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Friday, Feb 23, 2024

25 Attorneys at the Top of the Valley Legal Community

25 Attorneys at the Top of the Valley Legal Community Gary L. Barr Alpert & Barr Encino Gary L. Barr likes trial work, has liked it ever since he worked for the Los Angeles City Attorney’s office some 20 years ago. But all things being equal, Barr would rather settle a case without going to trial, and his ability to negotiate settlements so successfully has won him the admiration of colleagues and peers. “He wants to do the best for clients and to create equitable settlements without the need to spend all the money going to court and getting into protracted trials,” said Greg Lippe, managing partner for Lever, Lippe, Hellie & Russell LLP. Take the case last year in which Barr represented a developer threatened with foreclosure when his joint venture partner tried to prevent him from selling a home he had just completed and from building another home originally planned on the lot. Barr was able to get control of the project back into the hands of his client, but not before threatening to see the case through to trial. “Although I don’t like litigating unnecessarily, in this case we knew the only thing that would get this woman to cooperate was a hearing staring her in the face,” said Barr. “We turned out to be right, and settled the night before the hearing.” Barr, a past president of the San Fernando Valley Bar Association, says successful mediation depends upon relentless attention to detail, the power of persuasion, the flexibility to adjust strategies as opposing arguments are presented and the ability to manage a client’s expectations. “I have this belief that, if you can demonstrate to a court or jury that you know your case, you’re organized and have thought of the issues, it helps you a lot in terms of credibility,” Barr said. “I don’t like leaving any detail unresolved.” – Shelly Garcia James E. Blatt Law Offices of James E. Blatt Encino James Blatt knows a good case when he sees it. After more than 30 years as a criminal defense attorney, Blatt has built himself a reputation as one of the area’s best. Perhaps most notable is Bajakajian v. United States in which Blatt’s client, Hosep G. Bajakajian, was accused of not reporting the $357,000 in cash he had in a suitcase at a Los Angeles International Airport terminal. Blatt contended the government had illegally seized Bajakajian’s money even though he had not acquired the money through illegal means. The case went to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1997 and Blatt won. “We introduced the cultural defense, which says a person’s cultural background can be a factor in determining the degree of guilt,” Blatt said. Valley-based attorney James Felton said Blatt is a good litigator who gets results. “If there’s a high-profile criminal defense case in the Valley, Jim Blatt is handling it,” he said. Blatt was named Trial Lawyer of the Year and received the San Fernando Valley Bar Association’s Professional Achievement Award in 1998. He is a UCLA graduate with a law degree from Loyola Marymount University. -Carlos Martinez Lilianne G. Chaumont Chaumont Law Group Calabasas When executives in relatively specialized alarm and security companies have legal problems, they call upon Lilianne G. Chaumont. As one of the premier security and alarm law attorneys in the United States, Chaumont is in a league of her own when it comes to hashing out complex legal or regulatory issues for the industry she has made her own. “There is no one in the San Fernando Valley who has a higher degree of knowledge or skill in this complicated area,” said Calabasas-based attorney Richard D. Marks. “She is recognized as a masterful authority by her clients, providing them with the legal as well as common sense advice needed to weave their way through the regulatory web,” he said. A few years ago, Chaumont’s expertise was recognized when she was asked to sit on the board of directors of the Southern California Security Assn., the leading industry trade group. She also will be the featured speaker at the Central Coast Police Security Summit, a meeting dealing with legal and regulatory issues facing the security industry later this year. “What really stimulates me is that I have a very direct impact on my clients’ business,” said Chaumont, a UCLA School of Law graduate. “It’s really about helping my clients grow their business and grow it right. I don’t cut corners and I don’t let them cut corners either.” – Carlos Martinez James E. Curry Bollington, Stilz, Bloeser & Curry Woodland Hills James E. Curry is known throughout his profession as a skilled advocate who has no trouble finding time to help colleagues learn the ropes. Curry, in-house counsel for 21st Century Insurance, was named a partner at his firm in 1987. “My first contact with James was when he was working as a mediator,” said Mike Convey, whose Sherman Oaks firm, Silva, Clasen & Raffalow, serves as in-house counsel for a competitor, Mercury Insurance Group. “Although he wore the hat of an attorney, he was able to steer both sides to agreement. And I know he volunteers his time in the court system as a mediator and an arbitrator, even though he’s also in charge of managing a number of lawyers and training them. “He always has valuable information on process and procedure that is helpful to the judges and the association as a whole. I’ve seen him stand up and say, ‘Here’s the way we do it.”