After decades of veterans’ rights pro bono work and an important win in an ongoing veterans’ class action against the United States government, Gordon Erspamer is off the case.
Erspamer retired from Morrison & Foerster on Jan. 1, he confirmed Wednesday, and said litigator James Bennett will be taking over as lead attorney for a class of more than 100,000 Vietnam War veterans who claim the government failed to warn them of the toxicity of biological weapons used in secret studies by the Central Intelligence Agency and others. U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken of Oakland certified the class last October.
A separate case previously handled by Erspamer was shut down by the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday, when the justices declined to review a Ninth Circuit decision junking veterans’ allegations that the government mishandled benefits claims.
Erspamer stepped down from the partnership at MoFo five years ago, taking on a senior counsel role at the firm on a contract basis, but stayed active in the litigation on behalf of veterans. The work has been the cornerstone of his career, and he said that he’d have liked to continue on with the latest case but “that was not to be.” Erspamer said his contract with the firm expired on Dec. 31 and renewing it “would’ve required working something out with” MoFo.
Litigation co-chair Arturo Gonzalez, who worked with Erspamer on selecting Bennett to take over, said that when Erspamer signed the senior counsel contract five years ago the firm “understood that, for personal reasons, Gordy would no longer” work at the firm once it expired.
Erspamer said he has been dealing with some longstanding health issues and that he would take 2013 off, possibly to work on a novel about biological weapons testing on veterans. Gordon’s father, a Navy sailor, died of complications from radiation exposure in 1980.
Gonzalez said MoFo will continue to represent veterans groups on a pro bono basis.
“The firm’s commitment to the rights of veterans has never been stronger,” he said, “and we’re grateful that Gordy devoted a substantial amount of his time to helping those less fortunate, including our country’s veterans.”