Overview

As stated by the National Law Journal, Joseph W. Cotchett is considered by plaintiffs and defense attorneys alike to be one of the foremost trial lawyers in the country. He has been named one of the 100 most influential lawyers in the nation for the past 20 years. In recent years, he has been in the Top 3 for best attorneys in Northern California. For several years, he has been named by Super Lawyers to be the number ONE lawyer in Northern California. The Daily Journal has named him to be one of the Top 100 in California since its inception. In 2019 he was named Consumer Attorney of the Year for his 20-year fight against lead paint manufacturers for poisoning California’s most vulnerable children and communities. The California Labor Federation honored Cotchett with its “Top Slugger for Workers” award in 2019, recognizing his decades of fighting for the underdog. In 2020, Cotchett was named one of the Top 100 Lawyer and the Top 30 Plaintiff Lawyers in California.

As reported in the San Francisco / Los Angeles Daily Journal, he is “considered one of the best trial strategists in the state” who built a career out of representing the underdog against powerful interests. He is a fearless litigator and once tried two cases at the same time (one in the morning and one in the afternoon) and won them both in San Diego Superior Court in 1984. His clients range from corporate giants to groups like Consumers Union – but the issue must be correct for Cotchett. The San Francisco Chronicle rated him as one of the best in California, saying, “The Burlingame attorney has had a star career that’s not only talked about in legal circles but has made headlines around the country. Known mostly as a plaintiffs’ lawyer, many of his cases are filed on behalf of fraud victims and have a widows-and-orphan flavor to them.”

Cotchett consistently has been named one of the most influential lawyers in California, and has been named by the legal press as one of the top 10 trial attorneys in California and has been listed in every edition of Best Lawyers in America since its inception.

During his 50-plus year legal career, he has tried more than 100 cases to verdict, and settled hundreds more, winning numerous jury verdicts, ranging from multi-million dollar fraud, antitrust and securities jury verdicts to several defense verdicts in complex civil cases. He successfully negotiated a multi-million-dollar settlement in a qui tam suit on behalf of the University of California and hundreds of millions of dollars in antitrust, securities, major fraud cases, and mass torts.

In recent years, Cotchett and his firm have taken on the Trump Administration, representing the City of Richmond in the Sanctuary City litigation and filed separate suits representing the City of San Jose in challenging the Trump Administrators position on the DACA issues (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) pending in the U.S. District Court in Northern California.

VARIOUS CASES

In the 1980’s, Cotchett won mammoth judgments and settlements for investors in white-collar fraud cases, with jury verdicts of more than $200 million arising out of the collapse of the Technical Equities Corp. in San Jose. He is known nationally as the lead trial lawyer for 23,000 plaintiffs in the Lincoln Savings & Loan Association/American Continental Corp. case in 1990 involving Charles Keating, his lawyers and accountants in Tucson, Arizona. He won one of the then largest jury verdicts in US history, $3.3 billion. He obtained nearly $400 million in settlements from lawyers, accountants and professionals caught in the scandal of the fraud and returned to senior citizens.

He has represented both the National Football League and teams since the early 1980s in various legal actions. As trial counsel for E. & J. Gallo Winery, he won a celebrated defense jury verdict in a trade dress infringement case involving wine labels and bottles produced by Gallo. The firm regularly represents Gallo in numerous matters.

In the 1990's, his cases included major fraud, mass torts and environmental cases. He obtained a settlement for $25 million in relation to a qui tam suit involving the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine, and a $96 million settlement from three defendants in a major antitrust action against the world’s largest producers of citric acid. He served as lead counsel representing writers, actors and directors in the class-action suit challenging the use of net-profits contracts in the movie industry and was named co-lead counsel for the bondholders in the bankruptcy of Orange County, California.

In the 2000’s, he served as chief trial counsel for Consumers Union, successfully defending the watchdog consumer group in a product disparagement and defamation suit in Federal Court in Los Angeles. Isuzu Motors of Japan had sued Consumers Union for disparagement to the 1995-96 Trooper, claiming millions in damages. Following an eight-week trial, a jury ruled in favor of Consumers Union. Trial Lawyers for Public Justice honored Cotchett as Trial Lawyer of the Year in 2000 in honor of his “outstanding contribution to the public interest” through his work for Consumers Union. Also, in 2000, Consumer Attorneys of California gave Cotchett its “Presidential Award of Merit.” In 2004, he was the lead trial counsel in a product defamation case against Consumers Union. The jury ruled for Consumer Union in what was considered a major victory for a free press and the First Amendment.

Cotchett successfully represented the Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court and the individual Justices along with the Judicial Council, in litigation brought against them by the New York Stock Exchange and the National Association of Securities Dealers. The two Wall Street forces had filed suit against the Judicial Council challenging the State of California on establishing guidelines for arbitrators who hear complaints from investors in the state.

