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Saturday, Jun 15, 2024

Special Report: Who’s Who In Law – Rodney Diggs




Rodney Diggs is one of five directors of downtown-based Ivie, McNeill, Wyatt, Purcell & Diggs, a Black-owned firm founded in 1943.

Having joined the then-named Ivie, McNeill & Wyatt in 2011, Diggs became a named partner in 2019. He primarily handles labor and employment cases, as well as civil rights litigation. He previously clerked for Patti Jo McKay, presiding judge of the Los Angeles Superior Court appellate division.

Locally, the firm also has offices in Leimert Park and Ontario.


How did you discover your interest in law?

While at UCLA, I was a track star. I always had dreams of running in the Olympics. However, during my second year, I tore my hamstring and could never recover to get back to where I was prior to the injury. It was at that time I realized I needed a plan B — it was either law school or business school. After much research, I decided law school was the best decision. I also connected to law because of sports — it’s me versus the other side. During my last year in law school, I took a trial-advocacy class and realized I was meant to be a trial attorney.


And how did you arrive at your specialty?

I was working at the firm when Rupert Byrdsong was appointed as a judge. He handled the firm’s employment practice at that time. The firm asked if I wanted to take over his practice. I agreed, and quickly learned employment. I also had a passion for civil rights. My first trial was Rodney Sawyer v. City of Los Angeles, et al. in my second year. I won. From there, I knew I wanted to continue to do civil rights.


Tell us about the most noteworthy or interesting case (or cases) that you’ve been involved with.

I did a criminal case pro bono, People v. Evan Brisbane. Brisbane was in jail serving a life sentence under the three strikes law. Mr. Brisbane’s first two strikes were nonviolent felonies. His third was for a fictitious check for around $25. I filed a habeas corpus petition, it was granted and Brisbane was released from jail in time to come home for Thanksgiving. That made me feel a sense of purpose and happy to have someone who would have spent his life in prison released, after spending 22 years there.

Sinuon Pream v. City of Long Beach, et al. meant a lot to me because it concerned my cousin’s wife’s sister, who was shot and killed by Long Beach police officers. The jury rendered a verdict for my client in the amount of $10 million. This meant a lot because this was for family.

In Michael Ross v. Bassett Unified School District, et al., the jury rendered a verdict for my client after a month-long trial in the amount of $25 million for retaliation. This was a zero-offer case.


Are any new regulations or pieces of legislation in Los Angeles or California creating new or more work for you and your practice?

There are many laws regarding the workplace that are creating more work, whether it be laws regarding the extension of sexual assault claims, transparency in pay law or prohibiting retaliation for emergency conditions. The one legislation that I am waiting for, on a federal level, is eliminating qualified immunity for police agencies.


What do you envision as your next step, career-wise?

Continue to grow the firm globally and continue mentorship to the next generation of young law students and attorneys. I foresee retiring in the next 40 years while being employed at my firm.


How did the pandemic affect your career, and what do you think is on the horizon for the legal industry?

The pandemic actually increased the number of cases I handle. Employment is generally recession-proof. However, it created innovation to continue to handle matters, i.e. Zoom. The legal industry is generally the last to catch up technology-wise, but that may change. It also allowed for employers to see that its employees do not have to be in the office daily for them to get work done, make court appearances and meet with and prepare clients. I know some courts tried Zoom trials — that is something I hope we never get to. Certain things need to be done in-person.


Your firm has grown and expanded notably in recent years, with plans to continue doing so. What motivates that expansion and how have you helped make it happen?

My motivation is that every jurisdiction needs to know that a Black-owned law firm exists and it’s not just something they see on TV or in the movies. I want the world to know that a firm of people of color can and do produce impeccable work product and results that surpass those of the traditional big law firms. I have made this happen by seeking companies and letting them know of my firm’s work product and other results. Also, I have traveled internationally and had the firm join international law groups to expand our practice from locally to domestically to internationally.

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Zane Hill Author