Sure, they shine at their day jobs. But these four attorneys are just as stellar when it comes to their spare-time pursuits
Published in 2005 Washington Rising Stars magazine
on December 2, 2005
Updated on January 4, 2017
An Altruist at Heart
Brendan Monahan is a modest man.The first time he is informed of his “Rising Star” status, he jests via voicemail that perhaps he is too old for such an award.And in talking about his volunteer work for groups including the Yakima Greenway Foundation, People for People,Yakima County Coalition for the Homeless and LaSalle High School, Monahan says perhaps he has taken away more than he gives.
“It is always humbling to see these nonprofit organizations really affecting lives in a more direct and meaningful manner than most lawyers do in the workday,” he explains. “I wouldn’t claim to have actually been the force that changed anybody’s lives or accomplished much, but it’s nice to be part of it and observe these organizations keeping active.”
At 38 years of age and as the father of two young girls, Monahan is viewed by those he works with as sharp and savvy. Al Brown, Greenway Foundation director, admires the lawyer for his strong analytical mind and soft touch in providing counsel. “He doesn’t necessarily bring his legal profession into our board room,” Brown explains. “An attorney could come in and sit on the board and say, ‘You can’t do that because . . .’ but Brendan looks at what is best for the community and the environment and how we can make it work. He provides a solid balance.”
His schooling demonstrates that balance and mix of interests. Monahan received his bachelor’s degree in 1988 in “Great Books” from St. Mary’s College in California. After graduating, he traveled in Mexico and Central America before embarking on a trek to law school at Boston College.
Monahan received his law degree in 1992 and has since practiced with Velikanje Moore & Shore in Yakima, where he handles commercial litigation with an emphasis on labor and employment issues. Given the rural setting, Monahan says most of the cases he works on revolve around agriculture.
Homeless coalition executive director Lupita Gutierrez-Parker says Monahan strives to promote equal quality of life for everyone. “He has always been an advocate for social justice . . . and the mere fact that he continually provides his time to nonprofits and to different community activities clearly shows he’s trying to help all people, from all different walks of life in the community.”
Monahan admits that balancing work, family and volunteer duties is a challenge, but he views it as a necessary part of giving back to the community—and a way, too, of warding off the cynicism that tends to creep into the daily practice of law. “All lawyers end up having to carve out time to dedicate to things they find important.”
Just Call Him ‘Officer’
It’s bad enough that Matt Topham has to listen to lawyer jokes. But he also gets his share of law-enforcement jokes, because he has served since 1999 as a volunteer police officer on Bainbridge Island.“Whenever I come on duty, the officers will say, ‘Okay, we’re with counsel now,’ or they’ll joke and say, ‘There’s a lawyer in the room, don’t say anything,’ ” Topham says, chuckling.“On the law side, attorneys will say, ‘If you disagree with me, are you going to arrest me?’ ”
Jokes aside,Topham’s interest in law enforcement was sparked during his college years, when a close friend was violently assaulted. He says he saw the impact the crime had on his friend and wanted to find a way to help prevent others from going through a similar situation.
He planned to join the Los Angeles Police Department after completing undergrad work in 1992 at Stanford University—where he majored in political science—but the L.A. police implemented a hiring freeze shortly after the Rodney King incident.Topham says he was high on the hiring list, but after waiting for a call from the police academy, he opted for law school at the University of California–Los Angeles.
Topham joined Preston Gates & Ellis in 1997, specializing in corporate-securities work, including mergers and acquisitions. He has represented firms including Microsoft and Expedia. Currently he is representing T-Mobile USA in its acquisition of Cingular Wireless’ network in California and Nevada.
And though from the start he thrived in the legal realm, Topham still felt the pull of law enforcement work, which led him to enter the reserve police academy in 1999 in Bremerton, on nights and weekends. Though he acknowledges it was difficult to complete the training while maintaining junior associate status at a large firm and spending time with his family (which includes three children), he graduated at the top of his class at the academy.
He now typically rides patrol on Friday and/or Saturday nights, working the graveyard shift and providing traffic enforcement, serving arrest and search warrants, making arrests and transporting prisoners.
