2013 California Lawyer Attorneys of the Year
California Lawyer
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November 2014 October 2014 September 2014 August 2014 July 2014

2013 California Lawyer Attorneys of the Year

March 2013

With this year's CLAY Awards, we recognize lawyers throughout the state whose legal work made a significant impact in 2012. They include state and federal prosecutors, law professors, public-interest lawyers, and attorneys from large international firms. The awards identify 27 accomplishments in 21 practice areas, ranging from corporate antitrust law, civil rights, and intellectual property to appellate work at the California Supreme Court, the Ninth Circuit, and the U.S. Supreme Court. These outstanding feats reflect the breadth and depth of the work performed by California lawyers throughout the year. Congratulations to all the winners.

Appellate Law
Damien M. Schiff
Pacific Legal Foundation
Sacramento

Schiff won a unanimous victory at the U.S. Supreme Court, forcing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to change the way it handles future enforcement actions. As a result, anyone facing daily fines for noncompliance with the Clean Water Act - and possibly other statutes - can seek a court hearing first. The case, Sackett v. EPA (132 S. Ct. 1367 (2012)), concerned a couple, Chantell and Mike Sackett, who became embroiled in a fight with the EPA over their efforts to build a dream home near Priest Lake in northern Idaho. After the Sacketts started building without a wetlands permit in 2007, the EPA issued a compliance order requiring them to stop work or face a daily fine.

Schiff stepped in, initially to challenge the EPA's wetlands jurisdiction in federal district court. By the time the 32-year-old lawyer made his debut appearance before the high court (aided on strategy and briefs by Pacific Legal Foundation's supervising attorney M. Reed Hopper), the question had narrowed to whether the Sacketts could seek court review of the compliance order. The Court, in an opinion by Justice Antonin Scalia, ruled that they could. Now the case is back before the district court.

"They outlawyered the government," says Richard Frank, director of the California Environmental Law and Policy Center at UC Davis School of Law.

Bankruptcy Law


John H. Knox, Marc A. Levinson
Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe
San Francisco/Sacramento

When the California cities of Vallejo and Stockton found themselves treacherously overextended in the economic downturn, they turned to Levinson and Knox to navigate their nationally watched municipal bankruptcies. For three years the two Orrick attorneys guided Vallejo through the largely uncharted complexities of Chapter 9. Levinson's was a trial by fire, establishing for the first time the legal criteria for a city's eligibility to be a Chapter 9 debtor and, in another first, that a debtor city could reject negotiated labor contracts in a reorganization. Knox, a municipal bond and debt expert, worked on restructuring the city's capital markets obligations. Vallejo won acceptance of its plan to remove itself from bankruptcy in August 2011 and spent 2012 paying creditors and regaining its financial footing.

Last year Stockton eclipsed Vallejo and became the largest U.S. city to file for protection, but new legislation limited cities' access to bankruptcy and Levinson was again at the forefront. He and Knox were part of the team participating in the city's 90-day negotiations with creditors, a precursor to Chapter 9 filing. Levinson marshaled mountains of evidence that city coffers would run dry without court protection, helped guide elected officials through a vote to file, and shaped the temporary spending plan put in place as litigation continues. Other Orrick lawyers who contributed to the effort include managing associates Devin S. Brennan in San Francisco and John W. Killeen in Sacramento, as well as partner Norman C. Hile and of counsel Michael C. Weed in Sacramento.

Civil Rights Law
Felicia M. Gilbert, Arturo J. Gonzalez, Theodore M. Hasse, Wesley E. Overson
Morrison & Foerster, San Francisco

Gonzalez and co-counsel Overson filed a wrongful death suit on behalf of the family and estate of Steve Anthony Vargas, claiming that a Fresno police sergeant used excessive force when he shot and killed Vargas following a car accident in October 2009. Vargas, who was under the influence of PCP but unarmed, was shot eight times as he sat in his truck. Firm associates Gilbert (now in the firm's New York office) and Hasse contributed significantly to the case, with Gilbert handling most of discovery and Hasse overseeing the suit from its inception.

After a two-week trial in December 2011, a unanimous jury found that the officer had used excessive force, and that the city of Fresno was liable. The next month, the city settled the case for $1.3 million and agreed to adopt written policies to properly investigate police shootings.

