California Lawyer Attorneys of the Year
California Lawyer

California Lawyer Attorneys of the Year

March 2014

We recognize 57 lawyers throughout the Golden State for their extraordinary achievements in 2013. Among the winners are prosecutors, appellate specialists, and attorneys from small and large firms.

With this year's CLAY awards, we recognize lawyers throughout the state whose legal work had a significant impact in 2013. They include state and federal prosecutors, public-interest practitioners, and attorneys from large international firms. The awards identify 26 accomplishments in 19 areas of legal practice, ranging from criminal law, intellectual property, and civil rights to appellate work at the California Supreme Court, the Ninth Circuit, and the U.S. Supreme Court. These victories reflect the breadth and depth of the outcomes achieved by California lawyers between November 2012 and November 2013. Congratulations to all the winners.

Appellate Law
Dennis Peter Maio
Reed Smith
San Francisco

Maio won a major victory for students with diabetes when he - together with Paul D. Fogel of Reed Smith and Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund co-counsel Larisa Cummings - persuaded the California Supreme Court to uphold procedures allowing trained school staff members to administer insulin treatments. The practice had been challenged by the American Nurses Association, which contended that only licensed nurses could properly administer the medication. In a unanimous opinion by Justice Kathryn Werdegar, the high court in August upheld statutes and regulations that authorize nonlicensed school personnel to administer insulin when no nurse is available. (American Nurses Ass'n v. Torlakson, 57 Cal. 4th 570 (2013).)

The nurses union had prevailed in both the trial court and the court of appeal, and amicus briefs were submitted by more than 60 national and state organizations, as well as the U.S. Department of Education. Maio and the Reed Smith firm have represented the American Diabetes Association pro bono in the litigation for eight years, contributing more than 10,000 hours of legal work. Now, thousands of students can get insulin shots without delay, and parents don't have to rush to school when no nurse is available.

Civil Rights

V. James DeSimone
Schonbrun DeSimone Seplow Harris & Hoffman

After working more than 13 years on behalf of two Chinese refugees, DeSimone finally won an award for emotional damages from the U.S. government. In 2000, U.S. immigration Officer Thomas Powell demanded sexual favors and money from the women, Xue Lu and Jie Hao, in exchange for granting their asylum applications. Though Powell was caught in a sting operation and died in prison in 2004, DeSimone pressed on and sued the government as Powell's employer.

The case was initially dismissed by the trial court, but DeSimone and co-counsel Menaka Fernando of the Dolan Law Firm in San Francisco successfully appealed to the Ninth Circuit, which ruled in 2010 that Powell was acting in the course and scope of his employment when the harassment occurred and sent the case back to the Central District. (Lu v. Powell, 621 F.3d 944 (9th Cir. 2010).) Last August, Judge Consuelo B. Marshall found the U.S. government liable for Powell's behavior and awarded Lu and Hao emotional damages of $500,000 and $700,000, respectively. (Lu v. United States, No. 01-CV-1758 (C.D. Cal.).)

According to UC Hastings's Blaine Bookey, who is associate director of its Center for Gender and Refugee Studies, DeSimone's win sends an important message to federal agents across the board. "Asylum seekers are one of the more vulnerable groups in this country," says Bookey. "Many of these women are fleeing persecution at the hands of their own governments, so hopefully this judgment makes them safer."

Civil Rights

Stanley Young
Covington & Burling
Redwood Shores

Young won a huge victory against Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona, with a team including Covington & Burling attorneys Andrew Byrnes, Tammy Albarran, Lesli Gallagher, and David Hults in California; the ACLU Arizona; the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project; and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund. Arpaio, who has a national reputation as a mouthpiece for the anti-immigration movement, was the target of a class action brought by Latino residents who alleged that his office engaged in unconstitutional racial profiling.

In May, after 11,000 hours of pro bono work by the Covington team, District Judge Murray Snow found in favor of the plaintiffs. In October, he issued a 59-page order detailing new oversights for the sheriff's office, including a court-appointed monitor and other major injunctive measures such as expanded data collection on traffic stops and bias training for all of Arpaio's officers. (Melendres v. Arpaio, 2013 WL 5498218 (D. Ariz.).) Arpaio's legal team filed a notice of appeal, but meanwhile the prescribed changes will proceed.