Police Chief Matt Haney says Topham is an excellent communicator with tremendous empathy when he talks with crime victims. In addition, the chief enjoys working with Topham because he balances the seriousness with a good sense of humor. “We deal with a lot of stuff in police work that is not pretty, and we frequently see people at their worst—driving around intoxicated or a felony arrest. Matt is always respectful to the person; and that is so important for a police officer, to treat people with respect even when they don’t ‘deserve’ respect.”
She’s Acting Out
Outside the courtroom—where she focuses primarily on defense against DUIs and other driving-related charges—Andy Robertson, 30, may well be on her way to establishing herself as the Tina Fey of the local improv world. She is breaking down the traditional stereotype that men are the masters of improvisational theater, says Brian Kameoka, managing director of Seattle’s Unexpected Productions.
Robertson joined the 30-member ensemble two years ago and has become an audience favorite as emcee of TheatreSports™, which is similar to TV’s “Whose Line is It Anyway?” Through her improv work, Robertson is shattering the perception that lawyers can be too serious. But then, what would you expect from a woman who was once part of an all-female improv group called Crash Test Bunny? “I see the overlap with her legal work, because she knows how to command attention when she wants it and knows how to get people on her side, and she’s also incredibly driven and has an incredible work ethic,” says Kameoka.
Robertson got her theatrical start in high school and college, attending Eastern Washington University, where she majored in government. Her current profession stems from an incident that took place in third grade, when a movie about the Berlin Wall sparked her interest in helping people. “I asked my parents, ‘What can I do to change that?’ and they said to become a civil-rights activist or a lawyer,” Robertson explains. She graduated in 1998 from the University of Washington School of Law and became a public defender.
Robertson joined Fox Bowman Duarte in 2002. Firm partner Bill Bowman says her first-rate courtroom skills were the big draw. “Andy is one of the most intelligent and creative people I’ve ever worked with,” he says.
Robertson is currently working on a case that may have far-reaching repercussions; it deals with police officers’ right to videotape encounters after pulling over drivers who have not been warned they are being taped.
And though the demands of law school prompted her to temporarily cast aside her theatrical goals, she says that once she completed her studies and started practicing, she needed that “right-brain” outlet.
She’s not the only lawyer to find this type of stage work appealing. As one of only 50 attorneys selected to attend Gerry Spence’s Trial Lawyer College in Wyoming this past summer, she says she met a handful of others who dabble in improv. Part of the training even focused on theater, to better prepare the legal eagles for trial. And it helped Robertson see the similarities between her two worlds. “The basic rule of improv is that you tell a story, and in a trial the story is supposed to come out, so they complement each other quite a bit.”
The Write Touch
Rarely does a law-school student’s coursework turn into a nonfiction tome, but for Drew Hansen, 31, a class about the civil-rights movement and the U.S. Constitution at Yale provided the impetus in 2003 to pen The Dream: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Speech that Inspired a Nation.
Hansen—who graduated from Yale Law School in 2000, after receiving degrees in social studies and theology from Harvard and Oxford universities—says that, while studying that time period, he realized what stuck with people his age about the movement was the “I Have a Dream” speech. “The more I looked at it, the more I realized what an amazing accomplishment it was,” he explains.
Hansen chuckles at the thought of giving up his day job to become a full-time writer. He says he found King inspirational because the civil-rights leader never gave up hope—even at the end of his life when many turned against him because he opposed the Vietnam War—and because of his campaigns against poverty and segregation.“He still held onto the hope that the civil rights movement could change the country.”
Prior to joining Susman Godfrey—where he specializes in complex civil litigation, including antitrust law—in May 2002, Hansen worked on Maria Cantwell’s U.S. Senate campaign in 2000 and clerked for the Hon. Pierre Leval in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit in New York.
Thanks to his work on the book—set to be released in paperback in January—Hansen has met some of Dr.King’s relatives. He also wrote a piece about King for USA Today and says he is grateful for the opportunity to travel the country and speak to audiences about the civil-rights leader’s legacy.
Yale professor Owen Fiss, who worked in the U.S. Department of Justice during the John F. Kennedy era, remembers Hansen’s passionate commitment to his book and the underlying causes. “He is a deeply idealistic person, and beyond that, he is incredibly productive,” Fiss says. When he met with Fiss about his book chapter, Hansen would take notes on his hand when he ran out of paper.
Fiss predicts that Hansen’s energy will lead him into politics one day. “I always said I would come out to Washington state for his inauguration as governor. Drew said he’d invite me.”