Michael G. Watters, Partner
Attorney-At-Law • Santa Rosa Family Law • Expert Witness • Litigation Consultant
Michael G. Watters is a trial attorney with extensive trial as well as significant appellate experience. He formerly headed the Litigation Department from 1985-2018 and is the firm’s Managing Partner. He was born in Richland, Washington. Mr. Watters specializes in all aspects of trial work, with emphases on complex civil litigation, business litigation, employment litigation, family law and insurance. He also defends professional licensees. He has handled many appeals.
He received his Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration in 1967 from the University of California at Berkeley. He then attended its Graduate School of Business Administration (now the Haas School) and earned an M.B.A. degree in 1968. Mr. Watters then served as a U.S. Marine Corps officer on active duty from 1969 to 1971, with tours of duty on Okinawa and in Vietnam serving with the 3d Battalion, 5th Marines, a storied Marine Corps Infantry Battalion. He was awarded the Navy Commendation Medal with Combat “V.” Following active duty he was certified as a Judge Advocate, qualified and competent to perform the duties of Trial Counsel and Defense Counsel of the General Courts Martial of the Armed Forces of the United States. He remained in the Marine Corps Reserve for 20 years, retiring in 1991. In 1990 he was called to active duty in support of Operation Desert Shield. He attended the University of California, Hastings College of the Law, graduating with a J.D. in 1974. He then moved to Santa Rosa and was an associate with the law firm of Spridgen, Barrett, Achor, Luckhardt, Anderson & James, becoming a partner in 1980. In 1982 he founded this firm along with John R. O’Brien, Laurence K. Sawyer, now a retired Sonoma County Superior Court Judge, and Daniel E. Davis.
Mr. Watters is a member of the State Bar of California and the Sonoma County, Marin County and American Bar Associations. He is a member of the bar of various United States District Courts and the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, formerly known as Court of Military Appeals (COMA).
Mr. Watters has been active in Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). Since 1979, he has been an Arbitrator for the Sonoma, Marin, and Napa County Superior Courts. In Mr. Watters’ ADR practice, he conducted more than 50 mediations through the American Arbitration Association (AAA) Mediation Center and arbitrated 30 cases for the AAA (Commercial Arbitration Panel). He also arbitrated more than 100 cases for the Sonoma, Marin and Napa County Courts. He has been a Superior Court Judge (Pro Tem) for Sonoma County, trying a medical malpractice jury trial, as well as several divorces. In addition, he has been a Judge (Pro Tem) for the Marin County Courts and a Sonoma County Municipal Court Judge (Pro Tem), hearing Small Claims Court cases. He has been a Kaiser party arbitrator in five matters. He served as a Hearing Officer for the Judicial Review Committee of several local hospitals regarding Medical Staff privilege issues. For decades, he has sat as a Pro Tem Settlement Conference Panelist for the Sonoma and Marin County Courts. He has also been appointed from time to time as a Special Master and a Discovery Referee by the Sonoma County Superior Court. He is a panelist for the Discovery Facilitator program as well as the Demurrer Facilitator program.
Mr. Watters is a veteran of numerous Superior Court jury trials. He has tried cases in Sonoma, Marin, Napa, Mendocino, San Francisco, Alameda, and Orange Counties and has litigated cases in other counties, including Contra Costa, Humboldt, Lake, Los Angeles, Modoc, Riverside, Sacramento, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Siskiyou, and Solano,. He has represented clients in hearings before the Board of Medical Quality Assurance (BMQA), the Psychology Examining Committee (PEC) and the Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Appeals Board. He has personally tried to verdict more than 40 jury trials, as well as more than 30 court trials to judgment. A number of the jury trials were lengthy, including a number spanning many months. Between 1994 and 1997, Mr. Watters was in trial more than 100 days in 10 cases in the following areas: family law, personal injury, business litigation, employment discrimination (2), bankruptcy, malicious prosecution, and legal malpractice. In each case, the firm’s clients prevailed except for the one day bankruptcy trial.
In 2002, he was in trial for 20 days on three cases including business litigation (fraud in sale of a business) and two family law matters (one setting aside a 14-year-old judgment based on duress and the other defeating a premarital agreement). In his insurance defense practice, he lost only one jury trial in his career.