‘ -Jacqueline Fox Neal Dudovitz Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County Pacoima “Neal is pushing the envelope,” said Valley Economic Development Center President Roberto Barragan. And apparently, Neal Dudovitz has been doing so for the last 29 years. Dudovitz, executive director of Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County, has spent his entire legal career in the public sector. “Anyone who works in the nonprofit world, they are looking to create change,” Barragan said of Dudovitz. “That’s what drives him.” Early in his career, after earning his degree from Northeastern University School of Law, Dudovitz was a public interest attorney working on behalf of the disadvantaged, often as a litigator and often in federal court, including two cases he tried before the U.S. Supreme Court. Since taking over as director of Neighborhood Legal Services in 1993, Dudovitz has certainly expanded geographically (most recently, by moving into the San Gabriel Valley) the scope of the agency that works on behalf of those who can’t typically afford legal counsel. But also as part of the agency’s outreach to low-income communities, he has overseen the formation of programs such as Disaster Legal Services, the Health Consumer Center of Los Angeles, the Van Nuys Self-Help Legal Access Center and VIDA, a community health advocacy project. “He’s expanded it to a lot of issues,” Barragan said, “everything from housing to health, all in a time when the federal government is cutting back on all kinds of these services.” – Michael Hart David Fleming Latham & Watkins Universal City Trail a finger down the list of boards, committees, civic and business groups David Fleming is associated with and it’s hard to imagine how he ever found time to practice law. His involvement with and commitment to business-related issues in the Valley certainly have earned him recognition from business leaders, but also from City Hall insiders, despite his open support for San Fernando Valley secession. Fleming’s career as a corporate attorney spans more than 40 years, the last 10 of which he has spent with Latham & Watkins where he is now of counsel. Along the way, he managed to spearhead the city’s charter reform movement with former Mayor Richard Riordan. He now serves as chairman of the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. board and the Los Angeles County Blue Ribbon Children’s Services Planning Committee. He is the current chairman of the Economic Alliance of the San Fernando Valley and was recently appointed to the Los Angeles Ethics Commission. With former State Assemblyman Richard Katz, he created the Valley Transit Strike Force to lobby for transportation funds for Valley transit projects in Sacramento. “Not only is he a great lawyer, with a long list of loyal clients who’ve become lifelong friends, but his skill as a visionary has translated into him being an over-the-top civic activist, and that’s a fabulous combination,” said Bonnie Herman, president of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association. -Jacqueline Fox Fred Gaines Gaines & Stacey Woodland Hills Fred Gaines’ specialties are land use, zoning, environmental law and political advocacy. Which means he’s spent a great deal of time speaking on behalf of clients in front of the California Coastal Commission, often representing developers in their efforts to meet zoning and land use requirements. Gaines is also a tireless activist on behalf of the business community. After he was appointed chairman of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association last year, his first order of business was to reinvigorate a long-fought campaign to reform the gross receipts tax the city of Los Angeles levies on all businesses. Along with the city’s Business Tax Advisory Committee and others from the Valley business community, Gaines has formed a coalition to “ax the tax” and begun talks with the Los Angeles City Council, which has, in the past, remained staunchly opposed to negotiating the issue. “He’s a very, very sharp real estate guy,” said Greg Lippe, managing partner, Lever, Lippe, Hellie & Russell LLP. “If there is one attorney I would recommend in that area, he’s the one. He’s honest and efficient. He doesn’t drag cases out. And he’s the kind of guy that’s got credentials pouring out of his body.” Those credentials include a master’s degree in public policy from Harvard University and a law degree from Boalt Hall School of Law at UC Berkeley. – Jacqueline Fox Eric P. Geismar Medtronic MiniMed Inc. Northridge