6 PM Reception | 7 PM Dinner


Deborah Chang, Randi McGinn, Zoe Littlepage,Frank D. Penney and Joshua Boyce


Michaud, Namagembe and Kataregga v. United States of America


    Esther Nakajjigo was raised in Uganda by an unwed teenage mother in a two-room home with a dirt floor. From these humble beginnings, she became a spokesperson for women and girls as a teenager, and at the age of 17, she started and operated her own hospital. The next year, she
    became Uganda’s first Ambassador for Women and Girls. Esther then created the most successful reality television show in Uganda by turning the camera’s focus on the plight of unwed mothers. The television series empowered women throughout the country and led to improved gender equality in Uganda. Esther came to the United States to attend a leadership program for humanitarian entrepreneurs. She was just 25 years old when she was tragically killed while exiting Arches National Park in Utah when an unsecured swing arm gate swung into traffic, pierced through the passenger side of the car, and decapitated her. Her newlywed husband, who was driving the car and sitting inches away from his wife, was covered with her blood and body parts. Esther’s husband and parents alleged that the United States Park Service was negligent in maintaining and operating the park’s swing gates, leading to Esther’s death. The United States admitted fault, and the trial in federal court proceeded on the issue of damages. The trial was followed closely by Esther’s fans in Uganda, and Ugandan news outlets observed that the American system of justice was “on trial” before the worldwide stage. The result was the largest wrongful death verdict issued by a federal judge in Utah history. As a result of this case, all parks in the United States Park systems now have secured posts/locking mechanisms on swing gates. This case confirms that record verdicts in important cases can be achieved by a trial team comprised entirely of women.

Travis M. Corby


Courtney v. Health Net. Inc., et al.


    Elaine Courtney needed urgent medical care for a pelvic prolapse issue that was causing her extreme pain. She received an urgent referral to a colorectal specialist for a surgical consult. According to her health plan, an appointment should have been made available within 96 hours, but she was told that the correct specialist was not available to her under her Health Net Medi-Cal plan, even though Health Net had 25 colorectal surgeons available in its Southern California network. As a result, Courtney was made to wait six months to see a qualified specialist. Even then, she experienced additional delays from the health plan. Because of issues with the network, the specialist doctor's surgical requests were denied on five separate occasions over four months. Courtney repeatedly reached out to Health Net, pleading for help, but it did nothing to overturn the denials. She was not able to get in for surgery until 10 months after she first needed urgent medical care. During that time, Courtney suffered immense pain and was given the runaround by Health Net's bureaucracy. As a result, she became dependent on opioid pain medication that was only first prescribed to her months into the delay, while she waited for Health Net to arrange and provide access to specialists. On two separate occasions, within days of first being prescribed opioid pain medication, she wrote to Health Net for assistance, stating that she did not want to be on pain medication. A jury awarded Courtney damages, including punitive damages, the first time that a jury has held a health insurance company responsible for causing a patient’s addiction to prescription opioid pain medication. This case exposes health insurers’ role in contributing to the opioid crisis, not only in California but nationwide, as many health insurers have systematic delays built into the process of obtaining timely access to medical care.

David M. deRubertis and Brennan S. Kahn


Martinez and Page v. Southern California Edison Co. and Edison International


    Alfredo Martinez and Justin Page worked at Southern California Edison’s South Bay office. In February 2017, Page made an anonymous report to the company’s ethics hotline that a supervisor at South Bay was engaging in sexual and racial harassment and abusing his expense account. Soon after, Martinez made two separate reports that women in the South Bay office were being subjected to sexual harassment. An investigation by Edison International’s ethics department confirmed that three planning supervisors engaged in sexual harassment and/or racially inappropriate behavior, and the three supervisors were terminated. During and after the initial sexual and racial harassment investigation, Page reported additional allegations, including eventually reporting that he, too, was subjected to sexual harassment both by the male supervisors and also a female South Bay employee. Also, during and after the initial sexual and racial harassment investigation Page and others reported that the three supervisors and their “clique” were threatening and planning to retaliate against those who reported the issues in the first place. Both Martinez and Page were subjected to retaliation as a result of having the courage to speak up about the widespread harassment. Martinez was pushed out of SoCal Edison after almost 16 years of employment based on pretextual allegations of misconduct. Page alleged he was subjected to threats of violence and other acts of retaliation, which he reported but which Edison did not meaningfully address, forcing him onto a leave of absence from which he never returned. After nearly five years of litigation and an eight-week trial, a jury found both Martinez and Page were retaliated against, and that Page was also sexually harassed, awarding the largest verdict in California for any kind of case in 2022 and the largest employment-related jury verdict in U.S. history for any kind of employment case.

