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When people talk about high-profile sexual harassment lawsuits in Contra Costa County, Calif., it’s not long before the conversation turns to Casper, Meadows & Schwartz. The firm has carved out a niche in the East Bay representing clients — and snaring seven-figure settlements — in highly publicized lawsuits that were filed against three Contra Costa law enforcement agencies. Now the firm represents an Oakland city employee who says she was sexually harassed by Mayor Jerry Brown’s senior aide during a Mexico business trip. Attorneys at the firm’s Walnut Creek offices downplay those suits, which they say account for about 15 percent of the work they do. “Those are just high-profile cases,” said Michael Meadows, one of the firm attorneys negotiating with city officials in the Oakland matter. Stan Casper and Andrew Schwartz are former deputy public defenders who built a private criminal defense practice when they left the Contra Costa PD office in 1979. The pair was later joined by Meadows, another former deputy public defender, in 1992. There’s no question that the firm is handling more inquiries about sexual harassment and sex discrimination complaints these days, said Casper. That’s because in the past four years the firm settled several complaints that were filed on behalf of female police officers and other employees who worked for the Walnut Creek police department, the Concord police department and Contra Costa County sheriff’s office. The city of Walnut Creek settled two lawsuits filed by five women who claim they were subjected by fellow officers to lewd jokes and, in one case, unwanted sexual advances. The city agreed to pony up $1.4 million. Concord agreed to pay $1.25 million to six female police officers and two civilian employees in March 1999 after allegations that supervisors did not promote female employees and that the police chief told staff his department wasn’t ready to have a woman in management. In December 2000 the county committed to shelling out $300,000 to a former county emergency planner who said a now-retired sheriff’s captain made frequent sexual remarks to her on business trips and at work. “We handled all of these cases well because we were well trained by the public defender’s office,” said Schwartz, who is working with Meadows on the Oakland harassment case. Now the Casper, Meadows reputation is creeping further west. In the Oakland case, Jacques Barzaghi has been accused of making sexual comments to a woman in the city’s international affairs department. A suit has not been filed but Meadows, the woman’s attorney, has threatened to file one if the city does not hand over information it has gleaned from its own internal investigation. Barzaghi has been Mayor Brown’s advisor since he was California’s governor. Other than the partners Casper, Meadows and Schwartz, the firm includes appellate specialist Thomas Seaton and junior partner Larry Cook. Plaintiff attorneys like to orchestrate when witnesses will testify and control the tempo of a trial, said Casper, who likens himself to a movie director. The attorney says he wouldn’t have enjoyed a career where he took orders in the bowels of a huge law firm. “I don’t have the time,” said Casper. “I’m directing my next movie.” The firm began to shift from criminal defense work to plaintiff representation in the 1980s, after the attorneys got a hefty settlement in a product liability suit. In that case, pool cover manufacturer Sealed Air Corp. agreed to pay $11 million to a family whose toddler nearly drowned, said Schwartz. “That put us on the radar screen,” said Casper. Since then Casper, Meadows has represented clients in several big lawsuits that followed accidents at Contra Costa refineries. That includes one of the wrongful death suits from a 1999 fire at Tosco’s Avon refinery that claimed the lives of three refinery workers. Tosco agreed to pay the victims’ families $21 million last year. Meadows also got headlines over the past few years as he represented dozens of clients who were molested by Northern California Catholic priests as children. “They fight for their clients like banshees,” said Gregory Harvey, Contra Costa’s assistant county counsel in charge of litigation. “We have won a couple of times [against them] but not often,” laughed Harvey. Like other successful plaintiff firms, Casper, Meadows tends to attract clients with more substantial court claims, but Casper and Schwartz are known to occasionally take cases that are harder to litigate, Harvey said. Nevertheless, “They don’t file junk,” said Harvey. Other defense attorneys say that Casper, Meadows lawyers tend to be straightforward in settlement negotiations and skilled in the courtroom. “They are excellent negotiators and they know how to back it up in trial,” said Robert Slattery, a partner at Walnut Creek’s McNamara, Dodge, Ney, Beatty, Slattery & Pfalzer. Slattery, who specializes in insurance defense, has known the Casper, Meadows attorneys from his days as a former Contra Costa deputy DA. He’s also been on the other side of the aisle from the attorneys when he defended clients in medical malpractice suits. “They have good witnesses. They don’t take a case unless they think that they will be successful,” said Slattery. “They have been worthy opponents.”

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