279 Front Street
Danville, CA 94526
William E. Gagen, Jr.
As the firm’s senior trial counsel, William E. Gagen, Jr. has earned local, state and national recognition as a Chronicle Top 25 attorney, a Top 100 Attorney by California Super Lawyer and an elected Fellow of the elite American College of Trial Lawyers. Known as a straight shooter who is trusted by lawyers, judges and prosecutors, he is widely regarded as a formidable force in the courtroom. A 2005 profile in The Recorder called him a “fearless articulate trial attorney and occasional hero” who zeroes in on the weakness in his opponent’s case “like a laser beam.” As the San Francisco Chronicle wrote in May, 2003: “If you get in trouble with the law in Contra Costa, who do you call? Those in the know say it’s Bill Gagen.” Perhaps the most telling accolades come from his opponents in the trenches who have learned first hand why The Recorder profile characterized him as the “Defense King” of Contra Costa County:
“I think it would be safe to say that he is the preeminent private criminal defense attorney in the county,” says Robert Kochly, longtime District Attorney in Contra Costa County, who calls Mr. Gagen “very, very well respected” and “someone whose word you could trust absolutely.”
Mr. Gagen brings his mix of straightforward professionalism and passionate advocacy to every case, whether it’s a teenager’s minor indiscretion or a headline-making homicide. In four decades of practice, he has taken on more than his share of high-profile defendants. One of his first cases was defending Symbionese Liberation Army member Joseph Remiro, accused of the attempted murder of a police officer. He tried the case in a bullet-proofed Los Angeles courtroom, living out of a nearby hotel room for six months. The jury ultimately deadlocked and the case was dismissed. In the 1980s, he defended Bradley Page, a UC Berkeley student accused of killing his girlfriend Roberta “Bibi” Lee on an Oakland hiking trail. After he succeeded in tearing apart Page’s “confession,” which was later recanted, the jury deadlocked. More recently, Mr. Gagen has made the news defending priests in Clergy sex abuse cases, a Norteno gang member accused of murder and an auto parts executive targeted by the Attorney General in a multi-million dollar unfair business action.
Yet he considers some of his most gratifying accomplishments the victories that didn’t make the headlines: getting felony drug charges dismissed against a local business owner with a medical marijuana prescription or helping a troubled 15-year-old assault suspect avoid incarceration by working with the court and counselors to address his undiagnosed learning disabilities. As he told The Chronicle, he finds his work particularly gratifying when he helps good kids who have made a bad mistake. They often visit years later to thank him. “That’s a nice feeling,” he said. “It’s a nice way to make a living.”
With his dedication to helping people get through what is often the most difficult time of their life, Mr. Gagen has also found his calling on the civil side of the law, representing clients who have suffered injury at the hands of a negligent defendant. Utilizing his trial advocacy and negotiating expertise, he has secured numerous settlements that result in maximum compensation for his clients.
Mr. Gagen earned his juris doctor from Boalt Hall School of Law in 1968 and was admitted to the California State Bar in January, 1969. After serving for two years as an officer in the U.S. Army, he landed a job with the Contra Costa District Attorney’s office, where he got a firsthand look at the tremendous resources that can be brought against an accused. It didn’t take him long to recognize his true calling was on the other side of the aisle, defending those forced to square off against the government. In 1970, he joined the private firm of former judge Edward “Ted” Merrill, where he split his time between civil and criminal defense cases. He rose through the ranks until 1992, when he became senior partner in the firm that now bears his name.
Professor, Lecturer, Author, Discovery Expert
Mr. Gagen’s experience and straightforward style have made him a popular professor, lecturer, author and trial expert. He taught classes in evidence, trial practice and criminal law as an adjunct professor for John F. Kennedy University Law School from 1984 - 2005 and served as vice-chair on the university’s board. He is a frequent MCLE panelist and lecturer on such topics as ethics, trial tactics, jury selection and criminal discovery. He has presented before such organizations as the Alameda-Contra Costa Trial Lawyers Association, Contra Costa Bar Association, Contra Costa Barristers Association, California Bar Continuing Education Program, Contra Costa County Public Defenders office and the Alameda County District Attorney’s office.
He is the co-Author of California Criminal Discovery, the go-to treatise on criminal discovery practice in the state. He has also contributed to California Criminal Law Practice & Procedure, a treatise that sits on the shelf of nearly every criminal attorney in California.
In 2008, he was hired by the California State Bar as an expert witness in criminal discovery during the closely-watched disciplinary action against a Santa Clara County prosecutor accused of egregious discovery violations.
Professional Activities and Memberships
Mr. Gagen was admitted to the California State Bar in January, 1969 and is admitted to practice in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal. He has been certified by the California Board of Legal Specialization as a Specialist in Criminal Law since 1976. He is certified as an Experienced Trial Lawyer by the California Trial Lawyer’s Association. He is active in Contra Costa County Bar Association and the Alameda-Contra Costa Trial Lawyers Association and has served as presidents of both boards. He served on the California State Bar Disciplinary Investigation Panel from 1973-1976, as well as the Contra Costa County Judicial Evaluation and Client Relations Committees and numerous judicial settlement and arbitration panels. In August 1988, he was elected to the prestigious American College of Trial Lawyers, an honor bestowed on just a fraction of the nation’s trial attorneys. He is listed as an attorney in the publication Best Lawyers in America.
Recently, the American Society of Legal Advocates has named Mr. Gagen as one of the Top 100 Criminal Defense Lawyers in the State of California for 2015.
A longtime Danville resident, Mr. Gagen has a long and steadfast commitment to giving back to his community. He serves on the board of Bay Area Legal Aid, the largest legal services organization serving low-income people in seven Bay Area counties. He has served on the Boards of the University of California, Boalt Hall Alumni Association (2000-2003) and John F. Kennedy University (1990-1994; 1998 – 2009). He has served on the boards of the San Ramon Valley Community Center (1973-1976), the Danville Fire Protection District (1976-1979), the Eugene O’Neil Foundation (1984-1990), the Oakland Symphony Orchestra Association (1984–1986), Diablo Bank (1984-1987), and the Board of Trustees of De La Salle High School (1986-1995, Board President, 1992-1995).
Areas of Practice
State and federal criminal defense, juvenile law, and civil consumer litigation.