Bill Norman is a highly experienced business trial lawyer who has tried over 120 cases to conclusion, the majority of which were jury trial civil matters. As a result, he was elected to the American Board of Trial Advocates and elevated to the Advocate rank (50 or more jury trials through verdict). His practice focuses on real property, wrongful termination, trade secrets, professional liability, partnership/LLC disputes, probate litigation (including elder abuse and undue influence claims), and lender liability issues.
Before joining Womble, Bill was a longtime partner at Cooper, White & Cooper LLP in San Francisco, which combined with Womble in 2022.
Bill started practicing law in California after extensive experience as an officer in the U.S. Army, first as an infantry night patrol leader inside the DMZ and later as a trial attorney for criminal prosecutions and their defense. He has been consistently selected to the California Super Lawyers list for over a decade.
He graduated cum laude from Williams College with a B.A. in political science. He earned his J.D. from the University of Virginia School of Law.
Honors & Awards
- American Board of Trial Advocates, Advocate Rank
- Super Lawyers Honoree, Northern California Super Lawyers magazine (Thomson Reuters), 2004, 2007 – 2018, 2020 – Present
Any result the lawyer or law firm may have achieved on behalf of clients in other matters does not necessarily indicate similar results can be obtained for other clients.
- In January 2022, the California Court of Appeal upheld a $4.5 million trial court judgment based largely on Mr. Norman’s expert witness trial testimony on issues of alter ego liability, attorney standards of care for trial presentation, and appropriate methods for presenting evidence of asset comingling and collectability. Referring often to his “highly respectable trial experience credentials,” the court in Samuels v. Hamrick dismissed theories advanced by the opposing party’s expert on the grounds they were not supported by actual courtroom experience.
- Testified in San Francisco Superior Court for three days as an expert witness on attorney standards for evaluating and trying civil jury trials. Citing his extensive trial experience and credibility, the court found that a large international law firm had fallen short of acceptable trial attorney standards, and it ordered a fee refund of over $9 million. (2018)
- Successful testimony as an expert witness before a San Francisco Superior Court jury on the unreasonableness of over $13 million in attorneys’ fees charged by a large national law firm to its clients for a three-month jury trial. The law firm contended that the complex trade secret and international money laundering trial was litigated in four different states and several countries such that the fees were justified. Bill’s expert testimony was cited repeatedly as a major basis for the determination that the law firm’s fees should be reduced by over $5 million because of improper staffing, discovery abuses, and poor trial counsel leadership. (2013)
Thefts of Partnership Opportunities and Partner Self-Dealing
- In a lengthy Superior Court trial, won a $7 million judgment, plus $1 million in attorneys’ fees for an individual limited partner plaintiff in a case involving the theft of a real estate opportunity in Virginia by a nationally renowned general partner represented by a prominent national trial lawyer. The defendant had wrapped partnership assets into a mortgage-backed security financed by partnership assets which then he personally bought at a foreclosure sale he arranged without notice to our client.
- Successful defense of a month-long jury trial in which our defendant client was a national commercial real estate broker, and a key issue was whether the plaintiff buyer had responsibility for due diligence investigation since he was a licensed broker himself.
- Won a $7.5 million award in a month-long trial for a minority partner against its general partner, represented by San Francisco’s largest law firm, in a cable TV investment where evidence showed extensive self-dealing by the general partner as aided by several large East Coast banks and law firms.
- Obtained a multi-million-dollar Superior Court judgment in favor of a minority partner client for breaches of fiduciary duty by a 75% majority partner in a trial against a publicly traded steel company represented by a large international law firm. A seven-figure sum was also awarded for attorneys’ fees and costs as prevailing party on issues such as self-dealing in respect to an improperly taken partnership business opportunity and in respect to diverting income from the partnership to favor the majority partner’s parent corporation. (2018)
- Successfully represented a national real estate broker who was accused of breaches of fiduciary duty when one of its agents secured inside information and for his own account made a higher bid than the plaintiff (represented by one of California’s leading plaintiff’s lawyers) on certain commercial property listed by the firm in a month-long trial. An additional successful issue involved defeating a claim for punitive damages when the evidence showed that the client’s agent did not have policy-making authority at the firm.
