eliminating Ferro's 1995 testing results from his reports.

Northrup, which acquired TRW, settled the suit without admitting wrongdoing. That same day, the government agreed to an unrelated settlement in the same amount - $325 million - in Northrup's suit to recover costs for a canceled missile program. It was a wash for the government, but Ferro received $48.7 million and attorneys fees.


False Claims

Nancy G. Krop

Sole practitioner, Redwood City

Robert J. Nelson
Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, San Francisco

Cliff M. Palefsky
McGuinn Hillsman & Palefsky, San Francisco

Michael Rubin
Altshuler Berzon, San Francisco

These lawyers won a $78.5 million whistleblower settlement, the largest in U.S. Department of Education history, for a case involving improper incentive pay to recruiters at the University of Phoenix. In addition, the department has begun reviewing its rules on incentive compensation with an eye to reforms.

In 2002, two university recruiters came to Krop claiming that the nation's largest for-profit university had defrauded the department by obtaining billions in federal student loans and Pell Grants while making improper incentive payments to admissions recruiters based on the number of students they signed. Though the Justice Department refused to intervene and the False Claims Act suit was dismissed early, Krop pursued an appeal. This time the Justice Department came in with amicus support. The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the suit in 2006, and Krop called in Rubin. They pulled together a team with Nelson and Palefsky. That team defeated another motion to dismiss, took more than 40 depositions, and reviewed millions of pages of documents. Krop remained intensely involved throughout the case. The legal team concluded settlement negotiations in December.


Human Rights

Karen Musalo
Center for Gender and Refugee Studies, UC Hastings College of the Law, San Francisco

Thirteen years ago Musalo began representing Rody Alvarado-Peña in her effort to gain asylum in the United States. A native of Guatemala, Alvarado-Peña had suffered ten years of extreme violence and sexual abuse from her husband before she fled the country in 1995, leaving her two young children behind with relatives. Although Alvarado-Peña was initially granted asylum in 1996, the government appealed the decision and the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) ordered her deportation in June 1999. Musalo launched a grassroots campaign on behalf of her client, hoping to pressure Attorney General Janet Reno to overturn the BIA decision. Reno did vacate the decision in 2001, but then Alvarado-Peña's case stalled for several more years because proposed government regulations about domestic violence as a basis for asylum were never implemented. In September 2008 Attorney General Michael Mukasey ordered the BIA to reconsider the case anyway, and last December Alvarado-Peña was finally granted asylum. Because the Matter of R.A. was seen as a test case for whether domestic violence victims can win asylum under a "social group" theory, Musalo's victory will have an immediate effect on similar claims.


Insurance

Peter H. Mason
Fulbright & Jaworski, Los Angeles

In a precedent-setting case Mason's advocacy won the day for life insurers, sparing them from the reach of California's Consumers Legal Remedies Act (CLRA). At issue was whether such companies are subject to the remedial provisions of the statute, which allow consumers injured by deceptive practices to recover damages and attorneys fees. In a fiercely contested legal battle, Mason won a unanimous ruling from the state Supreme Court that life insurance was neither "goods" nor "services" under the CLRA and therefore not subject to its remedial provisions. In handling the appeal of Fairbanks v. Superior Ct., Mason not only had to contend with opposing counsel and a statute that by its own terms called for liberal construction; he also was up against spirited advocacy from three major consumer groups: United Policyholders; Consumer Attorneys of California; and Consumer Watchdog, which was represented by founder Harvey Rosenfield, the author of the insurance reform measure known as Proposition 103.


Intellectual Property

Jeffrey R. Chanin
Keker & Van Nest, San Francisco

A team of trial lawyers led by Chanin scored one of the largest trade secret misappropriation victories in recent years and resolved a key dispute that has roiled the semiconductor industry for most of a decade. The dustup between two Chinese semiconductor foundries - among the world's largest - came to a head last fall in Alameda County Superior Court. There the litigators argued a nine-week trial for Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC) against its rival, Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp. (SMIC). Chanin and his Keker & Van Nest colleagues Brian L. Ferrall and Ashok Ramani convinced the jury that SMIC illegally obtained 61 trade secrets from TSMC and breached a 2005 settlement agreement. In a settlement that quickly followed the verdict, SMIC agreed to pay TSMC $200 million in damages, plus $130 million in stock. The closely watched case demonstrated to the semiconductor industry that California trade secret laws can be used to protect the intellectual property of foreign companies that do business here.