Robert S. Glassman and Erika Contreras


Sepulveda v. Yucaipa-Calimesa Joint Unified School District


    13-year-old Adilene Carrasco had difficulty breathing after a long walk from her classroom to an athletic field for an outdoor science class. She asked her teacher for permission to walk back to the classroom to retrieve her inhaler. The teacher told Adilene she could go, never asking if she felt well enough to walk. When Adilene returned to the field, she asked the teacher if she could go to the nurse’s office, as her inhaler did not help her. Despite Adilene's obvious worsening condition, the teacher sent Adilene without an adult to the main campus. There, Adilene was spotted struggling by a campus monitor, who drove her to the nurse's office in full respiratory distress. Adilene had suffered a severe asthma attack; she lost consciousness, went into cardiac arrest before paramedics arrived, and died nine days later. Instead of having a cart pick her up or someone bring the inhaler to her, the teacher worsened the severity of Adilene’s asthma attack, which caused her death. A red flag on Adilene's student profile indicated she suffered from asthma and that she had a known history of asthma attacks at school, including two documented attacks in the months leading up to her death – none of which was known by her teacher, because she failed to review Adilene's profile at the start of the semester. Adeline’s mother received what is believed to be the largest asthma-related death settlement in California history. As a condition of the settlement, Adeline’s school district now provides asthma management training to its teachers and staff and implemented changes to its existing protocols relating to the safety and supervision of students with medical conditions. Following the settlement, Glassman and Contreras began working with California state Sen. Rosilicie Ochoa Bogh on Senate Bill 283, known as “Adeline’s Law,” that would require schools statewide to implement a comprehensive asthma management plan.

Daniel M. Hodes and Jacob Brender


Andreeff v. Southern California Permanente Medical Group


    Matthew Andreeff suffered from neurofibromatosis, which caused him to develop skin lesions.  He also suffered from chronic kidney disease. Immediately before undergoing elective surgery for the excision of a neurofibroma on his abdomen, he suffered an acute kidney injury. At the direction of a Kaiser hematologist, he was given two medications, DDAVP and NovoSeven. Andreeff also had chronic kidney disease. NovoSeven had never been tested for use in patients with acute kidney injury or chronic kidney disease, nor had NovoSeven ever been tested in combination use with DDAVP. Surgery was uneventful, but the next day Andreeff’s creatine level rose dramatically. He was transferred to intensive care and placed on a ventilator. Four days later he was taken off the ventilator but did not awaken, and a CT scan showed he had suffered a large stroke. He will need 24/7 care for the rest of his life. The elective surgery should not have gone forward with clear evidence of an acute kidney injury superimposed on chronic kidney disease; the surgeon should have postponed the surgery until Andreeff’s kidney function was optimized. Had surgery not gone forward, Andreeff would not have suffered his stroke. His surgeon testified that she was not responsible for clearing him for surgery, but his primary care physician and nephrologist both testified that she was. Also, the medications he received before surgery were significant contributing factors to his stroke. The hematologist who prescribed the medications testified that she believed Andreeff had an 8-10% chance of a blood clot that could lead to a stroke as a result of the drugs. During the arbitration hearing, Hodes and Kaiser’s attorneys argued over how many hours of care Andreeff would need each day, as well as what his life expectancy would be. The arbitrator ruled in favor of Andreeff and awarded him more than four times the amount Kaiser had offered.

Ted W. Pelletier, Sarah E. Gilson and Marissa Y. Uchimura


Ramirez v. Avon Products, Inc.


