Back in 1988, Randall Strauss was just looking to pay his bills and keep playing guitar in his band after graduating from UC Berkeley when he looked at a university job board and saw a listing for a clerk’s position at Gwilliam Ivary Chiosso Cavalli and Brewer.
“At the time, I had no idea what I wanted to do,” said Strauss, who’d majored in history and political science. So Strauss cut his hair, interviewed for the job, and got hired as an office gofer.
Little did Strauss expect that he would find a career to love at the venerable Oakland civil litigation firm, and one day become the company’s managing partner. The road to get there was anything but straight, but the seeds were planted.
Perhaps it was fate since his father was a lawyer, but Strauss discovered that he found the environment stimulating and eventually went back to law school and got his Juris Doctorate from UC Berkeley’s Boalt School of Law.
Afterward, Strauss worked for a full decade at his father’s law firm in Modesto, commuting daily to the Central Valley from the East Bay.
Strauss’s first assignment turned out to be fascinating and complex: helping to represent Sargon Dadesho, a Ceres man who was the target of an assassination attempt by the Iraqi government that was foiled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The case was a good example of how long it can take to achieve victory. Dadesho won a court judgment in 1995 for intentional infliction of emotional distress, but it took until 2003 for him to receive $2.4 million from the Iraqi government. The money finally came from Iraqi assets frozen by the U.S. government.
By that time, the commute from Oakland to Modesto was wearing on Strauss, who had married and was living in Oakland. Strauss gave notice and began doing freelance legal work close to home, including some for Gwilliam Ivary Chiosso Cavalli and Brewer. In 2007, Strauss came on full time as an associate, and three years later was a partner.
This year, Strauss expanded his portfolio again by taking over managing partner duties from Steve Brewer, who is in semi-retirement. That means Strauss is responsible for supervising the business operations for the six-attorney firm in addition to litigating cases.
“He’s kind of a rock,” said Brewer. “You can always count on him.”
Strauss said he is grateful that during his tenure at Gwilliam, Ivary, Chiosso, Cavalli and Brewer he has had the mentorship of Gary Gwilliam, who founded the firm in 1978 and has personally tried more than 180 jury cases.
“He’s a legendary trial lawyer. It’s an honor and an ongoing education,” Strauss said of Gwilliam, who continues to actively lead the firm.
Gwilliam also thinks highly of Strauss. “Randy is a very talented lawyer and is the vibrant head of our firm,” he said. “He and I are not just Partners, but special friends and I enjoy practicing with him on a daily basis.”
When not practicing law, Strauss loves spending time with his wife and son and attending San Francisco Giants Games when he can. He’s also continued to pursue his passion for music, playing lead guitar with his band, Idiot Grins, which recently released its fourth album. Strauss has a recording studio in his basement, and he’s been playing with some members of the five-person ensemble since college.
On the litigation front, Strauss focuses on employment law.
One of his most notable cases was a massive wrongful termination suit brought by 130 former employees from Lawrence Livermore Lab who alleged they were unfairly laid off to cut costs after the federally funded lab was privatized through a joint venture of the Bechtel Corporation and the University of California.
It took seven years of litigation, including two, month-long trials, before the plaintiffs were finally able to get a $38.25 million settlement.
“I felt great because Livermore Lab was systematically firing people to try to increase profits,” said Strauss, the co-lead attorney on the case. “They violated a number of their own rules to get the people they wanted out, which turned out to be the higher-paid, older workers.”
Strauss is proud of the fact that in 2016 the case led the advocacy group, Public Justice, to nominate Gwilliam Ivary Chiosso Cavalli and Brewer for one of its “trial lawyer of the year” awards.
This year, Consumer Attorneys of California also nominated the firm for a similar award in recognition of a $5 million settlement Strauss helped win for six women who were forced out of their jobs at a Lehman Brothers subsidiary in Sacramento after they tried to alert supervisors about fraud.
Strauss was the co-lead attorney on the case, which settled in 2019 after 14 years of litigation. It took so long to resolve because of the demise of Lehman Brothers—the largest bankruptcy in U.S. history—which resulted largely from problems with loans like the ones the women raised warnings about.
Strauss is glad to help workers, like the six women whistleblowers, who have been wrongly victimized by their bosses.
He cited a lawsuit by a former San Francisco Police Department attorney who said she was terminated in retaliation for trying to get disciplinary action taken against Greg Suhr, the man who later became the city’s police chief, while he was still a captain. Once Suhr got the top job, the attorney was quickly fired.
The city and county of San Francisco fought the claim all the way through pre-trial motions but abruptly agreed to pay $725,000 to the woman after Strauss’s team succeeded in making public the contents of Suhr’s disciplinary file, which included the fact that the fired attorney wanted Suhr sanctioned for allegedly lying to the FBI for a security clearance.
“That personally felt really good because he was in a position of power and she was very brave to take him on,” Strauss said.
Strauss has another case involving law enforcement currently underway in which the plaintiff, a San Jose Police Department officer and Lebanese immigrant, says he suffered Islamophobic ridicule by supervisors and fellow officers. Nabil Haidar claims he endured the abuse for more than a decade-and-a-half until he reached a breaking point during a 2017 briefing in which a sergeant joked that he was a terrorist. Haidar said he complained to his superiors, but to no avail.
Strauss said Haidar’s complaints took on added significance last summer after it became public that several active and retired San Jose police officers had participated in a closed Facebook group where racist comments were posted. In the furor that ensued, the city’s mayor and police chief, the district attorney, and union leaders all denounced the racist activity.
Haidar, however, continues to suffer significant harm as a result of the discrimination against him, Strauss said. Because Haidar no longer felt confident that other officers would “have his back” in the community, Strauss said, he felt compelled to request a transfer to a position as a recruiter, a post that does not afford him the opportunity to earn overtime.
“He’s still with the department, but he no longer felt that he was safe on the streets,” Strauss said. “It has really cut his income.”
Strauss said he meets clients like Haidar when they are “at their lowest,” having just lost a job or suffered a workplace reversal.
“They’re typically terrified, angry, sad. They don’t know what’s going to come next,” he said.
One satisfaction Strauss has found in helping his clients fight back is that they often become his friends.
“People reveal a lot about themselves when they’re going through tough times,” Strauss said. “It’s important and satisfying to develop relationships.”