RPLG Update 2020

RPLG Accomplishments

RPLG is excited to report that the firm continues to grow and deliver successful outcomes to our clients.  And we are proud that our legal community has taken notice.

RPLG’s Chair, Louise Renne, served as the elected San Francisco City Attorney for sixteen years.  Many of our lawyers worked in her administration, and some of our attorneys have been working together for more than thirty years!

We learned over time that public sector clients need thoughtful lawyers – ones who help them do difficult things by giving them options to solve complicated problems.  In the public sector, the problems are multi-dimensional.  Law is one dimension; it shapes available options.  But there are also policy, operational, financial issues that must be addressed.  There are elected boards and councils.  Public perception can be critical as well.

Our firm, together with its associated consulting and lobbying divisions, strives to be a  unified firm providing comprehensive solutions in the areas of government law, litigation, investigations, labor law, employment advice, affirmative litigation, writs and appeals and non-legal lobbying and consulting. Our thoughtful and continued expansion, in conjunction with recent events impacting local communities, spotlights the demand — now more than ever — for solutions to the complex issues facing public agencies.

While our attorneys are each encouraged to work on a broad range of issues, the firm currently has ten working groups.

Headed by Teresa Stricker, our government law practice provides city attorney and general counsel services for local governments seeking to have those services supplemented by a law firm. For those public agencies with “in-house” legal counsel, we offer specialized legal services as needed on complex, discrete government law, constitutional, ethics, elections, land use and other difficult issues that arise from time to time. In response to the many recent COVID-19 related issues facing our clients, we help cities navigate everything from state and local emergency orders, to the CARES Act, to training on conducting virtual council meetings.

Partners Ruth Bond and Art Hartinger lead our robust litigation team. Our deep bench of litigators are familiar with all courtrooms throughout California, including state and federal trial courts, appellate courts, the California Supreme Court and the United States Supreme Court.

Led by Partners Ruth Bond, Linda Ross and Louise Renne, our investigations group performs high level workplace investigations, producing defensible, objective and timely reports in a variety of complex settings. Our public sector experience allows us to work with our clients to ensure compliance with all applicable substantive and procedural laws and rules, including due process requirements, the Public Safety Officers Procedural Bill of Rights Act, the Firefighters Procedural Bill of Rights Act, and applicable labor agreements.

Partners Jonathan Holtzman, Arthur Hartinger and others lead the firm’s full-service labor law practice focused on achieving responsible, affordable, and forward-thinking labor agreements. Our team specializes in fact-based bargaining with labor organizations representing all public sector job classes. We handle cutting edge issues, including declarations of fiscal emergency, ballot-related negotiations and litigation, pension reform, civil service reform, creation of joint powers authorities, and project labor agreements.

Our employment advice team, led by Senior Associates Spencer Wilson and Steve Cikes, helps public employers balance the risks and benefits of critical employment decisions. Informed by the mission of the public-sector agency we are serving, we regularly advise employers on personnel/employment matters involving, without limitation: harassment, discrimination and retaliation; Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance and accommodation issues; Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) overtime requirement and leave issues; POBR and FOBR; whistleblower laws; drug and alcohol policies; pension and medical benefits; and CalPERS and other retirement system issues.

Led by Louise Renne, the firm is well known for its affirmative litigation, primarily on behalf of public agencies and non-profits.  As discussed below, this year the firm has undertaken a number of major new cases focused on discriminatory practices of major corporations.

Led by Senior Associate Ryan McGinley-Stempel (a former law clerk on the California Supreme Court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, and the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas), our writs and appeals practice focuses on helping public agencies to overturn detrimental lower court or agency decisions while defending hard-won trial court victories.  When litigating in the trial court and before administrative agencies, we take the “long view” in developing an adequate record for appellate review and navigating potential appellate pitfalls in order to give our clients the best chance of challenging an adverse decision or protecting a favorable one on appeal.

Headed by Dane Hutchings, Renne Public Policy Group is our full-service, non-attorney lobbying and consulting practice that provides our clients, including Redwood City, the City of Belmont and other agencies, with an inside understanding of California’s evolving legislative and political landscape. RPPG draws from the wisdom of respected former public officials, including the recent addition of former Deputy Executive Director and Legislative Director for the League of California Cities as a Senior Policy Advisor –   Dan Carrigg.

RPLG.solutions, the non-attorney consulting division of Renne Public Law Group (RPLG), uses creative thinking and knowledge of best practices to help local governments overcome obstacles and make good ideas a reality. Whether the issue is financial, staffing, or organizational, law often frames the solutions. With a multidisciplinary approach and an arsenal of many respected names in local government, RPLG.solutions develops collaborative solutions to municipal challenges for local governments throughout California.