In recent years, Cotchett has taken on major corporate entities and Wall Street for financial fraud. He and the firm are involved in litigation resulting from nearly every major corporate scandal including Enron, Worldcom, Global Crossing, Homestore.com, Qwest, Montana Power Company, Lehman, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs and numerous others on behalf of private investors and public pensions. The firm has represented the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, California State Teachers’ Retirement System, and the University of California Board of Regents, along with numerous political subdivisions of the state, such as counties, cities, and districts.

PRO-BONO CASES

Cotchett is involved in extensive pro bono work since his early days of practice. In early 1983, Cotchett was asked by Ted Kennedy to join Dean Robb who had started a case against the FBI for having an informant in the Klu Klux Klan who killed Viola Liuzzo. She was murdered in March 1965 after the Selma march with the SCLC and Martin Luther King. Cotchett and Robb tried the case for her children before Judge Charles Joiner in March of 1983 in Ann Arbor, Michigan – 18 years after the killing in Alabama. After a trial of a number of FBI and KKK witnesses – the Judge found no intentional misconduct by the FBI, but it resulted in whole new guidelines for hiring informants by the FBI.

In 1993, he brought a lawsuit against the United States Navy on behalf of 8,600 Amerasian children in the Philippines who were left in villages after the closing of the Subic Bay Naval Base after 50 years of operation. The case ended in a settlement giving direct U.S. aid to the children fathered by U.S. servicemen and a television documentary on the subject. He regularly takes on pro bono causes including environmental and public policy matters and the firm represents and advises several Native American groups.
He has represented American Indian tribes, minority groups, women’s groups, and a number of non-profits around the United States.

EDUCATION

Cotchett received his B.S. in Engineering from California State Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo in June 1960, being named an Outstanding Graduate, and his Juris Doctorate from Hastings College of Law at the University of California in June 1964. In June 2002, Cotchett received an Honorary Doctor of Laws from Cal Poly and The California State University Board of Trustees. In May 2006, Cotchett received an Honorary Doctor of Letters from Notre Dame de Namur University. In May 2011, Cotchett received an Honorary Doctor of Letters from the University of San Francisco. In each case, he was the graduation speaker honored by the Universities.

SERVICE IN U.S. ARMY

Following college, he served as an Officer in the U.S. Army Intelligence Corps, followed by years as a Special Forces paratrooper and then a Judge Advocates General’s JAG Corps officer, in the active reserves. Before transferring to the JAG, he made 12 airborne operations. He retired from Active Reserve duty in 1991 with the rank of Colonel with various citations including the distinguished Legion of Merit for exceptionally meritorious and outstanding services. He is a member of many veteran and airborne associations having served on active duty 1960-1961. From 2001 to 2005, he served on the Board of the Army War College Foundation in Carlisle, Pennsylvania which supports the prestigious Army War College, the graduate school for the senior commanders of all branches of the service, including officers from foreign allies. He lectures at various veteran’s groups and active duty installments.

PROFESSIONAL ACTIVITIES

He has been an active member of national, state, and local bar associations, including the California, New York, and District of Columbia bars.

He is A Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers, A Fellow of The International Society of Barristers, An Advocate in the American Board of Trial Advocates, and A Fellow and former board member of The International Academy of Trial Lawyers.

A Master of the American Inns of Court, he serves on various advisory boards for professional organizations. He served on the Advisory Board of the Witkin Institute, the mission of which is to further B.E. Witkin's commitment to advancing the understanding of California law and improving the administration of justice.

BOOKS AND WRITINGS

He is the author of numerous articles and a contributing author to numerous magazines. His books include California Products Liability Actions, Matthew Bender; California Courtroom Evidence, LexisNexis; Federal Courtroom Evidence, LexisNexis; Persuasive Opening Statements and Closing Arguments, California Continuing Education of the Bar (1988); The Ethics Gap, Parker & Son Publications (1991); California Courtroom Evidence Foundations, Parker Publications (1993); and numerous law review articles.

He is a prolific author of op-ed pieces and articles on public policy, environmental issues and public integrity. He co-authored and published the book The Coast Time Forgot, a historic guide to the San Mateo County coast and his most recent book The People vs. Greed, Pattons Press (2017) is available on Amazon.

JUDICIAL ADVISORY

Cotchett formally served on various Federal Judicial Advisory Committees, that reviewed federal judicial nominations in California for President Obama and Clinton. The committee was authorized by California's two Democratic senators, Dianne Feinstein, and Barbara Boxer. Cotchett served as Chair of the Boxer Committee for the Central District of California (Los Angeles). Cotchett also served on a Judicial Advisory Committee to Governor Jerry Brown on state judicial appointments in Northern California during his tenure.

