Britt K. Strottman, one of California’s most successful environmental legal advocates for public entities, joined Baron & Budd’s Environmental Litigation Group as a shareholder in 2018. Numerous local, state and national recognitions track Ms. Strottman’s successful representation of many California cities and counties in pioneering litigation to win hundreds of millions of dollars from utility companies like the largest utility in California, Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E), for deadly and catastrophic explosions and fires caused by the utility’s failure to comply with safety and recordkeeping regulations relating to its underground natural gas pipelines and aboveground electric power systems. Her previous clients in such matters include the City of San Bruno, County of Calaveras, Carmel-by-the-Sea, City of San Luis Obispo, City of San Carlos, and City of Goleta, among others. In addition to energy regulatory matters, Ms. Strottman brings to Baron & Budd extensive experience in municipal law special counsel issues, crisis management, whistleblower issues, and workplace investigations. Ms. Strottman’s pioneering work on behalf of the City of San Bruno against PG&E regarding a deadly gas line explosion that attracted international news coverage, transformed California’s utility regulatory landscape, and raised concerns about utility regulations across the United States.
Before joining Baron & Budd, Ms. Strottman served as Special Counsel to the City of San Bruno, California, handling legal, regulatory and crisis management issues relating to a pipeline explosion and fire that killed eight people, injured 58 others and destroyed or damaged 90 homes in 2010. She served as a member of the City’s negotiating team that obtained a $70 million settlement from PG&E to fund the City’s community development trust and $50 million to pay the City’s expenses for physical recovery as well as its participation in state and federal legal and regulatory matters. Ms. Strottman also advised the City on non-profit and governance matters relating to implementing long-term local community support programs.
Ms. Strottman’s previous work included serving as lead counsel in complex and high-profile evidentiary hearings before the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) which resulted in a record $1.6 billion penalty against PG&E, the largest fine ever levied against a utility in the U.S. She also assisted the City in its federal regulatory investigation and hearings about the explosion before the National Transportation Safety Board. In August 2016, a federal court jury convicted PG&E of obstructing the federal probe of the blast and of knowingly violating pipeline safety laws before and after the disaster. In January 2017, a federal judge ordered PG&E to pay a maximum $3 million fine, complete 10,000 hours of community service and serve five years of probation.
On March 28, 2017, PG&E agreed to pay $86.5 million in penalties and fines over an overly cozy relationship PG&E officials had with CPUC regulators both before and after the gas explosion. The City of San Bruno was joined in the case by the City of San Carlos, another one of Ms. Strottman’s clients, and both cities settled the matter with PG&E for $6 million.
The information and evidence that Ms. Strottman uncovered and presented in state and federal administrative proceedings also led to claims of corruption and improper dealings resulting in the resignations of the CPUC president and executive director, as well as other senior CPUC staff. In recognition of the importance of Ms. Strottman’s work to expose corruption through the City’s Public Records Act lawsuit, the City of San Bruno received a James Madison Freedom of Information Award from the Northern California Society of Journalists.
In 2014, Ms. Strottman represented the City of Carmel-by-the-Sea before the CPUC regarding a catastrophic gas pipeline explosion in 2014 that led to a $10.8 million fine against PG&E. Ms. Strottman assisted Carmel-by-the-Sea officials in successfully demanding that CPUC escalate its initial inquiry into a full-scale regulatory investigation of the blast, which resulted in the discovery that PG&E lost 12 years of gas-line repair records for a large section of the Bay Area. Ms. Strottman appeared before the CPUC on the City’s behalf in evidentiary hearings relating to millions of dollars in potential fines against PG&E for record-keeping deficiencies on its gas distribution system in Carmel and elsewhere. In June 2016, the CPUC issued a decision by an Administrative Law Judge which imposed an additional $24.3 million fine against PG&E.
The County of Calaveras retained Ms. Strottman in 2015 to assist with legal and regulatory matters against PG&E regarding the company’s potential involvement in causing the 71,000-acre Butte Fire that year which killed two people and destroyed 921 structures, including 549 homes and 368 outbuildings. Investigations into the source of the fire included possible negligent and improper operation of PG&E’s power lines and equipment, as well as failure to maintain vegetation clearance from power lines and electrical equipment.
Ms. Strottman also has significant jury trial experience and handled over 150 felony preliminary hearings while serving as a Deputy District Attorney at the San Mateo District Attorney’s Office. She handled felony and misdemeanor cases involving gang crimes and special allegations, embezzlement, identity theft, welfare fraud, elder financial abuse, and three-strike cases. As a result of these experiences, Ms. Strottman understands the complex, sensitive, and ethical issues public agencies and companies face in highly-regulated industries. In addition to her work as a litigator, Ms. Strottman was Vice President at a renowned public relations firm, Van Prooyen Greenfield LLP, where she specialized in developing and implementing litigation and crisis communications marketing and public relations plans for public agencies, law firms, law schools and corporations.