Pretrial negotiations in the case focused on an auditor's report of officer-related shootings prepared by Fresno's Office of Independent Review. Originally submitted to the city manager in April 2011, the report wasn't released until U.S. District Judge Anthony W. Ishii requested a copy the following December. Although the judge denied Gonzalez's petition to introduce the report as evidence, pressure from citizens brought the city to post an unedited version on its website. The report revealed that over a ten-year period there had been 96 officer-involved shootings in Fresno - resulting in 45 deaths.

Constitutional Law
Civil Rights Law
David Greene
Bryan Cave
San Francisco
James R. Wheaton
First Amendment Project
Oakland

Since the late 1990s, Greene and Wheaton have represented journalist Seth Rosenfeld in his high-profile legal battle against the FBI. In 2012 Greene, formerly of the First Amendment Project (FAP) in Oakland, oversaw the resolution of two of Rosenfeld's Freedom of Information Act lawsuits against the bureau, earning his client an award of nearly $500,000 in legal fees.

Rosenfeld and his various lawyers have filed five different lawsuits over FOIA requests since the mid-1980s, forcing the FBI to turn over 300,000 documents that became the foundation for his 2012 book Subversives: The FBI's War on Student Radicals, and Reagan's Rise to Power. FAP began representing Rosenfeld in 1999 after the death of his attorney, Tom Steel. Since then, Rosenfeld's lawyers have worked tirelessly to defend his right to information.

The most recent award was U.S. District Judge Edward M. Chen's October order resolving a consolidated pair of lawsuits related to the University California's actions against students during the Cold War. Greene, formerly lead staff counsel for FAP, joined Bryan Cave in 2011.

Consumer Law
Benjamin G. Diehl, Michael A. Troncoso
Office of the Attorney General Los Angeles

Diehl and Troncoso, members of Attorney General Kamala Harris's Mortgage Fraud Strike Force, were instrumental in leading the state's negotiations for meaningful relief in the wake of the mortgage fraud debacle. Last April they signed off on the landmark $25 billion nationwide settlement - to be paid by JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Citibank, Ally Financial, and Wells Fargo. The state's share of the remedial pool is estimated to be as much as $18 billion.

The deal provides benefits to homeowners in the form of principal reduction, refinancing, and other forms of relief, including forbearance of principal for unemployed borrowers. Embedded in the settlement are incentives to provide relief during the first twelve months; additional payments will be required of any loan servicer that fails to meet its obligation within three years.

The resolution did not come easily: Chief negotiator Troncoso, Diehl, and the rest of the California team rejected earlier proposals that offered immunity to the banks and less money for homeowner relief. In the end, they were able to raise the financial ante and ensure that certain offenders could still face liability in state court. Assisting in the effort were colleagues from the AG's office: Niklas A. Akers, Mark J. Breckler, Nicholas G. Campins, and Frances T. Grunder in San Francisco, and Brian E. Nelson in Los Angeles.

Corporate Antitrust
Criminal
Heather S. Tewksbury, imgPeter K. Huston, Michael L. Scott, Brent C. Snyder
U.S. Dept. of Justice Antitrust Division
San Francisco
Civil: Direct Purchasers
Richard M. Heimann
Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein
San Francisco
Bruce L. Simon
Pearson, Simon, Warshaw & Penny
San Francisco
Civil: Indirect Purchasers
Joseph M. Alioto Sr.
Alioto Law Firm
San Francisco
Francis O. Scarpulla
Zelle Hofmann Voelbel & Mason
San Francisco

Federal prosecutors and private civil litigators broke new ground in resolving a price-fixing conspiracy among the world's largest makers of liquid-crystal displays (LCDs), as well as in the sheer size of the monetary outcome. In the first criminal trial of a publicly traded company in a decade, the prosecution team of Huston, Scott, Snyder, Tewksbury, and New York State Bar member E. Kate Patchen proved overcharges so large that AU Optronics was fined $500 million-five times the statutory cap and tied for the largest antitrust fine in history. In addition, three executives of the Taiwan-based company, accused of fixing prices between 2001 and 2006, were convicted last year in two trials in San Francisco. Niall E. Lynch was key to pursuit of the case in its early stages, prior to his departure from the Antitrust Division to join Latham & Watkins in San Francisco.