TEACHING

Cotchett has lectured at numerous law schools including Harvard Law School, the University of Southern California Law School, Georgetown Law Center, Stanford Law School, U.C. Berkeley Law School, University of Santa Clara Law, and his alma mater U.C. Hastings. His subjects include complex cases, evidence, trial practice and professional ethics. He also is a keynote public speaker and lecturer on contemporary subjects of law at numerous schools around the country.

PROFESSIONAL COMMISSIONS AND COMMITTEES

He has been honored by the State Bar of California by serving on the Board of Governors from 1972 to 1975. Cotchett served on the California Judicial Council from 1976 to 1980; the Board of Directors, Hastings College of Law, University of California from 1981-1993; California Commission on Judicial Performance (1978-1982); California Commission on the Future of the Courts; the California Select Committee on Judicial Retirement, the California Blue Ribbon Commission on Children in Foster Care, the latter three appointed by the Chief Justice of California.

CIVIC WORK

His civic work includes past memberships on the board of directors of the San Mateo County Heart Association; San Mateo Boys & Girls Club (Past President); Peninsula Association of Retarded Children and Adults; Bay Meadows Foundation; Disability Rights Advocates; and numerous Bay Area organizations. He formerly served as a member of the board and President of Public Citizen in Washington, D.C. and served on the board of Earth Justice.

In 1996, he was awarded the Anti-Defamation League’s Distinguished Jurisprudence Award. The award was established to recognize individuals in the legal community who have exhibited humanitarian concerns, and whose everyday actions exemplify the principals on which the Anti-Defamation League was founded.

HALL OF FAME INDUCTIONS

In 1999, Cotchett was inducted by the State Bar of California to the California Litigation Trial Lawyers Hall of Fame. This award is given to professionals who have excelled as trial lawyers and whose careers exemplify the highest values and professional attainment.

In 2011, Cotchett was inducted into the prestigious American Trial Lawyer Hall of Fame for his work nationwide in civil rights, and litigation on behalf of the under-privileged in our society.

UNIVERSITY AWARDS

The University of California Hastings College of Law opened the Cotchett Center for Advocacy recognizing Cotchett as one of its outstanding graduates. Chief Justice Ronald M. George of the California Supreme Court and Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy of the U.S. Supreme Court honored Cotchett as speakers at the Founder's Day dedication of the center. In 2006, Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont, California dedicated the Joseph W. Cotchett Business Lab for students.

COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT

In 2000, Cotchett was named to the California State Parks Commission by Governor Gray Davis. The commission set forth general policies for the guidance of the Parks Department in the administration, protection, and development of the 260 state parks in the system. He served as Chairperson in 2002-2003.

In 2003, Cotchett was honored by Disability Rights Advocates for his nearly 40 years of civil rights work. At a San Francisco dinner attended by lawyers, judges, and community leaders, Cotchett was described in the award as follows:

Joe Cotchett has been a champion for justice since his college days. As an engineering student in North Carolina, Joe challenged segregation by drinking from segregated water fountains and riding in the back of buses. Later, as a student at Cal Poly, in 1958 Joe successfully established the first integrated fraternity, which prompted the other fraternities on campus to follow suit.

Joe's legal career has involved representing the underdog and doing extensive pro bono work. His civil rights commitment has been leveraged over and over by his financial support of legal fellowships. He has given a ‘kick-start’ to the public interest careers of the new law graduates at Trial Lawyers for Public Justice, Public Citizen, Southern Poverty Law Center and Disability Rights Advocates. Through these fellowships, Joe has helped to ensure social change through law. Joe guided DRA as a board and litigation committee member from its infancy years into the defender of disability rights it has become today.

In 2005, following a distinguished history of community and civic involvement, Cotchett endowed a $7 million fund to support science and mathematics teacher education at California State Polytechnic University to serve inner city and rural minority children. To honor Cotchett, the university renamed its landmark Clock Tower building the “Cotchett Education Building.” The gift supports science and mathematics teacher education initiatives at Cal Poly through the University Center of Teacher Education and the College of Science and Mathematics.

In 2011, Cotchett received the Distinguished Service Award from the Judicial Council of California for years of service to the Judiciary and Courts in California.

In 2011, Cotchett was named the Antitrust Lawyer of the Year by the Golden StateAntitrust Institute as an outstanding lawyer over the years in the field of antitrust competition.

In 2011, he was honored by the California League of Conservation Voters with the Environmental Leadership Award for his years of work on behalf of the environmental committee and the work on state parks.

