Attorneys

Attorney Details

J. Leah Castella

J. Leah Castella

Partner - Oakland

510.273.8780 t
510.273.8778 d
510.839.9104 f

email lcastella@bwslaw.com
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Leah Castella is a partner in Burke’s Oakland office.  She received her J.D. with Honors from the University of Texas, Austin in 1999 and her B.A. in Philosophy from Lewis & Clark College in 1995.  As a seasoned public law lawyer, Leah has extensive knowledge and experience advising public agencies on public accountability and governance issues.  She is familiar with the full range of laws affecting California public agencies, including the Brown Act, the Public Records Act, the Political Reform Act, Proposition 218, and the Public Trust Doctrine, and she currently serves as the General Counsel of Ironhouse Sanitary District and the Assistant General Counsel of Union Sanitary District and the Vallejo Flood & Wastewater District.

Leah is also an experienced litigator, and over the last nineteen years, she has litigated dozens of cases in state and federal court on behalf of public and private clients.  Her area of litigation expertise includes Proposition 218, land use, real estate, municipal finance issues, and the public trust.  Leah has an exemplary track record of favorably resolving cases at the demurrer and summary judgment stage, but when disputes cannot be resolved by motion, she is also a successful trial advocate.  She has tried cases in state and federal court, and most recently, obtained a favorable ruling for her client after an eight-day bench trial in Hidden Glen Partners v. the City of Napa.  She has also conducted evidentiary hearings in front of legislative bodies on a wide range of issues, including tax allocation, bypass requirements, and ordinance compliance.  She is an experienced appellate advocate, and has successfully argued over a dozen cases in the California Court of Appeals involving myriad issues, including the Public Trust Doctrine, California’s Anti-SLAPP statute, attorney’s fees, the Medicaid Act, Proposition 218, the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”), Inverse Condemnation, and redevelopment dissolution disputes.

Leah has a particular expertise in advising water and wastewater utilities on issues related to compliance with Proposition 218 and the Public Trust Doctrine.  She successfully beat back a claim that a City’s water connection rates were too high in Canon Manor v. City of Rohnert Park.  She advised a water utility on compliance with the Public Trust Doctrine and supervised a comprehensive evaluation of the impact of the City’s diversion of water on public trust resources that was upheld by the Court of Appeals in Reynolds v. City of Calistoga.  In the same case, she successfully obtained summary judgment of claims that the City had breached a water rights agreement entered into with the Plaintiff’s heirs in the early 1920’s.  Leah has continued to provide advice and counsel to Calistoga and other municipal utilities on related public trust and rate setting issues.  

Results

  • California Apartment Association v. City of Richmond.  Successfully defeated a challenge to a rent control initiative enacted by the City of Richmond.
  • City of South Lake Tahoe Retiree’s Association v. City of South Lake Tahoe.  Successfully negotiated settlement to a dispute arising out of City’s changes to retiree health benefits that reduced the City’s retiree health liability from in excess of $70 million to less than $10 million.  
  • Water Audit v. City of St. Helena.  Successfully negotiated settlement of dispute in exchange for City’s development and implementation of a bypass plan.
  • Uno Fratelli, LLC v. City of Napa.  Successfully negotiated settlement of land use dispute arising out of allegations of overburdening an easement.
  • City of Emeryville v. California Department of Finance.  Obtained a writ from the Court of Appeals directing the Department of Finance to recognize re-executed City/Agency agreements as enforceable obligations.
  • City of Watsonville v. California Department of Finance.  Obtained a writ from the Sacramento Superior Court directing the Department of to recognize reimbursement agreements as loans eligible for reinstatement. 
  • City of Glendale v. California Department of Finance.  Obtained a writ from the Sacramento Superior Court directing the Department of Finance to calculate accumulated interest on reinstated loan in accordance with the variable LAIF rate from the date of loan origination.  
  • Southgate v. California Department of Finance.  Obtained a writ from the Sacramento Superior Court directing the Department of Finance to approve reinstatement of a HUD loan to the former redevelopment agency. 
  • Fresno v. California Department of Finance.  Obtained a writ from the Sacramento Superior Court directing the Department of Finance to permit reinstatement of City Agency Loans. 
  • Daly City v. California Department of Finance.  Obtained a writ from the Sacramento Superior Court directing the Department of Finance to permit reinstatement of City Agency Loans. 
  • City of Industry, et al v. City of Fillmore.  Successfully overturned a decision granting a demurrer without leave to amend and granting an AntiSLAPP motion.
  • Woodfin Suites Hotel v. City of Emeryville.  Successfully defeated writ action brought challenging City’s enforcement of living wage ordinance. 
  • Keffler v. Partnership Healthplan.  Successfully defeated writ of mandate brought to challenge pharmaceutical reimbursement rates; successfully defeated appeal of Trial Court’s decision to deny the Writ.
  • Hidden Glen Partners v. City of Napa.  Obtained successful trial verdict in lawsuit brought by a landowner claiming that City had breached a contractual obligation to construct a park. 
  • Canon Manor v. City of Rohnert Park.  Obtained summary judgment in a lawsuit brought to force refunds of over a million dollars in sewer connection fees and successfully defeated appeal of the Court’s summary judgment ruling.
  • Desert Development v. Emeryville Redevelopment Agency.  Obtained demurrer without leave to amend in a multi-million dollar inverse condemnation action arising out of relocation of a billboard.
  • Indian Springs Mobile Home Park v. City of Rohnert Park.  Successfully demurred to an inverse condemnation claim based on a City’s denial of a tentative map application for conversion of a mobile home park.
  • Sonoma Falls v Dry Creek Band of Pomo Indians.  Negotiated a fifty million dollar settlement for real estate developer in an action arising out of breach of a casino management agreement.

Presentations

Publications

Recognitions

  • Womens eNews, 21 Leaders for the 21st Century
  • Burton Award for Excellence in Legal Writing