In private civil actions, Heimann and Simon won a jury verdict last year against Toshiba, even though evidence they brought was circumstantial and the defendant had never been accused of criminal wrongdoing. Their work created a roadmap for large-scale civil prosecution and restored the threat of trial in major antitrust class cases. Although both sides agreed to vacate the Toshiba verdict for a $30 million settlement, separate deals with other defendants produced another $443 million in settlements.

And for the class of consumers who were overcharged, known as indirect plaintiffs, Alioto and Scarpulla scored a staggering $1.1 billion in settlements in ten separate all-cash deals, through an eleven-month marathon of meetings. The accomplishment is all the more significant because it is notoriously difficult to prove damages and causation in indirect purchaser cases. The deal covers Washington, D.C., and 24 states where consumers and businesses bought LCD TVs, laptop computers, and monitors from 1999 to 2006

Criminal Law
Alissa Bjerkhoel, Justin P. Brooks, Michael A. Semanchik, Jan Stiglitz
California Innocence Project,San Diego

Exoneration usually is pursued to free incarcerated individuals, but the story of a high school football star falsely accused of rape drew the backing of the California Innocence Project. Although Brian Banks had completed his five-year prison sentence, the project's four-lawyer team worked with prosecutors and Long Beach police to fix the record in his case. CIP's litigation director Alexander J. Simpson also contributed to the case.

Looking at a potential sentence of 41 years to life in 2002, Banks pleaded no contest to the false accusations of rape and kidnapping after a consensual sexual encounter at his Long Beach high school. After his 2007 release, Banks secretly tape-recorded his accuser admitting that the rape did not happen. But she refused to recant, fearing she would lose a $1.5 million civil settlement from the school. CIP lawyers began working on the case in 2011. They persuaded the Los Angeles District Attorney's office to re-examine the case, interviewed the woman, and worked with Long Beach police. With support from the DA's office the legal team filed a habeas petition with the Los Angeles Superior Court, and Banks's conviction was reversed in May. His electronic ankle bracelet was removed, his probation ended, and his name removed from the sex offender registry. Banks began playing professional football last fall with a United Football League team, the Las Vegas Locomotives.

Criminal Law

Reema M. El-Amamy
U.S. Attorney's Office, Central District of California
Los Angeles

U.S. Attorney's Office, Central District of California
Los Angeles
For 20 years a violent gang terrorized the streets of the small Los Angeles suburb of Azusa. Varrio Azusa 13 targeted African Americans and used intimidation, harassment, fire-bombings, kidnappings, and beatings to drive them out of town. To prosecute the gang members, lead prosecutor El-Amamy employed a novel combination of federal civil rights violation claims and federal racketeering sanctions. Although gangs have long been accused of racial violence, this was only the second time federal civil rights law was used to attack the practice.

The three-year investigation resulted in a 24-count indictment of 51 members of the notorious gang. Throughout 2012, El-Amamy negotiated guilty pleas and lengthy prison terms for most of those charged, and not one defendant has chosen to go to trial. El-Amamy, assisted by Justin R. Rhoades and Civil Rights Section Chief Lawrence S. Middleton, used 20 years of police records to document a pattern of gang conduct and build the civil rights charges. The prosecution was "extremely effective," said one Azusa police detective.

Criminal Law
Cameron L. Schroeder, Kevin M. Lally, Nili T. Moghaddam
U.S. Attorney's Office, Central District of California, Los Angeles

In the life-and-death world of street gang prosecutions, Lally and Moghaddam successfully obtained racketeering convictions of four high-ranking members of the ruthless 18th Street gang, three of whom belonged to the Columbia Lil' Cycos gang clique. The prosecution grew out of the sweeping 2009 indictment of 43 members and associates of the gang on charges of RICO conspiracy, extortion, witness intimidation, drug trafficking conspiracy, drug distribution, money laundering conspiracy, kidnapping, and violent crime in aid of racketeering. The four were the only ones to go to trial. (Thirty-seven other gang members had already pled guilty or remain fugitives.)

The case drew widespread attention when a gang hit-squad wounded a street vendor who refused to pay the gang's "tax," but a stray bullet killed a three-week-old infant. One of the four convicted last May was accused of a failed attempt to kill the gang member who shot the baby. In addition, one defendant was a former gang member-turned-lawyer who pled guilty to laundering $1.3 million in Mexican Mafia drug and extortion proceeds. Lally and Moghaddam, working with prosecutor Schroeder, grappled with tough pretrial legal battles and concerns for the safety of a half-dozen cooperating witnesses. The guilty verdicts came at the end of an intense eleven-week, high-security trial.

