Joseph G. Baxter, Of Counsel

Mr. Baxter grew up in New York City. He attended Rutgers University where he earned distinguished degrees in Electrical Engineering and Liberal Arts. He then attended Georgetown University Law Center, where he was first in his class. He also set Law Review records. Upon graduation from law school, Baxter clerked for the Hon. James Carter on the United States Court of Appeal, Ninth Circuit.

Mr. Baxter is a member of the State Bar of California, the bar of the United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, and United States District Court bars. Mr. Baxter has been a distinguished member of the United States Supreme Court bar since 1977.

He is rated AV Preeminent® by Martindale-Hubbell®.


Mr. Baxter is a Certified Appellate Specialist, by the California Board of Legal Specialization (CBLS) of the State Bar of California.

As a member of the California Appellate Law Advisory Commission, Mr. Baxter co­authored the California Appellate Specialist exam for the State Bar. He is the Co-Chair of the firm’s Appellate Department, the largest group of appellate attorneys between San Francisco and Portland.

Baxter also teaches appellate law throughout California, and has been featured by The Rutter Group as a teacher of appellate law with California Supreme Court Justices Ming and Corrigan, Court of Appeal Justices Marchiano and Haller, and Jon Eisenberg, the noted author of California Writs and Appeals. In 2007, The Rutter Group selected Mr. Baxter to teach its class, “Writs and Appeals– Learn from the Best.” This class continues to be the “gold standard” of appellate education. Thousands of California trial and appellate attorneys have attended his televised lectures.

Mr. Baxter also has many years of experience as a trial lawyer, and has successfully litigated cases in the Sonoma, Marin, Napa, Lake, Mendocino, San Francisco, and Alameda counties, as well as in United States District Courts in California and Oregon.


Mr. Baxter practices all fields of appellate advocacy, including real estate and business litigation, family law, civil rights, constitutional law, ADA, insurance law, bankruptcy, probate, criminal defense and tax law.

Baxter has also successfully prosecuted environmental, municipal, election, and public resources cases at all levels. Since his earliest days as a lawyer, he has been recognized as a leading advocate for clean water, and his efforts to protect the environment have been the subject of national attention. After the Santa Rosa sewage spill, he successfully represented many Russian River businesses and Park and Recreation Districts, both in Court and before the Water Quality Control Board. His successful challenge to an unlawful referendum election brought about a new election, and a water clarity law which continues to protect the Russian River. (Section 23 of the Sonoma County Code.)

Mr. Baxter’s successful efforts at the California Supreme Court resulted in a landmark water easement decision which also protected ratepayers from an unjustified rate hike. (Camp Meeker Water System v. P.U.C. (1990) 51 Cal.3d 845)

In the area of criminal defense, Mr. Baxter has had major victories in the United States Supreme Court and the Supreme Court of California (See, e.g., Robbins v. California, (1979) 443 U.S. 903, 453 U.S. 420)

Appeals filed by Mr. Baxter have also paved the way for successful writs of habeas corpus in State and Federal courts. These victories, mostly unpublished, have led to the release of many innocent men. (See, e.g. People v. Hammond, 2011 WL2533833; In re Hammond (2012 C071396) (writ of habeas corpus granted). Another successful writ of habeas corpus for an innocent man on death row is now awaiting argument before the California Supreme Court. Masters on Habeas Corpus (S130495) (writ of habeas corpus granted April 9, 2008.)

Baxter has also received several national tributes for his appellate practice. In a six-page National Law Journal article about Mr. Baxter’s practice, famed Supreme Court attorney Marshall Krause said: “When Joe thinks he is right, he does what few lawyers will do or even know how to do, until he wins.”


Baxter views an appeal as an important part of a larger set of remedies aimed at providing full compensation and restitution for his clients. Thus, many of his successes have occurred as a result of settlements while the case is on appeal. In Dutton v. Dolphin Isle Marina (First District Court of Appeal, A099518), the Dutton’s case settled for one million dollars after Justice King declared that Mr. Baxter’s appellate briefs were some of the best he had ever read. (Baxter also obtained an award of attorneys’ fees, over $650,000, against a prior appellate attorney who failed to pursue all appellate remedies.)

More recently, Mr. Baxter’s appellate briefs allowed Mr. Baxter (and his co­counsel) to settle a claim against VPSI, one of the nation’s leading van pooling services, for $1,000,000. This settlement for the primary insurance carrier’s policy limits, paved the way for a $20,000,000 judgment against Starr Indemnity Liability Company, the excess carrier. As a result of Mr. Baxter’s efforts defending against Starr’s appeal from the $20,000,000 judgment in the United States Court of Appeal, Ninth Circuit (Starr Indemnity Liability Company v. David Belger, et al. (No. 17-55127), the case recently settled.


