New Chairman Named at Sacramento’s Largest Law Firm

March 6, 2017

Sacramento Business Journal

By Ben van der Meer for Sacramento Business Journal

For the first time since 2014, a new attorney has taken over as chairman of the Sacramento area's largest law firm.

Bill Warne, who’s been with Downey Brand LLP for 26 years, is the new chairman, after Stan O. Van Vleck served in that position for the last three years.

“The reluctance I had was filling his shoes,” said Warne, noting he and Van Vleck are not only colleagues but friends and neighbors.

Warne said during his year as chairman, he wants to continue work on integrating the 100-attorney firm based in Sacramento with the community. That means meeting with people in the region to talk about Downey Brand, its service lines and its talent, he said.

“I want to make sure we’re using all of our skill sets and letting people know we’re there,” Warne said. “And we’ll continue to look at other services we can provide.”

In recent years, Downey Brand opened an office in Sunnyvale, in addition to existing ones in San Francisco, Reno and Stockton. Warne said he’s also interested in adding more business to those offices, and he believes doing so helps raise the profile of the firm’s Sacramento roots.

“Nobody has the platform we have, business, natural resources, litigation, our other areas,” he said.

Van Vleck, who runs a cattle ranching business and a lobbying firm in addition to his work at Downey Brand, originally signed on for a one-year term in 2014, then served two extensions at the request of other partners.

“It’s going to be a smooth transition,” Van Vleck said. “Bill’s understanding of our clients and business needs is very high.”

Both men said they share a love for helping people solve complicated problems, through application of their knowledge of the law. In many cases, they’ve ended up becoming friends with their clients along the way, they said.

High-profile cases Warne has handled with Downey Brand include one involving the Moonlight Fire, a 2007 wildfire that started in Plumas County and burned 65,000 acres. Warne defended timberland owner Sierra Pacific Industries in lawsuits by the U.S. Forest Service and CalFire alleging that Sierra Pacific was one of the parties responsible for the fire.

Sierra Pacific and a group of other land owners agreed in 2012 to a settlement with the U.S. Forest Service for $55 million and with Sierra Pacific agreeing to turn over 22,500 acres of land to the federal government.

In 2013, however, a judge throughout CalFire's case ordered the state fire agency to pay $32 million to reimburse the defendants for legal fees, after CalFire was found to have falsified and suppressed evidence.

The defendants have since filed a motion in federal court to set aside the settlement with the U.S. Forest Service.

Warne also won a $165 million settlement in 2008 for land owner Park Cattle Co. in a dispute over the ground lease of the property that was then the site of the Horizon Casino in South Lake Tahoe.

“I’ve just always enjoyed the practice as a litigator and a trial lawyer,” Warne said. “Never once have I come in here without feeling an abundance of energy for the task that day.”