When a group of private investors accused the State of California of breaking a $2.3 billion contract to purchase state-owned buildings, it turned to Liner partner Angela C. Agrusa to litigate on its behalf.
The case goes back to 2009. Then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the California legislature passed legislation to help close the state’s budget deficit by selling 11 state-owned office buildings to the group of private investors, California First. Promptly after taking office, Gov. Jerry Brown cancelled the contract, and California First sued. The trial in California First LC v. State of California began in December and is currently ongoing.
“This was not an easy case to litigate; not because of the legal issues, which were complex, but because of the politics that permeated the case from before its inception through trial,” Agrusa told WIPL. “The trial posed the question whether one governor can breach a contract entered into by another governor and the legislature, for his own policy differences. We, of course, argued no, and that the State like any of its citizens has to be bound by the contracts it enters.”
The plaintiffs turned to Agrusa as soon as the deal was cancelled. “On Feb. 9, 2011, in a press conference, newly elected Gov. Jerry Brown terminated the contract my client California First had signed with the Schwarzenegger administration to purchase 11 state owned buildings for $2.3 billion,” she said. “The contract had a 30-day time period in which to sue so, as a consequence, California First had to act fast in seeking representation. I remember taking that introductory call with California First’s principals from my car in the parking lot before my son’s Little League game. There was good chemistry between us and they liked the way I viewed their case.” Agrusa and her team filed the complaint on March 10, 2011 and spent four years in litigation before the trial began.
Agrusa said she is seeing more clients willing to proceed to trial. Yet she is always surprised when lawyers haven’t determined the direction of the case when taking or defending depositions. “And, as I see it, the key for litigators is always to prepare your trial strategy--whether pursuing or defending an action--at the outset,” she said. “For example, I knew where the weakness and strengths in the Cal First case were before I filed that suit. I was preparing the case with that in mind before the State’s own lawyers ever developed their final trial defenses. This is not news or new information, nor is it specific to trial…this strategy is equally effective when your case direction is resolution through motion or mediation.”
If she were general counsel, she would be asking her outside counsel those questions early on, recognizing that issues change as cases develop, Agrusa said. “It is also my practice to meet with my opposing counsel early in cases to share ideas on direction and to establish rapport. You would be surprised how many cases can be resolved in early litigation when that practice is employed,” she said.
When asked what advice she would give to women attorneys, Agrusa said women should use their innate abilities to adapt and multi-task, so they can be resilient and reinvent themselves. “When you are in this field for the long haul, you need to be constantly observant of your professional environment,” she said. “I am not a patient person, but at times I have had to be. When I first had my children, I had to accept that I couldn’t be all things to all people and I had to reinvent the way I practiced law. When the economy fell hard, I had to be willing to expand my skills and reinvent how I marketed for new work,” she said. “And, now as my children are in their teens, I once again have reinvented and am able to take risks with my practice that were not practical a decade ago.”
Chair of Liner’s Consumer Marketing and Product Labeling practice, Los Angeles-based Agrusa’s practice focus on consumer marketing and branding litigation and class-action litigation for companies in a wide range of industries, including food and beverage, consumer products and services, hospitality, fashion and retail and entertainment and media.
She has extensive experience with both making and defending against consumer and competitor challenges. She deals with consumer false labeling claims and competitor false advertising challenges in state and federal courts, as well as with matters that fall under the general purview of unfair or deceptive trade practices. Agrusa also represents companies in complex business litigation in California and across the United States.