A certified appellate specialist is a certified master of appellate practice similar to the way that a physician may be Board Certified in his or her medical specialty. There are many reasons for hiring a Certified Appellate Specialist to handle an appeal. There are also reasons for consulting with an appellate specialist even while the case is at the trial level.

Outstanding written advocacy. A trial-court attorney has many chances to explain complex legal and factual issues, in person and in writing. On appeal, parties get only one or two chances – primarily through written advocacy- to educate appellate judges about the relevant facts and law, and the strength of their position. A Certified Appellate Specialist knows how to streamline specialized concepts, eliminate surprise, and “speak the language” that appellate courts understand.

A different kind of oral advocacy. Certified Appellate Specialists understand the totally different approach required in this new forum -where the core questions are legal, not factual, and 10-20 minutes of in-person, oral advocacy per side is the only time you have.

A fresh perspective. As a Certified Appellate Specialist, Mr. Baxter provides a fresh perspective to a case. He evaluates the case objectively based on the “new realities”, helping clients to see the case the way the appellate court is likely to see it. Appellate counsel focuses on legal and procedural issues because that is what appellate courts do; factual findings by the trial court will almost never be reexamined on appeal. They key issues on appeal often differ from those that predominated at trial.

Appellate courts rely on appellate specialists. “[T]rial attorneys who prosecute their own appeals may have ‘tunnel vision.’ Having tried the case themselves, they become convinced of the merits of their cause. They may lose objectivity and would be well-served by consulting and considering the advice of disinterested members of the bar, schooled in appellate practice. We suspect that had appellant consulted with a specialist, he or she would have advised him not to pursue this appeal.” (Estate of Gilkison (1998) 65 Cal.App.4th 1443, 149-50.)

Appellate Mastery. By way of example, the core of any appellate brief is the applicable “standard of review,” the prism through which the Court views the entire case. Baxter is widely regarded as a master of this analysis. He has lectured on this subject throughout the State to thousands of attorneys in San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Santa Rosa, on television, and online. This mastery sometimes makes it possible to win an appeal even on a restricted budget. (See., e.g., A127785, In re Marriage of Richardson (4/11/11) 2011 WL 1362113; Kassler v. Sossa (8/31/10) 2010 WL 3412895; Byrne v. Fischer(7/17/13) 2013 WL 375642 (challenge to insufficient record affirmed). His use of this mastery has also set the innocent free, and made it possible for the even guilty to start a new life. (People v. Hard (8/27/03) 75 P.3d 29; 4 Cal.Rptr.3d 103; People v. McGuiness (2001) 87 Cal.App.4th 592; People v. Camarillo (2000) 84 Cal.App.4th 1386.)

Mr. Baxter is also a master of all methods of relief in the appellate courts. Moreover, few attorneys have personal experience with writ relief, which goes outside of the trial court record. Very few have any knowledge of “grant and transfer relief’, the so-called “back door” to the Supreme Court of California as well as the Supreme Court of the United States. Mr. Baxter has direct experience with all the alternative “doorways”, and has lectured throughout the State on this subject. He has also successfully used all of these doorways in the United States and California Supreme Courts, and in the California Courts of Appeal. (See, e.g., In re Robbins on Habeas Corpus (7/14/77) (writ of habeas corpus granted by Supreme Court of California in 1 Crim. 14387); Robbins v. California (1979) 443 U.S. 903 judgment vacated with directions to reconsider in light of Arkansas v. Sanders (1979) 442 U.S. 753); People v. Hard (2003) 112 Cal.App.4th 272; 75 P.3d.)


As a Certified Appellate Specialist, Mr. Baxter and the firm’s Appellate Department also offer an extraordinary service that can greatly enhance the chances of success on summary judgment motions in the trial court, and which, in the event of an appeal, will dramatically reduce the cost of an appeal.

The usual practice in complex summary judgment motions makes it next to impossible for the trial judge to track down and review all the portions of the record that counsel are relying on in their briefs. By way of example, in a complex case, involving hundreds of “Separately Stated Undisputed Material” facts supported by references to dozens of depositions, documents, and other record citations, standard practices create a byzantine complexity that busy trial judges simply do not have sufficient time to master. As a result, trial judges are not easily able to review key parts of the record in summary judgment proceedings.

As appellate attorneys, we have developed a unique approach which puts the record “at the fingertips” of any court, whether trial or appellate. We are also able to handle complex summary judgment motions for other attorneys, streamline the entire process, and greatly enhance the chances of success.

Our approach has an additional benefit. A substantial portion of the costs of a complex summary judgment appeal involves the costs of converting a sometimes incomprehensible trial record into a winning record. When you use our services in the trial court, it means substantial savings in the event of an appeal.

The O’Brien Watters and Davis Appellate Law Department includes the Honorable Noreen M. Evans, (a retired California State Senator) Michael G. Watters, Deirdre Taber Kingsbury, Sara Baxter, and George J. Keller.