Disability Rights
Shawna Parks, Sid Wolinsky, Mary-Lee Kimber Smith

Disability Rights Advocates, Berkeley Parks, Smith, and lead counsel Wolinsky filed a class action in 2011 on behalf of people with disabilities in Los Angeles. They pressed the novel argument that the city and county had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other statutes through deficiencies in emergency notification and evacuation plans, shelters, and resettlement services.

In November 2011 the district court issued a detailed injunctive relief order mandating that city officials revise emergency plans; steps to implement the changes began in 2012. Last year Wolinsky and his team also negotiated a settlement agreement with the county that similarly addresses the needs of disabled people in emergency planning. Their victory ensures that the estimated 800,000 people with disabilities in Los Angeles will be included in future disaster planning in the volatile area, where a state of emergency has been declared 24 times since 1980.

Already the groundbreaking order and comprehensive plan are being used as models for emergency preparedness programs in other jurisdictions around the country.

Education Law
Mark C. Holscher
Kirkland & Ellis
Los Angeles

Holscher volunteered to represent a group of low-income parents in San Bernardino County who were bucking local school authorities in an effort to improve their children's school by invoking the state's "trigger" law, a provision of the education code that allows parents to petition to transform a failing school. But the Adelanto School Board rejected the parents' petition to turn the Desert Trails Elementary School into a charter school, claiming that not enough signatures had been collected. Holscher filed suit against the school district in April, and by October he had won court orders that the petition was valid and the district had to act on it. Later that month a charter school operator was selected, and the reforms sought by the parents - and achieved through Holscher's pro bono legal work - will finally be in place when the 2013-14 school year begins next fall. "It's a huge victory for our kids," said Doreen Diaz, one of the leaders of the parents group.

When the school board unanimously approved the shift to a charter school in January 2013, it was the first time any aspect of parent-trigger implementation had been approved.

Holscher was assisted by Kirkland & Ellis lawyers in Los Angeles, including partner Elizabeth M. Kim and associates Sasha K. Danna (now a partner), David A. Klein, and Kristin E. Rose.

Education Law
Danielle E. Leonard, Jonathan Weissglass
Altshuler Berzon, San Francisco

In 2010, the San Francisco County Superior Court awarded one of the largest sums ever to students suing a U.S. university: $48.5 million. The award, over fee increases, was affirmed on appeal last year when the California Supreme Court denied review. Leonard and Weissglass represented the plaintiffs, a class of nearly 3,000 people pursuing University of California professional degrees, including law and medical school students. Andy Freeman of Brown, Goldstein & Levy in Maryland served as co-counsel.

The lawyers initially filed the class action in 2005, in response to fee hikes imposed by the UC Regents on professional-degree students despite promises online and in official publications that fees would not increase for the length of the students' enrollment. However, the regents, feeling the effects of the state budget crisis, raised tuition fees by thousands of dollars per year, prompting the lawsuit. Weissglass and Leonard were able to argue, through all levels of appeal, that common law contract principles required the university to honor the policy posted on its website at the time students accepted admission offers.

The money, including legal costs, was distributed in January. Class members were paid the full amount they were overcharged, plus interest - an average sum of $12,800.

Employment Law
Plaintiffs
Kimberly Ann Kralowec
Kralowec Law Group
San Francisco
L. Tracee Lorens
Lorens & Associates San Diego
Michael Rubin
Altshuler Berzon
San Francisco
Defense

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

Lauded by both plaintiff and defense employment bars, the California Supreme Court's unanimous April decision in Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court (53 Cal. 4th 1004 (2012)) resolved years of uncertainty by setting out definitive guidance on the often-litigated issue of the amount and timing of meal and rest periods for nonexempt employees. Kralowec and Rubin argued for the plaintiffs before the high court. Lorens has been working on the case since 2004, from the initial trial and through the appeals. David T. Mara of the Turley Law Firm and Michael D. Singer of Cohelan Khoury & Singer, both of San Diego, also contributed to the case. Heinke argued for defense at both the appellate and supreme courts; Johanna R. Shargel of Studio City assisted in drafting briefs.