The lead plaintiff in the case, Manuel Ortega Melendres, was legally visiting Maricopa County in 2007 when he was arrested during a traffic stop and unlawfully detained. Now, says Dan Pochoda, Legal Director of the ACLU Arizona who worked alongside Young, law enforcement agents know that "terrorizing communities of color" is something they can't get away with.

Criminal Law

George A. Cumming, Molly M. Lane
Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, San Francisco

Cumming and Lane devoted eight years and 7,500 hours of pro bono legal and personal time to overturn the Texas death sentence of Cathy Henderson, a woman convicted of murder in the death of an infant she was babysitting. The infant died in what the defendant said was an accidental fall but prosecutors alleged was abuse. With nearly all appeals exhausted and two days from execution, the defense team - including Philadelphia partner Michael Banks and attorney Jani Masselli Wood, then at the Texas Innocence Project - focused on science and biomechanics to show the baby's injuries were consistent with an accidental fall. In light of that evidence, the chief medical examiner who had testified against Henderson recanted his testimony. (Ex Parte Henderson, 384 S.W. 3d 833 (Tex. Crim. App. 2012).) Henderson's death sentence was overturned in 2007, and last year prosecutors agreed not to seek a death sentence at her retrial. The team's success also paved the way for a Texas law authorizing retrials if new, relevant scientific evidence becomes available.

Criminal Law
Christopher K. Pelham, Mack E. Jenkins
U.S. Attorney's office, Los Angeles

These two prosecutors used the federal racketeering law to take down 45 members of a violent street gang that for decades had controlled a South Los Angeles housing project. The complex, multidefendant prosecution unfolded over two years and targeted members of the Pueblo Bishops Bloods by invoking RICO and Violent Crime in Aid of Racketeering statutes, much as they were used against the Mafia in the 1980s.

The investigation involved three separate racketeering trials, two of which also included murder charges, between April 2012 and December 2013. In all, the prosecutors obtained 41 convictions in federal court on drug trafficking, weapons, and conspiracy charges, including a 40-year prison sentence for one veteran gang member accused in a killing. (Two more defendants were convicted in state court, and two are fugitives.) Indicting gang members for selling drugs near playgrounds and schools also helped secure stiffer sentences.

Criminal Law
Hartley M. K. West, Philip J. Kearney, Susan E. Badger,
John H. Hemann (not pictured)

U.S. Attorney's office, San Francisco

Some of the toughest and most controversial criminal cases to pursue are allegations of corruption among law enforcement officers. This team of federal prosecutors brought dozens of civil rights and public corruption charges against the former commander of the Central Contra Costa County Narcotics Enforcement Team (now disbanded) and four law enforcement officers. Badger led the case of two Richmond police officers, and West was the lead on the other cases until indictment, with assistance from Hemann. Kearney and West were co-counsel against former Contra Costa Deputy Sheriff Stephen Tanabe, the only defendant to go to trial. The enforcement team commander, Norman Wielsch, faced charges stemming from schemes to steal drug evidence, extort prostitutes, and make phony arrests. Further corruption included a "dirty DUI" sting operation by a private investigator, working with a divorce lawyer; some of the men set up for arrest were involved in child custody disputes with the lawyer's clients.

At the conclusion of the sweeping three-year investigation, Wielsch pleaded guilty and received a 14-year prison term; a San Ramon police officer and two Richmond officers pleaded guilty to various charges; and Tanabe was convicted in 2013 for helping in the DUI stings.

Disability Rights
Linda M. Dardarian
Goldstein, Borgen, Dardarian & Ho
Lainey Feingold
Law Office of Lainey Feingold

In four groundbreaking settlements that advance the interests of blind people, Dardarian and Feingold demonstrated what can be accomplished through structured negotiations without ever filing a lawsuit. In March 2013, the lawyers got Bank of America to agree to upgrade its online and mobile security features, making them more accessible to people with visual impairments. The year before, the lawyers negotiated a first-of-its-kind deal with Walmart Stores Inc. in which the national retailer agreed to distribute prescription containers equipped with audio chips starting in 2013. The new containers provide blind pharmacy customers with critical information about the medications, including dosages, warnings, and expiration dates. And in June, Dardarian and Feingold announced a settlement with Weight Watchers International that gives its visually impaired members better access to the company's website and mobile applications. (Weight Watchers also agreed to strengthen its system for providing information in braille, large print, and audio formats.) Finally, in December the attorneys reached a settlement with the Safeway grocery chain to make its website easier for shoppers with visual impairments to use.

