The Daily Journal’s annual “Top 100 Lawyers in California” only comes out once a year. The competition is fierce. The paper considers more than 1,000 attorneys before narrowing the list to 100.
We are honored this year to have eight alumni and our own Chancellor and Dean Frank H. Wu among the honorees. The attorneys and Dean Wu were singled out for their contributions to their clients, the law, and the legal community.
“These attorneys are not only tops in their fields, they are pillars in the legal community,” Wu said. “We know we have alumni who daily serve their clients and the community with no recognition. It’s nice, then, when the contributions of our alumni are honored.”
Wu extended his congratulations to Nanci Clarence ’85, Joseph Cotchett ’64, Roger Dreyer ’80, Lynne C. Hermle ’81, Jennifer Keller ’78, Kenneth Nissly ’77, Francis Scarpulla ’67, and Christopher Sullivan '90. The lawyers were honored for their work in fraud, antitrust, employment, IP, and personal injury cases.
Nanci Clarence ’85: Clarence, a white-collar criminal defense lawyer in San Francisco, was highlighted for her defense work in a complicated cross-border insider trading case. “These are the type of cases we like to do,” she told the Daily Journal. “Complicated issues that are fast moving and the core of the case involves working pretty intimately with our clients.”
Joseph Cotchett ’64: Cotchett, of Burlingame, specializes in antitrust and securities fraud cases. He was noted for his work for investors who lost funds when Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme fell apart. He also is representing Sen. Dianne Feinstein in her suit against First California Bank, which she alleges overlooked years of fraud on behalf of her campaign treasurer, resulting in the loss of $5.2 million. Cotchett told the paper such fraud “takes a very big chunk out of the fiber of society.” He’s not discouraged, though. “I was a ballplayer as a young boy,” Cotchett said. “It’s not how many times you get knocked down, but how many times you got up. That’s what it’s all about.”
Roger Dreyer ’80: Sacramento personal injury attorney Dreyer was honored for a difficult personal injury and products liability jury trial that ran 50 days. Despite a challenging fact pattern, Dreyer won $31.5 million for his clients, two Chico State University students injured in an alcohol-related wakeboarding accident on Lake Oroville. Dreyer said he won in part by asking the jury to “take a deep breath and be open-minded about the issues.” “We know that people drink on boats, and we were never an apologist for the defendant, but he was put in a position of operating a boat with a defect that was not noticeable to the user or even discussed in the owner’s manual.”
Lynne C. Hermle ’81: Hermle, a Orrick partner, seems to be at the heart of most of the class action employment-related cases in Silicon Valley. She secured what she called “a very major victory” recently when a federal magistrate recommended that class certification be denied in a case involving more than 750 store managers at 80 Sears stores throughout California, a potentially very costly case to her client. “We proved that the circumstances were so different that the plaintiff didn’t meet the burden to show commonality,” she told the paper. She won the right in a second case to proceed with an appeal of a class certification order in a case involving several hundred computer technicians alleging violations of wage and hour laws.
Jennifer Keller ’78: Keller, of Irvine’s Keller Rackauckas, is a litigator at the center of the infamous MGA Entertainment/Mattel case over the Bratz dolls. A business litigation specialist, Keller was lead counsel for MGA in the retrial. She’s also battled on behalf of MGA with its insurers. “It was fun for me because I had never been exposed to insurance bad-faith litigation,” she told the paper. “I really like learning new things and getting involved with something I never have before.” Summing up her work in the highly contentious case, she said, “I want a case that is large, complex, interesting, and that has a potentially large-dollar closure. But I also want something intangible; I want a case where I can make a difference.”
Kenneth Nissly ’77: Nissly, a partner in O’Melveny & Myer’s Menlo Park office, led the Hynix team in its lengthly litigation with Ramous. Rambus alleged Hynix and co-defendants Micron Technology conspired to prevent RDRAM memory technology from becoming the standard computer memory technology worldwide. Nissly convinced a jury otherwise. “It’s clear now that the verdict was the start of a string of litigation setbacks for Rambus,” he told the paper. “The longevity of the case and the scope of the litigation is extraordinary. When people step back and look at what Rambus did and is doing, it contributes to the concern—in both a legal and public policy perspective—is the patent system really working in a way that is economically beneficial?”
Francis Scarpulla ’67: Scarpulla, of San Francisco’s Zelle Hofmann Voebel & Mason, has made a mini-career of suing electronics companies for antitrust violations over their alleged efforts to fix the price of SRAM (Static Random Access Memory) chips to suppliers and consumers. He won a $571 million settlement on behalf of indirect purchasers over price-fixing of thin-film-transistor liquid crystal displays. When combined with previous settlements in the case, Scarpulla has won $1 billion for his clients. The paper called it the largest all-cash nonreversionary settlement in an antitrust class action for indirect purchasers. “I did that case,” he told the paper. “I did the class work. I did the summary judgment work. I took key depositions. It got settled because of the work I did.”
Christopher Sullivan ’90: Sullivan, a litigator with Trepel Greenfield Sullivan & Draa in San Francisco, has been instrumental in settling the estate of the former law firm Heller Ehrman. Heller sued 49 law firms, alleging they improperly collected proceeds from business Heller originated. Sullivan has helped the estate settle with 45 firms. Only four suits remain. “It was an unusual case in the sense that the estate brought litigation right away,” Sullivan told the paper. “We took an approach to get the litigation going very quickly, and it has helped in the long run.” Sullivan was also responsible for helping broker a $20 million settlement between Heller and its lenders. He has helped the estate recover more than $30 million since the firm filed for bankruptcy in 2008.
Frank H. Wu, Chancellor and Dean: Wu was noted for his “reboot” of legal education at UC Hastings, including cutting class size by 20 percent. “This is the right thing to do, not only for our students but also for society,” Wu told the paper. “We should accept only the number of students that could have reasonable expectations about employment.” The paper also noted the college’s other changes, including strengthened clinical programs, a focus on hiring new faculty, its new Masters of Studies in Law programs and its partnership with UCSF. “This is revolutionary,” Wu told the Daily Journal.