Chris Skinnell

Office: San Francisco Bay Area
2350 Kerner Boulevard
Suite 250
San Rafael, CA 94901

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, as well as the New Mexico Citizens Redistricting Committee, 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, the California Voting Rights Act and the FAIR MAPS 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, 2020, 2021, and 2022, 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. Sonoma Magazine likewise chose Mr. Skinnell as one of its “Lawyers of Distinction” in 2021.

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/Voting Rights

    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 and again following the 2020 Census. Special counsel to the New Mexico Citizens Redistricting Committee in 2021.

    California Voting Rights Act Litigation: represented over a dozen jurisdictions in suits brought under the California Voting Rights Act and advised dozens more regarding the process for moving to district-based voting to avoid litigation.

    Tate v. City of Morgan Hill, Case No. 22CV396857 (Santa Clara County Super. Ct. 2022): represented local citizens in a successful challenge to the redistricting map adopted by the Morgan Hill City Council on the ground that it failed to comply with requirements of the FAIR MAPS Act.

    Sanchez v. City of Martinez, Case No. MSC-18-02219 (Contra Costa County Super. Ct. 2020): successful defense of city council districting map against claims that it violated California Elections Code requirements.

    Ariz. Legislature v. Ariz. Independent Redistricting Comm’n, 576 U.S. 787, 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. 529, 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. 923, 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.

    Fugazi v. Padilla, Case No. 2:20-cv-00970-KJM-AC (E.D. Cal. 2020): successfully defended San Joaquin County Registrar of Voters Melinda Dubroff against case alleging various “due process” and other miscellaneous violations in connection with recount of 2020 Assembly District 13 primary.

    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.

    Chang v. Glasco, Arcadia City Clerk, et al., Case No. 22STCP01633 (Los Angeles County Superior Court 2022): successfully represented Arcadia City Clerk in defending against suit seeking to force placement of a candidate on the ballot despite charter term limits provision on the ground that it applies only to candidates “elected” to two terms when the candidate was appointed “in lieu” of election under Elec. Code § 10229.

    People ex rel. HQH Chinese Am. Equalization Ass’n v. Danielson, Case No. 22STCV27524, and HQH Chinese Am. Equalization Ass’n v. City of Arcadia, Case No.  22STCP01878 (Los Angeles County Superior Court 2022): successfully represented an Arcadia city councilman, the City, and the City Council in two related suits challenging the councilman's appointment to the Council and challenging the city council district map adopted in April 2022 with the councilman casting the deciding vote in favor of the adopted map.

  • Initiative/Referendum Law

    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.

  • 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.

  • 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.