Stephen G. Larson

Partner
  • BIOGRAPHY
  • Awards & Recognition
  • In the news

A former U.S. District Judge and co-founding partner of Larson O'Brien LLP, Stephen G. Larson has spent his career at the center of the most high-profile complex civil and white collar criminal matters in the country. With a national reputation in the courtroom as an "even-tempered litigator with a keen mind," he is recognized annually by the Daily Journal, California’s leading legal newspaper, as one of the "Top 100 Lawyers in California." 

Stephen's clients know him as an "exceptionally hard worker" who handles every case on a personal level—the kind of dedicated service and attentive counsel that can be a rare find. Clients turn to Stephen knowing he will have their best interests in mind as he crafts his approach to the case from the first conversation to the optimal result. He uses his deep knowledge of the law, thorough analysis, and aggressive but cogent strategy to deliver justice for his clients. As a prominent litigator aptly described Stephen, "he can talk a dog off a meat truck."

In his over 30 years of practice as a trial and appellate lawyer, Stephen has been lead counsel in scores of federal and state court jury trials and appeals, including before the California Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court. He serves as a trusted advisor to senior executives, prominent domestic and international businesses, public and private companies of all sizes, and other individuals as plaintiffs and defendants in high-stakes civil and commercial disputes. Throughout his broad civil litigation practice, he covers intellectual property, real property and land use, environmental and basic materials, complex contracts and business torts, employment, securities, civil rights, and class action matters across industries ranging from entertainment to technology. In addition, Stephen is frequently engaged as an arbitrator and mediator in complex commercial disputes.

From investigations to trial, Stephen represents companies, executives, lawyers, doctors, actors, public figures and entities, and boards and committees in white collar criminal matters. He skillfully guides clients through government investigations and successfully defends them against prosecutions related to public corruption, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), domestic and international sanctions issues, the False Claims Act (FCA), healthcare laws, and financial controls. His enviable track record includes a mid-trial dismissal of a former agent with the Drug Enforcement Agency charged with conspiracy and fraud, having no charges filed against a doctor following a months-long investigation alleging $30 million in FCA violations, and a favorable disposition and dismissal of all remaining charges for an expert charged with embezzling millions of dollars of NASA funds. Stephen is currently defending the former University of Southern California water polo coach in the highly publicized "Varsity Blues" college admissions case against racketeering and fraud charges. With extensive experience on both sides of an investigation, Stephen's practice also involves conducting internal investigations, among which was his appointment to monitor the Orange County District Attorney’s compliance with a Blue Ribbon commission’s recommendations related to jail informants.

Stephen has made prevailing in high-stakes litigation cases at both trial and on appeal a hallmark of his practice. In 2018, Stephen was awarded the Daily Journal's California Lawyer Attorneys of the Year (CLAY) Award for his trial advocacy in People v. Biane et al., which former California Attorney General Jerry Brown touted as one of the most significant public corruption matters in California history. After a 10-month trialStephen secured a complete defense verdict for real estate developer Jeff Burum, defeating allegations that three county officials took bribes from Mr. Burum in exchange for their approval for a $102 million settlement of a land dispute. He is now leading the civil rights suit seeking over $100 million in damages on behalf of Mr. Burum and his company for the retaliatory investigation. Stephen's other recent successes include achieving a $40 million settlement for the States of Arizona and Oklahoma in a consumer protection laws violation suit against Volkswagen AG, affirming on appeal the dismissal of substantive RICO violation claims against his client, and obtaining multimillion-dollar settlements for a Native American tribe in a lawsuit against the government for mismanaging tribal assets.

Stephen is dedicated to furthering the education of and creating better public systems for practicing and aspiring lawyers, governments, and law enforcement worldwide. He taught law school classes in constitutional law, civil rights law, federal courts, and professional responsibility; and has conducted law enforcement training at the FBI National Academy and overseas on money laundering, asset forfeiture, and U.S. banking regulations. As a member of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit’s Jury Instruction Committee while on the bench, Stephen was responsible for drafting and publishing model jury instructions. He was a founding member of the State Department’s Public-Private Partnership for Justice Reform in Afghanistan, and he conducted joint training exercises and investigations with foreign law enforcement agencies in Russia, Kazakhstan, Estonia, Latvia, Poland, the Ukraine, and South Korea. Locally, Stephen previously served as chair of the Los Angeles County Blue Ribbon Commission on Public Safety and volunteers his time on non-profit boards.

