Professional Awards and Recognition
American Bar Association
Jefferson Fordham Advocacy Award
About the Award: The Section of State and Local Government Law of the American Bar Association awards its Jefferson B. Fordham Advocacy Award to outstanding lawyers and law firms that have achieved professional excellence within their area of practice.
In 2002, then-County Counsel Ann Miller Ravel and the Santa Clara County Counsel’s Office received the Jefferson Fordham Advocacy Award. Ms. Ravel and the office were recognized, among other accomplishments, for filing the first lead paint damage case in California, establishing programs to secure special education rights for wards of the Juvenile Court and an elder abuse team to secure assets of elders who appear financially abused.
The Bay Area Lawyer Chapter of the American Constitution Society
In 2013, the Bay Area Lawyer Chapter of the American Constitution Society recognized the Santa Clara County Counsel’s Office for crafting a landmark best-practices memorandum on the treatment of transgender youth in the juvenile justice system.
The Public Justice Trial Lawyers of the Year
About the Award: Each year, Public Justice, one of the largest and most prominent plaintiff’s attorneys associations in the United States, presents its Trial Lawyer of the Year Award to the trial attorney or legal team who made the greatest contribution to the public interest within the past year by trying or settling a socially significant case. The cases won or settled by finalists cover a broad range of public interest work, including but not limited to civil rights, consumer protection, workers’ rights, human rights, environmental preservation, and corporate and governmental accountability.
In 2014, Assistant County Counsel Danny Chou, Chief Assistant County Counsel Greta Hansen, and Deputy County Counsel Jenny Lam were named Public Justice Trial Lawyers of the Year for 2014 along with their co-counsel in the County of Santa Clara v. Atlantic Richfield litigation. Through this case, the trial team secured a $1.15 Billion judgment against the former manufactures of lead paint, which will be used to clean up the lead that remains in homes throughout California and poisons thousands of children each year.
County Counsels’ Association of California
Dwight Herr Perpetual Award for Outstanding Appellate Practice
About the Award: In 2000, the County Counsels’ Association of California Board of Directors created the “Dwight Herr Perpetual Award for Outstanding Appellate Practice” to recognize the Assistant or Deputy County Counsel who handled the most significant appellate court decision of the year. The award is named after Dwight Herr, a former Santa Cruz County Counsel.
In 2009, Deputy County Counsel Marcy Berkman and former Assistant County Counsel Lori E. Pegg received the Dwight Herr Award in recognition of their work in Spielbauer v. County of Santa Clara (2009) 45 Cal.4th 704. In Spielbauer, plaintiff, a deputy public defender, was dismissed from his employment with the county for engaging in conduct unbecoming a county employee by making deceptive statements to a judge, and committing insubordination by refusing to answer questions about the incident on grounds that his answers might incriminate him. He sought a writ of mandate to set aside the county’s decision, which the trial court denied. The Sixth District reversed, holding that “a public agency cannot penalize one of its employees for refusing to answer incriminating questions unless the State first grants or offers immunity, i.e., a binding undertaking not to use his answers in any criminal prosecution.” The California Supreme Court reversed. “United States Supreme Court decisions, followed for decades both in California and elsewhere, establish that a public employee may be compelled, by threat of job discipline, to answer questions about the employee’s job performance, so long as the employee is not required, on pain of dismissal, to waive the constitutional protection against criminal use of those answers. Here, plaintiff was not ordered to choose between his constitutional rights and his job. On the contrary, he was truthfully told that, in fact, no criminal use could be made of any answers he gave under compulsion by the employer. In the context of a noncriminal public employment investigation, the employer was not further required to seek, obtain, and confer a formal guarantee of immunity before requiring its employee to answer questions related to that investigation.”
The appellate court decision was quite disturbing for public employers, but the California Supreme Court easily dismissed the reasoning of the Sixth District based in large part on the outstanding briefing prepared by Ms. Berkman and Ms. Pegg, and Ms. Berkman’s efforts at oral argument. In addition, Ms. Berkman and Ms. Pegg organized and coordinated a truly impressive amicus effort, including briefs from the Attorney General, the Police Chiefs and Sheriffs Associations, the California Public Employers Labor Relations Association, the Peace Officers’ Research Association, and the School Boards Association. This amicus effort included a brief prepared on behalf of CSAC and the League of California Cities.
