The Consumer Attorneys of California (“CAOC”) announced this year’s finalists for the organization’s two major member awards, Consumer Attorney of the Year and Street Fighter of the Year.
For assisting over 1,000 California public agencies recover money in litigation against Office Depot, the CAOC named Lieff Cabraser attorneys Robert Nelson and Lexi Hazam as finalists for the Consumer Attorney of the Year award. The award is given to a CAOC member or members who significantly advanced the rights or safety of California consumers by achieving a noteworthy case victory.
For her work in the tobacco litigation, the CAOC selected Lieff Cabraser attorney Sarah London as a finalist for the Street Fighter of the Year award. The award is given to attorneys practicing less than ten years who achieved an outstanding result.
The winners will be revealed at CAOC’s Annual Installation and Awards Dinner on November 7, 2015, to be held in conjunction with CAOC’s 54th Annual Convention in San Francisco.
Here are the summaries the CAOC provided for both cases:
State Of California Ex Rel. Sherwin v. Office Depot
Recovering Money For Public Entities Not Given “Best Prices”
David Sherwin, a former employee of Office Depot, blew the whistle on the company’s practice of not providing promised “best prices” to California public entities, such as school districts. Members of the U.S. Communities Government Purchasing Alliance, a national cooperative purchasing program for state and local government entities, are guaranteed to receive Office Depot’s best available government pricing. Sherwin alleged that Office Depot gave some entities a lower discount than it offered U.S. Communities members, and that company officials instructed account managers to manipulate their government customers into agreeing to purchases that were much more expensive than the contract allowed.
Sherwin continued to participate in the prosecution of the lawsuit even after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and he died just a month after giving his testimony in the case.
When the case settled before trial, $68.5 million was recovered for more than 1,000 taxpayer-funded California public entities that were cheated out of promised best prices for school and office supplies, including multi-million dollar recoveries for the City of Los Angeles and the County of Santa Clara.
Had it not been for this whistleblower suit, these cash-strapped entities likely would not have known they had been overcharged. The case vividly demonstrates how the civil justice system works to halt corporate fraud and advance the public good.
Gray v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company
A Young Lawyer Uncovers A Tobacco Company’s Deceit
Attorney Sarah London had been practicing law for only four years when her mentors encouraged her to take a significant leadership role in trials involving victims of smoking-related diseases or their surviving family members. She was lead trial counsel in a Florida lawsuit filed against tobacco giant R.J. Reynolds (RJR) by the widow of Henry Gray, who died at age 63 from lung cancer. The evidence showed RJR violated one of the most basic obligations expected from all manufacturers: to tell the public the truth about the dangers in their products when they know about them.
Not only did RJR break this rule, but the company conspired for decades with other tobacco companies to conceal and deny the hazards of smoking and the addictive nature of cigarettes, and it secretly engineered the cigarettes Gray smoked to be as addictive as possible. A federal court jury found that Gray was addicted to cigarettes and smoking caused his death holding RJR 50 percent responsible for his death.
The verdict was one of several that London helped bring about that led to the settlements of hundreds of other cases, holding RJR accountable for its actions and compensating injured smokers or their families for the company’s wrongdoing.