Most recently, the firm developed a cross-disciplinary group focused on police reform as well as racial and economic equity. Headed by Julian Gross, who joins the firm as a partner on August 15, 2020, our newest working group will support public agencies as they grapple with how best to holistically and effectively achieve equity. Julian contributes to the efforts of our many lawyers who have helped push this effort.

Achievements on Behalf of Clients:

Affirmative Litigation:  This year, Louise Renne continued in her role as Negotiation Class Counsel in the multidistrict litigation for In Re: National Prescription Opiate Litigation, MDL-2804. Our litigators also filed a suit against Juul in a suit on behalf of numerous Bay Area school districts.  [In Re: Juul Labs, Inc. Marketing, Sales Practices & Products Liability Litigation, 3:19-MD-2913-WHO (N.D. Cal.)] Furthermore, we filed a shareholder suit against Google, challenging its mishandling of sexual misconduct complaints. [Martin v. Page et al., (Alphabet Inc.) [Consolidated into Lead Case No. 19CV-341522] (Santa Clara Superior Ct. Jan. 10, 2019)] In July of 2020, the affirmative litigation team, along with attorneys from Bottini & Bottini, filed shareholder derivative lawsuits against Oracle Corporation challenging the lack of minority participation on its Board and among its high-level executives. [Klein v. Ellison et al., Case No. 3:20-CV-4439 (N.D. Cal.); Dinsmore v. Ellison et al., Case No. 4:20-CV-4602 (N.D. Cal.)]

Other Litigation:  Within the past year alone, RPLG’s litigation practice also has successfully tried multiple cases in various areas of public law and achieved a number of victories of critical importance to California public agencies in both the state and federal appellate courts.

Below is a sample of RPLG’s recent successes in appellate, trial court proceedings, and negotiations, mediations and arbitrations:

Alameda County Deputy Sheriff’s Association et al. v. Alameda County Employees’ Retirement Assn. et al., No. S247095, 2020 WL 4360051, — Cal.5th — (Cal. Supreme Ct. July 30, 2020) – Case involved whether statutory amendments to the County Employees’ Retirement Law made by the Public Employees’ Pension Reform Act impaired employees’ vested rights protected by the contracts clauses of the state and federal constitutions.  Linda Ross and Randy Riddle represented the Central Contra Costa Sanitary District, the Real Party in Interest in this case, successfully petitioning the California Supreme Court for review and achieving a victory on the merits in a 90-page opinion authored by the Chief Justice and issued on July 30, 2020.

Nowicki v. Moraga-Orinda Fire District, No. A153833 (Cal. App. 1st Dist., Aug. 27, 2019) – Case involved the applicability of the Government Claims Act to a former Fire Chief’s lawsuit against the Moraga-Orinda Fire District for allegedly tortious actions regarding his pension contributions.  Linda Ross persuaded the First District Court of Appeal to affirm the trial court’s order sustaining the Fire District’s demurrer without leave to amend, and the Court of Appeal awarded the Fire District costs on appeal.

City and County of San Francisco v. Public Employment Relations Board, No. A152913, 2019 WL 3296947 (Cal. App. 1st Dist., July 22, 2019) – Case revolved around a 2010 San Francisco proposition, “Proposition G,” – a voter initiative aimed squarely at enhancing the City’s transit system, and discouraging union contracts that negatively impact transit service. Various labor unions filed an unfair practice charge contending that the provisions constituted “unreasonable” local labor relations rules under the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act (“MMBA”).  PERB sustained the charge, and ordered that two provisions of the city’s Charter – provisions adopted by the voters through Proposition G – be stricken.  In July 2019, Art Hartinger and Ryan McGinley-Stempel persuaded the Court of Appeal to grant the City’s writ for extraordinary relief and overturn significant portions of PERB’s decision.  The Court also ordered PERB to pay the City’s costs.

 City and County of San Francisco v. San Francisco Employees Retirement System, et al., No. CPF-16-515266 (San Francisco Superior Ct.); No. A151518, 2019 WL 2067236 (Cal. App. 1st Dist., May 10, 2019) – Case brought by the City and County of San Francisco and the Controller against its retirement system and Board for exceeding their authority under the Charter. Linda Ross achieved a complete victory in the trial court and on appeal, and upheld a significant part of the City’s pension reform efforts.