The case was originally filed in 2004 as a prospective class action of 60,000 current and former employees at Brinker International Inc., which owns the restaurant chains Chili's Grill & Bar and Maggiano's Little Italy. The high court specified that employers must allot a 10-minute rest break per every four hours worked or a major portion thereof. And it underscored that after five hours of work, employers must provide 30-minute meal breaks during which workers are relieved of all duties.

Employer-side counsel was also buoyed by the court's unequivocal pronouncement that - as Heinke had argued - employers need not police workers to "ensure" they actually take meal breaks.

Finally, the court for the first time directed that trial courts must resolve disputed legal or factual questions if class certification depends on them.

Environmental Law

Ellen M. Peter
California Air Resources Board
Sacramento

In 2012, the state's Air Resources Board faced the mammoth job of launching the nation's first cap-and-trade program to cover all industries, not just utilities, with the aim of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. ARB chief counsel Peter, with guidance from the agency's chairman Mary D. Nichols, navigated the various legal obstacles that lay in the way of implementing cap-and-trade, the key component of AB 32, California's landmark climate change law. The first auction of carbon allowance permits took place in November with no apparent hitches.

With support from assistant chief counsel Aron Living-ston, staff attorney Holly G. Stout, and other attorneys both within the agency and at the Attorney General's office, Peter oversaw not only the delicate task of shaping the regulations but also the shaping of litigation strategy when inevitable challenges came. In the courtroom, ARB first faced a complaint brought by advocates who said cap-and-trade would have a negative effect on certain minority groups. Late in 2011 a superior court judge ruled for the activists, but in June the First District Court of Appeal gave cap-and-trade the green light.

Environmental Law
Barbara B. Baird
South Coast Air Quality Management District
Diamond Bar
William B. Wong
South Coast Air Quality Management District
Diamond Bar
Daniel P. Selmi
Loyola Law School
Los Angeles
Matthew D. Zinn
Shute Mihaly & Weinberger
San Francisco

Baird and Wong proposed and amended a regulation on paint coating aimed at reducing ozone pollution, shepherding it through the rule-making process to establish an evidentiary record to support its adoption. When the regulation was challenged, the four lawyers stepped in to successfully defend the Los Angeles-area South Coast Air Quality Management District. The effort led to a California Supreme Court ruling in June (Amer. Coatings Ass'n, Inc. v. South Coast Air Quality Mgmt. Dist., 54 Cal. 4th 446 (2012)), in which the court unanimously upheld the right of regulators to adopt rules that prompt technological innovation. Selmi argued the case before the high court, after Zinn argued it at the court of appeal. Baird and Wong also worked on both appeals.

Their victory was widely welcomed by environmentalists and by California's other regional air boards, which had filed supporting briefs. Heather M. Minner, another attorney with Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger, and air quality district general counsel Kurt R. Wiese also worked on the case.

In his opinion on behalf of the high court, Justice Goodwin Liu wrote that the language in the Lewis-Presley Air Quality Management Act about best technology "conspicuously refrains from limiting districts to what has already been achieved." Emissions from paint and other coatings are a major source of ozone, according to the district. As such, the ruling will help it meet federal targets for ozone levels. It also has broader impact, attorneys say, because it concerns both existing sources of pollution and new ones. Air districts therefore will have broader latitude in issuing future regulations.

Health Care
John E. Lee, Susan R. Hershman
U.S. Attorney's Office, Central District of California
Los Angeles

In August, Hershman and Lee wrapped up a lengthy whistleblower investigation with the largest Medi-Cal settlement in state history, recovering $323 million in overpayments for Medi-Cal and Medicare services from an HMO.

It began when an insider at Los Angeles-based SCAN Health Plan claimed improper Medicare billing. But the inquiry, including work by the network's own lawyers, uncovered evidence that the state had made rate-setting errors between 1985 and 2008 for long-term, at-home care, incorrectly basing calculations on the higher costs of service in nursing homes. The claims included allegations that SCAN reported information in a way that made it difficult for state officials to correct the errors.

Hershman worked out a deal whereby the nonprofit health network agreed to reimburse the state and federal governments for the excess payments but did not admit any wrongdoing. The settlement called for $190 million to be paid to California and $129 million to the federal government, with an added $3.8 million to resolve the whistleblower dispute.

William K. Hanagami of Woodland Hills represented whistleblower James Swoben, and separate inquiries were conducted by the state Controller's Office and Attorney General's Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud.

