Southwestern Law School Los Angeles, CA
 

Alumni Q&A with Barry Groveman '78

 
Barry Groveman '78, Senior Partner, Chair, Public and Environmental Law Group, Musick Peeler & Garrett LLP and Former Mayor, City of Calabasas

Q: What is your favorite law school memory? What did you like best about being in the SCALEĀ® program at Southwestern?

A: What I liked best about the SCALE program and what helped me the most was the conceptual approach to teaching legal concepts. It also made me a creative lawyer. Because of the way I was taught I try to find things that others may not readily see. My Southwestern SCALE education instilled that in me every hour of every day. It's normal to be loyal to your school, but my enthusiasm for Southwestern goes to the next level. I'm a real cheerleader for the law school because as a student, I saw a way of teaching that truly made a difference in the way I practice law. The SCALE program also gave me the chance to be a law clerk for the Hon. Shirley Hufstedler of the U.S. Court of Appeals, which made an immeasurable contribution to my growth as a lawyer.

Q: When did you first become interested in working in politics?

A: I think about one minute after I was born. Actually, I've always found the political sphere to be closely related to the practice of law. My first job out of law school was as a city prosecutor and in that role I had a decent amount of contact with legislators and local elected officials. What we did influenced a lot of what they did. It was not uncommon for legislators to contact me for ideas. I was the first prosecutor to file a case under a criminal division of a then brand-new waste law in California. I was the first to see the need for amendment or improvement of it. That got me more involved in the political sphere where I was able to see the value of the political process in terms of enhancing the legal process.

In the end it's all about results and solving problems. Solutions are found when you look up rather than down because when you look up the sky is limitless.

Q: As a Deputy City Attorney prosecuting violent street crimes, what was one of your most memorable cases?

A: I remember a teacher who was robbed and we weren't able to make the case for the robbery, but the robber then began to threaten her (because he had her wallet so he knew how to contact her) with phone calls. I vigorously prosecuted it. I found being a city attorney to be tougher than being a DA because we didn't have the investigative resources. But the city attorneys I worked with were the greatest lawyers I knew. I also enjoyed working in the DA's office and I was the first person to ever put people in jail for the disposal of hazardous waste. I put several CEOs in jail for waste.

Q: Was it your stint as Assistant City Attorney and head of Environmental Protection for the City of Los Angeles that piqued your interest in environmental issues?

A: Environmental issues have been a lifelong passion on mine. I was one of the earliest to enforce it. They were very difficult cases and they were brand new. I handled the case with the largest seizure of elephant ivory in history (that was in Downtown LA where imported ivory was being sold in Chinatown - a large commercial outlet for the international sale of endangered species products). Elephant ivory cases were very difficult to prosecute. I liked the cases that everyone thought were un-winnable. We need government officials to take on hard issues and get banged up in the process but do what's in the public's best interest. I had prosecuted a bunch of those which led to the creation of an exhibit at LAX right before the 1984 Olympics so the traveling public would learn about the dangers of international trade (ivory). When we inaugurated the display, England's Prince Philip (Queen Elizabeth's husband) was there. I believe the exhibit is still there.

Q: What was the most important thing you accomplished as Head of Environmental Crimes/OSHA Division for the D.A.?

A: I created a priority for environmental protection for LA County and elsewhere. I think what we showed is that in the regulatory argument there are limited areas like health and safety where enforcement of law is critical. You can take important steps to save the environment and get very serious results. I developed the industry of prosecutors nationwide that took up that cause. We made it clear that we wouldn't allow fines to be the cost of doing business. We made jail sentences a reality of pollution. Fines were no longer the cost of doing business. Jail was.

Q: As principal co-author of Prop 65 (The Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986) and other laws, what is the most challenging aspect of writing a law?

A: It can be a very frustrating process of compromise. I had a no-prisoners attitude with Prop 65. I compromised with my co-authors, but I put it to the people with much less compromise, and we got a much better law. Twenty-one years later it's still the hallmark of environmental law. But by and large, law involves a lot of compromise so things get done a lot slower. It's important to balance the interest of everyone - from those with no voice to those with big voices. That's what lawyering is all about. And as frustrating as it is, it's worthy of a very democratic society. With all of the strain it ultimately produces a good result.

Q: As a senior partner at Musick, Peeler & Garrett, LLP, directing the firm's Public and Environmental Law Practice, what types of environmental cases do you handle?

A: We have about 10 lawyers dedicated to environmental law and we have a lot of extra attorneys who can be called into service. We also have a non-lawyer scientist who I brought with me to the firm. He goes out to the field and does all kinds of research. We also practice a lot of public law. I've always gravitated toward public law actually. I represented the Los Angeles Unified School District for about 25 years. I represented USC one time and the DWP and the cities of Santa Monica and Morrow Bay. I now represent many water purveyors. I chair the Inland Empire Water Purveyor Task Force. It feels like we're doing the public's work. In the end it's very helpful to factor into judgments representing public entities.

Q: What is the direst environmental issue today?

A: In California, it's hard to pick one issue. But up there is water quality: clean available water supply. Preserving the air quality is crucial as well. I would also give a lot of credence to the argument of Global Warming. Let's not debate it; let's assume that it is. Even if it doesn't matter, we'll be taking positive steps that clean up the air and water. If we reduce greenhouse gas emissions and deal with fewer auto and industrial emissions, it will result in more greenery, which will have a profound effect on water supply. I also think there's a tremendous value to open space and wildlife.

Q: What did you like most about teaching environmental law at Southwestern in the 1980s? What has been the biggest change in environmental law since then?

A: I loved sharing my enthusiasm for environmental law. I loved stressing the opportunity to think outside the four corners of a page. I think public awareness of environmental law has grown exponentially. Gov. Schwarzenegger has become a leader on environmental issues. Al Gore's Nobel Prize shows how far we've come in raising people's consciousness. We've still got a long way to go, but public awareness has been enhanced dramatically. The world is wide open to the practice of environmental law. And that's only going to increase.

Q: What are some of the most important pieces of advice you would impart to law students today, if they want to go into: A) environmental law and B) politics?

A: Always do what you dream about doing. Everything will take care of itself. Don't settle for second best. I did and I haven't lost an ounce of optimism in the 30 years I've been practicing. I knew I wanted to be a prosecutor and I was one of the last people in my class to take a job. I was doing internships and my father supported me. But I didn't give in to temptations of jobs. I waited close to a year after law school until I was offered the city attorney job. I turned down other opportunities because I held out for what I wanted and eventually got it.

Q: What did you like most about being the Mayor of Calabasas? What was your proudest achievement?

A: I enjoy getting results for people. I work very hard. I have a lot of contact with citizens. I take their calls. I labor over things like traffic. I loved making a difference in a growing city with a great reputation. I enjoy making sure fiscal management was made the way it is. Calabasas' new library and city hall were completed on time and under budget. I was very happy to have been able to use my experience to get the city through the worst fire in its history. I was able to do my part which was to keep everyone away from law enforcement and firefighters.

Q: How much of a time commitment is your work on the Calabasas City Council?

A: A lot of time. It's as much time as you think you need to spend to get the job done. If you just want to put in a little time, you won't get much out of it. You sort of become a pro bono lawyer for everybody; it's a great job. I feel the value of it and it inspires me to want to do more.