Education Law
Gregory J. Dannis
Dannis Woliver Kelley
San Francisco

As counsel to the San Jose Unified School District, Dannis negotiated a groundbreaking collective bargaining agreement that incorporates an innovative teacher evaluation procedure. The new system utilizes "consulting teachers" who gather information to validate evaluations; creates a new, non-administrative career track that recognizes "model and master teachers" with significant pay increases; and defines roles among staff to facilitate cooperation. The system is designed both to attract high-quality educators and to encourage educational growth and stability in a challenged school district. "Teachers, in concert with the district, have created something that puts teachers in the center of what happens with student achievement," said San Jose Teachers Association President Jennifer Thomas.

After completing those negotiations, Dannis achieved another breakthrough in Oakland, where he was able to conclude a significant new teacher compensation pact - avoiding a bargaining impasse there for the first time in ten years.

Employment Law
David M. deRubertis
The deRubertis Law Firm
Studio City
Barbara C. Greenstein
City Attorney's office
Santa Monica
Paul W. Cane Jr.
Paul Hastings
San Francisco

DeRubertis, Greenstein, and Cane argued California's most significant employment case of the year (Harris v. Santa Monica (56 Cal. 4th 203 (2013)). The state Supreme Court decision clarifies how to treat a "mixed motive" job termination. With assistance from Norman Pine of Pine & Pine in Sherman Oaks and Michael Nourmand of the Nourmand Law Firm in Los Angeles, DeRubertis represented Wynona Harris, a bus driver who was fired by the City of Santa Monica. The driver contended that illegal pregnancy discrimination was behind her termination. But Deputy City Attorney Greenstein invoked the "same decision" defense, contending that the termination would have occurred in any event due to legitimate job-related reasons. The court's landmark decision clarified that employees can still prevail if an illegitimate criterion is a "substantial motivating factor." But if employers demonstrate reliance on legitimate considerations, a court may not award damages. Sharing arguments with Greenstein (now retired) was Cane, who represented two amicus groups. Additional help came from Los Angeles sole practitioner Steven Drapkin, and from Joseph Lawrence, Carol Rohr, Anthony Seritella, Meishya Yang, and Jeanette Schachtner at the City Attorney's office.

Environmental Law
Joseph O. Johns
U.S. Attorney's office, Los Angeles
Stacey P. Geis
U.S. Attorney's office, San Francisco

Johns and Geis successfully prosecuted Walmart Stores Inc. for illegally handling and disposing of hazardous waste throughout the country. The illegal dumping, including pesticides and solvents poured down drains, occurred in 16 California counties between 2003 and 2005, and waste was improperly taken to product-return centers in other states. Ending a nearly decade-long investigation, the company pleaded guilty last May to six counts of violating the Clean Water Act. Walmart will pay more than $81.6 million for its employees' conduct prior to 2006, when the retailer had failed to implement a training program for proper toxic waste management. The fine - which is the second largest for a criminal environmental case, behind only the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico - also settles Environmental Protection Agency allegations against the retailer. Walmart is required to implement comprehensive environmental compliance agreements and to train all staff.

Environmental Law
Jessica L. Grant
Coblentz Patch Duffy & Bass
San Francisco
Krishna K. Juvvadi
Sher Leff
San Francisco
Sean M. Kiley
Coblentz Patch Duffy & Bass
San Francisco

Lead trial attorney Grant won a major jury verdict for the state of New Hampshire in a groundwater contamination case against ExxonMobil. After a three-month trial and only 90 minutes of deliberation, the jury in April awarded damages of $816 million to New Hampshire for harm caused by the addition of MTBE to various brands of gasoline sold in the state; the additive is classified by the EPA as a "possible human carcinogen." With a market share of about 29 percent, Exxon's share was $236 million. (Prior to trial, Grant had negotiated settlements with 15 other oil companies for $130 million, and the remaining defendant, Citgo Petroleum Corp., agreed to settle after Grant devoted an hour of her opening statement to discussing the company's culpability.) The original lawsuit was filed in 2003. Grant, who is now at Coblentz Patch Duffy & Bass, worked closely with Juvvadi and Kiley, associates from her previous firm, Sher Leff (Kiley also has since moved to Coblentz), and a group from the New Hampshire Attorney General's office. The Pawa Law Group in Boston also helped.