Intellectual Property

Robert A. Van Nest
Keker & Van Nest
San Francisco

Van Nest was lead defense trial counsel for Google in its fight against Oracle in one of the most closely watched intellectual property cases of 2012. Oracle alleged that parts of Google's Android operating system infringed on seven Java programming language patents the company owned. It originally sought nearly $6 billion in damages and an injunction forcing Google to alter its use and distribution of Android.

When the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office reexamined Oracle's claims, it invalidated five patents in question - which significantly reduced the amount of potential damages. Oracle also claimed that Android infringed on Oracle's Java application programming interfaces (API) copyright, but Van Nest successfully argued that APIs should not be covered by U.S. copyright law, which had been a subject of legal controversy. It was the most specific verdict applied to APIs thus far, ensuring that they will remain available for free public use instead of becoming the intellectual property of any one company.

Because computer programmers depend on APIs for almost all code writing, experts had warned that a win for Oracle would have stifled innovation by forcing small and open-source programmers to pay usage fees. "The court stopped a really bad outcome," says Julie Samuels, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco. "If they had been tied down with copyright, Oracle could have held [programmers] hostage for 100 years."

Intellectual Property
Morgan Chu, Andrei Iancu
Irell & Manella
Los Angeles

In 2012 Chu and Iancu won big settlements for their client Tivo in three separate patent cases against AT&T, Verizon, and Microsoft, bringing their total recovery for the company to more than $1 billion. The initial cases date back to 2009 when Tivo filed claims against AT&T and Verizon, declaring that the two companies infringed on three of Tivo's patents - including its "time warp" digital video recorder, which allows television viewers to watch one program while simultaneously recording another. Days before the trial was scheduled to begin in January 2012, AT&T settled with Tivo for $215 million, and in September Verizon agreed to pay $250 million in compensation. (The Verizon litigation was handled by a team from Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi, but Chu and Iancu, who had represented Tivo in earlier patent cases, were to be on the trial team along with attorneys Joseph M. Lipner and Richard M. Birnholz.) Microsoft settled its four patent infringement claims in March 2012.

The settlements were extremely significant for a relatively small company like Tivo, bolstering Tivo stock and providing it with a revenue stream until 2018.

Land Use

Samuel P. Tepperman-Gelfant
Public Advocates Inc.
San Francisco

Tepperman-Gelfant played a pivotal role in transforming an old naval weapons station into a model of equitable, sustainable suburban development. The Concord City Council's major reuse plan, proposed in 2006 and approved last year, outlines the redevelopment of the eight-square-mile East Bay property. It calls for dedicating 70 percent of the land to parks and open space, and promises that 25 percent of the housing built will be for low-income families (approximately 12,000 homes).

Tepperman-Gelfant took on the project as a member of the Community Coalition for a Sustainable Concord, providing counsel on issues ranging from CEQA regulations to legal contexts on reuse planning. He worked to ensure the plan would address a variety of needs and concerns, and brought in pro bono attorneys from Goodwin Procter to assist with issues related to base closures and the National Environmental Policy Act.

Amie Fishman of the East Bay Housing Organization, who also serves on the coalition, says Tepperman-Gelfant was instrumental in forming a responsible plan that was approved by the Concord City Council on the first attempt. "We couldn't have done it without Sam," she says. "He gave us the critical legal and policy analysis, and the advice we needed."

Litigation
Donna Bader
Sole practitioner
Laguna Beach
Jon Mitchell Jackson
Jackson & Wilson
Laguna Hills

In a first-of-its-kind appellate court victory for pet owners, Bader persuaded the Fourth District Court of Appeal to uphold a jury award to a husband and wife for emotional distress they were caused by the injury of their dog. (Plotnik v. Meihaus, 208 Cal. App. 4th 1590 (2012).) At trial the defendant - an obstreperous neighbor - testified that he used a baseball bat merely to "guide" the dog in question back to its yard. But at trial Jackson proved otherwise. (The 15-pound miniature pinscher required surgery to repair one of its legs.) Jackson also established that the defendant had violated the terms of a previous settlement in which the parties agreed not to harass one another. The jury awarded the couple damages, and the trial court also awarded attorneys fees.

On appeal, the Fourth District upheld the basic damage award. In the past, appellate courts have awarded plaintiffs damages for the emotional distress caused by the loss of jewelry or by the failure to preserve the body of a deceased relative. But with this decision, pet owners seeking damages for mental suffering now have a clear precedent weighing in their favor.