Los Angeles Police Protective League, et al. v. City of Los Angeles, et al., No. BC489113 (L.A. Superior Ct.);  Nos. B281868, B280319 (Cal. App. 2d Dist., Oct. 30, 2018)  – Case brought by the Los Angeles’ public safety union against the City of Los Angeles challenging the pension system’s discretion to set medical subsidy rates. Linda Ross and Art Hartinger successfully obtained a reversal of the lower court’s adverse ruling.

Ramirez v. City and County of San Francisco, No. A151552, 2019 WL 1323449 (Cal.App. 1st Dist. March 25, 2019) – Art Hartinger represented the City and County of San Francisco filed by a former employee of the District Attorney’s Office regarding an employment decision by former District Attorney George Gascon.  The Court of Appeal affirmed summary judgment in favor of San Francisco in an age discrimination case targeting former District Attorney George Gascon.

Harris v. County of Orange, 902 F.3d 1061 (9th Cir. 2018) – In retiree medical class action case, Ninth Circuit affirmed judgment on the pleadings in favor of the County on the plaintiffs’ age discrimination claims under the Fair Employment and Housing Act and on the plaintiffs’ claims that the County breached its contractual obligations by de-pooling retirees from active employees for determining medical insurance premiums.

Allum, et al., v. San Joaquin County Employees’ Retirement Association, and the County of San Joaquin, Case No. STK-CV-UBC-2017-10696 (San Joaquin County Superior Ct.) – In September 2019, Art Hartinger and Ryan McGinley-Stempel obtained summary judgment for the County of San Joaquin in a class action seeking millions of dollars from the San Joaquin County Retirement Association, the San Joaquin County Board of Retirement, and the County of San Joaquin for alleged breaches of a settlement agreement arising from Ventura County Deputy Sheriffs’ Assoc. v. County of Ventura (1997) 16 Cal.4th 483.  We are representing the County in the plaintiffs’ appeals (Nos. C090833 & C091768, Cal. App. 3d Dist.) from the superior court’s summary judgment order and order awarding costs.

Doe v. White, et al., No. 19-cv-04923-SI, 2020 WL 887852 (N.D. Cal. 2020) – Judge Susan Illston issued a complete defense victory in this high profile case challenging the constitutionality of the interim suspension of a student pending investigation of alleged sexual misconduct, with the Court granting motion for qualified immunity on behalf of all the individual defendants and motion to dismiss without leave to amend. Art Hartinger and Ian Long continue to represent the California State University and its employees on appeal (No. 20-15450, 9th Cir.) in defending the district court’s dismissal.

Alameda Health System, et al., v. Alameda County Employees’ Retirement Association, et al., No. CPF-19-516795 (San Francisco Superior Ct.) – Art Hartinger, Linda Ross and Ryan McGinley-Stempel represent Alameda Health System and Anthony Redmond as plaintiffs/petitioners in a challenge to the Alameda County Employees’ Retirement Association’s allocation of responsibility among participating employers for unfunded liabilities for the ACERA retirement plan (costing AHS as much as $14 million annually).  In 2019, the Alameda Superior Court granted our motion to transfer the case to the neutral venue of San Francisco.  In February 2020, the San Francisco Superior Court overruled ACERA’s demurrerallowing the case to proceed beyond the pleadings.

Dikes v. Santa Clara Valley Water District, Case No. 19CV346252 (Santa Clara Superior Ct.) – Plaintiff filed suit against defendant Santa Clara Valley Water District that involved alleged negligent administration of pension benefits. On behalf of defendants, Art Hartinger and Ian Long denied plaintiff’s contentions, and asserted it had no ultimate control over what CalPERS determines is pensionable compensation.  Defendant asserted a variety of defenses in its demurrers to each cause of action, including: (a) immunity under the Government Code; (b) no duty in this context that would support any negligence based case of action. Judge Sunil Kulkarni sustained in its entirety the District’s demurrer to the first amended complaint without leave to amend. Case finally resolved on January 9, 2020.

Barrett et al. v. County of Napa et al., Case Nos. 3:18-cv-6124 & 3:18-cv-6683 (N.D. Cal.) – Art Hartinger, Linda Ross and Ryan McGinley-Stempel obtained a victory for the County of Napa regarding this case.  The case sought to invalidate a voter initiative that amended the County Zoning Code to prohibit personal-use heliports and limit the circumstances under which helicopter takeoffs and landings in support of agricultural activities may occur on private property.

