October 23, 2019
In April 2018, Michael Zweiback, Rachel L. Fiset and Erin Perez-Coleman founded Zweiback, Fiset & Coleman after leaving Alston & Bird LLP.
“We’d worked together beginning at Arent Fox, and moved to Alston as a group,” said Zweiback, whose resume includes a stint as assistant U.S. attorney in the Central District. “We wanted a firm owned and managed by women. I am the token male here.”
“A mission for me,” said Fiset, the new firm’s managing partner, “was to support other women in law. I learned from big firms, but this platform al- lows us to help women in their careers.” Fiset formerly clerked for Senior U.S. District Judge Consuelo B. Marshall of the Central District.
The firm has focused on high-pro- file investigations and lawsuits, representing clients in Securities and Ex- change Commission and Fair Political Practices Commission matters and in U.S. attorney investigations stemming from alleged violations of state campaign finance laws, medical fraud, securities fraud and public corruption.
Earlier, the founding partners rep- resented former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca in a federal prosecution concerning false statements to the FBI.
“The three of us are extremely entrepreneurial, and all of us are very good at business development,” Zweiback said. “We knew we’d have plenty of clients and that they’d all move here with us, which they did.”
Zweiback and Fiset represent Southern California Edison Co. in defense of a new federal suit by a watchdog group over the disposal of spent nuclear fuel at the shuttered San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station south of San Clemente. The plaintiffs filed the suit in late August 2019; within a month Zweiback and Fiset, joining former Alston & Bird colleagues, had moved to dismiss the complaint as preempted by the Atomic Energy Act and as improperly brought by a party that lacked standing. Public Watch- dogs v. Southern California Edison Co., 19-cv-01635 (S.D. Cal., filed Aug. 29, 2019).
“The big issue is over who has control—the courts or the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Agency,” Fiset said.
On the plaintiff side, Fiset and Coleman represent whistleblowers who allege board members and co-conspirators have misappropriated public funds in the form of bribes and illegal kickbacks at the West Valley Water District in San Bernardino County. West Valley Water District ex rel Young v. Tafoya & Garcia LLP, 19STCV05677 (L.A. Super. Ct., filed Feb. 19, 2019).
When the court unsealed the complaint, Fiset and Coleman allege, the defendants “ ‘voted’ in a closed-session meeting to take the case away from Qui Tam Plaintiffs and hire a friendly law firm to represent the ‘District’ in this action. … [defendants] may not now attempt to control or influence the prosecution of this case.”
On Sept. 19, 2019, Fiset and Cole- man moved to disqualify the law firm, which they identified as Leal Tre- jo APC of Long Beach. Those who voted in the closed session to retain the firm, the disqualification motion alleges, were named defendants and co-conspirators.
“If ever disqualification were necessary to ‘maintain ethical standards,’ encourage ‘professional responsibility’ and demand ‘integrity’ from members of the bar, this is the case,” Fiset and Coleman wrote. The matter remains in litigation.
“This case is a dogfight,” Fiset said.
She and her law partners have been retained to investigate an actual
fight—that involving members of the Commerce City Council and other public officials attending a May 2019 conference in Indian Wells. News reports said several attendees threw punches and at least one person was knocked unconscious; “bad blood” among City of Commerce politicians allegedly led to the brawl.
The firm represents Councilmember Ivan Altamirano, Zweiback said, who was reported to have been seen standing with a facial injury near an unconscious colleague. “We think our investigation will show he was the victim,” Zweiback added.
That and the other cases show, Zweiback said, that “We don’t shy away from the hard ones.”
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