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Boutique Trial Firm With a National Powerhouse Punch

"I think it’s unusual to find lawyers with our background and qualifications at a small firm. Our clients have the benefit of working with leaders in our respective fields of practice where they get direct attention from the lawyers they retain. In short, our clients get the best of both worlds,” says Steven J. Katzman, Partner, Bienert | Katzman PC.Katzman’s partner, Thomas H. Bienert, Jr. echoes that statement. “We are as good as any firm of any size when it comes to trial and litigation. But we’re more efficient and more cost-effective than most because of our boutique size and structure.”
Bienert founded the firm in 2000. Katzman joined him in 2008. Today their organization is one of Southern California’s top trial boutique firms and a leader in complex trials and litigation, bankruptcy and white-collar criminal defense. The firm’s civil practice has obtained multi-million-dollar plaintiff and zero-dollar defense verdicts, and several successful asset recovery investigations, judgments and collections, with results often surpassing the tens of millions of dollars. Firm attorneys include the former United States Trustee for five federal judicial districts; Chief of the Orange County office of the United States Attorney and Associate Independent Counsel in Washington, D.C, Chief of the Los Angeles Trial Unit for the Federal Public Defender’s Office; federal prosecutors, federal public defenders and law clerks.
In relatively few years they have handled a surprisingly large number of high-profile cases, including matters involving Bernie Madoff, Anna Nicole Smith, the Varsity Blues case, the Backpage criminal cases, NBA star James Harden, the FDIC in Washington Mutual Receivership, and whistleblower claims against fortune 400 company, Celgene.
The firm has 24 employees: 12 attorneys (including six partners, one of counsel, one senior counsel and four Associates) and four paralegals. The awareness generated by their high-profile cases and ongoing reputation for excellence in representing a broad range of clients has created a need for expansion. Bienert | Katzman recently opened an office in Los Angeles to meet the additional client needs.
Katzman says, “Because Tom and I have such varied experiences and we have tried so many different types of cases, we’re in a position to handle any sort of trial case—from white collar criminal, bankruptcy, significant personal injury, whistleblower cases, and complex litigation—we’ve successfully handled all of them.”

A Heritage of Public Service and a Commitment to Helping People

The motivation to become attorneys and later to become partners comes in large part from growing up in environments where they saw and experienced first-hand the difficult and sometimes seemingly overwhelming challenges in life and in facing the legal system.
Bienert, the son of a young, single mother in New Orleans, learned the lesson of responsibility early, needing to do a lot on his own while his mom worked long hours as a legal secretary. Visiting her at her office allowed him to meet many attorneys and see some of them first-hand in court. “I was fascinated with the courtroom and the proceedings there: the formality of the proceedings, the colloquy between the judge and attorneys, the drama in the questioning of witnesses and arguments to the jury, the chance to do something in court to help people. I knew before I graduated high school that I wanted to be a trial attorney.”

He attended LSU undergrad and earned his J.D. from Tulane Law School. His admissions include the Louisiana Supreme Court, United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, Supreme Court of California, U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, and the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. Bienert is a member of the Orange County Bar Association, Orange County Criminal Defense Bar Association, Federal Bar Association, and the Southern California Regional Subcommittee. His professional achievements include: AV Preeminent Rated by Martindale-Hubbell since 2002, selected to the Super Lawyers® list every year since 2006, selected to the Best Lawyers® list every year since 2009, recognized as one of the National Trial Lawyers “Top 100 Trial Lawyers” every year since 2011, named Orange County’s “White-Collar Lawyer of the Year” for 2011 by Best Lawyers®, repeatedly recognized as one of the “Top 50 Lawyers in Orange County” by Super Lawyers®, selected among “America’s Top 100 High Stakes Litigators®”, received the Lifetime Achievement Award by “America’s Top 100 Attorneys®”, and recognized as one of “America’s Top 100®” Civil Defense Litigators for Southern California.
Katzman is the son of an immigrant holocaust survivor who came to the United States in 1958 with only $50 in his pocket. “My father taught me the truth of seeking the American dream and the value of a good work ethic,” he says. The first member of his family to attend college, he majored in Economics at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and received his law degree from the University of California, Davis.
“I did not anticipate that I would become a federal prosecutor or trial attorney, but I was motivated to do so by the fraud and abuse I personally witnessed in private practice following my clerkship,” he says. He is admitted to practice in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California, and the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio. His professional accomplishments include: Orange County Bankruptcy Forum, President, 2012, California Bankruptcy Forum, Educational Chair 2012, Conference Co-Chair, selected to the Best Lawyers® list every year since 2013, selected to the Super Lawyers® list every year since 2015, selected by Best Lawyers® as Orange County’s 2013 “Litigation-Bankruptcy” Lawyer of the Year, and he is a frequent speaker at many national and regional legal associations, including the American Bankruptcy Institute, the National Conference of Bankruptcy Judges, the National Association of Bankruptcy Trustees, the California State Bar, and the Justice Department’s national training facilities.
The future partners commenced on a long path of public service, working together as federal prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the 1990s, and then on various cases in private practice the early 2000s.

