(L to R) Janet Varnell, Hassan Zavareei and F. Paul Bland (Photo: Courtesy Photo)

An intriguing assemblage of Washington, D.C., and Florida lawyers is backing a former Trump campaign staffer accusing Donald Trump of kissing her without her consent in 2016.

The team of lawyers represents Alva Johnson, who sued Donald Trump in his individual capacity, and his 2016 campaign, accusing Trump of forcibly kissing her outside a Tampa, Florida, rally in August 2016. The complaint, filed Monday in Tampa, also accuses the campaign of paying Johnson, a black female, less than her white and male peers.

“Ms. Johnson filed this case seeking justice for herself and others victimized by a man whose predatory behavior has gone unchecked for decades and whose campaign embodied his own sexism,” a press release for the complaint said. The lawyers are hoping to certify the case as a collective action, and are seeking injunctive relief, as well as damages and a jury trial.

The White House has denied Johnson’s allegation.

Hassan Zavareei, a trial lawyer in Washington and name partner at Tycko & Zavareei, is the lead attorney representing Johnson, although he noted in a phone call Monday that it was a team effort. Zavareei founded his firm, along with partner Jonathan Tycko, in 2002 after the two left Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher in hopes of working on more plaintiffs-side litigation.

Before that, Zavareei had an even more interesting and varied career working as a Russian-speaking flight attendant for Delta Air Lines, according to his firm bio. He then attended and graduating from University of California, Berkeley’s law school in 1996.

Zavareei’s firm now has offices in Washington, D.C., and Oakland, California, and works mostly in consumer class actions. The firm represents clients like tenants, employees, whistleblowers and more. Zavareei’s team at Tycko & Zavareei includes four female lawyers, Zavareei noted Monday, including Katherine Aizpuru in D.C., and Tanya S. Koshy from Oakland.

Zavareei also brought on a team of lawyers from Florida, led by Janet Varnell of Varnell & Warwick, a Florida firm that focuses mostly on consumer protection class actions, but has also handled civil rights trials and police misconduct cases. The Lady Lake-based firm helped successfully sue the Marion County Sheriff’s Office and two deputies in federal court over the 2012 shooting death of an unarmed man named Joshua Salvato.

Taking the lead on any nondisclosure agreement and arbitration issues that Johnson’s suit could raise are lawyers from the nonprofit legal advocacy group Public Justice. Both Zavareei and Varnell serve on the organization’s board of directors, Varnell said Monday, which is how the two attorneys got to know each other.

Paul Bland, the executive director at Public Justice, could be well-posed to tackle those secrecy issues. He recently argued a class action procedure case before the U.S. Supreme Court, representing George Jackson, a man locked in a dispute with Citibank and Home Depot. Varnell & Warwick also represented Jackson in the case, Home Depot USA v. Jackson.

Public Justice, Bland said Monday, “has had more success challenging forced arbitration” cases than any law firm or nonprofit organization in the country.

Johnson’s lawsuit against Trump was assigned Monday to U.S. District Judge William Jung of the Middle District of Florida. Jung was nominated by Trump in December 2017, and confirmed in September 2018. A former clerk to Justice William Rehnquist when he was an associate justice, Jung was previously nominated to the court by Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, too.

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