Attorneys Who Won Landmark Lead Paint Judgment and Cleanup Named Public Justice Trial Lawyers of the Year
Members of the team accept the 2014 Trial Lawyer of the Year Award at the Annual Gala.
The attorneys who successfully fought for lead paint cleanup in People of California v. Atlantic Richfield were named Sunday as Public Justice’s 2014 Trial Lawyers of the Year.
The 27 attorneys won a $1.15 billion judgment against paint manufacturers last year, successfully arguing that lead paint in homes is a public nuisance that creates a quantifiable risk of harm to children who reside in or visit those homes.
Leading the team of attorneys were (in alphabetical order) Mary E. Alexander of Mary Alexander & Associates, P.C. in San Francisco, Joseph W. Cotchett and Nancy L. Fineman of Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, LLP in Burlingame, Calif., Peter Earle of the Law Office of Peter Earle in Milwaukee, Wis., and Fidelma L. Fitzpatrick of the firm Motley Rice in Providence, R.I.
“This is for the children of California,” Mary Alexander said upon accepting the award. Fidelma Fitzpatrick noted that her participation in People of California was the greatest privilege of her professional career.
In California, tens of thousands of children each year have blood lead levels that exceed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention threshold. There is virtual unanimity in the medical and scientific community that the primary cause of lead poisoning in children is the lead paint in their homes. It is also widely understood that the only way to prevent lead poisoning is to remove or remediate the paint in a child’s environment before a child gets poisoned.
Though paint manufacturers denied the existence of any lead paint nuisance, CDC criteria showed an additional 10,875 lead-poisoned children in 2009 in 10 California cities and counties. Many are low-income, minority children who live in older homes with lead paint.
In 2000, 10 California cities and counties sued several of the country’s largest paint manufacturers to hold the companies accountable for promoting the use of lead paint in homes, even though its dangers to children had been known for decades. The local governments sought help from a team of plaintiffs’ attorneys.
After a 13-year odyssey that culminated in a seven-week trial, the team won a landmark $1.15 billion judgment and lead paint abatement on Dec. 16, 2013, against three of the major paint manufacturers.
The Santa Clara County trial court ruled that ConAgra, NL Industries and Sherwin-Williams had created a public nuisance by selling lead-based paint for decades before it was banned in 1978, were liable for that public nuisance, and had to pay $1.15 billion into an abatement fund run by the State of California to pay for inspections and lead removal in tens of thousands of homes.
Co-counsel in the case were Danny Chou, Greta Hansen, and Jenny S. Lam of the Santa Clara County Attorney General’s Office, Rebecca Archer of the San Mateo County Counsel’s Office, Solano County Counsel Dennis Bunting, Paul Prather of the San Diego City Attorney’s Office, Owen Clements and Erin Bernstein of the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office, Robert Ragland and Andrea Ross of the Los Angeles County Counsel’s Office, William M. Litt of the Monterey County Counsel’s Office, Andrew J. Massey of the Alameda County Counsel’s Office, William E. Simmons of the Oakland City Attorney’s Office, and Eric J A Walts of the Ventura County Counsel’s Office, Bob McConnell, Michaela Shea McInnis, and Jonathan D. Orent of Motley Rice, Vincent I. Parrett and Aileen Sprague, formerly of Motley Rice, Brian M. Schnarr of Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, and Sophia M. Aslami and Jennifer L. Fiore of Mary Alexander & Associates.
The award was presented at the annual Public Justice Gala and Awards Dinner on July 27 at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Md.