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Nossaman LLP

Profiles in Diversity

Ashley Dunning

Ashley Dunning is Co-Chair of the Public Pension and Investments Group at Nossaman LLP and a member of the Firm's Litigation Group. She has nearly two decades of experience providing general, fiduciary, investment, and/or litigation counsel services to most public retirement systems in California, including 16 of the 20 retirement systems governed by the County Employees’ Retirement Law of 1937 (“CERL”) as well as fiduciary, conflict of interest, and governance training to trustees and public pension staff and attorneys throughout California and nationally. Ms. Dunning is immediate past Chair of the Fiduciary and Governance Section of the National Association of Public Pension Attorneys (“NAPPA”), and recently was elected to its Executive Board.

Ms. Dunning chairs the Nossaman Women’s Affinity Group and serves on the Firm’s Diversity Committee.

What is your proudest professional moment so far?

Making a novel argument to the California Supreme Court (both written and in oral argument) regarding conflict of interest principles as applied in the public retirement arena, and having the Court unanimously adopt that argument.

Why did you decide to become a lawyer?

I decided to become a lawyer a couple of years after I graduated from college.  I realized then that lawyers are some of the best positioned in our society to advocate on behalf of others, and that they do so both orally and in writing, which are skills I had then and that I wished to hone further.   The combination of becoming an effective advocate, and making my living analyzing and assisting in the resolution of difficult problems, were very appealing to me. 

Do you have any interesting talents or hobbies?

I love outdoor sports of all kinds:  skiing, mountain biking, and soccer, among others.  I also love the outdoors generally: camping, hiking, mushroom foraging, et al.   I have traveled on nearly all of the continents of the world, including living in West Africa for a while and France for a couple of years, and I speak several languages.  I particularly enjoy quality food from all over the world.  Finally, I treasure these activities most when accompanied by my husband, our two boys, and often one or more of the kids’ grandparents.


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Catherine Ngo

Catherine Ngo's practice focuses on commercial disputes and litigation.  Her experience includes the representation of clients in complex litigation and investigations involving financial services, real estate, product liability and insurance recovery issues.  Prior to joining Nossaman, Ms. Ngo served as a judicial extern for the Honorable John T. Noonan, United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and for the Honorable Fumiko H. Wasserman, Los Angeles Superior Court, Appellate Division.  Ms. Ngo contributes her comments and insights on court decisions and news impacting privacy, cybersecurity, and data protection law to the Firm's Privacy Law Report blog. 

Ms. Ngo is co-chair of the Nossaman Minority Affinity Group and serves on the Firm’s Diversity Committee.

Why did you decide to become a lawyer/policy advisor?

I decided since about the age of 10 that I wanted to become a lawyer.  My parents came as refugees during the Cambodian genocide; they’re uneducated and don’t speak English.  They owned a small business and never really understood the terms of their commercial lease, which lead to their landlord repeatedly disrupting the terms of their lease and the success of their business.  I realized early on the importance of understanding the law and its impacts on our daily lives.

Do you have any interesting talents or hobbies?

I’m an avid backpacker and mountaineer.  My sister is my adventure buddy; we climbed Mount Rainier together in 2014. 

How do you contribute to the community?

I mentor diverse students through my law school and the ABA Judicial Internship Opportunities Program (JIOP).   I also serve on the Board of Directors of Wu Yee Children’s Services, a nonprofit that provides education and family services to low-income and immigrant communities.


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Gina Nicholls

Gina Nicholls is a member of the Firm’s Water Practice Group and represents public agency clients and investor-owned utilities.  Ms. Nicholls has litigation, regulatory, and transactional experience and focuses on water rights, California public agencies, and limitations imposed by the state constitution on water-related rates, fees, and charges. 

Ms. Nicholls is chair of Nossaman’s LGBT Affinity Group and serves on the Diversity Committee.

What is your proudest professional moment so far?

First, I think it is important to mention that I have been given lots of opportunities I never expected thanks to supervisors and mentors who took chances on me.  There is not just a single moment that stands out.  I am proud of closing the reorganization of a large international renewable energy fund after coordinating much of the due diligence as a first-year law firm associate.  And I am especially proud of litigating and reaching a favorable settlement for the client in a human trafficking pro-bono case as a fourth-year associate.  Also, I am proud of my work supporting two trials taking place simultaneously when I first started practicing law.  Some of the client’s witnesses personally thanked me for helping them navigate the process.  Both trials resulted in clear victories for the client.  Finally, I am extremely proud of my active duty service in the U.S. Navy in 2000-2004.  

What do you love about your work?

I love being a water law attorney.  The practice allows me to use a variety of skill sets—from litigation to transactional law, and sometimes even technical skills learned before law school—all to help solve problems related to the allocation and management of natural resources.

How do you contribute to the community?

I try to contribute through pro bono work such as the human trafficking case I litigated a couple of years ago with a local legal services provider.  In addition, my wife is very involved in the community through her work as a public interest lawyer and her participation in various local organizations.  She helps guide our support of projects and organizations addressing, among other things, LGBTQ issues and poverty-related issues.