In 2013, Deputy County Counsel Melissa Kiniyalocts received the Dwight Herr Award in recognition of her work in DiCampli-Mintz v. County of Santa Clara (2012) 55 Cal.4th 983. In DiCampli, the plaintiff alleged that she delivered her government claim to a county risk management department and that a claims adjuster had actually received the claim. The trial court granted the county’s motion for summary judgment, ruling that the plaintiff had not complied with the express claim presentation requirements of the Government Claims Act, which required delivery to the “clerk, secretary or auditor” of the county, or to the county’s governing body, or actual receipt by a statutorily designated person. The Sixth District reversed, holding that the plaintiff had “substantially complied” with the Act’s claim presentation requirements and could proceed with her lawsuit. Ms. Kiniyalocts successfully petitioned the California Supreme court for review; drafted the County’s briefs to the Court; coordinated amicus-brief assistance through California State Association of Counties and the League of Cities; and effectively handled oral argument. Her efforts resulted in the Supreme Court unanimously ruling that an individual with a potential claim could not satisfactorily “substantially comply” with the Act’s claims presentation requirement by delivering a claim to a person who has the actual authority to act on the claim but lacks express statutory authority to receive it. The Court concurred with Ms. Kiniyalocts’ arguments that Government Code section 915 expressly requires government claims to be served on the “clerk, secretary, or auditor” of the county or its governing body, and that service on a risk management department is not sufficient to comply with the Act.
County Counsels’ Association of California
About the Award: The Litigation Award for Deputy County Counsels was created by the County Counsels’ Association of California in 1998 in recognition of the very significant work done on behalf of the Litigation Coordination Program by deputies throughout the State. The program depends on county counsel offices working in a cooperative and coordinated way to achieve the highest standards of advocacy for their clients. Recipients of the Litigation Award are deputies who have made a substantial contribution of their legal research and writing to one or more amicus briefs or portions of such briefs.
In 2009, Deputy County Counsel Aryn P. Harris received the County Counsels’ Association’s Litigation Award for her work on the amicus brief to the Sixth District Court of Appeal in County of Santa Clara v. Superior Court (Atlantic Richfield) 161 Cal.App.4th 1140 (6th Dist. Apr. 8, 2008)(H031540). The issue of the brief concerned whether public entities can use outside counsel who will be paid a contingent fee to prosecute nuisance abatement actions.
The counties brought a litigation case against the lead paint industry that included a nuisance abatement action. The trial court found that pursuant to People ex rel. Clancy v. Superior Court (1985) 39 Cal.3d 740, the counties cannot use outside counsel who will be paid a contingent fee to prosecute a nuisance abatement action. The counties filed a writ petition, and the Sixth District granted the writ. Ms. Harris prepared the Association’s amicus brief in support of the cities’ position. The Sixth District concluded that Clancy does not bar the public entities’ contingent fee agreements with their private counsel. Subsequently, the California Supreme Court granted review in the case and determined that public entities were not categorically barred from engaging private counsel under contingent-fee arrangements, but retainer agreements were required to specify matters that contingent-fee counsel must present to government attorneys for decision.
In 2014, Assistant County Counsel Danny Chou and Chief Assistant County Counsel Greta Hansen received the County Counsels’ Association’s Litigation Award for their work on an amicus brief filed with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of the California State Association of Counties and the League of California Cities in Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America v. County of Alameda, Case No. 13-16833. The brief argued that cities and counties have broad authority to create new and innovative regulations targeting issues impacting the health and wellbeing of their residents, and the Alameda County ordinance at issue did not unlawfully regulate interstate commerce in violation of the dormant Commerce Clause.
In 2012, Alameda County enacted a “Safe Drug Disposal Ordinance” to protect its residents from the many environmental and health-related harms associated with unsafe disposal of unused prescription medications. The Ordinance requires that producers of prescription drugs sold in Alameda County create and fund programs that provide for the collection, transportation, and disposal of unwanted prescription drugs, thereby decreasing the risk to public health and the environment associated with improper drug disposal. Three organizations representing the interests of pharmaceutical manufacturers brought a facial challenge to the Ordinance, alleging it violates the dormant Commerce Clause. The district court upheld the ordinance, and the plaintiffs appealed to the Ninth Circuit. In September 2014, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision, finding that the ordinance did not discriminate against interstate commerce. Santa Clara County recently adopted its own safe drug disposal ordinance modeled after Alameda County’s ordinance. In June 2015, the County of Santa Clara adopted its own safe drug disposal ordinance modeled after Alameda County's ordinance.
In 2015, Assistant County Counsel Danny Chou received the County Counsels’ Association’s Litigation Award for his work on an amicus brief filed with the United States Supreme Court in Sheehan v. City and County of San Francisco, Case No. 13-1412. The case concerns whether the Americans with Disabilities Act applies to police interactions with armed and potentially dangerous mentally ill persons. The amicus brief advised the Court of the practical reality faced by police officers who must routinely confront seriously mentally ill suspects who are armed and violent. The United States Supreme Court ultimately ruled in favor of the police officers but declined to address the issue of whether the Americans with Disabilities Act applies to police encounters with armed individuals who suffer from serious mental illnesses.
