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The Tenacious Pursuit of Excellence

Howard Privette Brings Years of Experience and Exceptional Results to Greenberg Gross LLP; Leads Expansion into Los Angeles

Howard Privette was born to be a lawyer. When he arrived in the world, his father, Tom, was a law student, and his mother, Suzanne, provided for the family by working in the law school library. His father would often pull double duty studying for classes while caring for the infant Howard, reading “stories” aloud from his casebooks. “I suppose I started my legal studies younger than most,” laughs Howard. “How many other grade-school kids can walk around saying things like ‘waive the tort and sue in assumpsit?’”
Today, Howard is one of the leading business trial lawyers in the country. He recently joined the elite litigation boutique Greenberg Gross LLP, and is poised to lead the firm’s entrée into the Los Angeles market. He brings 28 years of experience working in several big international law firms, and is excited by the opportunity to grow the Greenberg Gross footprint beyond Orange County. “Greenberg Gross is best in class of the new breed of litigation-only law firms,” Privette says. “We have an all-star team of legal talent that is intensely focused on achieving justice for our clients in the courtroom.” That intensity and sense of justice are themes that have resonated throughout Privette’s life experiences.

26

An All-American Kid

Privette’s grandfathers both served with distinction in the Navy during World War II. Like many veterans, they stayed in California after the war, settling not far from the naval base in Long Beach. Privette’s grandmothers were both children of immigrants, from Ireland and from Lithuania. “My grandparents lived through the Depression and World War II, and they passed on lessons about the virtues of thrift and hard work. They wanted to create a better life for their children so that they could pursue their dreams, and in turn make the world a better place.”
Privette’s parents inherited the same sense of mission. They were the first generation of the family to attend college, working their way through Long Beach State. After law school, his father became a district attorney in Orange County, and his mother worked in county government. In one notable role, Privette’s mother brought Orange County into the digital age, teaching herself about computers and leading the selection and installation of the county’s first modern information systems. Along the way, she met both Steve Jobs and Bill Gates when Apple and Microsoft were still getting started. “My mother frequently told me about these young people she met who had started with little more than a dream and were now changing the world for the better,” Privette recalls. “She believed that her son could do the same.”
The law was never far away. As a district attorney, Privette’s father participated in high-profile trials, including the prosecution of a motorcycle gang member who, during the case, threatened to retaliate against Privette’s family. Howard, in elementary school at the time, recalls law enforcement providing 24-hour protection for the family during this period. “I thought it was cool that we had a police car constantly in front of our house,” Privette says. “Mom, not so much.” As he grew older, Privette came to appreciate his father’s courage in pursuing the cause of justice even in the face of such threats.
Howard took that same sort of fierce determination to Servite High School in Anaheim, where he was named the Outstanding Graduate of his class. A top student, Privette helped run the school newspaper, and also played football. A bit undersized playing on the defensive line, Privette made up for it with hard-hitting tenacity. “What was pounded into us – literally – on the practice field at Servite is that having all the talent in the world is meaningless without a commitment to being the best,” he says. “Never give up, never accept defeat, and push yourself and your teammates physically and mentally beyond where you ever thought you could go.” Those lessons have stayed with him throughout his life.

25

Learning From the Best

Yale was Privette’s college of choice because he wanted to be exposed to brilliant people and exciting experiences. He got both, explaining: “The real secret to Yale is not its extensive course offerings, its history, or its beautiful campus. It’s the people – the students, teachers and alumni. They are all brilliant in some way. It is exhilarating to interact with them.” At Yale, Privette studied economics, reflecting his interest in business and finance. At the end of his sophomore year, Privette was accepted into an exclusive academic program that resulted in earning a Master’s degree simultaneously with his Bachelor’s degree. This required him to excel in graduate-level courses during his junior and senior years, including one taught by James Tobin, who had received the Nobel Prize only two years before. “Professor Tobin was obviously a brilliant economist, but I found myself disagreeing with his Keynesian views on economic policy,” Privette says. “He was a great teacher, and he impressed upon me the importance of thinking independently and not rotely accepting what even a Nobel laureate tells you.”
Privette attended Stanford Law School. In the summer before classes started, his father, now a veteran district attorney, had him watch the “Paper Chase” movie, starring John Houseman. Privette explains: “Dad said that in real life, law school was 100 times more challenging than what was portrayed in the movie, and that I had to work harder than anyone else, especially in that critical first year.” He took his father’s words to heart. “I worked like a dog. As it turned out, the Stanford professors were not at all abusive like the fictional Professor Kingsfield, and I really liked law school.”
After first year, Privette served on the editorial board of the Stanford Law Review and, at graduation, was in the top 10% of
his class. Tom Campbell, one of his Stanford professors (and since then Dean of the Haas School of Business at Berkeley as well as Dean of the Chapman University Fowler School of Law), says: “I remember Howard as one of my very best students. He was a leader in student organizations, earning the respect of his peers for his intellectual ability and conscientious dedication to completing tasks. In law school, Howard showed the promise that his subsequent career has fully realized: a charming, hugely bright individual, willing to work hard, and deeply committed to principle.”