Ann M. Ravel, Gary S. Winuk
California Fair Political Practices Commission, Sacramento

In the largest settlement of its kind in California history, two Arizona-based advocacy groups linked to billionaires Charles and David Koch agreed to pay a $1 million fine to settle a lawsuit filed by the state Fair Political Practices Commission under Ravel's leadership. As nonprofits organized under section 501(c)(4), neither group was required by federal law to disclose the sources of its political contributions. But in 2012 when the groups contributed $11 million against one California initiative to raise taxes (Proposition 30) and to support another to curb the power of unions (Proposition 32), Ravel concluded that both groups had run afoul of this state's more stringent disclosure requirements. Ravel, who now sits on the Federal Election Commission in Washington, D.C., was heavily involved in strategy and drafting briefs; FPPC Enforcement Division chief Winuk provided crucial support in negotiations and presenting arguments. According to Phillip Ung of California Common Cause, the October settlement "sets a precedent for stopping out-of-state individuals who are trying to sneak money into California politics."

Benjamin B. Wagner, David T. Shelledy, Kelli L. Taylor, Colleen M. Kennedy
U.S. Attorney's office, Sacramento

This probe into JPMorgan Chase's conduct in bundling toxic mortgage debt for sale as securities provided the catalyst for a $13 billion settlement, the largest civil deal ever reached against a single entity. Wagner, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of California and a member of the Justice Department's Fraud Enforcement Task Force, volunteered to take on claims that the nation's largest bank lied about the quality of mortgage-backed securities it sold to the public.

From 2005 to 2007, JPMorgan purchased loans for repackaging and included debt that did not comply with underwriting guidelines, which contributed to the financial meltdown in 2008. Taylor, Kennedy and Richard Elias, then an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Fresno, put together a civil suit alleging that the bank violated the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act of 1989. That threat brought JPMorgan back to the table with the Department of Justice in Washington. In the settlement last November, the bank acknowledged it made serious misrepresentations to the investing public.

Civil Chief Shelledy was instrumental in putting together the final, record-breaking settlement, which included a $2 billion civil penalty directly related to the investigation. Another $7 billion will go to federal and state civil authorities (including $300 million to California), and $4 billion is dedicated to homeowner relief in hard-hit areas.

Immigration Law
Ahilan T. Arulanantham,
Michael B. Kaufman

ACLU of Southern California, Los Angeles
Jayashri Srikantiah
Stanford Law School
Immigrants' Rights Clinic
Palo Alto
Michael K. T. Tan
ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project
Immigrants' Rights Clinic
San Francisco
Cody J. Jacobs
Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence
San Francisco
Sean A. Commons
Sidley Austin
Los Angeles
Jonathan P. Feingold
Clerk, Second Circuit
New York

This legal team won a class action establishing the right of immigrants detained by the government for more than six months to seek release on bond while their cases are pending. (Rodriguez v. Robbins, 715 F.3d 1127 (9th Cir. 2013).) Led by Arulanantham, senior staff attorney for the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project, and staff attorney Kaufman, the appellate ruling in April was the first by a circuit court to set a bright-line designation for when individuals must be granted bond hearings. The appeal grew from the case of Alejandro Rodriguez, a lawful permanent resident who spent more than three years in immigration detention while the government tried to deport him for minor offenses. Rodriguez prevailed at his bond hearing and was released in 2009 shortly before class certification; he subsequently won his immigration case. In the wake of the decision, more than 1,300 detainees have received bond hearings and approximately two-thirds of those have won release on bond. Joining in the years-long effort were Srikantiah, Tan, and Sidley Austin's pro bono team of Commons, Feingold (admitted in California), and Jacobs. Judy Rabinovitz of the Immigrants' Rights Project and paralegals Eva Fitzhugh and Geneva Tien provided critical support.

Insurance Law
John Chiang
California State Controller
Marc S. Cohen
Kaye Scholer
Los Angeles
Steven S. Rosenthal
Kaye Scholer
Washington, D.C.

