Tell us about your role at the California Department of Justice (DOJ), and what you typically handle?
I’m in the Corporate Fraud Unit at California DOJ. Our unit investigates and prosecutes violations of the California False Claims Act (CFCA), which is modeled after the federal law. The CFCA is the government’s primary tool for combating fraud against the government and enables the attorney general to recover treble damages and civil penalties against entities and individuals who defraud the government.
I started at California DOJ under former Attorney General, now Vice President-elect, Kamala Harris. At the time, the office had embarked on what was a novel use of the CFCA to recover money from the big banks on behalf of our state pension funds, which were heavily invested in residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) based, in large part, on representations from the various banks that these were extremely safe, near-bulletproof investments. Pursuing these cases, our unit recovered over $1 billion from a variety of banks. I was lead on the one case that actually went into prolonged, multiyear litigation. If you’ve seen the movie The Big Short, we had the opportunity to depose a couple of the people portrayed in that film. We, ultimately, prevailed and the case settled for $150 million last year.
What is the most enjoyable aspect of your current role?
The best thing about my job with the California DOJ is the same thing I loved about Nixon Peabody—the people. I have great colleagues, and I work in a very collaborative environment. The Corporate Fraud Unit at California DOJ is a little unusual in that seven of the eleven senior litigators are working moms who come from a BigLaw background. It’s a great team to work with, and we have a lot in common.
Are there any memorable experiences—such as a pro bono or client win—or colleagues from NP that made a significant impact on your career?
I had so many great experiences at NP that were formative to my career and to my love of being a lawyer. One of them was just before Thanksgiving in 2015. Seth Levy in Los Angeles asked for trial assistance for a pro bono parentage case that was set for trial in less than two months. Our client was an LGBTQ+ individual who had raised a child with her spouse to the age of six before their relationship collapsed. When that relationship ended, our client’s rights to parent her child were jeopardized because: (1) she was the nonbiological parent; and (2) the couple had had a commitment ceremony before same-sex marriage was legalized in California. This was a first-of-its-kind jury trial in California. In under two months, putting in a lot of effort in a new area of law, our small trial team came up to speed and prevailed at trial against one of the largest family law firms in Orange County. I’ve never been so proud of a team. I’m still in touch with our client, a declared “parent.”
How has your experience at NP influenced the direction of your career?
Coming from BigLaw—and from NP in particular—made such an impact on my career. In my opinion, the training and resources at NP are second to none. Additionally, my NP colleagues were (and are) incredibly knowledgeable, skilled, and collaborative. You all made me a better lawyer, and coming from NP gave me a lot of personal confidence in making a move to a new place.
Are there any other developments in your professional and/or personal life you’d like to share with the NP Alumni community?
On a personal level, some of you might remember my two little ones born in 2008 and 2011. They are now 12 and 9, and not so little! Both Vienna and Gabby are doing well, and we are very proud of them.
Professionally, I was just named in the November 4 issue of the California Daily Journal on their top 100 California Women Lawyers List. That was professionally exciting for me. And, my kids thought it was pretty cool.
Outside of your legal practice, what do you like to do in your free time?
We love to be outside. We live in an area with so many great outdoor options—beaches, hiking—and we try to take advantage of that. We also love to travel. Last year, we went on an “adventure” vacation to Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Paul Bouton is a good friend and would always talk about amazing trips he and Gail still plan and take with their adult children every year. I can only aspire to it, but I hope my someday-adult daughters will likewise still want to vacation with my husband and me when they’re 30!<
Are you involved with any organizations? If so, what drew you to these causes?
I’m a member of the Association of Business Trial Lawyers, a specialized bar association with chapters throughout California. Membership includes hundreds of Northern California trial attorneys and judges, and the monthly dinner programs (pre-COVID) were always topical and of interest. I am also a member of the National Charity League (NCL), a mother-daughter volunteer organization that commits time and resources annually to a variety of worthy causes.
What is your industry outlook? How is COVID shifting your professional approach?
I think we’re all experiencing some of the same changes—telework, constant Zoom meetings, and the like. I recently participated in my first remote deposition. It’s not the same as having a witness in front of you! As a legal community, these are things we are going to have to work through together.
In terms of how the pandemic could affect my practice area, I do worry about the potential for increased fraud against the government in this era of COVID-19 government contracting.