Professional Awards and Recognition
The Santa Clara County Counsel’s Office has widely been recognized for its excellence as one of the nation’s preeminent public law offices.
In 2019, the Santa Clara County Counsel’s Office received the American Bar Association’s (ABA) prestigious Hodson Award. Awarded to one office nationwide each year, the Hodson Award recognizes outstanding performance and extraordinary service by a government or public-sector law office. The County Counsel’s Office also accepted an official commendation from the County’s Board of Supervisors for representing public service at its finest, working to improve people’s lives, and ensuring the County’s critical safety-net services are available to all county residents.
In 2021, the Santa Clara County Counsel’s Office received the Daily Journal’s California Lawyer Attorney of the Year (CLAY) award for its leadership role in shaping the regional, statewide, and national response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The award recognized the Office’s attorneys for working together with the County’s Public Health Department to lead a coalition of Bay Area jurisdictions that issued the first set of shelter-in-place orders in the nation. These orders quickly became a model that other jurisdictions, including the State of California, adopted. The Office of the County Counsel also worked with the County Health Officer to issue the first orders in California requiring large healthcare providers to report on available Personal Protective Equipment and to provide COVID-19 testing to their patients, in the early days of the pandemic when critical supplies and testing were both difficult for the public to obtain. Experts credited the County’s early action with saving thousands of lives and preventing the uncontrolled spread of the virus. The award also recognized the Office for working with the District Attorney to develop one of the first civil enforcement programs in the state to improve compliance with the County and State health orders. Through these enforcement efforts, the County brought the vast majority of businesses into voluntary compliance with public health requirements, allowing them to operate as safely as possible to protect both employees and the public at large. Finally, the award recognized attorneys from the Office for successfully defending the public health orders against lawsuits challenging their validity in federal and state court, and for participating as amicus curiae in cases involving executive emergency authority.
In 2018, County Counsel James R. Williams, former Chief Assistant County Counsel Greta Hansen, Assistant County Counsel Kavita Narayan, Deputy County Counsel Laura Trice, and other former Deputy County Counsels received the CLAY award for their successful litigation of County of Santa Clara v. Trump, Case No. 17-574 (N.D. Cal.), Case No. 17-17480 (9th Cir.), in which the County obtained a permanent injunction blocking enforcement of former President Trump’s Executive Order that threatened to defund so-called “sanctuary jurisdictions.” Weeks into President Trump’s term, the County filed a lawsuit in federal court against President Donald Trump and members of his administration challenging an Executive Order that sought to deny all federal funding to any state or local government that declined to assist the federal government with its immigration enforcement efforts. The lawsuit challenged the President’s constitutional authority to issue the Executive Order, and the federal government’s power to impose its political will on states and localities with different policy preferences. The County successfully obtained a preliminary injunction, then a permanent injunction, blocking enforcement of the Executive Order in California. In announcing the award winners, the Daily Journal wrote that the award honored “lawyers in California who used their considerable talents to bring about fairness. Yes, fairness for clients but also fairness for society ... their pursuit of justice was admirable.”
In 2022, the Santa Clara County Counsel Office’s Child and Family Protection Team (CFPT) received the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Award from IMLA for its transformative work in guiding Santa Clara County’s child welfare system toward a model that promotes equity, inclusion, and cultural competency in the arena of child abuse and neglect. Historically, child welfare has been a reactive system, and removal of a child was more likely where a parent had a criminal history or experienced housing instability or substance use. While removals were always effectuated with the goal of protecting children, the factors considered did not necessarily correlate with immediate safety threats. Instead, they often correlated with poverty and/or race. CFPT led a reexamination of these practices and, in partnership with the County’s Department of Family and Children’s Services, CFPT now guides social workers in looking solely at the tangible evidence demonstrating danger to a child in each case, and not at any factors that may correlate with poverty and/or race or otherwise introduce bias. Since this shift, the number of children entering the formal child welfare system locally has dropped to a third of the local historical average.
In 2022, County Counsel James R. Williams received the Daniel J. Curtin, Jr. Young Public Lawyer Award from the International Municipal Lawyers Association. This award recognizes a lawyer who is 40 or younger who has demonstrated outstanding achievements in representing local government. James Williams’s career—dedicated to local government service from its very start—has been defined by extraordinary professional achievements. In his very first year of practice, he delivered oral argument before the California Supreme Court in what would become one of the most consequential taxation cases in California history, resulting in the dissolution of the state’s redevelopment agencies and the return of billions of dollars each year to local schools and county safety net services. See California Redevelopment Ass’n v. Matosantos, 267 P.3d 580 (Cal. 2011). At the age of 32, Mr. Williams was appointed as the County Counsel for the County of Santa Clara, California’s sixth-largest county. Shortly thereafter, he took the helm of nationally significant litigation through which the County successfully obtained a permanent injunction barring the Trump Administration from enforcing an unconstitutional policy that would have stripped all federal funding from any state or locality that declined to participate in federal immigration enforcement. See City and County of San Francisco, County of Santa Clara v. Donald J. Trump, et al., 897 F.3d 1225 (9th Cir. 2018).