In 2016, Deputy County Counsel Jenny Lam received the County Counsels' Association's Litigation Award for her work on an amicus brief filed with the California Fifth District Court of Appeal in Douglas v. California Office of Administrative Hearings, Case No. F071023. The case presents important issues related to funding the California Children Services program (CCS), namely whether CCS is responsible for providing services not deemed medically necessary by a CCS physician. In the case, the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) resolved a dispute regarding a student’s CCS services in favor of the student’s parents. The ALJ specifically stated that CCS was required to provide the services delineated in the student’s Individualized Education Plan, including those services that were educationally-based but not medically necessary. The California Department of Health Care Services filed a petition and complaint seeking to overturn that order. The trial court denied the Department’s requested relief and the Department appealed. A similar case is also pending in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The amicus brief argued that CCS is only required to fund those services that are medically necessary.
County Counsels’ Association of California
About the Award: County Counsel Recognition Awards are made by the County Counsels’ Association of California to deputies who have made a significant contribution to the Association or have performed other extraordinary service benefiting counties statewide. Recipients are nominated by a County Counsel and selected by the Association’s Board of Directors.
In 2008, Lead Deputy County Counsel Theresa J. Fuentes was recognized by the Association for her work on the Coleman and Plata cases, discussed in more detail below.
In 2009, Lead Deputy County Counsel Theresa Fuentes, along with counsel from Sonoma and San Mateo County Counsel Offices, were recognized for their representation of the “County Intervenors” in the Coleman and Plata cases, long-standing federal prison overcrowding litigation. The proceedings were noteworthy and highly innovative as they were held before a three-judge panel which, even before the counties were permitted to intervene, had indicated intent to remedy state prison overcrowding by issuing a “prisoner release order” or a “population cap.” The team of attorneys worked tirelessly to present evidence that the issuance of a prisoner release order could have substantial and wide-ranging adverse impacts on counties. They argued forcefully that a prisoner release order would shift costs and responsibility for housing and providing prisoner services from the State to the counties that would be required to absorb this population. In addition, they informed the court any relief that the three-judge court orders will be ineffective relief unless the court also orders the state to fund any remedial actions that would negatively impact counties. The three-judge panel credited the counties’ concerns that public safety may be negatively impacted if any of the state’s measures burden county programs and services. To address those concerns, the three-judge panel’s order provides that to the extent population reduction measures implemented by the State increase the need for community services or other measures to be undertaken by the counties, the State must confer with the counties and calculate the level of funding needed by the counties to maintain public safety at or near existing levels.
The fact that the court understood and cared about the counties was the result of the extraordinary presentation made by the “County Team.” Ms. Fuentes and the other counsel were commended for their success at helping the court and the plaintiffs understand that counties are woefully underfunded to take on this additional responsibility, and that any meaningful relief from state prison overcrowding must also address the fact that the order would exacerbate the challenges that the counties are already facing.
In 2011 the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the Order of the three-judge panel. The State is achieving the ordered population reduction primarily through legislative changes, including its realignment efforts through AB 109. Due in part to the efforts of the “County Team” in the Coleman and Plata cases, AB 109 is accompanied by funding to the counties to house and provide programs for prisoners released or diverted under AB 109 and other programs.
In 2011, Chief Assistant County Counsel Greta Hansen was recognized by the County Counsels’ Association of California for her work in front of the Commission on State Mandates related to the AB 3632 program. Ms. Hansen and the Office secured a major victory before the Commission, successfully challenging an $8.6 million disallowance in state reimbursements for mental health services the County provides to special education students. This arose from a 2009 audit by the State Controller’s Office, which determined that the State mandate for the County Mental Health Department to serve special education students did not include the provision of mental health rehabilitation services to seriously emotionally disturbed children. Ms. Hansen challenged the State’s disallowance for these services by filing an Incorrect Reduction Claim (IRC) arguing that these critical services were covered by the mandate and thus the County was entitled to reimbursement. When faced with a long waiting period to have its claim heard, Ms. Hansen sought expedited relief in court and was ultimately successful in persuading the Commission to expedite the IRC. Ms. Hansen’s success before the Commission not only saved the County general fund the $8.6 million at issue, but also shielded the County from comparable disallowances for other fiscal years, protected other counties throughout the state from similar disallowances, and validated this important category of services which provides effective interventions to the County’s seriously emotionally disturbed children.
In 2012, Assistant County Counsel Robert M. Coelho, and Deputy County Counsel Cheryl Stevens received the County Counsels’ Association Recognition Award for their work in drafting the Employment Law: Discrimination/Disabilities section of the Association’s County Counsel Law Guide.
