Public Law

Awards

Congratulations to the 2020 Winners

2020 Outstanding Achievement in Public Law Award: California Office of the Attorney General’s People v. Johnson & Johnson Trial Team

The California Office of the Attorney General’s People v. Johnson & Johnson Trial Team Honored by Public Law Section of the California Lawyers Association with Inaugural Outstanding Achievement in Public Law Award

The California Lawyers Association’s Public Law Section has awarded The California Office of the Attorney General’s People v. Johnson & Johnson Trial Team (Team) with the inaugural Outstanding Achievement in Public Law (OAPL) Award.  The Public Law Section has historically honored a Public Lawyer of the Year with the Ronald M. George Public Lawyer of the Year Award.  This new award, the Outstanding Achievement in Public Law, recognizes a specific achievement as opposed to a career in Public Law.  It also recognizes that frequently the achievements, as in this case, are accomplished, not by just one individual, but by a team of dedicated public lawyers.

This year’s inaugural award recognizes the Attorney General’s litigation team for their record-breaking consumer protection trial victory in which the court awarded civil penalties of $343.9 million against Johnson & Johnson and its Ethicon subsidiaries (J&J) for unfair business practices and false advertising regarding the sale of its vaginal mesh products.  This is the highest penalty awarded to date in a consumer protection action in California and an important victory for the safety of consumers in California and the nation. (People v. Johnson & Johnson (2020) 2020 WL 603964.)  The Public Law Section congratulates the trial team members: Adelina Acuña, Deputy Attorney General; Laurel Carnes, Deputy Attorney General; Tina Charoenpong, Deputy Attorney General; Joanna Hull, Deputy Attorney General; Devin Mauney, Deputy Attorney General; Jinsook Ohta, Supervising Deputy Attorney General, Daniel Osborn, Deputy Attorney General; Gabriel Schaeffer, Deputy Attorney General; Jon Worm, Supervising Deputy Attorney General; and Monica Zi, Deputy Attorney General for their contributions to this important decision.

 In 2016, the Attorney General’s office brought a civil law enforcement action against J&J for deceptively marketing pelvic mesh devices to women and physicians in violation of California’s Unfair Competition Law (UCL) and False Advertising Law (FAL). The case involved years of scorched-earth litigation, novel defense theories and the exceptionally complex factual landscapes of marketing and medicine, and, ultimately, a grueling nine-week bench trial in San Diego.

At trial, the litigation team proved that virtually all the company’s pelvic-mesh marketing deceived both patients and physicians about mesh devices’ serious, long-term complication risks while selectively touting their benefits. The evidence showed that J&J made deceptive pitches to physicians in their offices, operating rooms, and over dinner; paid consultant-physicians; embedded deceptive promotional messages about mesh in its educational lectures and at medical conferences and symposia; gave OB/GYNs, urologists, and family physicians stacks of deceptive patient brochures to hand out or display to patients in their waiting and exam rooms; and used a paid celebrity-athlete spokeswoman, hospital-sponsored women’s health events, and magazine and radio advertising to deceptively market the benefits and safety of mesh to women without mentioning its risks. J&J also spread deceptive information through promotional consumer websites, online banner ads and sponsored search results, and a consumer-facing hotline.

Through the exceptional trial lawyering of the members of the Attorney General’s office and innovative use of expert testimony, the court was able to find that J&J had committed over 275,000 quantifiable violations in the state of California alone. That deception deprived physicians of the ability to accurately counsel their patients and deprived patients of the ability to make fully informed decisions about a permanent, irreversible implant. On a broader scale, over two million women worldwide have had J&J’s mesh devices implanted in the past two decades, and hundreds of thousands have suffered serious complications and injuries as a result

The Court found that J&J carried out “serious, knowing, and willful misconduct over a period of close to twenty years.” The Court recognized that J&J’s pelvic mesh products are “meant to be permanently implanted in the human body for life and carry the potential to cause debilitating, chronic pain and destroy patients’ sexual, urinary, and defecatory functions—consequences that go to the very core of personal identity, dignity, and quality of daily life.”