Intellectual Property

John E. Gartman
Fish & Richardson, San Diego

Getting hit with a jury verdict of $1.53 billion is significant even for a company as large as Microsoft Corp. So when a trial court threw out what was then the country's largest patent infringement award, members of the patent bar applauded Gartman and his team for their defense in the massive case. That suit was one of many filed by Alcatel-Lucent against Microsoft claiming patent infringement over various file-sharing and Internet technologies. The dispute, which started over allegations that audio file compression technologies were infringed, began in 2002 when Lucent filed suit against Microsoft customers Dell and Gateway. Microsoft then sued Lucent the following year in federal district court in San Diego.

Gartman and his team ultimately handled two more jury trials in a total of seven separate suits - each of which alleged infringement and sought huge damage awards. Key Fish & Richardson lawyers who worked on either the jury trial or the appeal include Juanita Brooks, Roger A. Denning, and John W. Thornburgh, all based in the firm's San Diego office, and Dallas-based Thomas M. Melsheimer. By 2009, all seven cases were resolved, vindicating Microsoft's and any other company's use of digital-compression patents over the Internet, in audio and video devices (such as MP3s, DVDs, and Blu-ray), and in other key technologies.


Legislation

Kevin G. Baker
Assembly Judiciary Committee, Sacramento

Mike Feuer
Assemblymember, Los Angeles

Thomas R. McMorrow
Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, Sacramento

Julia R. Wilson
Legal Aid Association of California, San Francisco

In the midst of a deep recession, the passage of a "civil Gideon" bill was hailed as nothing short of extraordinary. AB 590 makes California the first state in the nation to establish a right to counsel for low-income litigants in life-changing civil proceedings. It also calls for the launch of at least one pilot program starting in July 2011, to be funded by a $10 increase in some court fees. As chairman of the Assembly's Judiciary Committee, Feuer (D-Los Angeles) authored the legislation. He received critical support from Baker, the committee's deputy chief counsel, who spent the past five years promoting the idea. Meanwhile, Wilson mobilized the state's legal aid societies. And McMorrow, aided by Manatt attorney Fred L. Main, lobbied hard behind the scenes to win the governor's support. "This is something that has been long, long advocated," UC Berkeley School of Law professor Jesse Choper observed, after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the bill in October. "This will be greeted by people who are interested in the rights of economically deprived folks as an extraordinarily important step."


Litigation

Scott A. Edelman
Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, Los Angeles

Andrea E. Neuman
Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, Irvine

In 2009 Dole Food in 2008 hired a Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher trial team headed by Theodore J. Boutrous to defend two follow-up cases after a Los Angeles jury found the company liable for $5.8 million in damages for exposing workers on its Nicaraguan banana plantations to a harmful pesticide. Suspicious of testimony in a related case, co-lead trial counsel Edelman and Neuman-along with Denver-based Gibson Dunn of counsel T. Michael Crimmins - traveled to Nicaragua for a series of depositions. These raised doubts about the veracity of plantation workers' accounts regarding their exposure to the pesticide and its alleged effects.

Eventually, the Gibson Dunn trial team submitted eight volumes of evidence documenting fraudulent testimony by plaintiff workers. In April 2009, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Victoria G. Chaney found "a heinous conspiracy" by plaintiffs attorneys, declared a fraud on the court, and dismissed the litigation with prejudice.


Pro Bono

William F. Abrams
Bingham McCutchen, East Palo Alto

Abrams led a team of Bingham lawyers to win a precedent-setting ruling at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals declaring that California was unlawfully shortchanging its foster-care group homes. The state, which receives federal funding for foster children, is required by the Child Welfare Act (CWA) to "cover the cost" of caring for them; the issue was whether its formula of 80 percent partial payment qualifies as "substantial compliance" with the statute. Abrams filed the initial suit in 2006 on behalf of the Sacramento?based California Alliance of Child and Family Services (CACFS). Abrams lost in district court, but he continued to represent the alliance through the appeals process. In December the Ninth Circuit firmly said that the law requires full reimbursement. The case has now been remanded to determine declaratory and injunctive relief. Meanwhile, Abrams is representing CACFS in a parallel action filed last fall to stop the state from cutting its payment rate to group homes by 10 percent to help offset the budget deficit. In November he won a preliminary injunction prohibiting the rate cut for foster children who are covered by the CWA. To date, the Bingham team has contributed more than 3,800 hours to the two cases.


Pro Bono

David H. Fry
Munger, Tolles & Olson, San Francisco

Fry led a small team of associates to win a half-billion-dollar settlement from the Social Security Administration (SSA) - and force the agency to stop denying benefits to people because of an outstanding felony warrant. The plaintiffs' benefits had been withheld because, starting in 2000, the SSA's computer system matched beneficiaries' names to those in a warrant database. Many of the matches were false, or involved old warrants or unproven allegations. SSA staff incorrectly told people who automatically lost their benefits that they could not appeal.

