As stated by the National Law Journal, Joseph W. Cotchett is considered by plaintiffs and defense attorneys alike to be one of the foremost trial lawyers in the country. He has been named one of the 100 most influential lawyers in the nation for the past 15 years and in 2013, was named by Super Lawyers to be the number ONE lawyer in Northern California as named by his peers.
As reported in the San Francisco / Los Angeles Daily Journal, he is “considered one of the best trial strategists in the state” who built a career out of representing the underdog against powerful interests. He is a fearless litigator and once tried two cases at the same time (one in the morning and one in the afternoon) and won them both in San Diego Superior Court in 1984. His clients range from corporate giants to groups like Consumers Union – but the issue must be correct for Cotchett. In 2003, the San Francisco Chronicle rated him as one of the best in the Bay Area, saying, “The Burlingame attorney has had a star career that’s not only talked about in legal circles but has made headlines around the country. Known mostly as a plaintiffs’ lawyer, many of his cases are filed on behalf of fraud victims, and have a widows-and-orphan flavor to them.”
Cotchett consistently has been named one of the most influential lawyers in California,and has been named by the legal press as one of the top 10 trial attorneys in the state and has been listed in every edition of Best Lawyers in America since its inception.
During his 45-plus year legal career, he has tried more than 100 cases to verdict, and settled hundreds more, winning numerous jury verdicts, ranging from multi-million dollar malicious prosecution jury verdicts to several defense verdicts in complex civil cases. He successfully negotiated a multi-million dollar settlement in a qui tam suit on behalf of the University of California and hundreds of millions of dollars in antitrust, securities and major fraud cases.
In the 1980s, Cotchett won mammoth judgments and settlements for investors in white-collar fraud cases, with jury verdicts of more than $200 million arising out of the collapse of the Technical Equities Corp. in San Jose. He is known nationally as the lead trial lawyer for 23,000 plaintiffs in the Lincoln Savings & Loan Association/American Continental Corp. case in 1990 involving Charles Keating, his lawyers, accountants and bankers. He won one of the then largest jury verdicts in US history, $3.3 billion. He obtained nearly $300 million in settlements from lawyers, accountants and other professionals caught up in the scandal in the jury trial in Tucson, Arizona.
He has represented both the National Football League and teams since the early 1980s in various legal actions. As counsel for E. & J. Gallo Winery, he won a celebrated defense jury verdict in a trade dress infringement case involving wine labels and bottles produced by Gallo. The firm regularly represents Gallo in numerous matters.
In recent years, Cotchett has taken on major corporate entities and Wall Street. He and the firm are involved in litigation resulting from nearly every major corporate scandal including Enron, Worldcom, Global Crossing, Homestore.com, Qwest, Montana Power Company, Lehman, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs and numerous others on behalf of private investors and public pensions. The firm has represented the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, California State Teachers’ Retirement System, and the University of California Board of Regents, along with numerous political subdivisions of the state, such as counties, cities and districts.
In 2000, he served as trial counsel for Consumers Union, successfully defending the watchdog consumer group in a product disparagement and defamation suit in Federal Court in Los Angeles. Isuzu Motors of Japan had sued Consumers Union for disparagement to the 1995-96 Trooper, claiming millions in damages. Following an eight-week trial, a jury ruled in favor of Consumers Union. Trial Lawyers for Public Justice honored Cotchett as “Trial Lawyer of the Year” in 2000 in honor of his “outstanding contribution to the public interest” through his work for Consumers Union. Also in 2000, Consumer Attorneys of California gave Cotchett its “Presidential Award of Merit.” In 2004, he was the lead trial counsel in a product defamation case against Consumers Union. The suit was dismissed in what was considered a major victory for a free press and the First Amendment.