Compared to the dramatic conventional view the public has of litigators or perhaps criminal defense attorneys, the world of the in-house counsel can sound pretty mundane. Unless, of course, you happen to also be the vice president and senior counsel of one of the most successful companies in the San Fernando Valley. Eric P. Geismar joined what was then MiniMed Inc. in 1997 as director of legal services and assistant general counsel. “Eric has been around there for a lot,” said Bruce Ackerman, president of the Economic Alliance of the San Fernando Valley. “He saw them through both the move and then through the merger.” In the first case, Ackerman was referring to the complex negotiations that accompanied the move of MiniMed, the maker of the insulin pump, from its then-cramped quarters in Chatsworth to a new facility at the northern edge of the Cal State Northridge campus and an ongoing partnership with both the university and the Northeast Valley. In the second case, he conducted the negotiations that led to last year’s acquisition by Medtronic Inc. of MiniMed, which transformed the company founded by Alfred E. Mann into Medtronic MiniMed. Being at the heart of both major transitions in the life of a fast-growing company has put Geismar in a position of authority with influence over a number of issues affecting the biotech giant, not just its legal affairs. Prior to joining MiniMed, Geismar was an associate with the Los Angeles law firm of Dewey Ballantine where his practice consisted of securities, mergers and acquisitions, corporate and general transactional work. – Michael Hart John B. Golper Ballard, Rosenberg, Golper & Savitt Universal City John B. Golper started out his career with visions of advocating for worker’s rights and against the establishment. It wasn’t long before he switched sides. “I started out as a labor attorney working for a firm that did work for unions. After a couple years, what I realized was an enlightened employer would accomplish more for employees than unions,” said Golper. Since then, Golper has specialized in labor and employment law on behalf of management. His practice includes litigating wrongful discharge, employment discrimination and other employment disputes in federal and state courts, collective bargaining and arbitration and management representation to administrative agencies. He is recognized as a national authority on gender-based wage discrimination and comparable worth. Golper served on Governor Deukmejian’s California Comparable Worth Task Force, co-authoring a report that advocated against the adoption of comparable worth legislation. In the mid-1990s, Golper argued a case on behalf of Anheuser-Busch against an employee who claimed he was forced to resign. The employee cited working conditions in place more than two years earlier but had never shared those complaints with management, circumstances under which a number of workers at many different companies were making claims at the time. “A lot of people still cite the case that, if something goes on for two-and-a-half years and then you quit, it’s unlikely it forced you to quit,” said Golper. As in the case of Turner v. Anheuser-Busch, Golper often balances his time between defending employers and offering advice and counsel on good employment practices. “His strength and breadth of experience in employment law is pretty much incomparable,” said Helen Wasserman, a partner at the firm. – Shelly Garcia Lawrence P. Grassini Grassini & Wrinkle Woodland Hills To win membership in the prestigious Inner Circle of Advocates, a personal injury attorney must have won at least one jury trial with an award in excess of $1 million. Lawrence P. Grassini has eight verdicts in excess of $10 million under his belt. Among them, Grassini won a record-breaking award of $51.6 million in the case of Burch v. Children’s Hospital of Orange County and a jury verdict of $27.5 million in the case of Fortman v. Free Enterprise. In the mid-eighties when that trial took place, it was the largest single personal injury verdict in the U.S. Grassini has also successfully taken on corporate behemoths such as General Motors and Ralston Purina, and has worked on behalf of those who have been victims of age discrimination, wrongful termination and sexual harassment. He is a three-time winner of the Plaintiff Trial Lawyer of the Year award from Verdictum Juris, the only attorney to win the award more than once, and a two-time Trial Lawyer of the Year, according to the Los Angeles Trial Lawyers Association. “He has had just some incredible results,” said Lyle Greenberg, a principal at Greenberg & Sedley. “But it’s also a reflection of his personality. He is truly concerned about the individuals he represents and wants to do his best for them.” – Shelly Garcia Arthur Greenberg Greenberg & Bass Encino As the first member of his family to finish law school, Arthur Greenberg had notions once of becoming a top-notch criminal defense attorney. But things didn’t work out that way. “The first firm I joined