The Court awarded a civil penalty commensurate with the gravity and scale of that wrongdoing. The People’s team obtained a penalty award of $343.9 million, composed of a $1,250 penalty for each of 153,351 UCL violations and 121,844 FAL violations committed in California. The award constitutes both the largest total civil penalty and largest per-violation penalty ever imposed at trial under the UCL or FAL, and is fifty times greater than the largest UCL and FAL penalty previously awarded by a California court following trial.  This is truly an outstanding achievement in Public Law, as recognized by this award.

2020 Public Lawyer of the Year: Mara W. Elliott

Mara W. Elliott, San Diego City Attorney, has been named the 2020 Ronald M. George Public Lawyer of the Year by the California Lawyers Association’s Public Law Section.

The Public Lawyer of the Year Award recognizes Elliott as an exceptional attorney who has demonstrated a commitment to public service throughout her career.

The selection of Mara W. Elliott as the 2020 Public Lawyer of the Year continues the tradition of selecting a public attorney who constantly goes above and beyond providing mere legal advice to her clients. “Her distinguished career demonstrates a commitment to safeguarding taxpayer dollars and protecting the rights and safety of Californians,” said Alex Calero, chair of the Public Law Section.  “Elliott is recognized as a national leader in preventing gun violence, a fierce champion for consumers, workers and the environment, and a staunch protector of victims of domestic violence and sex trafficking.”

Elliott has prioritized consumer and environmental protection and created the Affirmative Civil Enforcement (ACE) Unit that takes on major corporate offenders: Experian for violating San Diegans’ privacy, Purdue Pharma for knowingly addicting vulnerable San Diegans to opioids, and Instacart for exploiting workers. Mara has prosecuted poachers and polluters who flout California’s environmental laws and protected endangered elephants by prosecuting traffickers in the biggest ivory bust in California history. 

“As City Attorney, Mara relaunched the San Diego Family Justice Center to bolster support for victims of domestic violence and expand its services to victims of sex trafficking.  Every year, the SDFJC offers hundreds of families free legal advice, medical exams, counseling and other support services in a safe and private safety,” said Heather Finlay, Chief Executive Officer of the YWCA of San Diego County. “Additionally, Mara created San Diego’s pioneering Gun Violence Restraining Order program to stop shootings by keeping dangerous people from having guns. Through Mara’s leadership, courts have removed over 500 firearms, including 40 assault weapons, from people who posed a threat to themselves and others.”  Since creating the program, the City Attorney’s Office has conducted or participated in nearly 30 formal trainings throughout the state, training more than 400 law enforcement agencies and governments, including college and unified school district police, mental health providers and non-government organizations on the Gun Violence Restraining Order program. 

Rafael J. Hurtado, President of the San Diego La Raza Lawyers’ Association, commends Elliott for having taken concrete steps to uphold the values of inclusion, diversity and equal opportunity.  “Mara is the first woman, the first Latina, and the first mom to hold the office of San Diego City Attorney”, said Lorena Gonzalez, Assemblywoman, 80th District.  “Mara is an inspiring example to others who want to serve, uplift and truly empower their communities, particularly by pursuing a career in public law.”

The daughter of a longshoreman father and immigrant mother, Elliott was the first in her family to graduate college, attending University of California at Santa Barbara and McGeorge School of Law.  Always dedicated to public service, Elliott served as legal counsel to public schools, the transit district, and the County of San Diego. Elliott served as a Chief Deputy City Attorney before winning election in 2016.  Mara is past president of the City Attorneys Association of San Diego County and currently serves as board president of the San Diego Law Library, an organization focused on ensuring access to justice.   


Nominate a Colleague for the Outstanding Achievement in Public Law (OAPL) Award

The Public Law Section is pleased to announce that it is soliciting nominations for the first annual Outstanding Achievement in Public Law (OAPL) Award.  This award recognizes an individual or team for a recent exceptional accomplishment that has improved the lives of Californians through the representation of a local, state, or federal government entity.  Achievements may be wide and varied! For example, they could include a precedent-setting court victory, guiding a public entity through a particularly challenging process, or assisting California residents during an emergency event.