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Simon Santiago

Simon Santiago is the Leader of East Coast operations for Nossaman’s Infrastructure Practice Group and a member of the Construction, Energy and Water Practice Groups. He handles development, procurement and construction issues for some of the largest transportation, transit and multi-modal projects in the U.S.  Mr. Santiago assists public sector clients in creating successful infrastructure projects through innovative procurement, financing and delivery methods including public-private partnerships (P3s). He also advises industry leaders and policymakers on emerging federal legislative and policy issues involving transportation. 

Mr. Santiago serves on Nossaman’s Diversity Committee and was recently elected to the board of the National Filipino-American Lawyers Association, DC Chapter.

What do you love about your work?

I enjoy the clients that I work with.  Given the focus of my practice—representing public agencies on major infrastructure projects—I get to work with public employees who are dedicated and committed to their job.  The deals are complex, challenging, and occasionally wrought with politics.  Nevertheless, they approach their work with integrity and a desire to “do the right thing.”  This motivates me to get up each morning and do my best to help them accomplish their goals and objectives.          

What do you like to talk about with individuals interviewing at Nossaman?

I talk about how the firm is made up of very talented lawyers who have made significant contributions to their practice areas and the legal community.  As an example, I mention that several attorneys in the firm’s Infrastructure Practice Group are widely considered as trailblazers and thought leaders in public-private partnerships and transportation policy.  I also like to emphasize that we encourage and promote initiative among our younger attorneys.   

How do you contribute to diversity and inclusion efforts at Nossaman and in the larger legal community?

Currently, I am very focused on mentoring minority law students.  Looking back at my law school years, I didn’t have a seasoned practitioner of color who was available to me as a resource.  While I had many role models, it would have been helpful to hear and learn from a person of color regarding any unique challenges or issues he or she faced as a lawyer.  Therefore, I’ve been taking advantage of the large law school community in the Washington, DC area and volunteering my time to establish a law student mentoring program through the Filipino-American Lawyers Association of DC.


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Alfred Smith

Alfred Smith is the Chair of Nossaman's Water Practice Group and member of the Firm’s Litigation Practice Group. As a recognized expert in water and environmental law, he advises clients on matters involving water rights, contamination remediation, groundwater adjudications, water transfers, recycled water, desalination, conjunctive use, climate change, and environmental regulatory compliance.  Mr. Smith also develops water supply assessments and environmental impact reports for residential and commercial developments. His accomplishments as a litigator include helping negotiate one of California's largest water contamination mitigation settlements in favor of his clients and winning a unanimous decision from the U.S. Supreme Court.

Mr. Smith chairs Nossaman’s Diversity Committee and co-chairs its Minority Affinity Group. 

What is your proudest professional moment so far?

My proudest professional moment involves the successful representation of four water agencies in an intensely litigated perchlorate contamination case.  As part of this litigation, we obtained the first published decision on perchlorate liability in the country.  We also achieved a $100 million recovery for our clients.

Being featured on the cover of the Los Angeles Lawyer magazine, and being named one of the Top 100 Lawyers in Los Angeles, were major highlights as well.

What might people be surprised to learn about you?

I think people would be surprised to learn that I was inducted into the United States Achievement Academy for excellence in percussion instruments.

How do you contribute to the community?

I serve as a deacon and on the trustee board for the Triedstone Church, where my grandfather served as the Pastor for 36 years.  The church is located in South Los Angeles.  We have a number of community outreach programs which include feeding the homeless, job fairs, professional counseling services, housing and shelter referral listings, clothing, tutoring, and scholarship programs for disadvantaged youth.


Katrina Diaz Wu

Katrina (Diaz) Wu

Katrina Wu is an eminent domain and real estate litigation attorney focusing on eminent domain, inverse condemnation, regulatory takings, and valuation matters. Ms. Wu also assists clients with land use, environmental, and landlord/tenant-related matters. She has worked on some of the largest public works projects for some of the largest public agencies in California, defending environmental documents, assisting with the precondemnation and acquisition process, drafting pleadings and motions, propounding and responding to discovery, and assisting with trial preparation. Ms. Wu is a regular contributor on news, events, and policies affecting endangered species issues in California and throughout the United States on the Firm's Eminent Domain blog.

What do you love about your work?

I love being able to solve the many problems and issues that our client’s face.  It is very satisfying to know that I am making a difference one person, one business or one project at a time.  

How do you contribute to the community?

I really enjoy working on pro bono cases for individuals in the community who cannot afford legal services.  The court and legal system can be very intimidating, especially for someone with limited means. Using my legal skills to help someone in need is one of the most fulfilling uses of my time.  I also volunteer with my local Women in Transportation Seminar Chapter, serving as the Scholarship Chair.  As an attorney who works on many transportation projects, it is a wonderful experience to help advance women in the transportation field. 

Professional Spotlight

Simon J. Santiago
Simon J. Santiago

Mr. Santiago focuses his practice on infrastructure development, procurement and construction law. He helps public-sector clients on large-scale transportation, transit and multi-modal infrastructure projects using innovative procurement, financing and delivery methods – including public-private partnerships (P3s).

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