Chiang created the strategy and authorized litigation to ensure that life insurance companies comply with California's unclaimed property laws. Representing Chiang's office, Cohen and litigation partner Rosenthal in June negotiated the concurrent execution of global resolution agreements with eleven life insurance companies accused of failing to pay death benefits to the beneficiaries of life insurance policies, and neglecting to turn over unpaid amounts to the state for safe-keeping. The insurers agreed to make policy beneficiaries whole, with interest, and to adopt compliance procedures. The settlements are worth $86.7 million to California beneficiaries, and up to $763 million nationwide. (Thirty-five states have joined in executing the settlement.) Relying on unique theories of liability and constructive notice, Cohen asserted the insurers had failed to use the Social Security Administration's Death Master File to identify deceased policyholders. Cohen and Rosenthal (admitted in California) have since sought injunctions against additional insurers. Associate Alicia M. Clough played an integral role.

Intellectual Property
Harold J. McElhinny, Michael Allen Jacobs, Rachel Krevans
Morrison & Foerster, San Francisco

McElhinny led Apple to a huge victory over Samsung in one of the biggest battles of the smartphone wars. He headed the 2012 trial in which a jury awarded Apple $1.05 billion, finding that 26 Samsung smartphones and tablets infringed Apple patents and 6 Samsung smartphones diluted Apple's iPhone and iPhone 3G trade dress. A federal judge vacated a portion of the award, and in November McElhinny led a new trial on damages, which were adjusted to $929.8 million. (Apple, Inc. v. Samsung Elec. Co., Ltd., No. 12-CV-630 (N.D. Cal.).) Jacobs was co-lead counsel in the first trial, formulating trial strategy and preparing and examining witnesses. Krevans prepared and presented the design patent and damages portions of the case. WilmerHale's Mark Selwyn and William Lee cross-examined witnesses in the damages retrial, and Lee delivered a closing argument with McElhinny. Stanford Law School professor Mark Lemley said the size of the damages award was significant, as were Apple's unsuccessful efforts to get some Samsung products pulled off the market.

Legal Profession
Lindsay K. Slatter, Jerome Fishkin
Fishkin & Slatter Walnut Creek

Fishkin and Slatter played an instrumental role in an undocumented immigrant's ground-breaking bid to practice law in California. Sergio C. Garcia, who has been on the wait-list for a green card for more than 19 years, passed the bar in 2009 and convinced the Committee of Bar Examiners in 2011 that he was qualified to practice. The case drew national attention and numerous amicus briefs. Working pro bono, the pair wrote the briefs, and Fishkin handled oral argument at the state Supreme Court in September. Just two days later, the Legislature eliminated the prohibition against admitting undocumented immigrants to the bar solely due to their status. Robert Cooper of Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker in Los Angeles filed a brief on the statutory question. Fishkin & Slatter associate Samuel C. Bellicini also assisted in the case. In January the court ruled unanimously to admit Garcia to the California Bar (In re Garcia, 58 Cal. 4th 440 (2014)), and in February he was sworn in as an attorney.

LGBT Rights
Alexandra Robert Gordon
Office of the Attorney General
San Francisco

Deputy Attorney General Gordon's victory at the Ninth Circuit in August was a milestone for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. Working with supervisor Tamar Pachter and attorneys Paul Stein and Daniel Powell, Gordon successfully defended a new California law intended to protect youths from sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE). SB 1172, which took effect in 2013, prohibits licensed therapists from seeking to change a minor's sexual orientation, a practice that is widely accepted to be psychologically harmful. Shortly after the bill's passage it drew First Amendment challenges in the state's Eastern District - from David Pickup, spokesman for the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality, and Donald Welch, a licensed therapist and minister.

The court that heard Pickup upheld SB 1172, while the court in Welch struck it down. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit consolidated the cases and resolved the split, ruling that the law was constitutional. (Pickup v. Brown, 728 F.3d 1042 (9th Cir. 2013).) (In January, en banc review was denied.) New Jersey has since passed a law similar to SB 1172, and anti-SOCE bills have been introduced in Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania.

LGBT Rights
Theodore B. Olson
Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher
Washington, D.C

Four years after filing a federal challenge to the constitutionality of Proposition 8, Olson and co-counsel David Boies won the right for same-sex couples to marry in California. When the trial began in San Francisco in January 2010, same-sex marriage was legal in only five states; by the end of last year, it was legalized in 17 states plus the District of Columbia. Olson and Boies, of Boies Schiller & Flexner in New York, were tireless public advocates, granting countless interviews. "They were not gay activists, they were trusted voices for basic constitutional principles," says Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights in San Francisco. "They were very much responsible for countless Americans changing their minds about marriage for same-sex couples." In 2012 the Ninth Circuit upheld the trial court's ruling that Prop. 8 violated the equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment. And in June when the U.S. Supreme Court finally ruled, it was a milestone, even though the decision turned on the jurisdictional issue of standing.

