Don Willenburg is a partner in the Oakland and San Francisco offices of Gordon & Rees, and leader of the firm's Appellate Practice Group. He is past chair of the Appellate Practice Section of the Bar Association of San Francisco, and presently chairs the amicus briefs committee of the Association of Defense Counsel of Northern California and Nevada. Mr. Willenburg has extensive experience in appeals and writs, as well as dispositive trial court motions, in a variety of substantive areas of the law, including product liability, employment, and construction. He serves as editor of the firm's blog Environmental and Toxic Tort Defense Insight.
Mr. Willenburg has guest lectured at the University of Southern California and Pepperdine Law Schools, and has served as a moot court justice at a number of law schools in Los Angeles and San Francisco. He has volunteered as judge pro tem and as a Penal Code section 1524 special master.
Mr. Willenburg’s practice has included:
Successfully defended a school district against claims of Constitutional violations for protecting student safety regarding students wearing American flag-themed clothing at a Cinco de Mayo celebration. Dariano v. Morgan Hill Unified Sch. Dist., 745 F.3d 354 (9th Cir. 2014).
Successfully defended an award of attorney fees against a frivolous FEHA plaintiff, despite the absence of what precedent called “unwaivable requirement” for such an award. (Robert v. Stanford University (2014) 224 Cal.App.4th 67.)
Briefing two cases that resulted in decisions limiting product liability by rejecting a defendant’s liability for harms caused by the products of other parties “foreseeably” used near the defendant’s non-defective product. (Merrill v. Leslie Controls, Inc. (2009) 179 Cal.App.4th 262; Taylor v. Elliott Turbomachinery Co., Inc. (2009) 171 Cal.App.4th 564.)
Arguing and winning a decision from a California Court of Appeal requiring fair disclosure by plaintiffs in civil cases of documents submitted to asbestos bankruptcy trusts. (Volkswagen of America, Inc. v. Superior Court (2006) 139 Cal.App.4th 1481.)
Defeating a tobacco company’s attempt to force its insurer to pay for smoking lawsuits.
Conducting an in-court sale of “Spiderman” motion picture rights.
Structuring the financial reorganization of Seabrook nuclear power plant.
An amicus brief persuading the California Supreme Court not to impose needless restrictions on nonprofit organizations that provide legal services. (Frye v. Tenderloin Housing Clinic, Inc. (2006) 38 Cal.4th 23.)
What do you enjoy most about your practice?
What is the secret to obtaining successful results in appellate courts?
There are no secrets to winning an appellate matter. Hard work, total command of the law and the record, the specific decision at the trial level and what that record says are all key to success in writs and appeals.
What are your favorite pastimes when you are not practicing law?
Running (at least one marathon per year), bicycling, music and words.
United States Supreme Court
United States District Courts, California
United States Court of Appeals, First and Ninth Circuits
Association of Defense Counsel for Northern California and Nevada, Member,
Board of Directors and Chair, Amicus Briefs Committee
Member, Information Technology Advisory Committee to Judicial Council of California