- Defeated a multi-million dollar claim for self-dealing and wrongful termination made by an East Coast alcohol distributor against our client, a prominent Napa Valley winery owner and movie producer, in a lengthy trial.
Money Laundering and Alter Ego
- In a lengthy trial involving an international money laundering scam, obtained a multi-million-dollar Superior Court judgment on behalf of a real estate purchaser client. Both fraud and negligence were found against several perpetrators, including one who was specifically found to be the alter ego of an insolvent signatory to a contract with an attorneys’ fees clause. Along with recovering all compensatory damages sought plus interest, attorneys’ fees, and experts’ costs, of particular interest was the successful determination that the defendants had aided and abetted a conspiracy to violate the provisions of Corporations Code § 17707.07. That statute allows the tracing and recapture of sale proceeds from a real estate transaction to the principals of a seller LLC, which has become insolvent due to excess profit distributions. (2017 – 2018)
- Successfully defended a California Superior Court lawsuit through trial against claims seeking an alter ego judgment against an individual client by piercing the corporate veil of his affiliated corporation and obtained substantial attorneys’ fees in favor of the individual client.
Elder-Abuse and Care Facility Claims
- Following a month-long Superior Court trial, defeated a claim against our client, the founder of four elder care facilities, which was based on a theory that he had personally guaranteed his partners a multi-million-dollar return irrespective of project success. At trial, his partners described vivid recollections of key conversations with our client describing a written guarantee, but under cross-examination, it was revealed that they remembered nothing about the vague writing. The trial result included our client obtaining ownership of their partnership interests plus hundreds of thousands of dollars in monetary recovery on his own claims against them for their breaches of fiduciary duty. (2016 – 2017)
- Won a seven-figure Superior Court judgment on behalf of a real estate investor client against his Russian national partner for elder abuse and breaches of fiduciary duty. The defendant partner had persuaded our client to enter an oral partnership, the terms of which called for her use of our client’s funds to purchase apartment complexes in California plus raw land in Arizona without him being on title. She then entered an escrow for resale without notifying him, added other partners without his consent, and engaged in bank fraud using a partnership account. (2015 – 2017)
- Obtained payment of over $36 million to our clients, four heirs of a steel magnate’s fortune, following the prosecution of a probate court action against their stepmother, which sought the return of the father’s separate property assets on the contention that the stepmother had caused the clients’ Alzheimer’s-ridden father to make transfers to her personal account under conditions of undue influence and elder abuse. (2014)
Bad Faith Claims
- Represented the buyer of a prominent restaurant property in a lawsuit against the sellers and their real estate broker for bad faith and fraud. After a successful settlement with the broker defendant, the case proceeded through a three-week jury trial against the sellers with a jury determination in the client’s favor of bad faith and intentional concealment by the sellers. (2014)
- Obtained a client recovery of over $1.7 million on a cross-complaint against a commercial loan guarantor on behalf of a national bank client and defeated a significant lender liability and bad faith claim.