In a four year period (2009-2013), Mr. Watters was in trial for more than 200 days in nine trials including three civil jury trials, a 73-day mega divorce trial (along with Steve Cavellini and former partner Joseph A. Piasta II) – In re Marriage of Davenport, three employment law cases consolidated for court trial (along with former associate David J. Leonard), defense of a soldier in a military jury General Court-Martial at Joint Base Lewis-McChord (Washington) as well as a 43-day divorce trial (with Steve Cavellini) – In re Marriage of Nessinger. All but the two jury civil trials resulted in great success for the firm’s clients; one of the jury trial verdicts was overturned successfully on appeal handled by Deirdre Taber Kingsbury based on judicial error (2011). That case, Bonfigli v. Strachan and Smith, the leading case on financial elder abuse, was re-tried (with Peter Bumerts) in late 2012 with a jury verdict in our client’s favor of more than one million dollars based on fraud and financial elder abuse. A substantial amount of attorneys’ fees were also awarded to our client. In the Davenport case (involving a marital estate of 60 million dollars), the firm’s client, Mrs. Jill Davenport, ended up with her half of the community estate plus an award of more than five million dollars payable from her ex-husbands’ share of the community property. This included more than two million dollars in attorneys’ fees based on Family Code Sections 271, 1101 and 2030. In 2014 Mr. Watters also assisted a former partner in a 72-day jury trial – Cardoza v. Reed – resulting in a verdict of more than 18 million dollars for our clients. (This was in the Top 40 jury trial awards in the U.S. in 2014.) Mr. Watters cross-examined the main defendant, David H. Reed, among others. He also did the final, final, closing argument.
Mr. Watters has also been handling appeals since 1975 (most of which have not been certified for publication) and has a number of reported appellate decisions, including Warth v. Department of Justice (1979) 595 F.2d 521, 50 A.L.R. Fed. 331 (Freedom of Information Act); Mill Valley Refuse v. Superior Court (1980) 108 Cal.App.3d 707 (indemnity from late settling co-defendant prior to judgment / CCP § 877); Butler v. Hathcoat (1983) 146 Cal.App.3d 834 (five year statute); Gregori v. Bank of America (1989) 207 Cal.App.3d 291 (attorney disqualification); Flatt v. Superior Court (1994) 9 C.4th 275 (consultant to petitioner regarding attorney’s duty to existing client); Hall v. Harker (1999) 69 Cal.App.4th 836 (judicial misconduct during trial/malicious prosecution); Musser v. Provencher (2002) 28 Cal. 4th 274 (indemnity between successive attorneys; a trial attorney for Mr. Provencher); and Bonfigli v. Strachan (2011) 192 Cal. App. 4th 1302 (leading case in area of elder financial abuse, real estate fraud and power coupled with an interest). In re Marriage of Davenport (2011) 194 Cal.App.4th 1507 (pre-trial award of attorneys fees per Family Code Section 271; criticized for being too aggressive and not civil enough in its representation of its client – but our client eventually prevailed at trial (see trial results above) after Husband finally admitted, during trial, to destroying 65 banker boxes containing decades of the couple’s accounting, business, banking and financial records, once he became aware a divorce was in the works and within days after he falsely promised to make them available to Wife’s first attorney.) A second destruction of more current records was also proven at trial after he was served with the Petition a month later.
Mr. Watters is a past Chairman of the Board of Directors of United Way of Sonoma-Mendocino-Lake (now United Way of the Wine Country) (1993) and was its General Campaign Chairman (1990). He was a member of various local non-profit boards including Girl Scouts of Northern California, the local Salvation Army Advisory Board and others. He has been on the faculty of Empire College School of Law and was a Professor of Law (Torts) for a number of years. (The Torts class was taken over by Patrick M. Broderick and has since been taught for decades by former associate Joseph L. Stogner.) Mr. Watters has been named to Super Lawyers for Northern California since 2007.
Mr. Watters has been rated AV Preeminent® by Martindale-Hubbell® for 30 years.
Over the years, Mr. Watters has participated as a panelist in any number of Mandatory Continuing Legal Education (MCLE) programs. Recently he has focused his efforts on the subject of trial practice with emphasis on depositions. He has made the following MCLE presentations to the Sonoma County Bar: “Deposition Basics” in March 2011 and “How to Take the Deposition of an Expert Witness . . . Any Expert!” in September 2011. He presented “Deposition Objections” in 2015. He presented “How to Prepare to Take a Key Deposition” in 2016. He is now offering his services as an expert witness as well as a litigation coach.