Three Partners Named Top 100 Lawyers in California

Daily Journal 09/12/2012

The Daily Journal's 15th edition of California's Top 100 Lawyers includes an impressive group of lawyers who handle some of the weightiest issues of the day, and who've impacted the legal industry, California, and the nation.

John Keker

Keker's challenge: trying to convince a jury possibly soured on banks to remain open-minded about his client, who had worked for one.

Brian Stoker, who had worked on the structuring desk at Citigroup, was charged with securities fraud in connection with the bank's 2007 marketing of a $1 billion collateralized debt obligation backed by assets tied to the housing market. The Securities and Exchange Commission contended Stoker was negligent for failing to disclose information about the bank's actions in its marketing materials.

After a two-week jury trial in the Southern District of New York, a federal jury rejected the SEC's case and found Stoker not liable on any of its claims. U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission v. Stoker, 11-CIV-7388-JSR (S.D.N.Y., filed Oct. 19, 2011).

Such cases rarely go to trial, said Keker, who decided to tackle any possible anti-bank bias head on.

"I let them know that we recognize they are going to have a big problem with bank conduct but that it's not fair for the SEC to pick one victim when everyone else was doing the same thing," he said.

At the time, Keker said, "Everybody on Wall Street was betting. There was rampant gambling going on, and a lot of people lost a lot of money. But at the time, it was legal gambling. Nobody thought how awry it could go."

In other matters, Keker has filed a claim in the San Francisco office of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority on behalf of the founders of Silicon Valley-based semiconductor company Marvell Technology Group against Goldman Sachs. They allege that Goldman manipulated the 2008 financial crisis to defraud them of more than $100 million. At the time, they were one of Goldman's largest private wealth management group clients on the West Coast.

Keker also is serving as lead counsel representing Lucasfilm Ltd. in a series of antitrust class actions brought by former employees of Lucasfilm, Apple Inc., Intel Corp., Intuit Inc., Adobe Systems Inc. and Pixar Animation Studios Inc. In Re: High- Tech Employee Antitrust Litigation, CV 11-2509-LHK (N.D. Cal., filed May 23, 2011). The plaintiffs allege unlawful agreements related to hiring and employee retention. The case is pending in federal court in San Jose.

Robert A. Van Nest

Van Nest, who represents Google Inc. in the high-profile and high-stake patent and copyright infringement suit brought by the Oracle Corp., credits U.S. District Judge William H. Alsup for opening the lines of communication with the jurors.

"It's not common to allow jurors to ask questions during predeliberations and while the case is going on," he said.

"Judge Alsup allowed that, and it was a great benefit to both sides."

The jurors' questions continued during deliberations. "There were a larger than average number of questions, which showed that there was a lot of debate going on in the jury and they were focused on the key issues," Van Nest said.

In the case, with billions of dollars at stake, Oracle alleged that Google's Android mobile operating technology infringes on Oracle's Java patents.

Van Nest and his team successfully argued against the infringement claim, contending that Android devices don't infringe either Oracle patent and that users of the platform have a license to any patents in the case.

In May, the jury was unable to reach a verdict on the copyright claims but did reach a unanimous verdict rejecting all claims of patent infringement, resulting in no damages. Oracle America Inc. v. Google Inc., CV 10-03561 (N.D. Cal., filed Aug. 12, 2010).

"In any IP case, you have to try to think like a juror," Van Nest said. "It might sound simple, but it's tough work to develop an analogy that can be understood." In this instance, Van Nest used a filing cabinet to demonstrate that the contested technology was simply a system of organization and therefore his client wasn't liable for infringement.

While it's still too early to measure any possible impact of the case on similar litigation, Van Nest said he sees no letup in such disputes.

"The pace of innovation is getting faster, the level of competition is higher, the stakes are bigger, the products are worth more," he said.

Consequently, Van Nest added, "There is a higher bar to enter technology markets as a result of the costs of maintaining your IP, whether you're a plaintiff or defendant."

In another development, on Aug. 24, Google sought to dismiss allegations by Oracle that it used a network of journalists and bloggers to influence its infringement trial. Alsup had ordered Google to reveal all of its financial relationships with those writing about the trial.

"Our public filings speak for themselves - Google did absolutely nothing unusual in its handling of the media in this case," Van Nest later said. "Those who commented did so on their own."

Jon Streeter

Last year, Streeter began his term as State Bar president worrying about the past. He's been able to finish it focused on the future.

Initially, he had to quell the previous year's tensions over changing the bar governing board's structure. Under a legislative mandate to revamp governance, board members split badly in 2010-11 about whether future lawyers on the board should be elected by other lawyers or appointed by the state Supreme Court. The Legislature ultimately compromised on some of each.

But the "intense infighting" within the bar's governance task force "took its toll on the effectiveness of the board," Streeter said.

So after taking office last September, he "led the bar through a difficult period ... to a new sense of unity and shared mission."

For the rest of 2011, he and many other bar officials attacked the persistent backlog of lingering, unresolved discipline cases. Jayne Kim, the bar's brand-new chief prosecutor, finally zeroed out the backlog in late December.

This year, Streeter's major goal has been "to study a variety of issues relative to the regulation of the practice that we hope will improve the level of competence of lawyers and better match their skill sets to the kinds of needs that clients will have in future years."

At the top of those efforts is the 21-member "Task Force on Admission Regulation Reform" that Streeter chairs. It's looking into requiring that would-be California lawyers go through some sort of practical skills training before or right after being admitted.

The special panel also will consider ending California's unusual practice of allowing law schools to operate without being accredited by either the State Bar or the American Bar Association.

Many states have some sort of new-admittee skills requirement, ranging from extra continuing education to short-term apprenticeship programs. Streeter's task force is mulling whether California needs something similar.

"It may be that we can combine some of these approaches and offer ... a choice to new lawyers," he said. "I'm not going to be suggesting a one-size-fits-all approach." Streeter's other major project as State Bar president has been working to restore funding for the state court system, which has seen more than $1 billion cut from its budget over the past few years. He and an ad hoc group called the Open Courts Coalition put on a series of events that spread the message that the courts need saving.

While the budget cuts have been severe, Streeter said they could have been much worse.

"This is going to be an issue that we will be dealing with for many years to come."

John W. Keker

John W. Keker

(415) 391-5400
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Robert A. Van Nest

Robert A. Van Nest

(415) 391-5400
email link

Jon B. Streeter

Jon B. Streeter

(415) 676-2249
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