In 2008, after more than 200,000 poor, disabled, or elderly people had their benefits wrongfully denied or suspended, the National Senior Citizens Law Center asked Munger, Tolles & Olson for pro bono help in filing a class action. Fry worked closely with Gerald McIntyre, a directing attorney at the center in Washington, D.C., and also had help from Disability Rights California, the Legal Aid Society of San Mateo, and the Urban Justice Center. Last August the SSA agreed to change its policy on warrants and to pay $500 million to 80,000 Social Security recipients whose subsidies had been unlawfully withheld since January 2007. In addition, beneficiaries cut off before that date will be reinstated.


Public-Interest Law

Kevin A. Calia
Morrison & Foerster, San Francisco

Gordon P. Erspamer
Morrison & Foerster, San Francisco

Veterans who seek benefits from the federal government often face daunting bureaucratic red tape. In a case of first impression, Calia and Erspamer established the constitutional principle that veterans seeking service-related benefits have due process rights - not only after they've been awarded benefits, but when they apply for them as well (Cushman v. Shinseki). For Vietnam War veteran Philip E. Cushman, this means his benefits application process - a nearly 32-year-long odyssey - may finally see an end. In August the MoFo attorneys helped him demonstrate that he was being denied benefits based on an altered medical record that dated back to 1976, and the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals instructed the Board of Veterans Appeals to grant Cushman a new hearing. Erspamer began working on the Marine's case in 1999, contributing nearly 1,000 pro bono hours to the effort. Calia has been on the case since 2008, logging hundreds of pro bono hours. As a result of the attorneys' work, veterans can now argue that an undue delay or unfair treatment in the processing of an application for benefits is, in itself, a constitutional violation. Advocates have hailed the case as a landmark that could affect hundreds of thousands of veterans.


Public-Interest Law

Rachel E. Matteo-Boehm
Holme Roberts & Owen, San Francisco

Matteo-Boehm won two significant public records cases for the San Rafael-based California First Amendment Coalition to increase government transparency. In one, Matteo-Boehm led a Holme Roberts & Owen team in obtaining a detailed planning map from Santa Clara County, which the county had argued would pose a national security risk. The Sixth District Court of Appeal disagreed, ordering the release of the map and the largest-ever recovery award for a case enforcing the California Public Records Act (CPRA)-$500,000 in attorneys fees. Peter Scheer, executive director of the coalition, says, "This litigation raises the stakes considerably on state agencies that violate the act."

In the second CPRA case, Matteo-Boehm represented both the coalition and Berkeley - based MAPLight.org, a nonprofit research organization that reports on the connection between money and politics. She settled a lawsuit originally filed in 2008 against California's Office of Legislative Counsel after gaining machine-readable databases of how state lawmakers vote. The June settlement agreement also stipulates a recovery of $65,000 toward attorneys fees.


Securities Law

Michael J. Dowd
Coughlin Stoia Geller Rudman & Robbins, San Diego

Since passage of the Reform Act of 1995, just a handful of securities class actions have been tried to a verdict where the conduct at issue was alleged to have occurred after the statute was enacted. The one tried by a team Dowd headed resulted in a finding of liability for the plaintiffs after a two-week trial. In the damages phase, now underway, class members could recover as much as $3 billion (Jaffe v. Household Int'l, Inc.).

Coughlin Stoia brought the suit in 2002 on behalf of several union pension funds that alleged Household (now part of HSBC) and three individual defendants made false and misleading statements about the Illinois lender's financial results and operations, in violation of section 10-b of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. Dowd's trial team included partners Spencer A. Burkholz and Daniel S. Drosman of the San Diego office, and Azra Z. Mehdi of the San Francisco office.

The federal jury in Chicago found that the defendants made fraudulent misrepresentations concerning Household's mortgage lending practices and the quality of its loan portfolio.


Transactional Law

John A. Fore
Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, Palo Alto

Andrew J. Hirsch
Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, Palo Alto

These attorneys' groundbreaking work will enable Solyndra, a Fremont manufacturer of solar photovoltaic systems, to launch a $733 million plant capable of building enough solar panels to generate up to 500 megawatts annually - the energy needed to power half a million homes. Hirsch helped negotiate a $535 million federal loan guarantee backed by the Department of Energy (DOE), making Solyndra the first U.S. company to secure such financing under Title XVII of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Fore negotiated the $286 million equity deal needed to secure the loan. The package broke through a five-year logjam in processing applications for the program, which was designed to promote the commercial use of alternative energy technologies. Observers note that the DOE is expected to use some or even all of the Solyndra term sheet as a model for other deals.

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