Firm History: A Quest for Justice
- 1960-1961A Legacy of Service Begins
Joseph W. Cotchett enrolls at UC Hastings Law School after serving as an officer in the U.S. Army Intelligence Corps.
- June 1964Setting the Foundation
Joe Cotchett receives his law degree from the University of California, Hastings College of the Law.
- 1967A Practice is Born
Cotchett worked for a small firm in San Bruno for a year with a notable attorney, Saul Ross. In 1967, he opens his own practice in San Mateo in association with two other young lawyers, James Tormey and Bill Kenney.
- 1968Moving Forward
The young firm founded by Cotchett quickly began to make a name for itself representing workers and consumers. Using his engineering background, Cotchett sues a Los Angeles manufacturer whose machinery tore the arm off a Mexican factory-worker. Cotchett convinced the court that a simple $1.50 safety switch would have saved the worker's arm and prevented similar injuries to others who had no voice in workplace safety.
- 1973Early Fights Against Fraudsters
In 1973, the firm took on financial operator C. Arnholt Smith, a banker and friend of Richard Nixon. The suit resulted in a $31 million verdict for shareholders who lost millions when Smith’s U.S. National Bank failed. Smith went to federal prison for embezzlement and tax fraud. At the time, the verdict was the largest damages award and first class action judgment of its kind rendered by a jury in the United States.
- 1976Cotchett, Hutchinson and Dyer
In 1972, Cotchett asked Bob Hutchinson to become his first partner. Hutchinson left to Sacramento in 1976 to join the first Jerry Brown Administration, but later returned to run the firm’s Southern California operations. Today, Hutchinson remains the managing partner of CPM’s Santa Monica office.
- 1977Swine Flu Litigation
U.S. soldiers fall ill and die after improperly tested Swine Flu vaccination. In one of the earliest multidistrict litigation (MDL) mass tort cases in the country, Cotchett was appointed lead counsel for thousands of cases consolidated in Washington, D.C.
- 1978Cotchett & Illston
In the mid-1970s, a bright Stanford Law student named Susan Illston joined the firm. Illston became a partner in 1976, and was added to the firm name in 1978. Illston was appointed to the federal bench in 1995, and remains one of the most universally respected District Court judges in the nation.
- 1979Taking on the KKK
The firm takes on the FBI over Ku-Klux-Klan assassination of Civil Rights Activist Viola Liuzzo. The suit called the FBI to task for hiring the informant involved in the murder, Gary Rowe. By shining a light on questionable FBI tactics, the Liuzzo case would lead the agency to completely revamp its policies about hiring unsavory confidential informants.
- 1980A Nationwide Reputation Solidified
By the end of the 1970s, the firm’s fight for justice, and its reputation, had expanded nationwide. It was during this time that Cotchett started putting pen to paper and wrote one of his first books on Products Liability and later books on Courtroom Evidence and Trial Practice – books still used today by lawyers and judges.
- 1982Dropping Roots in the Heart of Silicon Valley
In 1982, Frank Pitre and Michael Samuels joined the firm, followed in 1984 by Bruce Simon. In 1986, the firm left San Mateo and established its main office in Burlingame – close to the San Francisco airport for mobility around the state.
- 1990Lincoln Savings & Loan
In the 1990s, the CPM team secured one of the most celebrated victories in U.S. history when they won a $3.3 billion jury verdict and settlements against Lincoln Savings & Loan, and its head, Charles Keating. The case received international attention because of Keating’s political connections ranging from former President Richard Nixon, to five U.S. Senators – all involved in helping Keating. The firm’s flair for representing the underdog was on public display.
- 1993Pro Bono Litigation: Service at Our Core
Joe Cotchett files an unprecedented class action lawsuit against the United States Navy on behalf of 8,600 children of U.S. Servicemen who were abandoned in the Philippines after closure of the Subic Bay Naval Base. After trial, the U.S. government agreed to provide millions of dollars in direct aid to fund education and health care for the children fathered by U.S. servicemen.
- 1995Enriching the Bench
CPM Partner Susan Y. Illston was nominated to the federal bench by President Bill Clinton on the recommendations of Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein. She was confirmed by the Senate on May 25, 1995 and took senior status in July 2013.
- 2000Lead Paint: A 20-Year Battle Begins
At the start of the new Millenium, CPM was asked by the County of Santa Clara to sue manufacturers of lead paint, to hold them responsible for the harm they caused by promoting lead paint when they knew of its toxic harm to children. The lawsuit was ultimately joined by nine other California cities and counties who prosecuted the lawsuit on behalf of the People of California. And a 20 year legal battle commenced.
- 2002CPM Partner Marie Weiner Appointed Judge
Marie Weiner, a CPM partner and well-respected civil litigator, is appointed to the bench by former Governor Gray Davis. By 2020, three former CPM partners are on the bench--more than from any firm of its size in California.
- 2005Valerie Plame v. Dick Cheney, et al.
Valerie Plame was a former CIA agent whose cover was intentionally exposed by officials at the highest echelons of the American government, including Vice President Dick Cheney. Valerie Plame contacted Cotchett to seek justice for egregious violations of her constitutional civil rights. On October 28, 2005, Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald announced an indictment against Cheney’s Chief of Staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, stating “It is important that a CIA officer’s identity be protected, that it be protected not just for the officer, but for the nation’s security… Valerie Plame’s cover was blown."
- 2007The California Power Scam
CPM takes on natural gas retailers who brazenly fixed prices during California’s 2001-02 energy crisis.
- 2008An American Hero Joins CPM
War hero and co-founder of Earth Day, Congressman Paul N. “Pete” McCloskey, Jr., joins CPM’s environmental law practice.
- 2010Stopping the Sale of California’s Beautiful Public Buildings
In November 2010, with 45 days left in Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s term, a phone call came into CPM’s office asking if they would help stop Schwarzenegger-led sale of public buildings – one of the most outrageous scams in the history of California politics. After around-the-clock work by CPM, two days before the date set for the sale, the Sixth District Court of Appeals stayed the buildings’ sale. On Feb. 9, 2011, newly elected Gov. Brown announced the building sale would not happen, saying it was “short-sighted” and “not prudent.” Brown thanked Cotchett and his crew for a terrific job for the public, saying the action would save taxpayers “billions of dollars” over 35 years.
- September 9, 2010The San Bruno Explosion and Fire
At 6:11 pm, a 54–year-old gas pipeline owned and maintained by the local utility, Pacific Gas & Electric Co., ruptured beneath the ground of the Crestmoor neighborhood of San Bruno. The explosion literally shook the ground and sent a wall of fire nearly 1,000 feet into the air. CPM partner Frank Pitre spends the next decade fighting against PG&E on behalf of victims of the explosion, and a series of subsequent wildfires in Northern California caused by PG&E’s negligence. In 2018, Pitre receives the Lifetime Legal Achievement Award for his work.
- 2011Hunter Labs v. Quest Diagnostics, et al.
Taking on the “Blood Brothers,” CPM recovers $301 million for California taxpayers in largest recovery at the time under the California False Claims Act.
- 2018State of California v. BP
On the eve of a four-week jury trial, BP (formerly British Petroleum) pays $102 million over accusations that the oil company engaged in massive overcharging of California cities, counties, universities, and government agencies on purchases of natural gas over the course of a decade. It remains the largest whistleblower settlement in California history involving an oil company.
- 2020 and Beyond“Batterygate”
CPM announces an agreement with Apple Inc. to settle a nationwide class action based on allegations that Apple issued software updates that slowed down the performance of certain iPhones. Under the proposed settlement, Apple will pay a minimum of $310 million and up to $500 million in cash compensation.