In 2013, Assistant Deputy County Counsel Steve Mitra was recognized by the Association for his amicus work in the matter of Elk Hills Power v. Board of Equalization. The Fourth Appellate District issued an opinion on a matter of first impression: whether an electric power plant’s emission reduction credits (ERCs) (Health and Safety Code section 40709) should be included in its unitary tax determination. The State Board of Equalization (BOE) included the ERCs in the tax determination. On appeal, the court held that the BOE properly took into account the value of the ERCs. Because they were necessary to the ongoing productive use of the property, they were properly considered under Rev and Tax Code section 110, subdivision (e). The court found that the assessor is allowed “to assume the presence of the ERCs that are necessary to operate the taxable property productively, and to value the fair market value of the property accordingly.” The Supreme Court granted review to appellant Elk Hills to consider how limitations on the taxation of intangible property apply to the assessment of a power plant subject to annual assessment by the State Board of Equalization when the owner of the plant used emission reduction credits to offset its emissions and obtain authorization to construct the plant. Mr. Mitra drafted an amicus brief on behalf of the California State Association of Counties and California Assessors’ Association in support of the BOE in the California Supreme Court.
In 2014, Assistant County Counsel Danny Chou, Chief Assistant County Counsel Greta Hansen, Deputy County Counsel Marcy Berkman, Deputy County Counsel Jenny Lam, and Deputy County Counsel Meghan F. Loisel, along with counsel from Alameda, Los Angeles, Monterey, San Francisco, San Mateo, and Ventura County Counsel Offices, were recognized by the Association for their work in County of Santa Clara v. Atlantic Richfield, a lawsuit seeking to hold the former manufacturers of lead paint responsible for cleaning up lead that continues to poison thousands of California children each year. Santa Clara County was the lead public entity in the case, and attorneys from the Santa Clara County Counsel’s Office have led the team of public attorneys throughout the litigation.
The case was originally filed by the County of Santa Clara in 2000. The complaint in the case alleged a single cause of action on behalf of the People of the State of California (People) for public nuisance, based on the fact that the five defendant paint manufacturers promoted lead paint for decades despite knowing it was seriously hazardous to children. Nine other California counties (City and County of San Francisco, Alameda, San Mateo, Los Angeles, Monterey, Ventura and Solano) and cities (Oakland and San Diego) eventually joined the County of Santa Clara in this litigation.
After a 6-week bench trial in July and August 2013, Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge James Kleinberg handed down a decision on December 16, 2013, finding that three manufacturers (ConAgra, National Lead, and Sherwin Williams) had contributed significantly to the creation of a public nuisance placing children at risk of lead poisoning. Judge Kleinberg found that children are significantly harmed by the lead in paint in older housing in California, that lead paint was actively sold by these manufacturers even well after they were aware of the harms of lead to children, and ordered the three defendants to pay $1.1 billion into a fund to be administered by the State of California’s Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program, for the benefit of the people within the cities and counties that prosecuted the case.
In 2017, Deputy County Counsel Danielle Goldstein was recognized by the Association for her leadership in formulating and implementing the response by the California State Association of Counties (CSAC) to the Fair Political Practices Commission’s (FPPC) proposed Political Reform Act (PRA) revisions. Last year, the FPPC launched a project to modernize the PRA, the first comprehensive effort of its kind since its adoption by voters in 1974. Upon release of the draft revision in August 2016, Danielle analyzed the complex and extensive proposed PRA revisions. She identified many major issues with the proposal, and drafted the formal response submitted to the FPPC on behalf of CSAC. When the second draft was released, many of the issues Danielle had identified had been resolved, but she prepared a second response letter to the FPPC, and continues to work with the FPPC to address the concerns of counties regarding the PRA. Her extensive work on this project has already had a profound impact, and will greatly benefit County Counsels and other public officials statewide.
Santa Clara County Bar Association
Johnny Gogo Award
About the Award: In Santa Clara County, mock trial is facilitated through a partnership of the County’s Bar Association, Superior Court, and Office of Education. The Santa Clara County Mock Trial Volunteer of the Year award recognizes an individual who has demonstrated a commitment to promoting and facilitating the County’s mock trial program. The award is referred to as the “Annual Johnny Gogo Award,” named after celebrated mock trial volunteer and Deputy District Attorney Johnny Gogo.
In 2013, Deputy County Counsel Kevin Hammon received the Santa Clara County Mock Trial Volunteer of the Year, aka “The Johnny Gogo Award.” Kevin handled the administration of the mock trial program while serving as the Chair of the Bar Association’s Law Related Education (“LRE”) Committee in 2010-2011 and as Tournament Administrator in 2012-2013.
Association of Bay Area Governments
In 2009, the Association of Bay Area Governments recognized the Santa Clara County Counsel’s Office for outstanding accomplishments and exemplary leadership in achieving Green Business Certification, meeting the Green Business Program standards to benefit the environment and public health, improve worker safety, and set an example for businesses, residents and other public agencies in Santa Clara County and throughout the Bay Area.