This story is one in a series brought to you by Gwilliam, Ivary, Chiosso, Cavalli & Brewer, an Oakland-based law firm dedicated to helping people who are injured and suffering get the compensation and results they need to move forward.
Jayme Walker relishes her role as a plaintiff’s attorney championing justice for clients who have been victimized by powerful and entrenched interests.
“There is nothing more satisfying than when a client feels heard, vindicated, and that they’ve obtained justice for wrongs committed against them,” said Walker, a partner at the Oakland law firm of Gwilliam, Ivary, Chiosso, Cavalli & Brewer. “The courts are one of the only places where a regular person can stand up to the powerful and win.”
Walker’s passion and drive have helped her clients win a string of verdicts and settlements in recent years covering a wide variety of areas, including contracts, employment, catastrophic injury, sexual abuse/assault, police misconduct, and civil rights.
It also led Walker’s colleagues in the region to choose her as president-elect of the Alameda-Contra Costa Trial Lawyers Association, a position held in previous years by her senior partner, J. Gary Gwilliam, and former firm partner, Eric Ivary. Walker will become president in January 2021.
“She’s a real up and comer,” said Steve Brewer, who was managing partner at Gwilliam, Ivary, Chiosso, Cavalli & Brewer for two decades and is now in semi-retirement. “It’s a really good thing both for her personally and for the firm.”
Walker said her priorities as president will include increasing the diversity of ACCTLA members, and promoting work-life balance practices, particularly for lawyers with families.
Walker’s upward trajectory has been sharp, and in 2014 she was named by California Super Lawyers as a Rising Star—an honor she has received every year since. She moved to San Francisco in 2006 from Indiana after graduating from college and got a job as a receptionist at the Gwilliam firm. That in turn led to some paralegal work and then a degree from the University of San Francisco School of Law, where Walker was active on the law review, moot court, and the Public Interest Law Foundation. After clerking in the U. S. Attorney’s Office of the Northern District of California and for a law firm, Walker rejoined the Gwilliam firm in 2009.
Soon after her return to Gwilliam, Walker enjoyed a big victory when she and the firm won a $9.2 million verdict for an inventor who said he was betrayed by a company that promised to market his surgical laser but instead suppressed sales. Ultimately, the Texas corporation at fault paid out more than $12 million after an unsuccessful appeal.
Still early in her career as a trial lawyer, Walker mused at the time that she might never win a case of that magnitude again—but she continued to score wins.
In 2015, Walker helped get a settlement with the City and County of San Francisco, which agreed to pay $725,000 to a former police department attorney who was fired after she tried to get Greg Suhr, the man who later became police chief, terminated for misconduct. Once Suhr became chief, the attorney was immediately dismissed. The case settled during pretrial motion hearings after the press reported that the fired attorney sought to prosecute Suhr for alleged misdeeds, including lying to the FBI for a security clearance, and that the San Francisco mayor may have allowed the wrongful termination.
“My client, Kelly O’Haire, was a pleasure to represent. She was incredibly smart, hardworking and she really suffered professionally as a result of her work policing the police to weed out bad cops,” Walker said.
Walker became a partner in 2016 and continued to be an integral part of the employment team that was named by The Recorder newspaper as one of the Top 10 Leading Plaintiffs Bay Area Employment Law Groups.
In another notable case in which Walker played a starring role, an Eastern District jury in Fresno returned a $526,649 verdict for the son of the Merced County District Attorney, who at age 19 was wrongfully accused of a gang murder and jailed for nearly four months. As a result of the litigation, a federal civil rights jury found that two police officers committed judicial deception by omitting and manipulating evidence to get a warrant. Included were punitive damages levied on the two officers.
Yet another case involving law enforcement, one that Walker is currently working on, is a federal lawsuit charging that the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office and other local law enforcement agencies wrongfully and maliciously pursued murder charges against criminal defense attorney Frank Carson, his wife, and stepdaughter. Carson was accused of orchestrating the murder-for-hire of a petty thief and drug-addict. He was acquitted in 2019 by a jury after he spent 17 months in jail. He died in August of this year. The charges against the women were dismissed by a judge.
Now, the federal lawsuit seeks to prove that law enforcement agencies sought to ruin Carson.
“It’s a crazy case. What happened was unconscionable,” Walker said. “They basically framed Carson and arrested him for murder based on no evidence and a vendetta against him because he successfully represented criminal defendants and exposed law enforcement dishonesty.”
Practicing self-care while fighting such fierce battles is important to Walker, both for herself and other attorneys. That is why during the COVID-19 pandemic, she has been leading online stress reduction workshops for ACCTLA members. Recently, she also wrote an article for The Verdict, the ACCTLA magazine, offering tips on how to maintain good mental health in trying times. Chief among them? Remember to breathe.
Other ways Walker enjoys relaxing include playing guitar and singing with her husband, yoga, backpacking, and cooking, though she says time for such diversions has been in much shorter supply since the arrival of her two-year-old son.
Juggling the demands of a career and parenting has highlighted for Walker the need for more “compassionate,” family-friendly practices in her industry, and one of her top priorities as ACCTLA president will be fostering discussion on the subject. The notion that lawyers need to be available at all times, for example, needs to be examined, she said.
“I think everybody suffers when we work all hours of the night,” Walker said. “We need to push back and say, ‘No, I have a two-year-old, I’m not going to have that motion in the morning.’”
For herself, Walker feels extremely lucky that her own partners, Gary Gwilliam, Rob Schwartz, and Randall Strauss, have been extremely supportive of her, both as an attorney and as a mother.
“My partners, all three of them, are the most supportive, kind-hearted, easy-going, family-friendly men I know,” Walker said. “They not only talk the talk in our work—they walk the walk.”