Public Retirement Law Practice at Olson Remcho

Attorneys in the public retirement law practice at Olson Remcho provide cutting edge legal advice, representation, and consulting services to California’s state and local public retirement systems. 

Chris Waddell, former General Counsel of the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS), established and heads the practice.  Chris, now senior attorney at Olson Remcho, joined Olson, Hagel & Fishburn, LLP in 2008.  He previously served as General Counsel for two California public retirement systems; first at CalSTRS, the second largest public pension fund in the country, and later at the San Diego City Employees’ Retirement System (SDCERS). 

California’s state and local public retirement systems have often led the way for retirement systems across the country.

“California’s state and local public retirement systems, charged with protecting the retirement savings of millions of Californians, have often led the way for retirement systems across the country,” said Chris.  “I enjoy working with my clients on the day-to-day challenges of administering their systems and assisting them with resolving complex fiduciary law and governance issues.  It’s been exciting and satisfying to me to have been able to play a role in their continuing development and strengthening over the last 24 years.” 

The public retirement law team at Olson Remcho also includes partner Kristen Rogers, as  well as other senior firm attorneys with exceptional expertise in government law issues and litigation.  Several firm attorneys, including Chris, serve as outside general or special counsel to state and local public agencies.

Chris currently serves as the outside General Counsel to the San Luis Obispo County Pension Trust, the Imperial County Employees’ Retirement System, and the San Joaquin Regional Transit District Retirement Board.  He also serves  as the outside counsel for the CalSTRS Appeals Committee, and as fiduciary counsel the Los Angeles County Employees Retirement Association and  two City of Los Angeles retirement systems.  He has also worked with SDCERS, the San Diego County Employees’ Retirement Association and the City of Oakland Police and Fire Retirement System.  In addition, he has provided advice on fiduciary law issues to the state public retirement systems in Pennsylvania and Maine.  Working with Funston Advisory Services, he has assisted with comprehensive governance reviews for the City of New York’s retirement systems and the Texas Teachers’ Retirement System.

While at CalSTRS, Chris worked with Olson, Hagel and Fishburn’s litigation team led by Deborah Caplan and oversaw the strategy that recovered $700 million in unpaid pension contributions plus interest from the State of California in the Teachers Retirement Board v. Genest case.  He also developed and administered an innovative securities litigation policy that recouped approximately $200 million in CalSTRS investment losses and worked with the CalSTRS Board in its adoption of significant enhancements to its governance and conflicts of interest policies, including “pay to play” policies and regulations that received national attention.


Russian Refugee Persecuted as a Lesbian Granted Asylum with Help from O|R’s Rutkowski

With the help of a legal team including Olson Remcho associate Rachael Rutkowski, a lesbian woman, who fled from Russia with her partner because she feared for her life after being subjected to multiple instances of violent persecution because of her sexual orientation, was granted asylum in the United States in December 2021.  The couple, who married in San Francisco after coming to the U.S., now have a young child and with the December ruling are assured of being able to remain in the U.S. and pursue a path to citizenship.

The legal team, including Rachael, OR partner Margaret Prinzing and Rachael’s former colleagues at Perkins Coie LLP, successfully had their client placed on a short list after five years of waiting for a credibility interview and, in November 2021, persuaded to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services adjudicating officer that the woman should obtain asylum. 

The couple . . . now have a young child and with the December ruling are assured of being able to remain in the U.S. and pursue a path to citizenship.

Rachael and her co-counsel were able to show that it was likely that the woman would be subject to further persecution if forced to return to Russia where her government employer had joined in persecuting her and the police were unwilling to protect her against the increasingly violent physical attacks to which she was being subjected.  Russia continues to be a dangerous place for the LGBTQ+ community.

Olson Remcho’s Rios Op-Ed: FPPC’s Rule-Making Needs a Dose of Transparency

Olson Remcho’s Richard Rios and Chris Micheli, an attorney and lobbyist with the governmental relations firm of Aprea & Micheli, co-authored an opinion piece in Capitol Weekly on March 3, 2022, FPPC’s rule-making needs a dose of transparency.  