Cotchett is involved in extensive pro bono work. In one such case, he brought a lawsuit against the United States Navy on behalf of 8,600 Amerasian children in the Philippines who were left in villages after the closing of the Subic Bay Naval Base. The case ended in a settlement giving direct U.S. aid to the children fathered by U.S. servicemen and a television documentary on the subject. He regularly takes on pro bono causes including environmental and public policy matters and the firm represents and advises several Native American groups.
In 2002, Cotchett successfully represented the Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court and the individual judges along with the Judicial Council, in litigation brought against them by the New York Stock Exchange and the National Association of Securities Dealers. The two Wall Street forces had filed suit against the Judicial Council challenging the State of California on establishing guidelines for arbitrators who hear complaints from investors in the state.
Cotchett received his B.S. in Engineering from California State Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo in June 1960, being named an Outstanding Graduate, and his J.D. from Hastings College of Law at the University of California in June 1964. In June 2002, Cotchett received an Honorary Doctor of Laws from Cal Poly and The California State University Board of Trustees. In May 2006, Cotchett received an Honorary Doctor of Letters from Notre Dame de Namur University. In May 2011, Cotchett received an Honorary Doctor of Letters from the University of San Francisco. In each case, he was the graduation speaker honored by the Universities.
Following college, he served as an officer in the U.S. Army Intelligence Corps, followed by years as a Special Forces paratrooper and JAG Corps officer, in the active reserves. He retired in 1991 with the rank of Colonel with various citations including the Legion of Merit. He is a member of many veteran and airborne associations having served on active duty 1960-1961. From 2001 to 2005, he served on the board of the Army War College Foundation in Carlisle, Pennsylvania which supports the prestigious Army War College at Carlisle Barracks, the graduate school for the senior commanders of all branches of the service, including officers from foreign allies.
He has been an active member of national, state and local bar associations, including the California, New York and District of Columbia bars. He is a Fellow of the prestigious American College of Trial Lawyers and The International Society of Barristers and an Advocate in the American Board of Trial Advocates. He also is a Fellow and former board member of The International Academy of Trial Lawyers. A former Master of the American Inns of Court, he serves on various advisory boards for professional organizations.
He also has served on the Advisory Board of the Witkin Institute, the mission of which is to further B.E. Witkin’s commitment to advancing the understanding of California law and improving the administration of justice.
He is the author of numerous articles and a contributing author to numerous magazines. His books include California Products Liability Actions, Matthew Bender; California Courtroom Evidence, LexisNexis; Federal Courtroom Evidence, LexisNexis; Persuasive Opening Statements and Closing Arguments, California Continuing Education of the Bar (1988); The Ethics Gap, Parker & Son Publications (1991); California Courtroom Evidence Foundations, Parker Publications (1993); and numerous law review articles. He is a prolific author of op-ed pieces and articles on public policy, environmental issues and public integrity. In 2002, he co-authored and published the book The Coast Time Forgot, a historic guide to the San Mateo County coast.
Cotchett serves on various Federal Judicial Advisory Committees, that submits and reviews federal judicial nominations in California to President Obama. The committee was authorized by the Obama Administration and California’s two Democratic senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer. Cotchett is presently Chair of the Boxer Committee for the Central District of California (Los Angeles) and advises statewide. Cotchett also serves on a Judicial Advisory Committee to Governor Jerry Brown on state judicial appointments in Northern California.
Cotchett has lectured at numerous law schools including Harvard Law School, the University of Southern California, Georgetown Law Center, Stanford, Boalt, and his alma mater U.C. Hastings. His subjects include complex cases, evidence, trial practice and professional ethics. He also is a keynote public speaker and lecturer on contemporary subjects of law.
He has been honored by the State Bar of California by serving on the Board of Governors from 1972 to 1975. Cotchett served on the California Judicial Council from 1976 to 1980; the Board of Directors, Hastings College of Law, University of California for twelve years; California Commission on Judicial Performance (1978-1982); California Commission on the Future of the Courts; the California Select Committee on Judicial Retirement, the California Blue Ribbon Commission on Children in Foster Care, the latter three appointed by the Chief Justice of California.
