Taking on corruption and racism in law enforcement agencies takes a unique blend of courage and tenacity, which is why there are few true leaders in the field. Among them is Alan Romero, whose Pasadena, Calif.-based practice is devoted exclusively to representing whistleblowers and victims of workplace discrimination and retaliation. Inspired to pursue a legal career from his time as a social worker assisting severely disabled adults, Romero attended Southwestern Law School’s accelerated two-year SCALE program. His success since building his own firm at Romero Law in 2012 has led to intense growth in recent years, which Romero expects is a sign of things to come.
“We would like to grow to be one of the largest employee-side law firms in the United States,” Romero says.
Lawdragon: How did you first become interested in developing an employee-side practice?
Alan Romero: After a few years in practice, I happened upon a few employment cases, and I found that employment cases often involve not only an adverse employment action, but usually a coverup. To that extent, every case is like solving a puzzle, which greatly appeals to me.
There are few experiences in life that can be more punishing than being mistreated at work. Everyone has a horrible boss story. I have also been a whistleblower and lost my job because of it – over billing fraud at a law firm – so I am able to meaningfully connect with my clients.
LD: Can you describe a recent case for our readers that stands out?
AR: Current litigation relating to a violent gang of deputies at Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department Compton Station called “The Executioners.” The gang has been involved in various killings of young men of color under highly dubious circumstances, and has engaged in widespread timecard fraud and even violence against other deputies who have resisted the group’s control over the station.
The case is Austreberto Gonzalez v. County of Los Angeles. A hero Sheriff's deputy came forward to allege a pattern of killing and violence by members of a deputy gang, the so-called Executioners. His confidential call to Internal Affairs was immediately leaked to the gang and he was targeted for reprisal. Even Sheriff Alex Villanueva went on TV to denounce Deputy Gonzalez and say that he was no whistleblower. Deputy Gonzalez's career has been destroyed as a result of his reporting an act of deputy-on-deputy violence engaged in by the Executioners in furtherance of their gang. Then to add insult to injury, the judge in our case engaged in a cover-up by refusing to permit any discovery into the Executioners gang, refused to let me speak in court, and dismissed the case on Summary Judgment in order to protect the Sheriff’s Department. Thankfully all of the appellate lawyers who we have spoken to have agreed that the dismissal was an absolute and unmitigated abuse of discretion.
Law enforcement officers coming forward to shine light on illegality within their departments are facing extreme retaliation from their departments for crossing "the thin blue line," and in Gonzalez, even the judge went out of his way to sanction and punish the plaintiff in order to deter future whistleblowers. Departments will uniformly lodge fabricated charges against the whistleblowers and take every measure available to them in order to destroy the whistleblower's career.
LD: What is the potential impact of the case?
AR: The deputy gang litigation is one of the most important pieces of social justice litigation currently being undertaken in the United States. It pits a hero whistleblower, a Marine combat veteran and a marginalized community of color against the largest Sheriff's department in the country as well as a cadre of lawyers who are making money off of perpetrating a coverup of the murders committed by The Executioners. Even the judge went out of his way to make a political decision to not permit any discovery related to the deputy gang and dismissed the case despite overwhelming evidence of illegality and violence by the Executioners.
LD: Is there a specific lesson from this type of case?
AR: Never give up! Taking on the establishment is no easy task, as even our judge in the case had a vested interest in maintaining the racist status quo, having taken extreme efforts to also cover-up the violence committed by the Executioners. It can get very lonely making history, especially when you’re up against a deeply entrenched racist power structure.
LD: Are there more general trends in your practice?
AR: There has been a watershed in terms of police whistleblowers coming forward to allege misconduct and illegality within their departments. Due to our historic $8.1M whistleblower verdict against the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department in 2019, more and more deputies and police officers have come forward to blow the whistle on racism and corruption within their departments.
Also, in the past year, the firm has gone from a solo practice to a bustling seven-attorney firm. We will soon be adding more attorneys and have moved into much larger offices.
LD: What are some of the challenges of this growth?
AR: Dealing with explosive growth has been challenging, as I had to take a step back from my intended role as a trial lawyer to learn how to effectively manage work and intake processes. I went solo in 2012 and have had perhaps 1 or 2 associates at a time during that period, but within the last year, the firm has experienced 500% growth in employees and 1,500% growth in caseload.
However, I feel now I am currently in a better position where I can focus again on trying cases exclusively, with practice management and intake taking a secondary role due to our exceptional support staff.
LD: As you recruit more talent, what do you try to “sell” about your firm to potential recruits – how is it unique?
AR: I try to meet all of our new clients, and connect with them in an authentic and meaningful way. I let them know that we will always put their interests above those of our own, and that we will do everything in my power to achieve the best possible results in their case. The recent, historic $8.1M verdict against the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department is another big selling point resulting in a lot of phone calls.
LD: Did any experience from your undergraduate work push you towards a career in the law?
AR: I was a late bloomer, and frankly didn't have graduate school in mind when in college. I started college when I was 15, but coming from an underprivileged background, distractions were such that I was set adrift and didn't take my studies seriously until right before applying to law school.
LD: What pushed you towards a legal career?
AR: Prior to law school, I was a social worker who worked with adults with severe disabilities. That experience — more than anything — has guided my philosophy in terms of practice and client management. Traits such as compassion, caring, and commitment to the best interests of the client are lessons I learned before I ever set foot in law school.
I began to advocate for severely disabled adults in the context of criminal cases, and the judges really seemed to care about what I had to say. I worked with several attorneys during this period of time and I quickly learned that I possessed the necessary acuity to pursue law as a career.
LD: Do any courses from law school stand out as particularly memorable?
AR: I had a wills and trusts professor who was the most engaging professor I ever had in my life. Every class, in a quite boring area of law, was exciting and engaging. It really made a big impact on my storytelling approach.
LD: What advice do you have now for current law school students?
AR: Don't get too locked into an area of law that you think you want to pursue – you may find life taking you in a completely other direction.
LD: How would you describe your style as a lawyer? Or, how do you think others see you?
AR: To my clients, a friend and champion. To the courts, an intellectual, ethical, and most importantly, engaging, advocate. To opposing parties: I will give back exactly what I get from them.
LD: What do you do for fun when you’re outside the office?
AR: Watch foreign films, read, explore esoteric music on YouTube.
LD: Are you involved in any pro bono or public interest activities?
AR: I am on the alumni board of directors of my two alma maters: Southwestern Law School and the California State University, Los Angeles. I have also represented the City of Compton on a highly discounted fee in litigation against the County of Los Angeles with respect to tens of millions of dollars in fraudulent billings submitted by the Sheriff's Department to the City of Compton.
LD: Do you have a favorite book or movie about the justice system?
AR: “The Fortune Cookie” with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau.
LD: If you weren’t a lawyer, what would you be doing now?
AR: Wishing I was a lawyer!