Prior Experience

After launching his legal career in private practice, Stephen was appointed to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles where he served as chief of the Organized Crime and Racketeering Section. As a prosecutor, he led 24 criminal trials, was responsible for 49 appeals before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and received the U.S. Department of Justice Director’s Award for Superior Performance from Attorney General Janet Reno. Stephen departed the U.S. Attorney’s Office for his judicial service in the Central District of California, first as a Magistrate Judge and then as a District Judge upon nomination by President George W. Bush.

During his nearly 10 years as a federal judge, Stephen adjudicated over a thousand cases—including a number of high-profile ones such as the "Barbie vs. Bratz" copyright infringement dispute between toymakers Mattel and MGA Entertainment—and was designated seven times to serve on the Ninth Circuit. Other noteworthy cases over which he presided include Siegel v. Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc., which determined the ownership of the copyrights to the iconic comic strip Superman; United States v. Nazario, a landmark Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act case involving U.S. Marines accused of manslaughter during the Battle of Fallujah; United States v. Duro, in which Stephen blocked the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs’ decade long effort to close down and expel a major migrant worker camp on the Torres Martinez Indian Reservation; and John Doe v. County of San Bernardino, which resulted in systematic reform of educational and therapeutic services for disabled youths within the county juvenile hall system.

Prior to co-founding Larson O'Brien in 2016, Stephen was chair of the litigation department at a national Am Law 200 firm and a member of its Executive Committee. 

Representative Matters

  • Secured a complete defense verdict for the managing partner of Colonies Partners, LP, a real estate development partnership, defeating allegations that three county officials took bribes from the managing partner in exchange for their approval for a $102 million settlement of a land dispute.
  • Obtained multimillion-dollar settlements for the Quapaw Nation and tribe members in a lawsuit spanning 17 years regarding claims that the mismanaged tribal assets.
  • Obtained a favorable sole-tax-count, no-custody, no-restitution disposition and the dismissal of all remaining charges for an aerospace economic development expert charged with embezzling millions of dollars in NASA funds in the highly publicized People v. Shaw.
  • Obtained a complete dismissal of the City of Irvine in two high-profile class action lawsuits regarding the enforcement of anti-camping policies and adequacy of shelters within Orange County.
  • Obtained a complete dismissal of 14 felony counts against a client alleging he had engaged in the sale of securities without qualification or exemption.
  • In United States v. Aguilar, one of only a few FCPA cases to go to trial in the past decade, successfully defeated FCPA and money-laundering charges by securing an order vacating the convictions of Ms. Aguilar.
  • Obtained a $10 million jury verdict and judgment against the Rose Bowl Aquatic Center and in favor of a minor child abused at the defendant's facilities.
  • Successfully represented the states of Arizona and Oklahoma in connection with their efforts to seek recovery following the Volkswagen AG emissions “Diesel Dupe” scandal, obtaining settlements totaling more than $40 million.
  • Won summary judgment in favor of Taco Bell Corp. in a putative class action alleging $51 million in violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA).
  • Secured a mid-trial dismissal of a federal grand jury's nine-count indictment against a former special agent of the Drug Enforcement Agency accused of conspiring to commit fraud and making false statements to federal law enforcement officers.
  • Affirmed on appeal the dismissal of substantive RICO violation claims against client. 
  • Represented the senior executive of international mining company in FCPA joint investigation by the Justice Department and Eastern District of New York, resulting in no charges being filed.
  • Secured a dismissal of criminal charges and a civil compromise for an industry-leading industrial materials manufacturer, following an industrial homicide investigation.
  • Represented a financial technology company during criminal and civil investigations by several District Attorneys’ offices and the United States Attorney, resulting in no charges being filed.
  • Represented the relator in a qui tam civil FCA matter alleging healthcare fraud, resulting in more than $60 million in recovery. 
  • Won a seven-figure judgment for an attorney in a fee dispute arising from the Indian Trust litigation and settlement, following a trial before the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
  • Succeeded in having no charges filed against a doctor following months-long investigation of alleged $30 million in FCA violations.
  • Won three appeals overturning orders granting terminating sanctions in a high-profile wrongful death action against a celebrity drug interventionist, and defeated defendants’ motion for summary judgment after remand. 
  • Represented Arizona voters challenging the constitutionality of unequally populated voting districts created by a state commission, before the U.S. Supreme Court in Harris v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission.
  • Obtained summary judgment for a non-profit organization alleged to have aided and abetted fraud and financial crimes.
  • Conducted internal investigations of a retirement pension regarding allegations of executive misconduct.
  • Served as the Independent Monitor of the Orange County District Attorney’s office, following appointment to that role by the Orange County Board of Supervisors.