Theodore J. Boutrous Jr. led Gibson Dunn's legal team in California. And Therese M. Stewart of the San Francisco City Attorney's office was involved in the case every step of the way.

Patrick J. Richard
Nossaman, San Francisco
Thomas D. Long, David Graeler
Nossaman, Los Angeles

Richard, Long, and Graeler led a trial team on behalf of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation that won the first - and to date only - jury verdict against officers of a failed savings bank for its lending practices during the recent financial crisis. A nine-member jury unanimously found that three officers in IndyMac's homebuilder division were negligent and breached their fiduciary duties by approving 23 loans to housing developers who were not creditworthy. After a five-week trial, the jury found the officers jointly and severally liable for more than $168 million in damages. (FDIC v. Van Dellen, No. 10-CV-4915 (C.D. Cal. jury verdict filed Dec. 7, 2012).)

In July 2008, Pasadena-based IndyMac became the fifth-largest bank in U.S. history to fail, costing the FDIC's deposit fund some $13 billion. In pretrial rulings, the Nossaman team was able to eliminate all of the defendants' affirmative defenses, including the assertion that market conditions caused the bank's failure. Most important, U.S. District Judge Dale S. Fischer ruled that the bank, though incorporated in Delaware, is subject to the laws of California, which do not extend the business judgment rule to corporate officers - meaning that plaintiffs need only prove that the officers committed ordinary negligence in making the suspect loans. (FDIC v. Van Dellen, 2012 WL 4815159 (C.D. Cal.).)

Municipal Law
Jeffrey V. Dunn
Best Best & Krieger

Dunn won a unanimous California Supreme Court decision on behalf of the city of Riverside and its effort to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries. (City of Riverside v. Inland Empire Patients Health and Wellness Ctr., Inc., 56 Cal. 4th 729 (2013).) In May, the high court declared that state laws don't preempt cities' and counties' authority to regulate dispensaries. "It was one of the most important if not the most important case [of the year] in the land use area - and definitely in the medical marijuana area," says Patrick Whitnell, general counsel to the League of California Cities, which filed an amicus brief in the case. Dunn said he was grateful for the assistance of the late Lee Ann Meyer, who worked of counsel on the case.

The ruling effectively upheld more than 200 bans enacted across California. Before this victory, Dunn had garnered successes at the appellate level on behalf of Corona, Claremont, Lake Forest, and Monterey, and he has guided many cities through the morass of state and local pot regulations. Within months of the decision, several more cities and counties banned dispensaries and related operations, often citing public safety. And the Third District Appellate Court upheld Live Oak's blanket ban on growing medical pot - even by medical marijuana cardholders, for personal use. (Maral v. City of Live Oak, 221 Cal. App. 4th 975 (2013).)

Personal Injury Law
Michael Alder
Alder Law, PC
Los Angeles

Alder had a spectacular year, winning more than $30 million for his injured clients. His string of successes in 2013 included several settlements: $14 million for a motorcycle crash victim in Southern California, $6 million for another motorcyclist in a Nevada case, $5 million for a major vehicle case in Louisiana, and $3.5 million for a teacher who fell down a ravine in Santa Barbara County while attending an academic retreat. Alder is a past president of the Consumer Attorneys Association of Los Angeles, and his contributions go beyond personal injury litigation: In 2012 he established a "Warrior Fund" that provides interest-free financing to young attorneys who need backing to pursue contingency litigation. To date the fund has loaned lawyers approximately $50,000. In addition, Alder has established an extensive data bank of expert depositions that he freely shares with other attorneys. "There's nothing like it," says Woodland Hills personal injury attorney Neal R. Rosenthal. "It's organized, comprehensive, and Mike even pays the postage. It's just an amazing resource, and so is he."