According to the op-ed:

The Legislature should require the FPPC to adopt rules, regulations, . . . to comply with modern standards of transparency.

“The Legislature should enact legislation to require the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) to fully comply with the current California Administrative Procedure Act (APA).

While the FPPC takes the position that it is only bound by the version of the APA that was in existing in 1974 (when the FPPC was created by the voters in their adoption of Proposition 9 that also enacted the Political Reform Act), we believe the FPPC should be bound by the current version of the APA.

The FPPC, after all, is focused on transparency in the political and election processes. However, without compliance with the entire APA, the FPPC’s rulemaking procedures are not conforming with contemporary standards that most other state agencies and departments follow.”

Read the entire article here.

Judge Orders No Enforcement of New Restrictions on Pork Sales Until 180 Days After State Issues Final Regulations

In an order issued on February 2, 2022, Sacramento County Superior Court Judge James Arguelles ruled that California suppliers, restaurants and retailers would not be subject to enforcement of Proposition 12 passed by voters in 2018, which imposed new restrictions on whole pork meat sales, until 180 days after the state enacts final regulations. Olson Remcho’s Tom Willis, Karen Getman, Deborah Caplan, and Aaron Silva represent plaintiffs in the case.

The case is California Hispanic Chamber of Commerce vs. Ross. Plaintiffs include California Grocers Association, California Restaurant Association, California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce, California Retailers Association and Kruse & Sons, a meat processor. The order is available here.

This comes down to fundamental fairness. It is impossible for the industry to comply with rules that are not yet in place.

Proposition 12 makes distributors and sellers in California liable for criminal and civil sanctions if they knowingly distribute or sell pork raised in a manner that is not in compliance with Prop 12, whether or not the pork was raised in state. The firm represents a group of restaurants, groceries, butchers and other retailers who are seeking to stop the law from being enforced until the state has finalized regulations and implements a system by which farmers can be certified for complying with Prop 12 and that certification can pass through the distribution chain, giving those end users a good faith defense against prosecution. Proposition 12 required those regulations to be completed by September 2019, anticipating the state and the pork industry would need time to set up such a system and adapt practices before the measure became effective on January 1, 2022. However, those regulations are still undergoing agency review and have not yet been finalized.

Olson Remcho partner Tom Willis, who argued the case, said “This comes down to fundamental fairness. It is impossible for the industry to comply with rules that are not yet in place and impossible for retailers to assert the good faith defense that the voters provided for in Proposition 12 until the state and industry have had time to put those rules into practice.”

The California Grocers Association issued a statement after the judge’s ruling, “The court’s decision to ensure regulations are finalized before the enforcement provisions of Proposition 12 take effect was the correct one. California restaurants and families are already struggling with rising food costs and the haphazard implementation of Proposition 12 without any clear rules or certification process in place would have only made it worse.”

Reinstatement of Oakland Parcel Tax Will Provide $30 Million Annually to Fund Early Childhood Education

A California appeals court in San Francisco ruled on December 30, 2021 that an Oakland parcel tax to fund early education and college readiness that was passed in 2018 could be reinstated, allowing the city to collect $30 million annually in new revenue.

James Harrison and Tom Willis of Olson Remcho drafted Measure AA and Karen Getman and Harrison filed an amicus brief in the trial court and the Court of Appeal on behalf of two of the proponents of the measure. The opinion is here.

Measure AA will help ensure that all of Oakland’s children have the opportunity to succeed and pursue the career of their choice.

According to Harrison, “The case marks another victory for the voters’ exercise of the initiative power and will generate $30 million annually to help ensure that all of Oakland’s children have the opportunity to succeed and pursue the career of their choice.”

Measure AA, which received more than 62% of the vote in November 2018, authorized the city to collect $30 million annually in supplemental property tax to fund education for young children and boost college preparedness among high schoolers. Opponents argued that a two-thirds vote was required. Court of Appeal Presiding Justice James Humes wrote in the court’s opinion that Measure AA “cannot be invalidated on the basis of the ballot materials’ voting-threshold statements because the statements did not concern the measure’s substantive features, were not alleged to be intentionally misleading, and cannot override the law governing the applicable voting threshold.”