Activities

Speaking Engagements

Benchmark Litigation

Benchmark Litigation recognizes firm and partners

Larson O’Brien has been named a “Recommended” firm and partners Stephen G. Larson, Jonathan E. Phillips, and Paul A. Rigali have been recognized as “Litigation Stars” by Benchmark Litigation 2021.

San Bernardino Sun

San Bernardino to pay $1.3M to settle federal suit

Larson O'Brien client Pepe's Towing has sought a tow contract with the City of San Bernardino for the better part of two decades, to no avail.

Larson O'Brien Press Release

City agrees to Pepe's Towing settlement

The City of San Bernardino has agreed to pay Larson O'Brien client Pepe's Towing $1.3 million to resolve Pepe's civil rights lawsuit alleging corrupt favoritism and other violations by the City and its officials spanning more than 15 years.

Daily Journal

Stephen Larson named a “Top 100” lawyer for 2020

Partner Stephen G. Larson has been recognized as one of the “Top 100 Lawyers in California” for the fourth consecutive year.

Federal Arbitration

Stephen Larson speaking on FedArb webinar panel

Partner Stephen G. Larson is speaking on a panel of fellow judges for FedArb’s “Southern California Webinar on Best Practices for Video Mediation” on Sept. 11, 2020.

John Lee and Tyler O’Brien join the firm

Larson O’Brien is pleased to announce that John Lee and Tyler J. O’Brien joined the firm as associates on September 8, 2020.

Law360 | CNN

"Varsity Blues" feds make third attempt at client

The Larson O'Brien defense team is undeterred by a new indictment of threadbare allegations against client Jovan Vavic in the "Varsity Blues" case.

Pasadena Star News

Larson O'Brien wins $10 million jury verdict

Jury finds Rose Bowl Aquatic Center at fault in molestation case, awards family millions

Best Lawyers©

Five attorneys recognized by Best Lawyers©

Four Larson O’Brien partners were recognized in The Best Lawyers in America© 2021 and one associate was included in the inaugural edition of the Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch.

Law360

SEC's $15.5M win nixed on appeal by firm's clients

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed and remanded the SEC’s $15.5 million judgment on Aug. 6, 2020 in favor of Larson O’Brien’s clients in SEC v. Yang et al.

Firm’s summary judgment win affirmed on appeal

On Aug. 3, 2020, the California Court of Appeal affirmed the Superior Court of Los Angeles County’s summary judgment order, which Larson O’Brien won for Canyon Water Company and its officers in a complex property and water rights dispute.

Daily Journal

Developer & officials acquitted of bribery can sue

San Bernardino County, its former district attorney, and his staff can be sued by Larson O'Brien client Jeff Burum and former county officials for alleged retaliation and malicious prosecution, a federal judge ruled on July 29, 2020.

San Bernardino Sun

Judge OKs trial against San Bernardino County

A federal judge on July 29, 2020 denied a request by San Bernardino County to dismiss a lawsuit filed by Larson O'Brien client Jeff Burum alleging malicious prosecution in a nearly decade-long public corruption case that ended in his acquittal.

Larson O'Brien Press Release

County loses bid to dismiss Colonies lawsuits

A new ruling by a federal judge leaves San Bernardino County facing hundreds of millions of dollars in damages over the politically motivated, 20-year persecution of Larson O'Brien client Jeff Burum and his company, Colonies Partners.