His civic work includes past memberships on the board of directors of the San Mateo County Heart Association; San Mateo Boys & Girls Club (Past President); Peninsula Association of Retarded Children and Adults; Bay Meadows Foundation; Disability Rights Advocates; and numerous Bay Area organizations. He formerly served as a member of the board of Public Citizen in Washington, D.C. and served on the board of Earth Justice.
In 1996, he was awarded the Anti-Defamation League’s Distinguished Jurisprudence Award. The award was established to recognize individuals in the legal community who have exhibited humanitarian concerns, and whose everyday actions exemplify the principals on which the Anti-Defamation League was founded.
In 1999, Cotchett was inducted by the State Bar of California to the Litigation Trial Lawyers Hall of Fame. This award is given to professionals who have excelled as trial lawyers and whose careers exemplify the highest values and professional attainment.
In 2000, the University of California Hastings College of Law opened the Cotchett Center for Advocacy recognizing Cotchett as one of its outstanding graduates. Chief Justice Ronald M. George of the California Supreme Court and Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy of the U.S. Supreme Court honored Cotchett as speakers at the Founder’s Day dedication of the center. In 2006, Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont, California dedicated the Joseph W. Cotchett Business Lab for students.
In March of 2000, Cotchett was named to the California State Parks Commission by Governor Gray Davis. The commission establishes general policies for the guidance of the Parks Department in the administration, protection and development of the 260 state parks in the system. He served as Chairperson in 2002-2003.
In 2003, Cotchett was honored by Disability Rights Advocates for his nearly 40 years of civil rights work. At a San Francisco dinner attended by lawyers, judges and community leaders, Cotchett was described as follows: Joe Cotchett has been a champion for justice since his college days. As an engineering student in North Carolina, Joe challenged segregation by drinking from segregated water fountains and riding in the back of buses. Later, as a student at Cal Poly, in 1958 Joe successfully established the first integrated fraternity, which prompted the other fraternities on campus to follow suit.
Joe’s legal career has involved representing the underdog and doing extensive pro bono work. His civil rights commitment has been leveraged over and over by his financial support of legal fellowships. He has given a ‘kick-start’ to the public interest careers of the new law graduates at Trial Lawyers for Public Justice, Public Citizen, Southern Poverty Law Center and Disability Rights Advocates. Through these fellowships, Joe has helped to ensure social change through law. Joe guided DRA as a board and litigation committee member from its infancy years into the defender of disability rights it has become today.
In 2004, continuing a distinguished history of community and civic involvement, Cotchett endowed a $7 million fund to support science and mathematics teacher education at California State Polytechnic University to serve inner city and rural minority children. To honor Cotchett , the university renamed its landmark Clock Tower building the “Cotchett Education Building.” The gift supports science and mathematics teacher education initiatives at Cal Poly through the University Center of Teacher Education and the College of Science and Mathematics.
In 2011, Cotchett was inducted into the prestigious American Trial Lawyer Hall of Fame for his work nationwide in civil rights, and litigation on behalf of the under-privileged in our society.
In 2011, Cotchett received the Distinguished Service Award from the Judicial Council of California for years of service to the Judiciary and Courts in California. In 2011, Cotchett was named the Antitrust Lawyer of the Year by the Golden State Antitrust Institute as an outstanding lawyer over the years in the field of antitrust competition.
In 2011, he was honored by the California League of Conservation Voters with the Environmental Leadership Award for his years of work on behalf of the environmental committee and the work on state parks. In 2011, Cotchett was given the Lifetime Achievement Award by the California Consumer Watchdog of California for his years of service in representing consumers across the country.
Cotchett and his family members are active in numerous Bay Area charitable organizations involving animals, children, women and minorities. They established the Cotchett Family Foundation that aids individuals and groups in need of assistance and especially animal rights groups.