Lehman Investment Self-Dealing
- Successfully obtained a very substantial recovery for lender liability misconduct, including fraud against the world’s second-largest bank on behalf of a national pension fund client whose $100 million portfolio had been significantly invested by the bank in Lehman bonds. Evidence showed that the bank had bought Lehman bonds for the client’s account and had recommended holding them without disclosing that the bank itself was unloading Lehman positions in its own personal account just a few months before Lehman’s bankruptcy. (2013)
Triple Net Lease Fraud Claims
- Successful defense of numerous triple net lease fraud cases set for separate jury trials in Seattle in which the defendant clients were accused of failing to disclose overlapping common ownership of the tenants and the sellers, weaknesses of the financial condition of the lease guarantors, dual agency, and the decreased value of the space on the open market if the underlying restaurant businesses in various cities in Texas were to fail, as they later did. (2011 – 2013)
Corporate Officer and Director Liability
- In a trial featuring the $80 million sale of an energy industry company, represented the president in claims against other stockholders for breach of fiduciary duty, contract violations, and unjust enrichment. Our client obtained all relief requested plus attorneys’ fees as the party prevailing on issues that included alleged asbestos risk cover-ups, circumstances in which the transactional lawyers on both sides of the buyout gave advice to both sides of the deal, and the validity of certain EBITDA valuations. The numerous complex legal questions included whether the time periods set forth in one contract for the exercise of certain stock purchase “put” rights could be changed without the consent of all signatories. Our client argued successfully that they could be so changed because the contract generically referenced the “time periods” set forth in a second contract between different parties and that the second contract contained a separate clause permitting a subsequent amendment. (2012)
Law Firm Dissolution Fraud
- Obtained an award valued at more than $30 million for clients who had sued for partnership dissolution and breaches of duty. Extensive cross-claims against our clients for their alleged breaches of fiduciary duty were defeated, and almost $900,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs were awarded to them as prevailing parties. Some of the interesting issues at trial included whether partners’ fiduciary duties to each other are modified after a Notice of Dissolution in advance of a final wind-up so as to permit solicitations of partnership employees and clients or to permit the forming of a competing business during the dissolution period. (2012)
Bill Graham Estate Executor Misconduct
- Obtained a judgment dismissing a complaint and recovered substantial prevailing party attorneys’ fees for a client who had served as Executor of rock promoter Bill Graham’s estate. The client was sued by Graham’s heirs for an alleged secret diversion of intellectual property from the estate to a corporation in which the Executor was a significant shareholder. The successful result was achieved with an anti-SLAPP motion in federal court. (2011)
Breach Of License Agreement
- On behalf of a nationally prominent, high-end restaurant client, sued a luxury hotel defendant for $8 million and obtained a substantial result on a case arising out of a breach of a License Agreement where the evidence showed defective Notices of Default as well as active interference with the client’s right to cure. (2009 – 2010)
Pipeline Owner Negligence and OSHA/Criminal Misconduct
- Successfully defended over a three-year period the nation’s largest pipeline owner in 24 personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits, including cases involving five deaths and four serious burns arising out of a fire and explosion that occurred on a high-pressure petroleum line in which failures to locate and mark the line and violations of California’s Underground Service Alert (“One Call”) statute were alleged. DOT enforcement actions, OSHA citations, governmental entity immunities, complex indemnity issues, California State Fire Marshall investigations, and District Attorney charges were also involved. Many co-defendants were convinced to contribute towards overall settlements in the range of $100 million. (2006 – 2009)
Commercial Real Estate Fraud
- Obtained a $12 million judgment for fraud on behalf of commercial real estate investor clients against their former LLC Managing Member and his affiliated general contractor entities where the evidence showed false representations as to matching capital contributions, extensive self-dealing, commingling of funds with other projects, phony land option payments, and undisclosed partnerships between the Managing Member and certain third-party sellers. (2009)
Alleged Wrongful Real Estate Broker Fraud
- Defended a nationally prominent real estate brokerage firm for alleged intentional fraud, breaches of fiduciary duty, and violations of Business & Professions Code § 17200 in a six-week trial. The case arose out of five triple net lease investments (retail gasoline stations) and the claims related to alleged misrepresentations of the income stream, the financial strength of guarantors, and operator track records. (2008)
Overseas Letters of Credit
- Obtained a defense judgment after trial for an international client in a case involving alleged misuse of overseas letters of credit by the client on a complex commercial transaction where over $50 million in damages were claimed.
REITS and Construction Defects
- Won a $1.3 million award after trial for a national real estate investment trust client against the seller and builder of a large apartment complex with respect to construction defects.