In the Matter of the Appeal of Membership Determination of Mark R. Dana and the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit, OAH No. 2018120359 (2019) – Case involving independent contractor vs. common law employment status: Art and Ian Long secured a victory on behalf of BART at the Office of Administrative Hearings, overturning CalPERS’ initial determination that an individual was a common law employee requiring CalPERS to pay for service credit. CalPERS’ Board of Administration eventually adopted the decision from OAH on February 24, 2020.

Mulder v. Children’s Hospital et al., Case No. RG17868998 (Alameda County Superior Ct.) (2019) – On May 16, 2019, RPLG’s Geoff Spellberg and Ian Long obtained a complete defense verdict for UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland.  A Children’s Hospital Oakland employee alleged harassment against her former supervisor, including unsubstantiated allegations of racial comments. The jury ultimately returned a unanimous verdict in favor of the Hospital.

Kerzich, et al. v. County of Tuolumne, No 16-cv-01116-DAD-SAB (E.D. Cal. 2019) – This FLSA case was brought by deputy sheriffs who contended that the County failed to properly calculate the regular rate of pay. RPLG helped the County reach a favorable settlement.

Project Labor Agreement for City of Fresno (2019) – Jon Holtzman successfully negotiated a Project Labor Agreement between the Fresno Madera Kings Tulare Building Trades Council, the City of Fresno and the Fresno International Airport in order to cover a terminal and parking garage expansion. The Agreement, which includes a targeted hiring provision for disadvantaged workers, was adopted unanimously by the Fresno City Council.

Interest Arbitration Proceedings between the San Francisco Municipal Attorneys Association and the City and County of San Francisco (May 9, 2019) – $10.8 Million savings in a binding wage arbitration with the City’s attorney union.

Factfinding Proceedings between American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Local 3299 and the University of California, Hastings College of the Law (2019) – We received a very favorable outcome from the factfinder, allowing the College more financial flexibility to maintain and create new facilities, and continue to attract a high-caliber, incoming student body.

Other Significant RPLG Accomplishments

We have been on the forefront of a number of cutting edge public policy issues.  Founding Partner Jon Holtzman was recently selected as Special Counsel to the Fresno Police Reform Commission, and assisted in the drafting and negotiation of a police reform ballot measure in the City of Berkeley.  Jon has also been selected to negotiate and advise on numerous Project Labor Agreements that focus on targeted and local hiring, including for the Fresno International Airport, Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, State Center Community College District, and Santa Clara Valley Water District.

Consistent with our public interest mission, we often write amicus briefs for the League of California Cities and the California State Association of Counties (“CSAC”) on a variety of issues affecting public agencies, including the Ralph M. Brown Act, the Meyers-Milias Brown Act, and matters of state and federal constitutional law:

Art Hartinger joins Jon Holtzman this year as a co-author of the 2020 edition of the Rutter California Practice Guide on Public Sector Employment Litigation.  Senior Associate Ryan McGinley-Stempel served as the Contributing Editor for the 2020 update, coordinating the revisions to this year’s Guide with the help of RPLG Partner Linda Ross, Of Counsel Randy Riddle and Steve Cikes, Senior Associates Spencer Wilson and Ian Long, and Associate Imran Dar.


Looking Ahead:

While the firm’s workload has increased significantly, we do not hire for attorney “openings.”  Rather, we look at the talent, background and “fit” with our mission.  We look only to add bright-minded individuals who share the firm’s values and who have a genuine interest in advocating for public agencies.

We are laser focused on and very proud of our firm’s culture.   Our mission includes: empowering public agencies to deliver critical public services for the betterment of their communities; advocating for social justice; helping to preserve local control;  becoming a powerhouse boutique litigation firm on behalf of public agencies; promoting fairness and effectiveness in local agency workplaces; treating all our staff with dignity and respect, while challenging ourselves to learn and improve our skills; delivering timely, excellent work product and advice to our clients; and promoting transparency in everything we do. We are also the only public sector law firm having its main headquarters in San Francisco, a great place to work!

We find that many attorneys continue to come to us because of Louise’s reputation for uncompromising ethics, and excellence and innovation in the practice of municipal law.

As we write this, we are still in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, an historic national election is coming up, and it’s fire season.  While times are hard, we are continuing to lean in to support the mission of public agencies, and continuing to grow.  We have added a new partner, Julian Gross, who is an expert in non-profits, job development, community benefit agreements, PLAs and labor negotiation.  By the end of October 2020, we will have added four new associates (two of whom are now aboard), and a new lobbyist, Sharon Gonsalves.  We know our clients are facing hard times, especially with the enormous loss of revenue due to Covid-19, and we are here to help.