The Santa Barbara-based law firm of Hatch & Parent, veteran of regional land-use battles since 1968, will merge with the Denver-based firm of Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber, and Schreck effective January 1. Hatch & Parent’s 30 attorneys will give the Brownstein group a combined headcount of more than 200 lawyers and a significant West Coast entree. Keeping the larger firm’s name and Denver headquarters, the merged entity will be run by Brownstein’s CEO and managing partner, Bruce James, while Hatch & Parent managing partner Rob Saperstein takes a seat on the executive board. The merger gives Hatch and Parent enough bench strength to operate at the state and national level, Saperstein said.
Both firms have distinguished themselves with legislative advocacy on behalf of their clients. Developers have long relied upon Hatch & Parent’s insight into regional government processes. Brownstein ranks among the top 20 highest-grossing lobbying firms in the nation, according to a list published in The Hill, a congressional newspaper.
Brownstein is eager to enlarge its presence in the business and politics of water, which is one of Hatch & Parent’s areas of expertise: Hatch & Parent currently represents several Southern and Central California water agencies, and it is also widely credited for bringing the State Water Project into Santa Barbara County against stiff opposition from environmental and slow-growth groups. A recent court ruling to protect the Sacramento-San Joaquin estuary-including its threatened denizens, the Delta smelt-from which state water is pumped is renewing California’s water drama. In a press release announcing the merger, James said, “We saw a union with Hatch & Parent as a way of playing an even larger role in the biggest issue facing the west.”
In addition to water, gaming, and a number of other specialties, Brownstein’s attorneys “routinely represent utilities, producers, mining and extraction companies in all aspects of development,” according to the firm’s Web site. “Our work ranges from small projects, including appropriations and agency rulings, to full-scale representation of companies and global leaders in energy development and production.”
By contrast, the Santa Barbara-based Environmental Defense Center, which takes cases ranging from preservation of open space to off-shore oil production, employs three full-time litigators. “Clearly we do not have the financial resources of the largest corporations in the world,” said Executive Director David Landecker, “but we have taken on the largest corporations in the world and won.” In May, for example, the EDC and the California Coastal Protection Network defeated a bid by BHP Billiton to build a liquefied natural gas terminal in the Santa Barbara Channel. Landecker declined to comment directly on the merger. “Fortunately, the law still works in that it looks at what the facts are and what makes sense,” he said. “That’s not to say that everybody is incorruptible : but we do our best to level the playing field between local public interests and highly-funded private interests.”
Saperstein tried to assuage concerns that Brownstein came to California to profit from offshore and onshore development. He said the firm’s presence here could serve as a conduit for Santa Barbarans to affect policies pertaining to clients that the combined firm will represent-including coal mining companies, whose activities affect mercury levels in seafood.
“A scorch-the-earth policy has not been our philosophical approach nor will it be,” he said. “We have turned down clients whose approach was too close-minded. : We have always been respectful of this community, and mindful of what it needs, and what it can handle, and that’s not going to change. People disagree on what that means, of course, but the reality is that California is going to have to accommodate 20 million new people in the next three decades, and there has to be a lot of infrastructure to accommodate those folks in a smart and sensible way.”
The merged firm plans to open a new office in Sacramento.