    Alicia Ramirez developed asbestos-caused mesothelioma after using Avon talcum-powder products for over 30 years. When she sued, Avon moved for summary judgment, purporting to designate a current employee, Lisa Gallo, as the “person most qualified” (PMQ) to discuss Avon’s historical products. Although Gallo had no personal knowledge predating her employment in 1994, she declared that Avon’s products since the 1970s have always been asbestos-free. She openly based this claim on repeating corporate hearsay evidence – i.e., from talking to other Avon employees and reading old Avon documents making that claim. The trial judge allowed the declaration, ruling that Gallo could repeat corporate hearsay based on her Avon title and responsibilities and her designation as a PMQ. In light of Gallo’s “no asbestos” claims, the judge granted summary judgment for Avon. The Second District Court of Appeal reversed, allowing Ramirez’s case to go forward and, most importantly for California consumers, ruling that corporations cannot offer corporate hearsay under the guise of a corporate PMQ. Like all non-expert witnesses, corporate employees are limited to testimony about matters in their personal knowledge. California’s statutory PMQ provision is intended for and limited to pre-trial discovery, assuring that consumer plaintiffs can obtain evidence from within the corporations they sue. It does not allow those corporations to designate a PMQ simply to recite self-serving claims. As Presiding Justice Maria E. Stratton wrote for the unanimous Court, witnesses are limited to “personal knowledge” testimony, and there is “no special category [in the Evidence Code] of ‘corporate representative’ witness, as the trial court suggested.”  Gallo was “not an independent witness” but an “Avon employee who conducted her ‘investigation and review’ on behalf of Avon, a party to this action.”  This decision will help consumers throughout the state, closing an evidentiary PMQ loophole that corporations had increasingly been exploiting to spin their defenses through self-serving claims via well-trained corporate representatives.

David Rudorfer, Wyatt A. Vespermann, Sheri S. Manuwaland Robert I. Manuwal


Gray v. Pasadena Unified School District


    Latrina Gray was an 11-year-old special needs child who was emotionally disturbed and developmentally delayed. She had a terrible history of abuse since birth. By age 10, Latrina had been transferred from more than a dozen group homes and had multiple hospitalizations for suicidal thoughts and psychotic delusions. She was at a Pasadena Unified School District school for special needs children when she was sexually assaulted by three students who dragged her behind a building and penetrated her digitally and with a large paper clip. The assault took place after a teacher’s assistant left the students unsupervised. The assault caused Latrina to have a mental breakdown and ultimately placed in a mental institution, where she remained for years. She was the example of the most vulnerable and helpless in our society. The defense argued that
    her psychological harm was not caused by the assault but was pre-existing, and contended she was lying about the assault. To prove the assault, the attorneys focused on Latrina’s mental state before versus after the event. Her therapist testified that Latrina went from minor behavioral issues before the assault to major outbursts and overt sexual misconduct afterwards. As trial approached, it became clear that Latrina was psychologically unable to testify about the incident or her harm. As a result, Latrina was declared unavailable under the evidence code due to her psychological injuries. The court ordered that the jury was not allowed to be told why she was absent from trial, which was very challenging considering she had no family or friends to testify on her behalf. Despite these difficulties, after a three-week trial, the jury awarded Latrina significant compensation, all in noneconomic damages. This case shows that negligence victims with psychological traumas who cannot withstand the pressures of trial can still get full justice.


Jennifer R. Johnson


(case name is confidential)


    When one of the world’s leading vitreo-retinal surgeons botched an elective eye surgery for treatment of floaters, the plaintiff was left blind in one eye. Three doctors – the defendant surgeon, another retinal surgeon and an internationally known neuro-ophthalmologist – all told the plaintiff that he had suffered a rare, never before reported reaction to the anesthesia injected into his eye and that his blindness was not the result of negligence. Consequently, before plaintiff found Jennifer, several attorneys rejected this case. Jennifer’s gut instinct (she is a former registered nurse) was that the doctors’ explanation was wrong, and she was determined to find out what really happened. While nearly 20 expert witnesses refused to testify against the defendant, Jennifer was not deterred. She found a Stanford-trained retinal specialist who, upon review of the pertinent records, discovered that the defendant had injected the anesthesia into the wrong area of the eye. Having established that, Jennifer had to know why a world renowned expert in floater surgery would inject anesthesia into the wrong area. After the surgeon disclosed in deposition that he had undergone cancer treatment, including chemotherapy before the plaintiff’s surgery, but told the plaintiff that he was fully recovered at the time of surgery, Jennifer subpoenaed the doctor’s medical records. Those records revealed that the doctor had suffered a disabling side effect of his chemotherapy treatment, peripheral neuropathy of the hands and feet, affecting the exquisite feeling and sensitivity he needed to use the equipment required to perform the plaintiff’s surgery. Incredibly, the records also showed that the surgeon was collecting disability payments and had declared he was not working when he operated on the plaintiff. Jennifer’s grit and determination led to a settlement including the insurance policy limits and a substantial contribution from the doctor. Most importantly, this surgeon finally stopped operating, preventing him from blinding anyone else.