And most recently, Mr. Williams played a crucial role in facilitating the strong partnership among the Office of the County Counsel, the Public Health Department, County-operated hospitals and clinics, and the County’s Emergency Operations Center for the County’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to serving as the County Counsel, Mr. Williams was a Director of the County’s Emergency Operations Center. For more than two years, Mr. Williams skillfully guided all aspects of the County’s overall response to the pandemic, resulting in some of the highest testing and vaccination rates in the nation among Santa Clara County residents, and as a result, one of the lowest death rates of any urban county in the United States.
In 2022, Lead Deputy County Counsel Melissa Kiniyalocts received the Brad D. Bailey Assistant City/County Attorney Award from the International Municipal Lawyers Association. This award recognizes an attorney who has demonstrated a commitment to the practice of public law, routinely uses innovative or creative problem-solving, and has a record of exceptional accomplishments in the practice of public law. Ms. Kiniyalocts is one of the Lead Attorneys for the Office of the County Counsel’s Civil Rights, Tort, and Employment Litigation Team. She has a long history of significant and durable contributions to local government jurisprudence. For example, tn DiCampli-Mintz v. County of Santa Clara, 289 P.3d 884 (Cal. 2012), Ms. Kiniyalocts successfully petitioned the California Supreme Court for review, coordinated amicus brief assistance through the California State Association of Counties and the League of Cities, and effectively handled oral argument. The California Supreme Court unanimously ruled in agreement with Ms. Kiniyalocts’ arguments that, to protect local governments’ sovereign immunity and ensure they have adequate notice of allegations against them, any plaintiff suing a public entity in state court must strictly comply with the procedural claim presentation requirements of with the California Government Claims Act statute. Most recently, Ms. Kiniyalocts played a key role on the County Counsel COVID-19 Litigation Team defending local COVID-19 public health orders to protect the health and safety of the community.
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 2019, Deputy County Counsel Susan P. Greenberg received the County Counsels’ Association of California Litigation Award for her work on an amicus brief filed with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal v. City of Oakland, Case Nos. 18-16105, 18-16141. In this lawsuit, the developer of a large marine terminal challenged the City of Oakland’s determination that a local ordinance banning bulk handling or shipping of coal within city confines applied to the plaintiff’s development. The amicus brief argued for deference to the City’s judgements in matters of local public health and safety, including in particular the City’s determination after a public hearing process about how particular uses of the terminal would impact the surrounding residents. The trial court, the amicus brief urged, had erred in revisiting and supplanting Oakland’s judgments and, in turn, by admitting and relying on evidence that the developer had not presented to the City Council as part of the public hearing process.
In 2019, Assistant County Counsel Tony LoPresti and Deputy County Counsel Laura Trice received the County Counsels’ Association of California Litigation Award for their work on an amicus brief filed with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in County of San Mateo v. Chevron Corp., Case No. 18-15499. San Mateo County, along with several other cities and counties, filed a state court nuisance, negligence, and strict liability action against oil and gas companies alleging that the companies knew, and went to great lengths to hide, that their methods of fuel extraction, promotion, and consumption would lead to environmental harms, including the climate change that will result in a sea level rise and cause significant damages to plaintiff jurisdictions. The oil and gas companies attempted to remove the action to federal court on the basis of federal common law and federal preemption. The federal district court granted San Mateo County’s motion to remand the case back to the state court. In arguing for that outcome, the Santa Clara County Counsel’s amicus brief explained that all counties have an interest in preserving the right of local governments to pursue their claims in their venue of choice.
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 presented important issues related to funding the California Children’s Services program (CCS), which provides publicly funded diagnostic, treatment, case management, and physical and occupational therapy services to California children with challenging chronic medical conditions. The lawsuit addressed the question of the scope of services whether CCS is responsible for providing services to those children that are not deemed medically necessary. While the CCS program is an important part of California’s safety net for vulnerable children, in order to preserve scarce public resources, the amicus brief argued that CCS is required to fund only those services that are medically necessary.