Los Angeles Times

Larson O'Brien defends client on refiled charges

The L.A. County district attorney's office refiled public corruption charges against former assessor John Noguez, top official Mark McNeil, and Larson O'Brien client Ramin Salari.

Larson O’Brien joins Law Firm Antiracism Alliance

The national coalition of law firms aims to create large-scale, coordinated pro bono projects that address systemic racism.

Los Angeles Business Journal

Partners named among “Leaders of Influence”

Partners Stephen G. Larson and Hilary Potashner were selected to the “Leaders of Influence: Litigators & Trial Lawyers” list for 2020.

National Asian Pacific American Bar Association

Angela Makabali joins NAPABA leadership program

Larson O’Brien is proud to announce that associate Angela Makabali has been selected to the NAPABA 2020 Leadership Advancement Program.

Law360

RICO charge not fit for "Varsity Blues" coaches

Partner Kori L. Bell argued on behalf of Larson O'Brien client Jovan Vavic in a hearing on July 1, 2020 regarding whether conspiracy counts should be dismissed in the "Varsity Blues" case.

Inland Valley Daily Bulletin

Upland police chief reinstated

Partner Stephen G. Larson's client, Upland Police Chief Darren Goodman, was reinstated to his position on June 29, 2020 following his suspension allegedly due to City Hall politics.

Inland Valley Daily Bulletin

Stephen Larson represents Upland police chief

Partner Stephen G. Larson wrote a letter to Upland City Council and Mayor Debbie Stone alleging his client, suspended Upland Police Chief Darren Goodman, is a victim of City Hall politics.

Los Angeles Business Journal

Partners named among L.A.'s "Most Influential"

For the fourth consecutive year, the Los Angeles Business Journal has recognized partners Stephen G. Larson and Robert C. O'Brien among the "LA500: Most Influential People in L.A."

Hilary Potashner joins Larson O'Brien

Larson O'Brien welcomes high-profile defense attorney and former Federal Public Defender for the Central District of California

Daily Journal

Stephen Larson named to "Top 100" list for 2019

The Daily Journal recognized partner Stephen G. Larson for third consecutive year as one of the Top 100 lawyers in California.

Law360

"Varsity Blues" defendants refer to Bridgegate

The Larson O'Brien defense team for Jovan Vavic filed a brief arguing that the Bridgegate ruling closes the "Varsity Blues" case, along with the lawyers for four other defendants.

Court of Appeal affirms order in favor of client

On June 2, 2020, the California Court of Appeal affirmed the Orange County Superior Court’s order denying attorneys’ fees sought against Larson O’Brien client O Properties, Inc. in a San Juan Capistrano real estate dispute.

Message to the firm

Partner Stephen G. Larson shares his words of strength, sadness, and support with the firm and our community.

Los Angeles Business Journal

Stephen Larson named to “LA500” for 2020

For the fifth consecutive year, partner Stephen G. Larson has been selected as one of the "Most Influential People in L.A."

Larson O'Brien Press Release

Court grants firm's writ of mandate petition

Larson O'Brien's writ of mandate petition on behalf of client Ramin Salari was granted on May 22, 2020, directing the charges to be dismissed.

The American Lawyer

DC Circuit resolves fee dispute in land trust suit

The U.S. Court of Appeals found that a lower court made the right call when it awarded California-based lawyer $2.88 million in fees plus interest.

Firm joins L.A. Represents pro bono initiative

Mayor Eric Garcetti's pro bono initiative is composed of top Los Angeles law firms providing free legal services to residents facing hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

San Bernardino Sun

Judge rules favorably for Colonies Partners

A judge ruled that the former San Bernardino County District Attorney acted in bad faith by deleting text messages and emails sought as evidence in support of Larson O’Brien’s clients during the Colonies Partners corruption case.

Los Angeles Business Journal

Larson & O'Brien among 500 Most Influential in LA

For the fourth year, the Los Angeles Business Journal has recognized Stephen G. Larson and Robert C. O'Brien among L.A.'s Most Influential People.

Law360

Chrysler dealers seek $1B for scuttled franchises

A group of former GM and Chrysler auto dealers will make their case in the Court of Federal Claims that the U.S. government owe them $1B for rejecting their franchise agreements.

