Public Interest Litigation

Reinvention of Municipal Law

Our affirmative litigation model was a vanguard approach to public sector litigation when Louise Renne and Jon Holtzman introduced it a decade ago in the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office.

Ms. Renne, as San Francisco City Attorney, “reinvented” municipal law by filing class actions against tobacco, insurance companies, energy producers, national banks, gun and lead paint manufacturers and escrow companies. Organized by Ms. Renne, the suits embodied cooperative efforts by cities, counties, utility districts, and non-governmental organizations all working in concert with one another. This inter-jurisdictional cooperation achieved strength in numbers and enabled local governments to put a stop to fraudulent, harmful or deceptive practices that were against the public’s interest. Under Ms. Renne’s leadership, the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office recovered more than $1 billion for California taxpayers.

Affirmative Litigation Model

At Renne Sloan Holtzman Sakai, LLP, we continue this effective model of affirmative litigation, representing and organizing public agencies, non-profit organizations and individuals in public interest and consumer protection litigation. Some of the litigation matters we are currently pursuing in the public’s interest include:
Insurance Broker Abuse – Represent California public entities against the primary insurance brokers that serve California counties, schools, and cities and have used their positions of trust with their clients to obtain kick backs, improper fees, and benefits at the expense of their clients.

Elder Financial Abuse

Pursuit of multiple state and national class-action suits against insurance companies, a bank and “living trust mill” companies for the sale of inappropriate financial products to seniors.

Alcoholic Beverages Targeted At Minors

Writ action against the California Alcoholic Beverage Control Board alleging that it has misclassified “alcopops” – sweet beverages containing distilled alcohol – as beer, resulting in a $50 million annual loss to the state in tax revenue, and allowing these products to be far more accessible to teenagers, whom are their primary target.

Class Action Experience

Our firm’s lawyers have a long history of serving as class counsel in complex public interest litigation and have achieved national recognition for the successful resolution of these cases. Some of the cases our attorneys have previously organized and lead include:

  • Representation of cities and counties throughout California in lawsuits against the tobacco industry to recover damaged incurred to local and state government. The lawsuits, later joined by the California Attorney General, recovered $25 billion, half of which now goes to California local government agencies. San Francisco’s share of the recovery is estimated to be $585 million over 25 years.
  • Representation of over 300 California cities and counties in a False Claims Act whistleblower lawsuit against Bank of America. The lawsuit alleged that proceeds from as many as 14,000 bond issues valued at $100 billion and managed by the bank since the 1940s had been illegally retained by the bank. Local governments recovered $187.5 million in this lawsuit.
  • Representation of public agencies in a $50 million lawsuit against Old Republic Title, alleging that the company engaged in a scheme to collect illegal interest payments on escrow accounts. Subsequently, the Department of Insurance initiated an investigation and the State Controller filed suit. The suit ultimately recovered $8 million for the City and County of San Francisco.
  • While serving as General Counsel for the San Francisco Unified School District (“SFUSD”), Ms. Renne uncovered a nation-wide scandal, known as the “e-rate” scandal, in which numerous technology vendors and computer consultants conspired to defraud a federal government program of millions of dollars intended for the purchase of computer equipment for public schools. As part of a settlement with one company, a total of almost $16 million was paid to the federal government, of which SFUSD received $3.3 million.
  • Representation of California cities and counties in a lawsuit which successfully prevented tobacco companies from targeting minors in advertising. The lawsuit, often referred to as the “Joe Camel” case, resulted in a settlement in which Camel agreed to cease advertising directed at minors.
  • In a case against a Fortune 250 company on behalf of SFUSD, recovered $43.1 million for SFUSD in a breach of contract and False Claims Act lawsuit.

Practice Area Contacts

Louise Renne
(415) 678-3805
Jon Holtzman
(415) 678-3807