Chris Skinnell is a partner practicing law and civil litigation relating to elections, state and local initiative and referenda, redistricting and voting rights, campaign finance, tribal gaming, and general constitutional and government law issues. He advises clients and litigates on a broad range of election, government, and political law related matters, including serving as the firm’s lead partner on conflict-of-interest issues. He also serves as the firm’s General Counsel.
Mr. Skinnell has considerable expertise in redistricting and voting rights. He has advised scores of counties, cities, school districts and special districts on compliance with state and federal laws governing redistricting; has counseled many additional public entity clients regarding the requirements of the federal Voting Rights Act and the California Voting Rights Act; has represented public entity defendants in several leading CVRA cases; and has represented amici curiae in several leading voting rights and redistricting cases before the United States Supreme Court.
Mr. Skinnell has also litigated a number of constitutional issues related to campaign finance regulations, property rights, the use of public funds in connection with ballot measure campaigns, and the legality of various electoral systems.
He has also served as counsel to a number of ballot measure committees, independent expenditure committees, and political action committees.
Mr. Skinnell is a member of the Board of Governors of the Rose Institute of State & Local Government at Claremont McKenna College.
In 2019 and 2020, Mr. Skinnell was selected as a Northern California Super Lawyer, and he was the subject of a feature article in the 2020 edition of Super Lawyer magazine entitled “The Electioneer.”. He had previously been named a Rising Star five times, from 2013-2017. Only the top 5 percent of all attorneys in California are named as Super Lawyers. They are selected through peer nominations and evaluations along with third-party research.
Sacramento magazine selected Mr. Skinnell for inclusion in its list of Top Lawyers of 2015. Attorneys were selected for inclusion on the list through a survey of Sacramento-area attorneys conducted for Sacramento magazine by Professional Research Services.
Prior to joining the firm, Mr. Skinnell worked as a political consultant to several California legislative and initiative campaigns; as a research associate at the Rose Institute; and as the chairman of a successful initiative campaign in Southern California.
Redistricting Counsel: advised several dozen counties, cities, school districts and special districts on state and federal law governing redistricting following the release of 2010 Census.
California Voting Rights Act Litigation: represented defendant jurisdictions in nearly half of the suits brought under the California Voting Rights Act to date.
Ariz. Legislature v. Ariz. Independent Redistricting Comm’n, 576 U.S. __, 135 S. Ct. 2652, 192 L. Ed. 2d 704 (2015): represented former California Governors Deukmejian, Wilson and Schwarzenegger; the California Chamber of Commerce; Charles Munger, Jr.; and Bill Mundell, as amici curiae on a brief that successfully urged the Supreme Court to reject a challenge to congressional districting by an independent commission, rather than a state’s legislature; the majority opinion quoted (without attribution) a passage from the firm’s brief discussing the original meaning of the term “Legislature” as reflected in founding-era dictionaries.
League of United Latin Am. Citizens v. Perry, 548 U.S. 399, 126 S. Ct. 2594, 165 L. Ed. 2d 609 (2006): represented amici curiae on a brief successfully urging the Supreme Court to reject proposed rule that would have held voluntary mid-decade redistricting to be unconstitutional exercise of legislative authority.
Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, 570 U.S. __, 133 S. Ct. 2612, 186 L. Ed. 2d 651 (2013): represented the County of Merced, California, as amicus curiae in support of no party, preemptively defending the County’s recent bailout from Section 5 coverage against anticipated attack on the basis that the Department of Justice permitted the bailout to save Section 5. The firm had previously represented the County is the first-ever successful "bailout" from Section 5 coverage in the State of California. Merced County was, by far, the largest jurisdiction ever to obtain bailout, covering the County itself, six cities, and nearly 100 school districts and special districts.
Lopez v. Merced County, 473 F. Supp. 2d 1072 (E.D. Cal. 2007) (three-judge court) & later unpublished opinions: represented Merced County in successfully defeating multiple allegations that the County had violated the special provisions of the federal Voting Rights Act and ultimately obtained summary judgment in the County’s favor.