24

An Acclaimed Career

Privette started his legal career with Latham & Watkins in Los Angeles when the firm was riding the 1980’s economic boom into national prominence. He learned from working with many of the firm’s senior lawyers, including the firm’s very first litigator, the legendary Max Gillam. “Max was a P-51 fighter pilot turned trial lawyer, and was larger than life.” Privette says. “Max brought tremendous gravitas to his cases. I saw first-hand while working on a sensitive white collar matter the respect and trust that Max rightfully commanded from the U.S. Attorney’s office.”
Privette left Latham in early 1996 to work with Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison, an old-line San Francisco firm that also became a force in the technology industries emerging in Silicon Valley. Privette, brought in to help build the firm’s securities litigation practice in Los Angeles, quickly made partner and helped spearhead what became an 8-lawyer securities litigation team.
One of Privette’s many victories at Brobeck included defeating plaintiffs’ securities legend William Lerach in a head-to-head

battle over the recently passed Securities Litigation Uniform Standards Act of 1998 (“SLUSA”). Lerach filed a shareholder class action against Privette’s client, challenging a corporate buy-out transaction. After Privette strategically removed the case from Los Angeles Superior Court to federal court, Lerach went on the attack. He filed a motion asserting that the case should remain in state court based on what Privette calls an “imaginative” interpretation of SLUSA. But Privette’s superb briefing and oral argument on the motion ultimately won the day. The judge ruled in Privette’s favor, and the case was soon dismissed in its entirety. Such experiences taught Privette the power of advocacy. “We defeated the most fearsome of opponents first with the pen, and then with oratory. It is that combination of skills that enables a trial lawyer to be of the greatest service to clients.”
In early 2003, Privette joined Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker as a partner. By this time, the Enron case was causing a paradigm shift in securities litigation, and Privette’s white collar and civil litigation experience positioned him to serve clients across the spectrum of issues they faced in the post-Enron world. Indeed, Privette played a central role in the most significant Enron-era accounting fraud case in southern California.
In late 2001, Privette began his representation of the founder and CEO of Homestore.com. Homestore’s stock price soared during the dot-com boom, only to come crashing down when the bubble burst. Privette guided his client through a maelstrom of legal matters based on allegations that the company inflated its advertising revenues. Ultimately, Privette drew national attention in 2011 with a victory for the CEO in one of the very few securities class actions ever to go to trial in the United States. The plaintiffs sought more than $1 billion in damages, but following a three-week jury trial in Los Angeles federal court, the case was dismissed with prejudice. William Sullivan, who worked closely with Privette at both Brobeck and Paul Hastings, and who was chairman of the Paul Hastings litigation department at the time of the Homestore trial, attributed the victory to Privette’s talent as a trial lawyer, adding that “he’s one of the smartest guys I know. He’s a tough, dogged litigator.” The victory was named by the Daily Journal as one of its “Defense Verdicts of the Year,” and was ranked as one of the top-ten results in the entire United States by the Financial Times in its annual “Innovative Lawyers” report.
The Homestore victory was just one in a string of similar high-profile successes. For example, after the 2007 financial crisis, Privette helped lead a team of Paul Hastings lawyers defending UBS in class actions filed in New York federal court relating to the dislocation of the multi-billion dollar markets for auction rate securities. He crafted a motion to dismiss focusing on the unique aspects of those securities and the plaintiffs’ inability to state a claim under federal or state law. Once again, Privette’s superb advocacy resulted in victory for his client. The court granted the motion and dismissed the cases, a result followed in similar cases brought against other investment banks. The American Lawyer called it a “Big Win,” and it resulted in a second top-ten result for Privette in the Financial Times “Innovative Lawyers” report.
In 2014, Privette also scored a second “Defense Verdict of  the Year” from the Daily Journal after helping defend the Chairman and CEO of sTec, Inc. in the largest insider trading case ever filed by the SEC in Orange County. After a multi-week trial in the Santa Ana federal courthouse, the jury decided in favor of Privette’s client after only a few hours of deliberations.