did bankruptcy and business law, and I realized that I liked that,” said Greenberg, who has since become arguably one of the most highly respected bankruptcy attorneys in the region. “In the old days, bankruptcy law wasn’t looked at with much repute. But when the Bankruptcy Reform Act (of 1980) went into effect, it totally changed the practice,” he said. The law allowed many companies and individuals to continue to operate their businesses without liquidating all their assets to pay off debts. Greenberg, who began his practice in 1976, went on to handle a variety of cases, including what was then the largest partnership Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing west of the Mississippi River in 1993 when the accounting firm of Pannell, Kerr and Foster sought his services. Veteran attorney Scott Spolin credits Greenberg’s skill for his success: “He is a superior advocate and any client would be lucky to have him,” he said. Greenberg is a Missouri native and UCLA graduate with a law degree from Loyola University Law School. -Carlos Martinez Lyle Greenberg Greenberg & Sedley Woodland Hills Civility, in the world of litigators, is worth a lot, according to Kenneth Drake of Rushfeldt, Shelley & Drake and a recent opposing counsel to Lyle Greenberg of Greenberg & Sedley. “That’s the hallmark of what really makes commenting on Lyle Greenberg an easy thing,” Drake said. “He’s a very civil civil litigator.” Greenberg, currently president of the San Fernando Valley Bar Association, specializes in personal injury work on behalf of plaintiffs, focusing on health care issues, medical malpractice, product liability claims and litigation prevention. Drake recently opposed Greenberg in a medical malpractice suit that included product liability claims. The case was ultimately settled. “He can be a very aggressive advocate,” Drake said of Greenberg, “but he also knows when a cooperative attitude benefits his client.” Known throughout the Valley legal profession as a sharp litigator, Greenberg is known just as well for his extensive community involvement. Along with his active participation in the bar association, he has been chairman of the Woodland Hills Chamber of Commerce more than once and is a track coach at Oak Park High School. Drake said, “As a firm, we want in the future to move toward the kind of community involvement Lyle has.” “We all need to take the cue from him,” Drake said, “and he’s been an inspiration for me to get more involved.” – Michael Hart David Gurnick Arter & Hadden Woodland Hills When he was a kid, David Gurnick used to ride along with his dad as he bought produce and delivered it to his restaurant customers. Years later Gurnick says, what he learned on those runs is one of the most important skills he brings to his franchise, distribution and intellectual property law practice. “If there’s one factor that’s more important in this field, it’s getting yourself at one with the client in terms of the problems and challenges,” Gurnick said. “I relate what these clients are going through to what I saw growing up with my father in his small business.” Gurnick, an adjunct professor of law at the San Fernando Valley College of Law, is a widely known expert in the area of franchise law, according to Gregory Fast, dean of the school and a professor, who also called him a “model lawyer.” Thanks to an intimate knowledge of his clients’ businesses, Gurnick was able to draft a non-compete agreement that withstood court scrutiny even though such agreements are rarely upheld in California courts. The agreement spelled out how Gurnick’s client had developed its trade secrets and the lengths it went to in order to protect them. As a result, a former employee who tried to set up a competing business was prevented from doing so. Understanding the way businesses work also helps Gurnick, whose book, “Franchising Depositions,” has just been published, negotiate franchise agreements more effectively, colleagues say. “What happens too often is that when people go to negotiate, they negotiate strictly from what they want,” said Greg Lippe, managing partner at CPA firm Lever, Lippe, Hellie & Russell LLP. “You first need to find out what the other side needs. When you understand what the other person’s needs are, it’s easiest to come up with an approach that they will listen to.” – Shelly Garcia David R. Hagen Merritt & Hagen Woodland Hills Debt is a four-letter word to David Hagen. And it’s a word he gets to toss around a lot. As one of the best known bankruptcy attorneys in the San Fernando Valley, Hagen’s firm specializes in helping clients, typically small businesses, resolve their financial challenges and rebuild. But filing for bankruptcy, says Hagen, is not always necessary to achieve what he calls “financial wellness.” He believes in providing educational counseling to help clients first clear out debt and then restructure the framework of their businesses. A self-help advocate, he’s created an audiotape called “10 Ways to Financially Prosper” and a CD