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf commented for the press: “I am proud we did not give up on our kids in this fight, and the court’s ruling today vindicates our determination. This marks a major victory for our kids, who now have a commitment from their city to fund early education for the next 30 years. It’s also a victory for the overwhelming majority of our voters, who made our children’s future their priority.”

Daily Journal Names Olson Remcho one of California’s “Top Boutiques” for 2021

Olson Remcho has been named as one of the Daily Journal’s “Top Boutiques in California” for 2021.  The firm was selected based on its deep expertise in political and government law.  According to the article, “The creation of Olson Remcho 20 months ago out of California’s two top, Democrat-oriented political law firms went smoothly, partners say.  After all, the two firms’ attorneys had known and worked with each other for years.  And lawyers from both firms already were collaborating on a couple of matters prior to their merger.” 

The article closes with a quote from Managing Partner Karen Getman.  “It was a very intense year, but I think I speak for all of us when I say we’re very, very glad we merged because we each brought strengths to the table.”

It was a very intense year, but I think I speak for all of us when I say we're very glad we merged because we each brought strengths to the table.

A pdf of the full article is available here.

California Judge Rules that Proposition 22 is Unconstitutional

In a major victory for California app-based drivers, rideshare consumers and labor unions, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch ruled on Friday that Proposition 22, which exempted companies like Uber, Lyft and Doordash from treating drivers as employees, was unconstitutional.  The court decision is a game-changing development in the nationwide battle over ensuring that employees of gig companies are entitled to fundamental employment and collective bargaining rights.

According to Judge Roesch’s ruling, Proposition 22 unconstitutionally “limits the power of a future legislature to define app-based drivers as workers subject to workers’ compensation law.” He concludes his order by stating “A prohibition on legislation authorizing collective bargaining by app-based drivers does not promote the right to work as an independent contractor, nor does it protect work flexibility, nor does it provide minimum workplace safety and pay standards for those workers.  It appears only to protect the economic interests of the network companies in having a divided, unionized workforce, which is not a stated goal of the legislation.”

The judge’s ruling makes clear that Prop 22 is a fundamentally flawed initiative promoted by the gig companies to protect their own economic interests

“The judge’s ruling makes clear that Proposition 22 is a fundamentally flawed and self-serving initiative promoted by the gig companies to protect their own economic interests at the expense of gig workers and the public,” said Richard Rios of Olson Remcho, “This is an important win for our clients who have been fighting against an industry that poured more than $200 million into a campaign to convince voters to pass an unconstitutional measure into law.”

Led by senior litigators Robin Johansen and Deborah Caplan, with the assistance of Rios and  associate attorney Benjamin Gevercer, Olson Remcho’s legal team, along with co-counsel from the Altschuler Berzon firm, pinpointed the various ways in which Proposition 22 is patently unconstitutional.

“Proposition 22 fails the constitutional test on multiple grounds,” said Robin Johansen.  “including by limiting the power of the legislature to ensure that workers are protected by a system of workers’ compensation and a draconian requirement that would effectively prohibit app-based drivers from ever engaging in collective bargaining.”

Plaintiffs include rideshare drivers Hector Castellanos, Saori Okawa and Michael Robinson; Joseph Delgado, a user of app-based rideshare services; and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and SEIU California State Council. 

Bob Schoonover, president of SEIU California, said in a statement: “Today’s ruling by Judge Roesch striking down Proposition 22 couldn’t be clearer: The gig industry-funded ballot initiative was unconstitutional and is therefore unenforceable. They tried to boost their profits by undermining democracy and the state constitution. For two years, drivers have been saying that democracy cannot be bought. And today’s decision shows they were right.”

The order is available here: Castellanos Order 082021

Olson Remcho Selected to Serve as General Counsel of Caltrain

In May of 2021 Olson Remcho was selected to serve as General Counsel of Caltrain – the public transit agency which provides rail service between San Francisco and Gilroy.  In this capacity the firm is advising the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board (“JPB”), a joint powers authority composed of the City and County of San Francisco, the San Mateo County Transit District, and the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority which has owned and operated the railroad since 1991, on all their legal matters.  The firm’s work will include providing the JPB with assistance in considering a new governance structure for the agency as specified by the JPB when Measure RR, which was passed by voters in San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties in November 2020 to provide dedicated funding to Caltrain, was placed on the ballot.