Election Law & Litigation
Proposition 14 (2010), the Top Two Candidate Open Primary Act: served as counsel to the campaign for the measure and, since its adoption by the voters in June 2010, has successfully defended the measure against five separate lawsuits seeking to block implementation of the measure, including:
Rubin v. Padilla, 233 Cal. App. 4th 1128 (1st Dist. 2015), rev. denied, 2015 Cal. LEXIS 2395 (Cal., Apr. 29, 2015), cert. denied, 577 U.S. __, 136 S. Ct. 320, 193 L. Ed. 2d 229 (Oct. 13, 2015) (rejecting First Amendment and Equal Protection challenges by "minor" political parties based on alleged difficulty in reaching the general election ballot);
Chamness v. Bowen, 722 F.3d 1110 (9th Cir. 2013) (rejecting constitutional challenge based on rules governing write-in voting and ability to identify with non-qualified political parties);
Field v. Bowen, 196 Cal. App. 4th 346 (1st Dist. 2011) (same);
Brown v. Bowen, No. 2:12-cv-05547-PA-SP (C.D. Cal. 2012) (rejecting challenge based on Section 2 of the federal Voting Rights Act); and
Milonopoulos v. Bowen, No. 2:14-cv-05973-DOC-VBK (C.D. Cal. 2014) (rejecting challenge based on unsuccessful primary candidate's inability to appear as a write-in candidate on the general election ballot).
Citizens to Save Cal. v. Fair Pol. Pract. Comm’n, 145 Cal. App. 4th 736 (3d Dist. 2006): represented a ballot measure committee in a case that unanimously enjoined an FPPC Regulation seeking to apply campaign contribution limits to such committees in violation of the language of the Political Reform Act and the First Amendment.
Community Coalition Against Beverage Taxes v. City of Richmond, Case No. 3:12-cv-04545-CRB (N.D. Cal. 2012): successfully represented a ballot measure opposition committee in obtaining a preliminary injunction against enforcement of burdensome disclaimer requirements on campaign mailings; the City’s ordinance was then amended to remove the offending provisions.
Campaign Counsel: Mr. Skinnell has served as counsel to a number of campaigns to qualify and enact, or oppose, ballot measures presented to the electorate, advising those campaigns on the requirements governing the preparation and circulation of petitions, ballot arguments and litigation relating to those arguments, and the substance of potential measures. Some of those recent projects include:
Advising a developer in Southern California on a recent successful petition drive to qualify initiatives to enact land use approvals for a multi-million square foot industrial park, and on a subsequent, successful campaign to oppose qualification of a referendum against one of the approvals after its adoption by the city council.
Advising a developer on preparation and circulation of a successful 2014 land use measure in San Francisco.
Advising a local ballot measure committee on the successful enactment of a 2012 tax measure in San Mateo County.
Advising a developer regarding defects in a 2011 San Francisco referendum petition that unsuccessfully sought to challenge the developer's project.
James v. Schmidt, Case No. 16CV299134 (Santa Clara Super. Ct. 2016): successfully challenged statements in ballot arguments supporting Measure C in Cupertino as false and misleading; statements ordered stricken from ballot pamphlet.
King v. Dupuis, Case No. RG16809407 (Alameda Super. Ct. 2016): successfully challenged, as false and misleading, statements contained in the ballot argument against Measure H, a proposed bond measure in the Dublin Unified School District.
Johnson v. Numainville, Case No. RG14736763 (Alameda Super. Ct. 2014): successfully challenged, as illegally biased, ballot label adopted by Berkeley City Council and “impartial” analysis by Berkeley City Attorney.
Barrios v. Gutierrez, Case No. BS138863 (Los Angeles Super. Ct. 2012): successfully challenged, as illegally biased, ballot label adopted by El Monte City Council.
Vargas v. City of Salinas, 46 Cal. 4th 1 (2009): represented the California Chamber of Commerce, California Taxpayers’ Association, California Business Roundtable and California Business Properties Association as amici curiae in successfully urging the Supreme Court to reject the appeals court’s holding that the test for illegal expenditure of public funds in connection with ballot measures under Stanson v. Mott, 17 Cal. 3d 206 (1976), is express advocacy rather than a contextual analysis.
Political Law Compliance
Political Law Counsel & Treasurer: Mr. Skinnell has served as counsel and/or treasurer to a number of local ballot measure committees, independent expenditure committees, and political action committees, and he advises a number of corporate, nonprofit and individual clients on compliance with campaign finance laws, lobby reporting laws, and governmental ethics laws.