that advises clients on how to avoid getting into credit card debt. “Many bankruptcy lawyers have to clean up messes,” says Hagen. “We see ourselves as fresh-start attorneys. It’s very gratifying to take an individual or a small business that has gone through hard times and help them set up a strategy to grow and prosper.” Hagen is an active member of the San Fernando Valley Bar Association. He also sits on the board of directors for Tree People, which educates and motivates others to care for the environment through tree planting and recycling, and Neighborhood Legal Services, which provides legal services to those who can’t readily afford it. – Jacqueline Fox Barry T. Harlan Lewitt, Hackman, Shapiro, Marshall & Harlan Encino A practicing attorney for the last 34 years, Barry T. Harlan still enjoys his work. “It’s really about finding common ground and a resolution that will benefit everyone,” said Harlan, who specializes in several aspects of family law, including child support, child custody, spousal support and the drafting of pre-nuptial agreements. Harlan has represented a number of high-profile clients from throughout Southern California, perhaps most notably the 1972 case involving Juan Abel Vargas, a bigamist who died and left two wives to squabble over his estate. “He was a man who had a wife and had five children, and later met another lady and then married her and had four children, all without either wife knowing about the other,” Harlan said, “and they lived five miles apart.” Harlan, who represented the second wife, was able to reach a settlement for his client in a case that established precedent for other such cases. Attorney James Felton said Harlan’s strength is in his problem-solving skills. “In a world of fighting tooth and nail, he wants to minimize the pain to the parties and get the matters resolved, so the divorce process can move forward,” Felton said. Harlan is a graduate of UC Berkeley with a law degree from Loyola University Law School. -Carlos Martinez Jonathan J. Kissel The Law Offices of Jonathan J. Kissel Tarzana As a kid, Jonathan J. Kissel, along with other members of his family, would serve as a kind of mock jury at home while his dad prepared for a trial. The experience gave Kissel an early appreciation of the legal profession, but it wasn’t until many years later that he really came face to face with what it takes to practice criminal law. In the early 1980s, Kissel was defending one of six co-defendants in what was, at the time, one of the largest drug busts in Ventura County. At the conclusion of an eight-month trial, Kissel’s client was convicted only of the lesser charges and sentenced to time served. “I learned that my abilities and my hard work and presentation was every bit as good as these high-profile defense attorneys (who represented some of the other co-defendants),” said Kissel. “I wasn’t afraid to argue what I knew was correct and do it aggressively and zealously. I realized I had the ability to convince people, and that’s what I believe has made me such a good litigator.” In the intervening years, Kissel has tried more than 100 cases in state and federal court. But he has handled several thousand more criminal cases, a record that has required his powers of persuasion even more often outside of the courtroom. “Jon is a lawyer who everyone knows and he seems to know everyone,” said Philip Israels, a partner with Cron, Israels & Stark, who has worked with him. “He knows who to talk to and who not to talk to.” – Shelly Garcia Peter Korn Office of the Los Angeles District Attorney Van Nuys More than one colleague and quite a few adversaries in the criminal bar have called Peter Korn “one of the best prosecutors in the Valley.” They also say they will not be surprised if eventually they get the chance to vote for him when he runs for elected office. The George Washington University School of Law graduate joined the district attorney’s office in 1990 and is assigned to the Van Nuys Branch Office. He received the Deputy District Attorney of the Month award for obtaining convictions in two high-profile, back-to-back Valley jury trials. Once case involved the brutal slaying of a Valley woman in which the defense attempted to prove Korn’s witness for the prosecution was the actual killer, not the defendant. The other case led to the conviction of a Valley man charged with hiring hit men to kill his prostitute-mistress. Before the jury began its deliberations, the judge would twice shut down the trial temporarily because the victim arrived in court under the influence of narcotics and later attempted to take her own life. – Jacqueline Fox Herbert Lapin Office of the Los Angeles District Attorney Van Nuys Herbert Lapin supervises all of the San Fernando Valley-based prosecutors in the L.A. District Attorney’s office. It’s a busy job, one that Lapin has had a long time, and the type of chore that could turn into a bureaucratic grind for many a good attorney. But that doesn’t seem to be the case with Lapin, who is widely respected both in and out of the Van Nuys Courthouse and among prosecutors, judges and defense attorneys alike. “He has the keenest sense of fairness and justice I’ve ever seen,” said criminal defense attorney Gerald Fogelman. Fogelman was one of many who said Lapin manages to move the criminal justice system beyond a conflict of adversaries to an environment in which justice is served. “Both sides respect Herb,” Fogelman said. Fogelman said Lapin’s sense of ethics and fairness allows many criminal defense attorneys including himself to be open and candid when discussing their cases with him. “On a serious murder case,” he said, “I would take everything into Herb and say, ‘What do you think?’ He is one of very few I’d do that with.” – Michael Hart Allan Oberman Law Offices of Allan Oberman Woodland Hills Allan Oberman doesn’t like litigation, he loves it. “But I learned that it’s more important to try to work things out,” said Oberman, recognized by many of his peers as one of the top business attorneys in the San Fernando Valley. But it wasn’t always like that. A graduate of Cal State Northridge, Oberman worked as an elementary school teacher for five years while he attended night classes to get his law degree from Southwestern University School of Law. Having worked with clients from a number of companies in a variety of industries, Oberman considers himself something of an expert dealmaker. “I find each case fascinating unto itself. Each represents its own set of facts and circumstances that make it interesting,” he said. Barbara Reinecke, an Encino-based attorney, said Oberman’s work is well-regarded in the legal community. “He’s extremely hard working and diligent and his word is gold he’s the absolute opposite of the shark that some people talk about,” she said. Oberman is a member of several civic and charitable organizations, including the San Fernando Valley Bar Association and The Executives, a support group for the Jewish Home for the Aging. – Carlos Martinez Barbara Jean Penny Law Offices of Barbara Jean Penny Granada Hills Barbara Jean Penny didn’t begin her professional life as an attorney. In fact, it was the furthest thing from her mind. “I worked for this attorney as an office manager and I ended up doing all the work, so I thought, ‘If I can do this, then I should be an attorney,’ so that’s what I did,” Penny recalled. By the mid-1970s, she had established her own family law practice with a steady flow of clients. Divorced herself at a young age with a small child, Penny grew to understand the needs of her clients. As her practice grew, Penny often ignored the advice of colleagues who encouraged her to charge higher fees and seek a high-powered clientele. “I consider myself a small-town practitioner, and never even wanted to be on Ventura Boulevard,” she said. “What was really meaningful to me was going to Haven Hills (a battered women’s shelter) in the Valley,” Penny said. “I would go there twice a month and counsel the women with regard to their legal rights.” Her community work includes serving as a small claims court judge, president of the San Fernando Valley Bar Association’s Valley Community Legal Foundation and activities with the Van Nuys Chamber of Commerce. “She’s a caring person who always does her best and is respectful to others, no matter what,” said Encino attorney Gary Weyman. “She’s just very good at what she does.” – Carlos Martinez Rose Reglos Los Angeles County Public Defender Van Nuys It’s common knowledge that public defenders don’t typically get too much time in the limelight. They often spend years processing defendants for drunken driving, spousal abuse and third-strike cases at the lower end of anybody’s pay scale for attorneys. But Rose Reglos, a public defender since 1989, has stayed the course and it’s paying off. She is now an officer grade four with the Public Defender’s Office, which means she has the opportunity to try death penalty cases, the first of which she began earlier this month. “Rose has an element of charm about her in that she gets along with judges and prosecutors and is very hard-working,” said Bill Weiss, the head deputy who supervises Reglos and about 40 other public defenders. “She prepares her cases probably better than anyone I’ve ever seen,” said Weiss. “She’s small and almost looks like a little girl but, let me tell you, she packs a powerful punch. Some lawyers are just as strong as she is, but they ruffle feathers.” – Jacqueline Fox Alice A. Salvo Law Offices of Alice A. Salvo Woodland Hills According to all reports, Alice A. Salvo knows probate and estate planning. And, her associate Marlene S. Seltzer said, the kind of law practice Salvo is involved in is closely linked to the kind of person she is and the activities she takes part in away from her professional life. “Alice has a genuine interest in helping people,” Seltzer said, “and goes out of her way to make everyone feel comfortable in a lawyer’s office, whether or not they can afford her services.” Salvo has been certified by