A Result-Oriented Approach

Katzman says, “When a client comes to us, they do so because they have a problem and they need that problem fixed. We take a holistic approach to resolving matters. There are a lot of external variables that come into play.” He says the attorneys look at the various moving parts of a case to figure out what is the best solution to reach their client’s objectives at the lowest reasonable cost. Bienert | Katzman is no stranger to controversial cases. The term “whistleblower” has been in the news recently and it is a topic familiar to the attorneys. They have been handling such cases and have developed an expertise in that highly controversial legal arena. One recent case involved a strong and principled woman who became a whistleblower after seeing a large pharmaceutical company conduct business practices that later were found to be against the law. She took action and made complaints and those complaints were brought to the government’s attention. The government declined to take the case and handed the matter over to Bienert | Katzman and two other firms on the East Coast. The case went straight to litigation. The woman’s name was made public, she was deposed, and she was a participant in various proceedings. The company she exposed was represented by two multi-national law firms staffed with very experienced and capable lawyers, but on the eve of trial the firm struck a successful settlement. Bienert says, “I think that one reason the case resolved successfully was because the collection of the two very small practices on the east coast along with our (at the time) 12-person trial shop was an opponent that the defendant company and their counsel recognized was equally good. They realized there was a serious risk of losing, so they settled the case fairly instead of continuing to go to trial.”
This $280 million settlement is the second largest recovery ever recorded in a false claims act case litigated by a private party.
Other interesting, and often controversial, cases successfully handled by Bienert | Katzman include:
Exposing serious prosecutorial misconduct in a tax fraud case brought against a prominent oncologist in Alaska, leading to the removal of the prosecution team. The government subsequently dismissed all five felony charges in exchange for a plea to a single misdemeanor with no jail time, no fine, and no restitution;
Obtaining a dismissal of all charges after trial against a former employee of a substance abuse treatment facility charged with second degree murder and dependent adult abuse when a patient of the facility died. After a nearly four-week trial, the team secured a jury vote of 10-2 in favor of acquittal, leading to the government dismissing the charges not only against their client but against related co-defendants who had not yet gone to trial.

Representing the liquidating trustee of a luxury resort, asserting claims for fraudulent transfer and securing more than $200 million in damages and approximately $100,000 in sanctions.
Katzman says, “We have the ability to work on high-level, interesting and controversial matters and are up to the challenges presented in such cases. Because we are well regarded in the legal community and have credibility with the courts and opposing counsel, our positions are given serious consideration.”

Doing What You’re Supposed to Do

Perhaps the most significant praise for an organization comes from its peers. Debra Wong Yang, a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, a former judge and United States Attorney, who worked with Katzman and Bienert at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, stated that a boutique firm with someone of Katzman’s bankruptcy background is rare. “They’re a small powerhouse firm that packs a lot of punch and swims way above their size level.”
That powerhouse punch comes in large part from the commitment of the partners to the law, the system, their clients and employees, and, ultimately, to their community.
Bienert says, “What keeps me going is my belief in our system. I know that my colleagues at my law firm and I work hard on our cases in a way that gives clients the best chance to have the system work properly and fairly to them in their case. Fortunately, I believe our system works fairly and properly in the vast majority of situations. And the fact that there are times when it doesn’t always work fairly is more reason to work harder for our clients, to lessen the chance that it won’t work properly for them.” Katzman adds, “I know that I’m working with people of high integrity who aggressively represent our clients without compromising their ethics in doing so. We’re zealous advocates and sometimes that means taking controversial positions. I’m proud of the fact that we’re willing to step up and do that when appropriate because that’s what lawyers are supposed to do.”

Bienert | Katzman PC
903 Calle Amanecer, Suite 350
San Clemente, CA 92673

Los Angeles Office
CalEdison Building
601 W. 5th Street, Suite 720
Los Angeles, CA 90071

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