Rent Control/Property Rights
San Francisco Apartment Assn., et al. v. City & County of San Francisco, 3 Cal. App. 5th 463 (1st Dist. 2016): on behalf of representatives of the rental housing industry, successfully challenged a 2013 San Francisco ordinance that imposed a ten-year ban on unit mergers, on the ground that the ban was preempted by the Ellis Act.
Larson v. City & County of San Francisco, 192 Cal. App. 4th 1263 (1st Dist. 2011): represented rental property-owners in a successful constitutional challenge to enforcement of numerous provisions of Proposition M (malicious eviction) in San Francisco, and defense of cross-appeal of a judgment enjoining enforcement of one-sided attorneys’ fee provision.
State & Local Tax
Tesoro Logistics Operations, LLC v. City of Rialto, 40 Cal. App. 5th 798 (4th Dist., Div. 2, Oct. 2, 2019), rev. denied, 2020 Cal. LEXIS 450 (Cal., Jan. 15, 2020): on behalf of two oil refiners, successfully challenged the City of Rialto’s Measure U, a tax on wholesale liquid fuel storage tanks, as an illegal property tax that required a two-thirds vote, rather than a business license tax requiring a majority, resulting in multi-million dollar tax refunds.
In a 2013 challenge to the City of Los Angeles’s assessment of a business license tax, successfully negotiated a partial refund, a favorable tax treatment for future years, and a warranty to forego audits for all past years.
In a 2008 suit by the City of Los Angeles alleging failure to pay business license taxes, successfully negotiated a settlement for the payment of only 24% of the claimed amount.
Tax measure drafting: advised local public officials and local ballot measure proponents on drafting tax measures.
- Presentation, "Redistricting After 2020 Census," Municipal Law Institute/Bar Assn. of San Francisco (Mar. 6, 2020) (with S. Welch & D. Johnson)
- Presentation, "2020-2021 California Redistricting: A Legal and Legislative Update," County Counsel’s Assn. of Cal, Meeting & Roundtable of County Counsel Legal Advisors to County Elections Officials (Jan. 17, 2020) (with M. Leoni)
- Presentation, "Redistricting 101 for Municipalities," League of Cal. Cities - City Clerks New Law & Elections Seminar (Dec. 12, 2019)
- Webinar, "Local Redistricting in California in 2021: The Same… But Different," Rose Institute of State & Local Government (Nov. 7, 2019) (with M. Leoni & J. Levitt)
- Webinar, "The California Voting Rights Act: A Revolution in Local Governance," Rose Institute of State & Local Government (Oct. 24, 2019) (with M. Leoni & D. Johnson)
- Presentation, "2020 Census and Redistricting," State L. Res. Group Fall Meeting (Sept. 20, 2019)
- Panelist, “Partisan Gerrymandering: 2019 Update,” Am. Bar Assn. Young Lawyers Div. Annual Meeting (Aug. 9, 2019).
- Presentation, "Taking Voter Equality Seriously: What Does 'One-Person, One-Vote' Really Mean?", Rose Institute of State & Local Government/Claremont McKenna College (Nov. 17, 2015).
- Chris Skinnell & Marguerite Leoni, “Victory for California Voters, Too,” The Los Angeles Daily Journal (July 10, 2015).
- Presentation (Online Seminar), "Arizona Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission: Supreme Court Addresses the Future of Redistricting Reform in America," Practising Law Institute (July 10, 2015).
- Moderator, "Who Draws the Lines? Will the Supreme Court Strike Down Independent Redistricting Commissions?", Rose Institute of State & Local Government/Claremont McKenna College (Apr. 6, 2015).
- Moderator, "Campaign Finance I - Litigation," Council on Governmental Ethics Laws Annual Conference (Dec. 8, 2014).
- Chris Skinnell and Marguerite Mary Leoni, "Guest Post: Response by Merced County’s Section 5 Lawyers to J. Christian Adams’s Article," Election Law Blog, electionlawblog.org (Dec. 3, 2013).
- Presentation (Online Seminar), "The Supreme Court’s Shelby County and the Future of Voting Rights Enforcement," Practising Law Institute (July 12, 2013).
- Chris Skinnell and Elli Abdoli, "Campaign Finance Post-Citizens United," Corporate Counsel (April 5, 2013) (reprinted from The Recorder).
- Chris Skinnell and Elli Abdoli, "Campaign Finance Post-Citizens United," The Recorder (Mar. 26, 2013).