Pro Bono
Jimmy S. McBirney, Shannon C. Leong, Megan G. Crane
Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, San Francisco

An Orrick team led by McBirney fought for a decade to clear a Modesto landlord of a triple murder and arson conviction that was based on now-discredited forensic analysis. George Souliotes served 16 years in prison after three tenants died in a fire at his rental property. Evidence presented during two trials indicated that a chemical compound on the floor and on Souliotes's shoes was an accelerant. But McBirney, along with Leong and Crane (now with Habeus Corpus Resource Center), used new fire science to identify the compound as part of adhesives commonly used in floor coverings and footwear; the lawyers won a federal finding of actual innocence, overturning the convictions. James J. Brosnahan, George C. Harris, and S. Raj Chatterjee of Morrison & Foerster's San Francisco office came in to represent Souliotes on retrial. Souliotes, age 72 and in ill health, was released in July after entering an Alford plea of no contest to involuntary manslaughter for failing to maintain smoke alarms. Linda Starr of the Northern California Innocence Project provided support.

Pro Bono
Elliot R. Peters, Jo W. Golub
Keker & Van Nest, San Francisco

Peters and Golub persuaded Alameda County prosecutors to join in the habeas petition to release Ronald Ross, convicted of the 2006 shooting of a West Oakland neighbor. Ross was mistakenly identified as the shooter after a police detective inserted his picture in a routine photo line-up shown to a witness. No physical evidence linked Ross to the crime, but without exculpatory DNA evidence his chances of winning a reversal were slim. The team from Keker & Van Nest, including Reid Mullen and David W. Rizk, tracked down 20 potential new witnesses - including a man who then implicated his own father in the shooting; meanwhile, former witnesses agreed to recant their statements. The attorneys dedicated five years and nearly 2,000 hours to the case. After spending nearly seven years in prison, Ross was released in February 2013. The Northern California Innocence Project, led by Linda Starr, screened the case and sought out Keker & Van Nest to represent him.

Transactional Law
Paul Scrivano
O'Melveny & Myers
Menlo Park and San Francisco

Coordinating legal work in six O'Melveny offices worldwide, Scrivano anchored a team of U.S. lawyers who assisted in the first successful Chinese acquisition of a publicly listed U.S. company. In the complex deal, originally announced in September 2012, China-based BGI-Shenzhen acquired Complete Genomics Inc., a genome sequencing firm in Mountain View, for $117.6 million.

While the acquisition was pending before Chinese regulators, the DOJ's antitrust division, and the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, the target company received an unsolicited competing bid from San Diego-based Illumina Inc. But O'Melveny attorneys had included a no-shop provision in the deal, prohibiting Complete Genomics from terminating the agreement to accept a higher offer. Illumina's CEO then raised concerns about national security, industrial policy, and personal identifier information protection, among others. In addition, dissident Complete Genomics stockholders filed four putative class actions in the Delaware Court of Chancery and four in Santa Clara Superior Court, alleging that the proposed deal breached the board's fiduciary duties. The stockholders won a preliminary injunction, pending supplemental disclosures. Nevertheless, the deal closed in March 2013 with a short-form merger shortly after BGI completed its cash tender offer.

Wendy Pan, a partner in O'Melveny's Shanghai office, and David Johnson in Hong Kong led the effort for regulatory approval in China. Scrivano led the U.S. team with assistance from Matthew Close in Los Angeles.

Water Law
Lisabeth D. Rothman
Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck
Los Angeles

Rothman won a historic decision in Sacramento Superior Court last June, securing a key component of long-term water supply for the San Diego County Water Authority. The ruling validated the decade-old Colorado River Quantification Settlement Agreement (QSA) and eleven related agreements, and provided the water district with 180,000 acre-feet of water from QSA sources last year. The win confirmed that the Imperial Irrigation District and three other water agencies had the authority to enter into QSA agreements, and that their environmental studies complied with the California Environmental Quality Act. (Imperial County and several co-plaintiffs had argued they did not.) Significantly, the court also rejected the challengers' claim that it was inappropriate for the QSA project to use a future baseline when assessing possible impacts on the dwindling Salton Sea.

The agreement ended a decade of litigation among California agencies and between California and six other states. While reducing California's diversions from the Colorado River Basin, it secures future water for the Los Angeles and San Diego regions. The pact also represents the largest shift of water from primarily agricultural use to urban supply in United States history: up to 200,000 acre-feet per year from Imperial Valley to San Diego County, for a total of 12,641,000 acre-feet over the 75-year term of the QSA.

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warren lazarow - March 6, 2014

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