Guiding the Evolution of Greenberg Gross

In February 2016, after many successful years as a partner in large international law firms, Privette decided that it was time to take his considerable talent to the litigation boutique Greenberg Gross LLP. “I’ve known Alan and Wayne for years,” Privette says, referring to the firm’s founders, Alan Greenberg and Wayne Gross. “I watched them build the firm into a real powerhouse, and whenever I visited I was struck by the energy and camaraderie in the halls. They were all working hard, winning trial after trial, and having fun doing it. I knew I had to join the team.”
Since joining Greenberg Gross, Privette has continued to represent companies and executives in their most significant matters. While enjoying his time in the firm’s original Costa Mesa office, Privette now savors the opportunity to open a new Greenberg Gross office in downtown Los Angeles. “The firm’s expansion into Los Angeles reflects its natural evolution as an elite law firm representing blue chip clients in their most important matters across the country, including Los Angeles. On a personal note, the move gets me back to my professional roots in the courtrooms of Los Angeles, where I first won my spurs as a business trial lawyer.”
Privette’s work in Los Angeles does not mean that he is saying good-bye to Orange County. Privette lives in Anaheim Hills with his wife Deirdre Kelly and their 11-year-old son Liam. Deirdre is also a litigation attorney, and serves as Director of Career Services at the Chapman University Fowler School of Law. She is also very active in the local bar. She is the immediate past president of the Orange County Women Lawyers’ Association, and in 2015 was elected Secretary of the Orange County Bar Association, putting her on the ladder to serve as OCBA President in 2019. “Deirdre and I have made service to the Orange County community a top priority. We love it here, and we have no plans of ever leaving.”

23a» EDUCATION

  • J.D., Stanford Law School – 1988 (with distinction)
  • Order of the Coif
  • Note Editor, Stanford Law Review
  • R. Hunter Summers Trial Practice Award
  • M.A., Yale University (Economics) – 1985
  • B.A., magna cum laude, Yale College – 1985

» AWARDS & RECOGNITIONS

  • Daily Journal's "Top Verdicts of 2011" for defense of Homestores securities class action
  • Ranked in the Top 10 U.S. litigation matters in the Financial Times' 2012 Innovative Lawyers report for Homestore securities class action
  • Ranked in the Top 10 litigation matters in the Financial Times' 2011 U.S. Innovative Lawyers Report for UBS auction rates securities victory
  • Daily Journal's "Top Defense Verdicts of 2014" for insider trading trial victory in SEC v. Moshayedi
  • Recognized in every year of eligibility as a "Super Lawyer" (2004-2016)
  • Avvo rating of 10.0 "Superb"
  • Martindale Hubbell AV Preeminent® Peer Review Rated (5.0 out of 5.0) in the areas of Securities Law and Litigation

» PROFESSIONAL & COMMUNITY ACTIVITIES

  • Member, Orange County Bar Association (member, Masters Division & past member, Administration of Justice Committee)
  • Member, Los Angeles County Bar Association
  • Member, American Bar Association (Securities Litigation Committee), Association of Business Trial Lawyers, Federal Bar Association
  • Board of Directors, Constitutional Rights Foundation (2008-2016)
  • Co-Chair, Paul Hastings pro bono committee (2013-2015)

Contact
Greenberg Gross LLP
650 Town Center Drive, Suite 1700
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
P: (949) 383-2800
www.ggtriallaw.com

Karen Gorden

Karen Gorden is a Staff Writer for Attorney Journal.

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About the Author: Karen Gorden is a Staff Writer for Attorney Journal.

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