In 2015, former 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 concerned 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 2014, former Chief Assistant County Counsel Greta Hansen and former Assistant County Counsel Danny Chou received the County Counsels’ Association’s Litigation Award for 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. In 2012, Alameda County had 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 required 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 violated the dormant Commerce Clause. The district court upheld the Ordinance, and the plaintiffs appealed to the Ninth Circuit. The County’s amicus 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 that the Alameda County ordinance at issue did not unlawfully regulate interstate commerce in violation of the dormant Commerce Clause. In September 2014, the Ninth Circuit upheld 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 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 could use outside counsel who will be paid a contingent fee to prosecute public nuisance abatement actions. The counties brought an action against the lead paint industry that included a claim for abatement of a public nuisance. The trial court found that pursuant to People ex rel. Clancy v. Superior Court (1985) 39 Cal.3d 740, the counties could not use outside counsel who would be paid a contingent fee to support their work protecting the public. 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 counties’ position. The Sixth District concluded that Clancy did 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 to prosecute consumer protection actions on behalf of the public, but that their retainer agreements must specify that government attorneys retain ultimate control and decision-making authority.
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 2022, the County Counsels’ Association of California recognized the County’s COVID-19 Litigation Team, composed of former Chief Assistant County Counsel Greta Hansen, Assistant County Counsels Tony LoPresti and Douglas Press, Lead Deputy County Counsels Meredith Johnson and Melissa Kiniyalocts, and Deputy County Counsels Bryan Anderson, Claire Cormier, José Martinez, Michael Serverian, and Robin Wall. After working with the County’s Public Health Department to issue first-in-the-nation shelter-in-place and risk reduction orders that were replicated throughout the Bay Area and beyond, the COVID-19 Litigation Team won a series of victories in federal and state courts that kept the orders in place. At that sensitive time, during the first winter surge and before COVID-19 vaccines, therapeutics, and community testing were widely available, enforcement and coordinated defense of these core public health orders ensured that businesses were complying with the orders and taking the necessary steps to protect the community. These litigation victories were pivotal in establishing the viability of progressive and effective public health measures that protected communities in Santa Clara County, the greater Bay Area, and throughout the State. Notable examples of these multi-jurisdictional and/or significant COVID-19 matters from 2020 and early 2021 include cases involving COVID public health measures concerning firearms, supportive housing, retail sales, and amicus cases involving executive emergency authority.
In 2019, Deputy County Counsel Jennifer Tsou, along with counsel from the San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Luis Obispo County Counsel offices, were recognized for identifying a need within the County Counsels’ Association Child Welfare Study Section for mentoring the section’s younger lawyers and developed a program to fill that need. The Mentoring Program pairs attorneys new to child welfare with the section’s more experienced lawyers. This program allows for a lifeline by promoting peer mentoring and sharing of legal knowledge and best practices. It helps foster career development and creates a dedicated and integrated community of child welfare attorneys for the state.
In 2018, Assistant County Counsel Kavita Narayan and Deputy County Counsel Laura Trice were recognized for their work spearheading nationwide efforts to coordinate a broad coalition of counties, cities, and national local government organizations in providing amici curiae support in federal litigation raising issues of critical importance to California counties. In four major cases challenging unlawful laws and policies relating to immigration enforcement, Ms. Trice and Ms. Narayan promoted counties’ vital interest in retaining local discretion over policy decisions, particularly in the law enforcement arena; explained the ways in which policies limiting local involvement in immigration enforcement protect public safety; and highlighted the costs and harms of the challenged laws and policies to localities and their residents. The amicus briefs were joined by dozens of other counties and cities, and by major organizations including the U.S. Conference of Mayors, National Association of Counties, and the National League of Cities.
In 2018, County Counsel James R. Williams, former Chief Assistant County Counsel Greta Hansen, Assistant County Counsel Kavita Narayan, Deputy County Counsel Laura Trice, and other former Deputy County Counsels were recognized for their work in County of Santa Clara v. Trump. The County filed a lawsuit in federal court against President Donald Trump and members of his administration challenging one of President Trump’s first Executive Order after taking office, through which he sought to deny all federal funding to any state or local government that declined to participate in the Administration’s immigration enforcement activities. The lawsuit challenged the President’s authority to unilaterally impose conditions on federal funds—a power the Constitution places exclusively in the hands of Congress—as well as the bland denial of all federal funds, the vast majority of which have no connection to immigration or law enforcement. They sought and were granted injunctive relief when U.S. District Court Judge William H. Orrick issued a preliminary injunction blocking the key provision of the Executive Order. In November 2017, Judge Orrick declared that provision unconstitutional and permanently enjoined its enforcement nationwide. As a direct result of the Executive Order, counties throughout California that have their own “sanctuary” policies or that comply with state “sanctuary” laws risked losing billions of dollars in federal funding annually. By obtaining a permanent injunction blocking the Executive Order’s key provisions from taking effect, these award recipients protected the unconstitutional withholding of funds from counties nationwide. They also received an International Municipal Lawyers Association Amicus Service Award, which recognizes exemplary work to protect and advance local government interests, for these efforts.