- Obtained a judgment in favor of our client after trial in a dispute between two partners arising out of extensive investments in Southern California commercial real property, with cross-claims for breach of fiduciary duty, fraud, conversion, accounting, contempt of court, and domestic violence.
- Won a $400,000 judgment after trial for an individual client wrongfully accused of real estate partnership fraud.
Real Estate Developer Fraud
- Secured a successful result following trial in a breach of duty dispute between a prominent real estate developer client and one of its minority shareholders.
Restaurant Lease Disputes
- Obtained a defense award after trial for a restaurant client accused of violating numerous covenants in its lease.
- Westra v. Marcus & Millichap, 129 Cal.App. 4th 759: Won a California Appellate case establishing the right to arbitration by a non-signatory agent to a contract containing an arbitration clause.
- De Luz Ranches v. Coldwell Banker, 608 F.2d 1297: Successful determination before the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit that land sale contracts promoted as passive investments were not securities for purposes of the application of federal securities laws.
- Efstratis v. First Northern Bank, 59 Cal.App. 4th 667: Successful invalidation in the Court of Appeal of a client’s Confession of Judgment.
- “Business Judgment Rule Conflicts With Fiduciary Duty Principles: Recent “Lessons Learned” From the Courtroom,” February 5, 2019
- “In Contract Law, When Exactly Is There A “Meeting of the Minds”?,” December 14, 2011
- “Guarantor Update: Some Practical Tips on Letter-Writing Campaigns with Lenders,” August 10, 2011
- “Some Lessons Learned on Real Estate and Financial Solutions in a Difficult Economy,” March 18, 2011
- “A Potential Checklist of Damage-Related Issues for Lender-Borrower Disputes,” December 13, 2010
- “Property Diminution of Value Claims in Pipeline Explosion Cases,” October 29, 2010
- “New Court Decision Limits the Rule That Real Estate Brokers Need Not Disclose Matters of Public Record,” October 12, 2010
- “The Coming San Bruno Explosion Litigation: Some Lessons Learned from Past Explosion Cases,” September 13, 2010
- “New Help for Lenders Defending Claims That They Misadvised Borrowers on Ability to Pay,” August 24, 2010
- “Update on Real Estate Lessons Learned from the Courtroom,” July 27, 2010
- “To Our California Bankruptcy Forum Colleagues,” May 26, 2010
- “Waivers in Guaranties and Loan Agreements in Today’s Environment of Lender Distrust: How Reliable Are They?,” May 20, 2010
- “Business Broker Alert: Ten “Lessons Learned” in Business Restructuring Transactions,” September 18, 2009
- “Update on Personal Guarantees of Real Estate Loans,” May 6, 2009
- “Update on Prospects for Lender Efforts to Dismiss Debtor Bankruptcy Filings Under the “Single Asset Real Estate” Rule,” April 15, 2009
- “Real Estate Transactions: Is There a Duty to Disclose Prior Lawsuits?,” February 20, 2009
- “Escrow Agent Liability Revisited In The Context Of The Current Credit Crisis,” December 16, 2008
- “A Potential Checklist for Lender-Borrower Disputes in Credit Crisis Litigation,” November 12, 2008
- “New Court Decision on Consequences of Criminal Prosecution of Companies and Managers,” September 8, 2008
- “New Supreme Court Decision on Arbitration Rights,” September 4, 2008
- “Free Look Inspections May Render a Purchase Contract Unenforceable,” June 11, 2008
- “Real Estate Professionals: Not-So-Subprime Targets in Subprime Mortgage Litigation,” February 4, 2008
Bill has appeared on national television to discuss constitutional issues and has spoken to a variety of professional groups. He has repeatedly served as a panelist at the annual CEB seminar on Real Property Remedies, several regional offices of JAMS judges, the annual California Bankruptcy Forum, the international LAW convention, PLI, the Annual IPA Commercial Roundtable Forum, and the Securities Roundtable Forum.