- Presentation (Online Seminar), "Voting Rights In California," Nielsen Merksamer (Feb. 22, 2013) (Speakers: Marguerite Leoni and Chris Skinnell).
- Marguerite Mary Leoni and Chris Skinnell, “Chapter 12: The California Voting Rights Act,” America Votes! A Guide to Modern Election Law and Voting Rights (Am. Bar Assn., 2d ed. 2012).
- Presentation, "Pay-to-Play: Here to Stay? A Discussion of a Recent Litigation Concerning Play-to-Play Rules and Related Issues," California Political Attorneys Association Annual Conference (Sept. 22, 2012).
- Presentation, "Redistricting – Court Challenges & Legal Issues," Council on Governmental Ethics Laws Annual Conference (Dec. 5, 2011).
- Presentation, "Section 203 of the Federal Voting Rights Act," California Association of Clerks and Elections Officials Annual Conference: Redistricting Seminar (July 19, 2011).
- Presentation, "Redistricting Litigation: State and Local," California Association of Clerks and Elections Officials Annual Conference: Redistricting Seminar (July 19, 2011).
- Presentation, "Commuter Flight: Participating in Local Redistricting," Northern California RedistrictingCA Conference (Mar. 31, 2011).
- Presentation, "Redistricting Essentials: 2011 Redistricting & Local/Special Districts," Presentation for Cities & Special Districts, hosted by Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk (Jan. 20, 2011).
- Presentation, "Redistricting Law 2011: The same . . . but different," National Conference of State Legislatures Fall Forum (Dec. 11, 2009).
- Presentation, "The California Voting Rights Act: Developing Jurisprudence," League of California Cities: 2009 City Clerks New Law & Leadership Conference (Dec. 3, 2009) (Speakers: Marguerite Leoni & Chris Skinnell).
- Presentation, "The California Voting Rights Act: Developing Jurisprudence," California School Boards Association: Annual 2009 Education Conference & Trade Show (Speakers: Marguerite Leoni & Chris Skinnell).
- Presentation, The California Voting Rights Act: Developing Jurisprudence, Rose Institute of State & Local Government: Redistricting, the 2000 Census, and Your Budget (Oct. 15, 2009).
- Presentation, "The Effect of Vargas v. City of Salinas on the Use of Public Funds in Ballot Measure Campaigns," California Political Attorneys Association Annual Conference (Sept. 12, 2009).
- Marguerite Mary Leoni and Chris Skinnell, "The California Voting Rights Act," Public Law Journal, Vol. 32, No. 2 (Spring 2009).
- Marguerite Mary Leoni and Chris Skinnell, "As I See It: School Districts and the California Voting Rights Act," California Schools Magazine (Spring 2009).
- Presentation (Online Seminar), "Voting Rights: Claims, Redistricting & More," National Business Institute (June 19, 2008) (Speakers: Marguerite Leoni & Chris Skinnell).
- Presentation, "Citizens to Save California & Regulation of Candidate-Controlled Committees," California Political Attorneys Association Annual Conference (Sept. 5, 2007).
- Chip Nielsen, Jason Kaune and Chris Skinnell, “Overview of Federal Campaign Finance Rules,” Corp. Pol. Activities: Complying With Campaign Finance, Lobbying & Ethics Laws (Practising Law Institute, Gross, Nielsen & Baran, eds., 2006).
- Marguerite Mary Leoni and Chris Skinnell, "Congress Considers Renewal of Two Key Sections of the Federal Voting Rights Act: California Elections Could See Dramatic Impacts," CA Counties Magazine (Mar/Apr 2006).
- Chip Nielsen, Jason Kaune and Chris Skinnell, “Overview of Federal Campaign Finance Rules,” Corp. Pol. Activities: Complying With Campaign Finance, Lobbying & Ethics Laws (Practising Law Institute, Gross, Nielsen & Baran, eds., 2005).
- Chip Nielsen, Jason Kaune and Chris Skinnell, “Membership Organization: Corporations Without Capital Stock,” Corp. Pol. Activities: Complying With Campaign Finance, Lobbying & Ethics Laws (Practising Law Institute, Gross, Nielsen & Baran, eds. 2005).
- Marguerite Mary Leoni and Chris Skinnell, "The California Voting Rights Act," City Attorneys Annual Conference Papers (League of Cal. Cities Sept. 2003).