In 2017, former Deputy County Counsel Dax Goldstein was recognized by the Association for their 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. 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, Mx. Goldstein analyzed the complex and extensive proposed PRA revisions, identifying many major issues with the proposal, and drafting the formal response submitted to the FPPC on behalf of CSAC. When the second draft was released, many of the issues Mx. Goldstein had identified had been resolved and their extensive work on the project had a profound impact, and greatly benefitted County Counsels and other public officials statewide.
In 2014, former Chief Assistant County Counsel Greta Hansen, Deputy County Counsel Jenny Lam, and others, 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. Attorneys from the Santa Clara County Counsel’s Office 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 2013, Assistant 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 District California Court of Appeal 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 Revenue and Taxation 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 2012, Assistant County Counsel Robert M. Coelho and former 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 2011, former 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 was not responsible for funding 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 State reimbursement. When faced with a long waiting period to have the County’s 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 vulnerable children.
In 2009, Lead Deputy County Counsel Theresa Fuentes, along with counsel from the 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 using a unique procedure created by the federal Prison Litigation Reform Act involving a three-judge panel of federal trial and appellate court judges whose decision is directly appealable to the United States Supreme Court. The three-judge panel in these cases, even before the counties were permitted to intervene, had indicated its 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 ordered would be ineffective unless the court also ordered the State to fund any remedial actions that would negatively impact counties. The three-judge panel credited the counties’ concerns. To address those concerns, the three-judge panel’s order provided that to the extent population reduction measures implemented by the State would increase the need for county-provided services, 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 were already facing. In 2011 the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the order of the three-judge panel. Due in part to the efforts of the “County Team” in the Coleman and Plata cases, when the California Legislature embarked on major post-litigation public safety realignment efforts embodied in Assembly Bill 109, the State accompanied the legislative changes with funding to the counties to house and provide programs for prisoners released or diverted under AB 109 and other programs.
In 2008, Lead Deputy County Counsel Theresa J. Fuentes was also previously recognized by the Association for her work on the Coleman and Plata cases, discussed further above.
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 2013, Lead Deputy County Counsel Melissa Kiniyalocts received the Dwight Herr Award in recognition of her work in DiCampli-Mintz v. County of Santa Clara, 289 P.3d 884 (Cal. 2012). The Dwight Herr Perpetual Award for Outstanding Appellate Practice recognizes the Assistant County Counsel or Deputy County Counsel who handled the most significant appellate court decision of the year. 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, coordinated amicus brief assistance through the California State Association of Counties and the League of Cities, and effectively handled oral argument. Ms. Kiniyalocts’ efforts resulted in the Supreme Court unanimously ruling in agreement with Ms. Kiniyalocts’ arguments that, to protect local governments’ sovereign immunity and ensure they have adequate notice of allegations against them, any plaintiff suing a public entity in state court must strictly comply with the procedural claim presentation requirements of the California Government Claims Act statute.
In 2009, former County Counsel Lori E. Pegg and former Deputy County Counsel Marcy Berkman 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 during the County’s employment investigation on grounds that his answers might incriminate him. He sought a writ of mandate to set aside the County’s decision. The California Supreme Court agreed with the County’s position, holding: “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 California Supreme Court’s decision was 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 California State Association of Counties and League of California Cities, the California Police Chiefs and Sheriffs Associations, the California Public Employers Labor Relations Association, the Peace Officers’ Research Association, and the School Boards Association.
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, former Chief Assistant County Counsel Greta Hansen, former Assistant County Counsel Danny Chou, 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. 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. Through County of Santa Clara v. Atlantic Richfield, the trial team secured a $1.15 billion judgment against the former manufacturers 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.
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.
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 Santa Clara County Bar Association’s Law Related Education (“LRE”) Committee in 2010-2011 and as Tournament Administrator in 2012-2013.
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.
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, the Santa Clara County Counsel’s Office received the Jefferson Fordham Advocacy Award, awarded to outstanding lawyers and law firms that have achieved professional excellence within their area of practice. The Office was recognized, among other accomplishments, for filing the first lead paint damage case in California and 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.