Yosef Peretz has taken on heavyweights like Tesla, but he always finds time to help those down on their luck hang onto their homes
Yosef Peretz’s father, Samuel, was something of a minor celebrity in their Jerusalem neighborhood. When a washing machine quit or a car wouldn’t start, Peretz would often coax it back to life, then shrug off payment.
It made a powerful impression on his four children. The oldest, Yosef, followed in his father’s footsteps; not with mechanical skills—“I’m not so qualified to do that,” he says with a laugh—but through extensive pro bono work, often for low-income tenants and people with AIDS who face tenant and employment issues.
“So many of us are so fortunate, and we don’t even realize it,” says Peretz, founder of Peretz & Associates in San Francisco. The plaintiff’s boutique practice handles labor and employment matters, class actions and housing disputes, and “business divorces.” Despite his busy schedule—including some high-stakes cases against Tesla Motors Inc.—Peretz prioritizes volunteer commitments. “What sets us apart as a civil society is that we are able to help each other in creating a community,” he says.
A 1996 graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s law school, Peretz, 46, practiced in Israel before coming to the United States about 15 years ago in search of better opportunities. He made San Francisco his home after falling in love with its mild climate and liberal culture.
Some of his earliest cases were pro bono representations of low-income tenants through the Eviction Defense Project, part of the Justice & Diversity Center of the Bar Association of San Francisco. A volunteer since 2003, Peretz has handled nearly three dozen matters for the center, many of them complex cases that have required deft lawyering, says Carolyn Gold, the center’s supervising attorney.
“He’s very, very smart, and he comes up with … creative theories for his lawsuits against landlords,” she says. “The best part about Yosef is that he always says yes” when she calls him to take on a convoluted case or mentor a younger lawyer. “He’s always telling me, ‘Cary, if you need help, call me.’”
San Francisco’s AIDS Legal Referral Panel has also benefited from Peretz’s assistance. He and his former legal partner, Cary Kletter, were honored by the panel in 2004 as attorneys of the year. “We really value his contributions and his long-term commitment to our clients,” says Sara Malan, the organization’s managing attorney.
As his private practice grew, Peretz found himself gravitating toward civil litigation, which has “a lot of energy, high stakes, and a winner and a loser. I’m not the type to sit in an office and review contracts for hours,” he says. “I like interactions and the personal story behind things.”
This spring, he was engaged in a bench trial in San Mateo County Superior Court, arguing that 48 of Tesla’s early employees were entitled to millions of dollars in stock options. At issue was the interpretation of a line in their employment contracts that governed when their options began to vest. The case was ongoing at press time.
Peretz has litigated a similar stock-options issue before, prevailing against Tesla in a 2013 case before the same judge. In that matter, the automaker was ordered to pay $207,000 to David Vespremi, its former director of communications.
If it seems like Peretz has more hours in his day than other people, it’s because he does. During trials, he says he refuels with just two or three hours of sleep per night. He relaxes with a weekly run through Golden Gate Park and time with his wife, Mardah Chami, and their sons, ages 2, 4, 6 and 8.
And there’s always pro bono work. Shortly before the Tesla trial, Peretz helped the son of a colleague’s friend resolve a landlord-tenant conflict. Peretz shrugs: “It’s the kind of a thing you do for a friend of a friend of a friend.”