Personal Injury

Brian J. Panish
Panish, Shea & Boyle
Los Angeles

Panish had an exceptional year in 2012, winning massive verdicts in a variety of personal injury cases around the state; his verdicts and settlements last year totaled more than $300 million. In one case involving a big-rig truck collision that left a woman catastrophically injured, he obtained a record $36 million verdict, believed to be the largest award in the history of Riverside County. The jury found the owner of the big rig to be completely at fault. In another case, Panish won a $17.8 million judgment against the federal government after a U.S. Marine fighter jet crashed into a family's home in San Diego County. Additionally, Panish won verdicts of more than $29 million for unrelated Los Angeles cases: Brought in a week before trial in one, he secured a $9 million verdict; in another, working with co-counsel Robert T. Simon of The Simon Law Group, Panish turned down a $2 million settlement offer during trial and walked away with a jury award nearly five times larger.

Prison Law

Gay Crosthwait Grunfeld
Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld
San Francisco

Securing a series of federal court rulings, Grunfeld forged the principle that state prisoners and parolees with disabilities must be afforded care and accommodations when housed in county jails.

Her victory came in a class action originally filed in 1994 on behalf of prisoners and parolees with disabilities against California officials responsible for the corrections and parole systems. Grunfeld's team, which included associates Michael L. Freedman and R. Blake Thompson from her law firm, amassed declarations from more than 75 people with serious mobility, hearing, vision, learning, and developmental disabilities that they had been denied appropriate accommodations while in local lockups, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act. Among the abuses alleged: One paraplegic was forced to drag himself up stairs, another was unable to shower after his wheelchair was confiscated, a blind man was denied a tapping cane, and a deaf prisoner was refused sign language interpreters during legal, psychiatric, and medical appointments.

The matter became more urgent after October 2011, when the prison realignment, aimed at reducing the state inmate population by 40,000, caused a huge influx to county jails. The state had argued that the responsibility to ensure compliance with ADA protections passed from the state to county lockups with the realignment.

But as part of the remedy in the case, since last summer the state has sent daily email notifications regarding the specific special needs of several thousand disabled prisoners and parolees to county jail administrators. (California has appealed a county jail order to the Ninth Circuit.)

Prison Law
John S. Durrant
Paul Hastings
Los Angeles
Peter J. Eliasberg
ACLU of Southern California

A rise in reports of deputies abusing inmates in Los Angeles County jails beginning in 2008 launched an effort by Eliasberg to both litigate claims and document conditions in public reports. The work culminated in 2012 with a lawsuit, Rosas v. Baca, that detailed nearly 100 incidents of deputy-on-inmate mistreatment dating back to at least 2006. Co-lead counsel Eliasberg and pro bono counsel Durrant, with help from Margaret Winter of the ACLU's National Prison Project in Washington, D.C., fought off motions to dismiss and won class certification over strong opposition from the sheriff. In addition to the litigation, a scathing 2011 report by the ACLU chronicled deputy abuses with 70 sworn statements by inmates and civilian witnesses. The report on jail violence drew national attention that helped prompt the county board of supervisors to create an investigatory blue-ribbon commission composed of judges, prosecutors, a police commissioner and private citizens. Last September the commission produced a 194-page report recommending 63 reforms for the department's jail management - many similar to recommendations in the ACLU's 2011 report.

Pro Bono
Jennifer E. LaGrange
Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom
Los Angeles
Ronda J. McKaig
Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom
Los Angeles
Matthew D. Umhofer
Spertus, Landes & Umhofer
Los Angeles

Ending a politically charged legal battle that spanned more than four years, LaGrange, McKaig, and Umhofer successfully defended Planned Parenthood in federal False Claims Act litigation, in June 2012 obtaining a dismissal with prejudice of a complaint seeking damages of more than $600 million. The case dated to December 2005, when a former Planned Parenthood employee filed a qui tam action alleging that affiliates in California overbilled Medicaid by $180 million for oral contraceptives provided to clients.

The three Skadden attorneys (Umhofer moved to his present firm in January 2013) handled the massive case pro bono - persevering through a government investigation, a procedural labyrinth of amended complaints and rulings, and an appellate reversal of an earlier dismissal. Three separate times they persuaded the federal district court to dismiss the case. The final order detailed the plaintiff's failure to allege falsity, and noted the Planned Parenthood affiliates' "consistent candor and truthfulness" in their dealings with Medicaid.