“We are honored to be selected as General Counsel of Caltrain,” said James Harrison, who is leading the legal team representing the agency along with Robin Johansen, Tom Willis, Aaron Silva, Omar El-Qoulaq, and Anna Myles-Primakoff of Olson Remcho.  “With a $2 billion electrification plan already underway, Caltrain is an amazing transit agency that provides vital congestion relief to the Bay Area with the goal of serving more consumers and taking more polluting vehicles off the roads for years to come.”

Caltrain is an amazing transit agency that provides vital congestion relief to the San Francisco Bay Area.

According to a Caltrain press release celebrating the passage of Measure RR, “Caltrain has grown to become the seventh largest commuter railroad in the country, the largest carrier of bikes of any American transit system, and the nation’s most efficient railroad.  In the long-term, the 30-year measure will allow Caltrain to invest in the operation and expansion of faster, more frequent electrified service with added capacity necessary to accommodate expected increases in ridership demand in the decades to come. It will also allow the system to advance equity policies to help ensure Caltrain is accessible and affordable to all members of the communities it serves.”

California School Boards Association Sues State Controller Over Prop. 98 Budget Guidance

Olson Remcho filed a writ in Sacramento Superior Court on behalf of the California School Boards Association (CSBA) on July 16, 2021 alleging that California State Controller Betty Yee violated Proposition 98 guarantees and state tax law when she issued her budget guidance earlier this year.  Proposition 98, which was passed by California voters in 1988, requires a minimum percentage of the state budget to be spent on K-12 education.  The Olson Remcho team representing CSBA includes Karen Getman, Kristen Mah Rogers, and Benjamin Gevercer

 According to the writ, “That guidance unlawfully permits counties to avoid allocating to school districts, county education offices and community college districts their lawful share of local property tax revenues from the counties’ Education Revenue Funds, thereby unlawfully decreasing the minimum school funding guarantee provided by Article XVI, Section 8(b) of the California Constitution.”  See the Daily Journal story on the case, “School boards sue state controller over tax guidance” provided in full here.

Unless the controller’s erroneous guidance is declared unlawful, it will create a permanent decrease in the Proposition 98 minimum funding guarantee.

The writ asks the court to issue a permanent injunction barring the use of the Controller’s guidance.  According to the writ, “Unless the controller’s erroneous guidance is declared unlawful, it will create a permanent decrease in the Proposition 98 minimum funding guarantee.”


Olson Remcho Adds Anna Myles-Primakoff to Government and Nonprofit Law Practices

Olson Remcho is pleased to announce the addition of Anna Myles-Primakoff as a senior associate.  Ms. Myles-Primakoff, who focuses her practice on government and nonprofit law, was previously with NEO Law Group where she provided advice on tax and corporate governance issues to nonprofit and tax-exempt organizations. She also previously served as General Counsel to IDinsight, a global advisory, data analytics, and research organization that aims to transform the way the social sector innovates, learns, and improves. At IDinsight,  advised on governance, intellectual property, employment law, tax and compliance issues. She also led the organization’s internal risk management and transactional work and managed outside counsel in IDinsight countries of operation.

Her prior professional experience includes both international and U.S experience in the non-profit sector. Prior to joining IDinsight, Ms. Myles-Primakoff worked as Legal Director at One Acre Fund, a global non-profit social enterprise providing funding and training to over a million smallholder farmer families in lower income countries to support them increase their food security and assist them achieve a more sustainable livelihood. At One Acre Fund, she led a comprehensive portfolio of legal, compliance, employment law, government relations, and corporate structure matters across more than 10 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia during a period in which the organization doubled in size.

Ms. Myles-Primakoff holds a J.D. from Harvard Law School and a Master’s in Public Policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School, and graduated summa cum laude from UCLA with a Bachelor of Arts in political science.