Ms. Strottman has earned numerous honors for her expertise, results and leadership in the legal profession, including “Energy Trailblazers” (2017), “Top Women Lawyers” (2014, 2015, 2017), “Top 100 Lawyers” (2016, 2017), ”Top 20 Under 40″ (2015), and “Giant Slayer” (2015). These awards highlight Ms. Strottman’s unique expertise in high-profile state and federal safety regulatory investigation and enforcement matters relating to the storage, transportation, maintenance and delivery of natural gas, as well as the generation, storage, maintenance and transmission of electric power. Ms. Strottman earned these awards through her tenacious challenging of the status quo at PG&E, for which the Daily Journal recognized her as PG&E’s “chief nemesis.”
When she is not slaying giants, Ms. Strottman enjoys traveling with her husband and three children. The family loves to ski. She and her husband make their own wine, which likely explains why the family dog is named “Caymus”. She has belonged to the same book club for 17 years and is also the school board President at her children’s school. “My law school professors and experiences taught me how to have emotional intelligence, which is something a lot of lawyers don’t have,” she says. “Being a lawyer is not just about being book smart but also about interacting with people. To me, being a lawyer is about having a passion for the law and for helping people,” a virtue Ms. Strottman has made a hallmark of her practice.
The City of San Bruno’s City Manager, Connie Jackson, describes Ms. Strottman as a “smart and highly skilled lawyer who understands the law, is able to explain it in layperson’s language, and demonstrates the highest level of integrity and an ability to apply the law to achieve her clients’ interests.” Baron & Budd Shareholder Scott Summy, who leads the firm’s Environmental Litigation Group had this to say: “I am pleased to welcome Britt Strottman to Baron & Budd’s Environmental Litigation Group. Her experience and tenacity for seeking accountability and taking on complex, high-profile issues is in direct alignment with Baron & Budd’s national reputation.”
Presentations and Publications
- Presenter, “Lessons Learned from a Deadly Gas Pipeline Explosion,” American Public Power Association Legal & Regulatory Conference, 2017
- Presenter, “City of San Bruno Gas Pipeline Explosion: A Six-Year David vs. Goliath Investigation that Slayed Two Giants,” Anti-Fraud Alliance Quarterly Meeting, 2017
- Presenter, “Recent Developments in the Laws that Affect Government Agency Communications,” University of San Francisco School of Law CLE program, 2017
- Presenter, “Women in the Courtroom,” Women Leadership in Law conference, hosted by the Daily Journal. 2017
- Feature Article Interview, “People Power: A Passion for Helping People Motivates Ms. Strottman to Fight the Good Fight – and Win!”, USFLAWYER, University of San Francisco School of Law alumni magazine, Spring 2017 “Trailblazers” issue
- Presenter, “Uh-Oh! How to Steer the Ship Back to Safety in Emergency Situations,” California Special Districts Association Annual Conference, 2016
- Profile Interview, “Ms. Strottman vs. Goliath: Fighting for Accountability,” University of San Francisco School of Law website home page, October 2015
- Presenter, “To Disclose or Not to Disclose? Public Records Act Requests at the California Public Utilities Commission, “Conference of California Public Utility Counsel, 2015
- Author, “What Lies Below: Are high-pressure pipelines running through your community?” Lamorinda Weekly, July, 2015
- Attendee, “Lest History Repeat Itself- Pipeline Safety Initiatives,” Mayors Council on Pipeline Safety 2015 Conference, Philadelphia, 2015
- Presenter, “San Bruno’s Actions to Seek Pipeline Safety and Reform,” Introduction to Energy Law, University of California, Berkeley School of Law (Boalt Hall), 2015
- Presenter, “Uh-Oh! How to Steer the Ship Back to Safety in Emergency Situations,” California Special Districts Association (CSDA) 46th Annual Conference, 2015
- Presenter, “Crisis Communications: Strategic Messaging, Team Management and Plan Implementation,” Contra Costa County City Attorneys Association, 2015
- Presenter, “How to Lead Without Breaking the Rules,” California Council of School Attorneys (CCSA), 2014
- Author, “Protecting our Power Grid,” Daily Journal. April, 2014
- Author, “Under California: Knowing What Lies Beneath,” Western City Magazine, June, 2013
- Author and Presenter, “The San Bruno, California Natural Gas Pipeline Explosion: Response, Investigation and Regulatory Actions,” International Municipal Lawyers Association, Washington, DC, 2012
University of San Francisco School of Law, JD, 2000
Vanderbilt University, BA, English Literature and Spanish, 1997
Bar and Court Admissions
Mayors’ Council on Pipeline Safety
Power Association of Northern California
Conference of California Public Utility Counsel
Women Lawyers of Alameda County
California Women Lawyers
Association of Women in Water, Energy and Environment
St. Perpetua School Board (President)
Honors and Awards
“Top 100 Lawyers,” Daily Journal, 2017
“Energy Trailblazers,” The National Law Journal, 2017
“Top 100 Women Lawyers,” Daily Journal, 2017
“Top 100 Lawyers,” Daily Journal, 2016
“Top 100 Women Lawyers,” Daily Journal, 2015
“Top 20 under 40,” Daily Journal, 2015
“Giant Slayer” award, The Recorder, Litigation Department of the Year Contest, 2015
“Top Women Lawyers,” Daily Journal, 2014
Advanced Moot Court, Advocate of the Year Competition
W. Manuel Award for Pro Bono Legal Services, State Bar of California