the State Bar as a “specialist” in estate planning, trust and probate law, a distinction that is awarded to less than one half of 1 percent of all California attorneys. She is a past chairperson of the San Fernando Valley Bar Association Probate Section, past president of the Southern California Council of Elder Law Attorneys and past president of the San Fernando Valley Estate Planning Council. At the moment, she is also a member of the Bar Association Board of Trustees. Seltzer said, “As a mother of a special needs child, Alice is aware of the need to educate others on the availability of government benefits and provides her clients a compassionate support team.” – Michael Hart Sandor E. Samuels Countrywide Credit Industries Inc. Calabasas You might say Sandor E. Samuels spends much of his time clearing away a lot of trees. That’s because, as senior managing director and general counsel at Countrywide Credit Industries, Samuels has to be certain the forest is always in view. “He combines several attributes that make him very successful,” said Carlos M. Garcia, senior managing director for banking and insurance at Countrywide, who has worked with Samuels on several projects. “He perseveres and he makes things happen. Number two, he has a strong command of his legal profession. He’s also an excellent communicator. He gets things down to their essence. And he does it all with a good spirit.” Samuels’ work involves him in everything from government affairs he’s working with legislators to find a way to clamp down on predatory lending practices without curtailing the ability of lenders like Countrywide to make loans to lower-income borrowers to overseeing the company’s culture committee, a body that ensures Countrywide’s vision and goals are communicated throughout the organization. Every now and then, he says, he’ll even handle a customer complaint. Samuels joined Countrywide in 1990, and today manages a staff of nearly 40 attorneys. In addition to overseeing all the firm’s legal and governmental affairs, he sits on Countrywide’s executive committee and is involved with strategic planning. But it is the bigger picture that most drives Samuels. “What we do has a very dramatic impact on people’s lives,” Samuels said. “It’s a very, very important thing for the family, the community and the country.” – Shelly Garcia Glen H. Schwartz Law Offices of Glen H. Schwartz Encino Glen Schwartz, a sole proprietor, when told he was on the Business Journal list of top lawyers in the Valley, expressed great interest in how he stacked up against the rest of the San Fernando Valley’s attorneys who specialize in family law. The short answer to that came from another attorney, James Felton, who described Schwartz as “the divorce lawyer that lawyers use.” But Schwartz’ interests, notoriety and legal reputation go far beyond the scope of the Valley’s family law community. Over the past decade, he has made a name for himself throughout the United States as a defender of the rights of non-biological fathers. A Wall Street Journal profile of him pointed out that his victories in the courtroom “are forcing appellate judges to consider a legal definition of fatherhood that acknowledges men who act as a parent, but lack biological ties to the child or even formal ties to the mother.” Along with his family law practice, Schwartz routinely writes and lectures on paternity litigation and appears frequently on national television and radio as an expert in the field. – Michael Hart Steve K. Wasserman Wasserman Comden Casselman & Pearson LLP Tarzana Steve Wasserman is a senior partner at Wasserman Comden Casselman & Pearson LLP, one of the largest law firms in the San Fernando Valley. “I’m sort of amazed myself,” Wasserman said. “Sometimes I look around here and say, ‘How did we do this?'” By “this,” he isn’t just referring to the Valley firm with the most attorneys, but one that made the Los Angeles Daily Journal’s “Top 10 Verdicts of 2001” list of major civil lawsuits in the state – twice. Wasserman Comden represented the plaintiff, Border Business Park, in California’s second largest verdict last year ($94.5 million) against the city of San Diego. “Most private companies don’t have the capability to take on a public entity,” Wasserman said, “but had it not been for our office hanging in there, the injustice to our client would have been complete.” His firm represented the defendant in another well-known case last year, Tutor-Saliba-Perini v. L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and won. “The county was sued,” he said, “and the county prevailed. They’re not the ones that started the fight, they’re the ones that ended it.” Accountant Charles Schnaid of Miller, Kaplan, Arase & Co. LLP has worked closely with Wasserman over the years and says he takes on what turn out to be the big cases and the big projects because he’s a “visionary” who “can look beyond the immediate return for his firm and into the future.” – Michael Hart

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