The Public Law Section supports the goal of diversity in its membership and leadership. As such, the Public Law Section encourages nominations that represent California’s diversity, including people of color, women and LGBTQ people.

Eligibility

To be eligible, a nomination must meet the following criteria:

  • Include at least one member of the State Bar of California; and
  • The nominee(s) must have achieved a recent legal victory that has improved the lives of Californians through the representation of a government entity, or represented or advised a government entity through a particularly challenging matter or process
Selection Criteria

The Executive Committee may consider the following factors when selecting the recipient(s) of award:

  • Whether the achievement resulted in benefits to Californians extending beyond the public entity represented.
  • Whether the achievement required a commitment to public law above and beyond what is ordinarily expected.
  • Use of innovative or creative problem-solving by the nominee(s).
Nomination Process

To nominate an individual or team for this award, please submit the following:

  1. Nomination Form
  2. Nominator’s Statement of Nomination
  3. Letter(s) of Support (no more than five)

Nominations and supporting materials must be submitted by mail or email to:

OAPL Award
Public Law Section, Attn: Nikki Smith
400 Capitol Mall Suite 650
Sacramento CA 95814
E-Mail: PublicLaw@calawyers.org


Nominate a Colleague for the Ronald M. George Public Lawyer of the Year Award

The Executive Committee of the Public Law Section of the California Lawyers Association is pleased to announce that it is soliciting nominations for the 2020 Ronald M. George Public Lawyer of the Year Award.  Every year, the Public Law Section presents this award to recognize a public law practitioner who has provided outstanding service to the public and possesses an exemplary reputation in the legal community and the highest of ethical standards. 

In 2008, the Public Law Section named the award in honor of now-retired Chief Justice Ronald M. George in recognition of his distinguished career dedicated to serving the public and longtime support of the Section. The Executive Committee is honored to invite members of the Public Law Section, the State Bar and the public at large to submit nominations for the Ronald M. George Public Lawyer of the Year Award for 2020.

The Executive Committee supports the goal of diversity in the membership and leadership of the State Bar. As such, promoting and achieving diversity is considered carefully in selecting an outstanding member of the State Bar who practices public law as the Ronald M. George Public Lawyer of the Year.

The deadline for nominations is May 15, 2020.

Eligibility

To be eligible, a nominee must meet the following criteria:

  • Be a member of the State Bar of California with an exemplary record; and
  • Have at least five years of recent, continuous practice in public law in California
Selection Criteria

The following factors may be considered by the Executive Committee in its selection of the recipient of the Public Lawyer of the Year Award:

  • Demonstrated commitment of the nominee to the practice of public law
  • Use of innovative or creative problem-solving by the nominee in the practice of public law
  • Exceptional accomplishments by the nominee in the practice of public law
  • Provisions of legal services by the nominee to the public above and beyond what which is considered ordinary.
Nomination Process

To nominate and individual for this award, please submit the following:

  1. Nomination Form
  2. Nominator’s Statement of Nomination
  3. Nominee’s Resume or Biography (indicating the nominee’s principal areas of practice, the number of years of practice, professional achievements, and other features of his or her career, such as community involvement and bar association activities.)
  4. Letter(s) of Support (no more than five)

Nominations and supporting materials must be submitted by mail or email to:

Ronald M. George Public Lawyer of the Year Award
Public Law Section, Attn: Nikki Smith
400 Capitol Mall Suite 650
Sacramento CA 95814
E-Mail: PublicLaw@calawyers.org

Past Honorees

Each year the Public Law Section honors a public lawyer selected by the Public Law Section Executive Committee from nominations sent in by members of the Section and the public at large.

Click Here for more information about past honorees. In addition, the Section also gave the award in 1995 to Anthony Alperin, in 1994 to N. Eugene Hill, in 1993 to Elizabeth Strauss, and in 1991 to Ted Prim.

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