USC alum, Bell civil litigator Anthony Taylor named Attorney of the Year
By Cristy Lytal
Attorney Anthony R. Taylor, an alumnus of the USC Price School of Public Policy and USC Gould School of Law, believes “the most important thing in life is having that passion and drive and will that you never quit, no matter what.”
That passion and perseverance were essential in Taylor’s role as the lead civil litigator for the City of Bell, as he helped recover millions of dollars for the city and its residents amid a widely publicized corruption scandal.
As a result of his efforts, Taylor was named California Lawyer magazine’s 2015 Attorney of the Year in the category of municipal law. He shares the honor with David J. Aleshire, his partner at the law firm Aleshire & Wynder.
“It’s symbolic to the City of Bell,” Taylor said. “It shows people how far they’ve come. I mean, it’s certainly not about Dave Aleshire and me. It’s about them. We fought for them. That’s the great thing about my firm — it’s not just about us or making money or this or that. It’s really about serving communities.”
In 2011, Taylor accepted the job of lead civil litigator, and Aleshire took the position of city attorney for Bell. This followed in the immediate wake of the 2010 exposure of Bell’s rampant corruption by the Los Angeles Times and the indictment of several city council members and officials.
Taylor and Aleshire fought on behalf of Bell in more than 50 lawsuits. The city faced liabilities from audits, investigations and claims by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, U.S. Securities Exchange Commission and California State Controller; a $35 million bond default; unfunded pensions; property foreclosures; employment lawsuits; civil actions against the city and police department; and former city employees’ and officials’ indemnity claims for legal costs. Bankruptcy seemed inevitable.
Taylor, a second-degree black belt who practiced martial arts for 10 years, likened the city’s legal challenges to his training experiences inside the dojo.
“The city has 50 lawsuits coming at it,” he explained. “They have all these attackers around them, but you can’t devote a lot of resources to each fight, because the city will go bankrupt. So you have to look at each case, and say, ‘How do I win this case in two punches? How do I win it in one punch?’ ”
By 2014, Taylor and Aleshire had put the city on solid financial footing by securing more than $25 million in recoveries and eliminating $75 million in liabilities. At each of the sentencing hearings, Taylor argued that the corrupt former city officials and employees should pay restitution — and the courts ordered them to pay millions of dollars to Bell. The city also received recoveries from malpractice, property sales and financial awards.
Two of the appellate decisions were published, establishing legal precedents for other cities fighting corruption. The Court of Appeal ruled that a city victimized by a corrupt employee should not be obligated to provide that employee with a defense, and that public officials should not earn salaries that “shock the conscience.”
Despite these remarkable feats, Taylor still calls the 2015 California Lawyer Attorney of the Year award a “pleasant surprise.”
“I’m honored that they did it, but it wasn’t something that I expected,” he said. “I don’t spend much time thinking about myself or my own awards. My mindset is very focused on helping my clients and winning cases for my clients.”
However, what has developed into a stellar professional career, with far-reaching impact, almost never had the opportunity to get started. Taylor said he wasn’t a great student high school and recalled not initially being admitted to USC. “I actually got rejected, I think, twice, but I fought my way in.”
Driven to succeed, he enrolled in the USC Price School, which was then the USC School of Public Administration, and excelled in his courses. He not only learned about public administration, but also acquired skills that would later serve him well as an attorney.
“The best training for that was actually classes like Bob Biller’s class, Terry Cooper’s class, Gerald Caiden’s class, where basically they told us, ‘You’re getting business cards, even as an undergraduate. You’re going to go out and interview a bunch of people – interview city managers, interview community leaders – and you’re going to write long reports.’ And to be honest with you, that’s what you do as a lawyer,” he said.
When his professors invited guest speakers who were lawyers that dealt with cities in crisis, Taylor found inspiration.
By the time he graduated in 1997 as the school’s valedictorian, Taylor already knew that he wanted to combine his public administration education with legal training and advocate on behalf of cities.
After earning his law degree at Gould, Taylor accepted a job at the largest municipal law firm in Orange County, Rutan & Tucker, where he met David Aleshire and Bill Wynder. He accompanied Aleshire and Wynder when they moved to Burke, Williams & Sorensen, and when they started their own firm Aleshire & Wynder in 2003.