In 2012, Cotchett was given the Lifetime Achievement Award by the California Consumer Watchdog of California for his years of service in representing consumers across the country.

In 2019, the California Labor Federation awarded Cotchett with the Top Slugger for Workers Award in Sacramento for his many years of service representing working union people for better wages and work conditions.

In 2019, Green Foothills awarded Cotchett with its Nature’s Inspiration Award “for his lifetime of servitude for justice and dedication to preserving the San Mateo coastline.”

In 2020, following years of support for his alma mater, the University of California, Hastings College of Law, Cotchett endowed a multi-million fund to update the school’s buildings in San Francisco to assist students. Hastings honored Cotchett by naming the new campus building, U.C. Hastings – COTCHETT LAW CENTER.

COTCHETT FOUNDATION

Cotchett and his family members are active in numerous Bay Area and National charitable organizations involving animals, children, women, and minorities. They established The Joseph W. Cotchett Foundation that aids groups in need of monetary assistance and especially animal rights, environmental groups, and non-profit organizations.

News

News

Publications

  • The People vs. Greed
    Pattons Press, 2017
  • Federal Courtroom Evidence
    LexisNexis
  • Persuasive Opening Statements and Closing Arguments
    California Continuing Education of the Bar
  • The Ethics Gap
    Parker & Son Publications
  • California Courtroom Evidence Foundations
    Parker Publications
  • California Products Liability Actions
    Matthew Bender
  • California Courtroom Evidence
    LexisNexis

Honors & Awards

Honors & Recognitions

CAOC Attorney of the Year (2019)

CA Labor Federation Top Slugger for Workers (2019)

Green Foothills Nature's Inspiration Award (2019)

2019 Northern California America's Top 100 Bet-The-Company Litigators

2017-2019 Top 100 Northern California Super Lawyers List - Named Number One Lawyer out of over 60,000 rated by peers

Named to Top 100 Lawyers in California list by California Daily Journal (2003 - 2019)

2017 Recipient of the Judge Learned Hand Award from the American Jewish Committee

2011 Distinguished Service Award from Judicial Council of California

Lawdragon 500 Leading Lawyers in America list

2010 Antitrust Lawyer of the Year by the Antitrust and Unfair Competition Law Section of the State Bar of California

Honored with first Diversity Award by the San Mateo County Bar Association Diversity Committee (2011)

Frances Bohannon Nelson Legacy Award (2011)

Named to Super Lawyers Top 10 list since its launch for Northern California

Honored by the California League of Conservation Voters with the Environmental Leadership Award (2011)

Honored by Consumer Watchdog with The Phillip Burton Lifetime Achievement Award (2011)

Received Honorary Doctor of Letters from the University of San Francisco (2011)

Received an Honorary Doctor of Letters from Notre Dame de Namur University (2006)

Received an Honorary Doctor of Laws from California State Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo and the trustees of the California State University (2002)

California State Polytechnic University renamed its landmark Clock Tower building the “Cotchett Education Building.”

Named to the American Trial Lawyer Hall of Fame (2011)

Received Father Alfred Boeddeker Award from St. Anthony Foundation (2010)

Honored with Community Spirit Award (2010)

Received the prestigious Consumer Advocate Award (2007)

2000 Trial Lawyer of the Year from the Trial Lawyers for Public Justice

Received the Presidential Award of Merit from the Consumer Attorneys of California (2000)

University of California, Hastings College of the Law opened the Cotchett Center for Advocacy (2000)

Received the Anti-Defamation League’s Distinguished Jurisprudence Award (1996)

Listed in Top 100 California Legal Leaders by the Los Angeles Daily Journal or equivalent media since 1990’s

1989 Trial Lawyer Of The Year from the Trial Lawyers for Public Justice

Consistently has been named one of the most influential lawyers in the country by legal press and various media – CNN, NBC, national newspapers.

Affiliations

California Bar Association

New York Bar Association

District of Columbia Bar Association

American College of Trial Lawyers, Fellow (1991)

The International Society of Barristers, Fellow (1987)

The American Board of Trial Advocates, Diplomat (1982)

The International Academy of Trial Lawyers, Fellow (1984)

California Inns of Court, Master of Bench (1989)

Community Involvement

Cotchett and his family members are active in numerous Bay Area and National charitable organizations involving animals, children, women, and minorities. They established The Joseph W. Cotchett Foundation that aids groups in need of monetary assistance and especially animal rights, environmental groups, and non-profit organizations.

Education

University of California,
Hastings College of Law, J.D., 1964

California State Polytechnic University,
B.S. in Engineering, 1960

  • Named an Outstanding Graduate

Admissions

  • U.S. Supreme Court
  • California Bar
  • New York Bar
  • District of Columbia Bar
  • Numerous Federal Courts
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