Paul Wellman

The Santa Barbara-based law firm of Hatch & Parent, a veteran of regional water and land-use battles since 1968, announced that it will merge with the Denver-based firm of Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber, and Schreck effective January 1. Hatch & Parent’s 30 lawyers will give Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber and Schreck a significant West Coast entre and a combined headcount of more than 200 attorneys. The merged entity will assume the larger firm’s name and will continue to be headquartered in Denver, where it is run by its CEO and managing partner, Bruce James. Hatch & Parent managing partner Rob Saperstein will take a seat on the executive board.

Both firms focus on full service to developers, including lobbying and negotiating with government officials on behalf of their clients. One of Hatch & Parent’s lead attorneys, Steve Amerikaner, served as Santa Barbara’s city attorney for several years; Hatch & Parent currently represents the cities of Carpinteria and Fresno. Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber and Schreck ranks among the top 20 highest-grossing lobbying firms in the nation, according to a list published in The Hill. It is also one of the fastest-growing firms: Brownstein, Hyatt, and Farber merged with Las Vegas-based Schreck Brignone, which represents gaming interests, in March.

James said that the firm is now eager to enlarge its presence in the business and politics of water, which is one of Hatch & Parent’s areas of expertise: The firm justifiably takes credit for bringing the State Water Project into state 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 famously threatened denizens, the Delta smelt – from which state water is pumped, is renewing California’s historical legacy of water supply 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.”

Among other things, according to the firm’s website, Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber and Schreck’s attorneys “routinely represent utilities, producers, mining and extraction companies in all aspects of development,” according to the firm’s website. “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.”

Hatch & Parent, which describes itself on its website both as a “boutique firm” and “the largest law firm in the Tri-Counties,” has satellite offices in Los Angeles and San Diego, where it represents San Diego County’s Water Authority. The merged firm will operate from 12 locations in California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Washington D.C.

By contrast, the Santa Barbara-based Environmental Defense Center, which takes cases ranging from preservation of urban open space to off-shore oil production, employs three fulltime litigators. “Clearly we do not have the financial resources of the largest corporations of 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 an all-but-certain bid by BHP Billiton to build a billion-dollar Liquefied Natural Gas terminal in the Santa Barbara Channel.

While declining to comment directly on the merger Landecker said, “Fortunately, the law still works in that it looks at what the facts are and what makes sense, if you can get that information to the decision makers. That’s not to say that everybody in incorruptible,” he added, “and it’s not to say that money doesn’t play a part, but we do our best to level the playing field between local public interests and highly-funded private interests.”


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