Partner, Beeson, Tayer & Bodine APC
Area of Practice: Labor Law
Year Graduated: 1985
When Robert Bonsall, '85, arrived at Pacific McGeorge after a stint as a school teacher, he entertained a vague notion of becoming a criminal defense attorney. His career plans took a sharp turn, however, after he met Don Wollett, a McGeorge professor and nationally known labor arbitrator who is now professor emeritus.
Wollett encouraged Bonsall to enter labor law and become an advocate for private and public sector unions. Today, Bonsall is recognized as one of the country's leading practitioners of union-side labor law, just as another Pacific McGeorge graduate mentored by Wollett, Scott Boras, '82, has become baseball's preeminent sports agent.
With Wollett's encouragement, Bonsall joined the Sacramento firm of Beeson, Tayer & Bodine after graduating from law school. He's been there ever since, representing labor in a range of litigation involving such issues as wages, pensions and workplace conditions.
Bonsall was raised in Southern California and began his undergraduate studies at Humboldt State, whose Northern California campus is, he jokes, "behind the Redwood Curtain." He received a B.A. in political science from San Francisco State University and, after teaching school, entered Pacific McGeorge.
In 2010, Bonsall made an appearance before the U.S. Supreme Court to represent his client, International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 287. The case involved a concrete and building materials company in Watsonville, Granite Rock Co., which was in a dispute with the Teamsters over federal laws regulating the formation of a collective bargaining agreement. By a 7-2 vote, the Court's decision favored Granite Rock's position.
Asked his impressions of oral argument before the Supreme Court, Bonsall says he was struck by how intimate and compact the courtroom is, and how close counsel's table is to the bench. Bonsall says he was impressed by the high degree of preparation and familiarity that the judges demonstrated with the nuances of the case. The justices also showed kindness and courtesy. Bonsall recalls Justice Sotomayor gently guiding him back on point when one of his responses wandered a bit. Bonsall recommends that any attorney scheduled to argue before the Court for the first time do what he did: go to Washington, D.C. in advance, sit in the public area while the Court is in session, and adjust to the intimacy, history and ambiance of the nation's highest court.
Note: This article first appeared in the Fall 2011 issue of Pacific Law magazine.