Maria Kelly


Fuller v. Fox


    Decorated U.S. Navy SEAL Jonathan Fuller hired solo practitioner Maria Kelly due to his ongoing head and neck pain after a rear-end crash. Two years before the crash, Jon returned from Mosul, where he was exposed to hundreds of mortar blasts, including a rocket-propelled grenade, while serving as a special operations warfare fighter. Jon had suffered dozens of concussions in service but always bounced back to defend his country. He was gearing up for his next deployment when the crash happened. However, just two months after the crash, Jon’s team leader noticed he was struggling physically and mentally. He told Jon his time was up, and he had to discharge him. Not only did Jon lose his life’s work, but he also lost his identity as a Navy SEAL. The defense threw everything at Maria. They said the driver had a sudden medical emergency at the time of the collision, so there could be no recovery for Jon. Because the driver died during the litigation, Maria had to hunt down each one of his medical records and doctors to prove there was no emergency. The defense argued his injuries were military related. The defense also argued the collision had nothing to do with Jon’s discharge because Navy doctors cleared him “Fit for Full Duty.” With a team of experts and confidential testimony from several SEALs that Maria fought hard to find in between deployments, Maria successfully proved that SEAL culture demanded Jon’s exit. Maria never once asked to mediate, because she believed Jon deserved every single penny of the available insurance policy limit. After continually fighting back, the defense finally surrendered. Once the case was resolved, Jon wrote to Maria that she had the tenacity of a bulldog. Her work changed his life.

Rob Marcereau


Villegas, et al. v. Bayview Service Group, Inc.


    After 29-year-old Hector Villegas died in a car crash, his family arranged for a brief viewing at a mortuary, to be followed by cremation. When the family showed up for the viewing, they were told that the viewing couldn’t happen because Hector had been mistakenly cremated the night before. The family was crushed. Instead of saying goodbye to Hector and having a celebration of life afterward as they had planned, they just went home, devastated.  Six hours later, an employee from the mortuary showed up at their house with a box of ashes. The ashes were still hot, which made no sense to the family, since supposedly Hector had been cremated the night before. The family was deeply concerned that they had been given the wrong ashes. DNA tests on ashes are impossible, so the only thing the family had was the mortuary’s word. The family sought damages for their emotional distress caused by the missed viewing and the lingering doubt that the ashes given to them by the mortuary were truly those of their deceased loved one. The mortuary’s explanation for the warm ashes was that the remains had been kept in the oven all night and all the following day, and thus stayed warm from residual heat. Inconsistencies in the mortuary’s internal documents proved they were covering up what really happened. The document showing the time Hector’s body went into the cremation oven was clearly altered to make it appear to have been the day before the viewing; while a heavily redacted logbook stated that no cremations were performed on the day of the scheduled viewing, public records showed that the mortuary was averaging 20 cremations a day at that time.  A jury awarded Hector’s mother and four siblings financial compensation for their distress, well in excess of what the mortuary had offered.


Robert E. Cartwright, Sr. Award

In recognition of excellence in trial advocacy and dedication to teaching trial advocacy to fellow lawyers and to the public.

  • Kirsten Fish


In recognition of continued guidance, loyalty and dedication all of which have been an inspiration to fellow attorneys.

  • Deborah Chang


In recognition of many years of dedication, outstanding efforts and effectiveness on behalf of CAOC’s causes and ideals.

  • Roger Dreyer



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