The ruling ensures that Planned Parenthood affiliates throughout the state and nation can continue to provide reproductive health care services.

Product Liability

Laurie J. Hepler
Carroll, Burdick & McDonough
San Francisco

Hepler and a team of lawyers from three other firms won a California Supreme Court ruling that product manufacturers generally cannot be held strictly liable for harm caused by components that purchasers later incorporate. The only exceptions, the court held, may arise if the manfacturer's product itself is dangerous, or if the individual defendant participated substantially in creating a harmful end product. The court of appeal had issued a far-reaching decision in 2009 that went the other way. Hepler and the defense team persuaded the justices to reverse the intermediate appellate decision that pinned liability on their clients, who manufactured pumps and valves sold to the Navy for use in the steam propulsion systems of warships. The closely watched appeal drew amicus briefs from more than 20 interested parties and organizations. The high court expressed concern that a contrary rule "would represent an unprecedented expansion of strict products liability." (O'Neil v. Crane Co., 53 Cal. 4th 335, 342 (2012).) Hepler represented Warren Pumps and was assisted on the briefs by Judith A. Perritano of Pierce, Davis & Perritano in Boston. She shared oral argument with Nicholas P. Vari, a Pittsburgh-based partner at K&L Gates, who represented Crane Company. Curt C. Cutting of Encino-based Horvitz & Levy assisted Vari on the briefs.

Transactional Law

Leif B. King
Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom
Palo Alto

Last year King oversaw the largest M&A transaction ever between a U.S. and a Chinese company when Yahoo sold half its stake in China's Alibaba Group back to the company for $7.6 billion. King, assisted by Skadden partner Kenton J. King (no relation) navigated the framework of American and Chinese laws to finalize the deal. Weil, Gotshal & Manges partner Karen N. Ballack and her team in Redwood Shores handled the intellectual property side of the deal.

The Hangzhou-based Alibaba Group, China's biggest e-commerce company, is a huge conglomerate of Internet-based businesses. Leif King engaged in extensive discussions with Alibaba and Yahoo that yielded a hefty return for Yahoo on its original $1 billion investment, made in 2005.

The terms of the deal allow Yahoo to participate in potential future value appreciation of Alibaba, such as an Alibaba IPO. In the event of an IPO, Yahoo also will have the ability to sell the remainder of its stake on the public market. In January, Jack Ma resigned as CEO of Alibaba Group, fueling rumors that it will indeed file to go public this year and sending Yahoo stock prices soaring.

Voting Rights
Barbara J. Chisholm
Altshuler Berzon
San Francisco
Danielle E. Leonard
Altshuler Berzon
San Francisco

Chisholm and Leonard led the legal effort to make sure that every vote in the 2012 election "battleground" state of Ohio was counted. They filed two cases involving provisional ballots, one on voter identification, and another on the issue of votes cast in the right polling place but using the wrong ballot. The Buckeye State has a long history of poll workers at multiprecinct polling places giving voters incorrect precinct ballots - only to have them invalidated later.

Chisholm, Leonard, and their San Francisco legal team - which included Altshuler Berzon partners Stephen P. Berzon and Stacey M. Leyton and associates Caroline P. Cincotta and Diana S. Reddy (now with the California Teachers Association) - won a key trial court injunction in July that prohibited Ohio elections officials from rejecting "right-location, wrong-precinct" ballots that were the product of mistakes made by poll workers. The state immediately appealed both cases, and Leonard argued the consolidated cases in one day at the Sixth Circuit. Less than a month before Election Day, the injunction was affirmed. (Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless v. Husted, 696 F.3d 580 (6th Cir. 2012).) The litigation required interstate coordination between the lawyers' office in San Francisco and local counsel in Ohio, the development of a large and complex record in a short period of time, and emergency briefing.

Reader Comments

Joseph Saveri - March 2, 2013
Congratulations to Richard Heimann, Bruce Simon, Francis Scarpulla and Joseph Alioto on their significant achievement and well-deserved honor.
andalusia - April 22, 2013
Who will take a easy to work Case involving Court Corruption that didnt provide a Defense for people that couldnt pay for Legal Representation for a False Arrest, Perpetrated by the District Attorney and Main Sheriff? We still cant get any reply or action from the State for Justice, while they leave us on a Warrant List without work for Money.

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