Law360

Live Nation, others cut loose from IP fight

U.S. District Judge Philip S. Gutierrez granted Live Nation's motion to dismiss producer Darryl Payne's copyright claims

Law360

Larson added to "Varsity Blues" defense team

Larson O'Brien counted among elite firms that make up the "Varsity Blues" defense team

Automotive News

Dealers finally get their day in court

Larson O'Brien set to begin two month trial of Chrysler dealers' claims in Court of Federal Claims

Daily Journal

Larson O'Brien hired in college admissions scandal

Ex-judge, Stephen G. Larson, hired to represent water polo coach in college admissions scandal

Pasadena Star News

Larson O'Brien wins $10 million jury verdict

Jury finds Rose Bowl Aquatic Center at fault in molestation case, awards family millions

Daily Journal

Larson again listed on list of Top 100 lawyers

For the second consecutive year, The Daily Journal named Stephen G. Larson to its prestigious list of the Top 100 lawyers in California

Benchmark Litigation

Benchmark Litigation honors Larson O'Brien LLP

Stephen G. Larson and Robert C. O'Brien have been named among Benchmark Litigation's California Litigation Stars for 2019

The American Lawyer

DC Circuit resolves fee dispute in land trust suit

The U.S. Court of Appeals found that a lower court made the right call when it awarded California-based lawyer $2.88 million in fees plus interest.

Bloomberg

Eleven lawyers depart Arent Fox to open boutique

Eleven lawyers have jumped ship from Arent Fox to start a litigation boutique in Los Angeles. Larson O'Brien will focus on high stakes matters, including commercial litigation, internal investigations, appellate work and international arbitration.

The New York Times

Larson O'Brien secures $65 million settlement

Prime Healthcare Services, one of the nation's largest hospital systems, agreed to pay $65 million to settle allegations of Medicare overbilling in California

Los Angeles Business Journal

Larson and O'Brien named on "Top Litigators" list

The Los Angeles Business Journal has recognized Stephen G. Larson and Robert C. O'Brien on its list of Top Litigators in Los Angeles

San Bernardino Sun

Bribery case ends with final charges dismissed

Colonies bribery case ends with all charges dismissed against last defendant Jim Erwin.

San Bernardino Sun

3 of 4 Colonies defendants found not guilty

Three of the four defendants in the San Bernardino County Colonies corruption case were found not guilty of all charges after a marathon trial that lasted nearly eight months.

Law360

Koren ("Kori") Bell Joins Larson O'Brien

Larson O'Brien LLP Welcomes Veteran Trial Lawyer Koren Bell as Partner and Dana M. Howard and K. Darcy Elgin as Associates

Los Angeles Business Journal

Larson & O'Brien among most influential in L.A.

Founding partners Larson & O'Brien were again named on the Los Angeles Business Journal's list of the 500 most influential people in Los Angeles

San Bernardino Sun

Colonies Partners files federal lawsuit

Colonies Partners LP filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against San Bernardino County District Attorney and former state Attorneys General, seeking $80 million in damages following a bungled bribery case.

Daily Journal

Larson and Phillips receive "CLAY Award"

Stephen G. Larson and Jonathan E. Phillips were selected for the prestigious CLAY Award for California Attorneys of the Year

Larson appointed to L.A.'s Blue Ribbon Commission

Los Angeles County Supervisor has appointed Larson O'Brien partner, Stephen G. Larson, to the county's newly-formed Blue Ribbon Commission on Public Safety.

The Daily Journal

Larson named on Daily Journal's Top 100 List

Larson O'Brien LLP partner Stephen G. Larson Named to Daily Journal Top 100

The Daily Journal

Back to the Courtroom

Larson O'Brien partners left big law to focus on building a broad but potent litigation boutique

  • EDUCATION

    University of Southern California Gould School of Law, J.D.

    Georgetown University, School of Foreign Service, B.S.F.S.

  • ADMISSIONS

    California
    District of Columbia
    U.S. Supreme Court
    U.S. Court of Federal Claims
    U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit
    U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
    U.S.D.C. Central District of California
    U.S.D.C. Eastern District of California
    U.S.D.C. Northern District of California
    U.S.D.C. Southern District of California
    U.S.D.C. District of Columbia