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Hon. Sheila Prell Sonenshine

Hon. Sheila Prell Sonenshine (Ret.)

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Upcoming Events
General Biography
Practice Areas
Accounting Finance
Business Commercial
Civil Rights
Employment Law
Entertainment & Sports
Estate Probate Trusts
Family Law
Financial Markets
Health Care
Higher Education & Title IX
Personal Injury
Professional Liability
Real Property
Honors, Memberships, and Professional Activities
Background and Education
Hon. Sheila Prell Sonenshine (Ret.) has 50 years of legal and business experience, including 13 years as a full-time neutral with JAMS. She has been recognized by The American Bar Association, State Bar of California, Orange County Bar Association, Orange County Bar Association Appellate Law Section and the Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers for her accomplishments.

She is a sought-after mediator, arbitrator, judge pro tem, and neutral evaluator in a broad range of practice areas including business and commercial, family law, employment, real estate, probate and trusts, professional malpractice and appellate disputes.

She was the founder and managing partner of a successful law firm. As a businesswoman she founded a federally chartered bank later sold to Wells Fargo and an international mid-market investment banking firm bought by H&R Block.

Justice Sonenshine served on the Orange County Superior Court, where she was the Presiding Judge of the Family Law Panel. One of the original four justices appointed to the California Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, Division Three, she heard thousands of cases and published a multitude of significant opinions. Justice Sonenshine resolved hundreds of cases at appellate settlement conferences, pursuant to the state's first mandatory appellate settlement conference program she inaugurated.

In her ADR career, she brings together her real world, analytical, and practical understanding of difficult issues. She is well known for her fair-minded and pragmatic approach to resolving the toughest cases. Attorneys laud her even temper and respect for lawyers and litigants and her ability to handle complex, large and often highly-publicized cases and those of a confidential and sensitive nature.

In her mediations, she is known for her common-sense approach to resolving disputes and for including the parties throughout the way. As an arbitrator, her command of the process, demonstrated fairness, and knowledge of the law result in appropriate, timely, and well-reasoned awards. Justice Sonenshine's decades of judicial trial and appellate experience permit her to provide thoughtful insights as a neutral evaluator and mock trial panelist.

ADR Experience and Qualifications

  • Served on the Orange County Superior Court including as Presiding Judge of the Family Law Panel
  • Served almost two decades as Associate Justice, California Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, Division Three
  • Authored thousands of opinions, inclusing many significant published cases
  • Inaugurated the state's first mandatory appellate settlement program

Representative Matters

  • Attorney's Fees
      • Civil Code section 52 prevailing party attorney fees in (Engel v. Worthington (1997) 60 CA 4th 628)
      • Covenant not to execute and attorney fees (Vailette v. Fireman's Fund (1993) 18 CA 4th 680)
      • Professional liability attorney's fees matter between client and law firm
      • Pre-nuptial and marital settlement agreement matter involving attorney fee award
  • Business Commercial
      • Partnership disputes and dissolutions involving a variety of technical industries, professional medical and legal partnerships, and accountings
      • Suit by corporation and two directors against former employees, directors and major shareholder for breach of fiduciary duty, coversion, accounting, constructive trust, slander and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional damages
      • Breach of contract dispute concerning accounting involving major hospital chains and large family-owned business corporate dissolution
      • Breach of contract involving healthcare provider's alleged business and professional code violations
      • Disputes involving the misappropriation of trade secrets, unfair competition, and interference with contractual relationship
      • Real estate brokerage actions against franchisee and guarantors for royalties allegedly due under the franchise agreement
      • Commercial loan dispute involving breach of contract, fraud, common counts, interference with economic advantage and related causes of action
  • Employment Law
      • Numerous employment breach of contract matters, including matter concerning SEC licensed securities firm's failure to pay bonus compensation and severance
      • A contract dispute between religious organizations and clergy employees (Schmoll v. Chapman University (1999) 70 CA 4th 1434)
      • Discrimination claim under Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and individual liability of supervisory personnel (Le Bourgeois v. Fireplace Manufactures (1998) 68 CA 4th 1049)
      • Employee defamation actions after unfavorable performance evaluation (Jensen v. Hewlett-Packard (1993) 14 CA 4th 958)
      • Harassment and discrimination claims involving age, sexual orientation, gender and sexual harassment allegations
      • Class action claims involving wage and hour, meal and rest periods, and business-related expenses reimbursement (overtime, formatted wage statements)
      • Suit against employer manufacturer of equipment which injured employee
      • Complex harassment dispute with multi-million-dollar amount in controversy 
      • Breach of contract claim involving equitable relief under ERISA and breach of fiduciary duty
      • Wage and Hour claim between large food chain and employee who claimed he or she was required to work "off the clock," without compensation 
  • Entertainment & Sports
      • Breach of contract dispute concerning movie distribution rights
      • Dispute over licensing agreement for use of movie review site's content on localized Spanish-Language sites
      • Wide range of business valuation, property division, child and spousal support, child custody, and other family law issues involving high-profile celebrities 
      • Contested trust estate matters involving decedents of high-profile celebrities
  • Estate Probate Trusts
      • Handled a multitude of cases involving will contests, trust property, non-donative transfers, children/stepchildren claims, trustee bonds, prior and widowed spouses, terminable interest rule, community property, joint tenancy property, and creditor claims
      • Probate Code section 21225 and non-donative transfers of an option to renew, right of first refusal and a lease commencing at a certain time (Shaver v. Clanton (1994) 26 CA 4th 568)
      • Bond not required when executor is named as trustee and trust does not require bond and unnecessary to protect other beneficiaries and they had waived bond; beneficiary's cannot require and no creditors need protection (Cibulk v. Cibulk (1998) 67 Cal. App. 4th 690)
      • Dispute between family members over buy sell, succession planning and company value and pay out
  • Family Law
      • Pre-Nuptial and Marital Settlement Agreement claims involving a wide-range of issues, including: agreement negotiation, out-of-state and foreign enforceability and breach, interpretations, accountings, motions to set aside, breach of warranty, and attorney's fees
      • Date of separation dispute involving separation of long-term marriage (IRMO Hardin (1995) 38 CA 4th 448)
      • Property disputes involving characterization, valuation, Moore/Marsden issues commingling and tracing, multi-faceted family assets, breach of fiduciary duty/waste allegations, debt, employment benefits, and other complex factors
      • Custody and visitation claims involving time sharing, UCCJA child concealment, out-of-state and foreign orders, change of circumstances, parents' gender preferences, parental alienation, and support/concealment assets
      • Cases involving paternity, annulments, putative spouses, and Marvin Actions
      • Divorce disputes involving dissolution, business issues, division of property, support and equalization issues
      • Child and spousal support issues including short and long-term marriages, alternative support considerations, pre-nuptial provisions, income determination, change in circumstances, and out-of-state and foreign orders
  • Insurance
      • Case involving excluded/permissive and non-permissive drivers
      • Dispute regarding the liquidation of out-of-state insurance company (Quackenbush v. Armato, Gaims, Weil, West & Epstein (1995) 36 Cal. App. 4th 363
      • Claim involving policy that did not insure against loss sustained by lender as a result of insurer's mistaken representation regarding parcel's acreage (Golden Security Thrift & Loan v. First American Title Insurance (1997) 53 Cal. App. 4th 250)
      • Indemnification for intentional wrong acts (Horace Mann v. Barbara B (1998) 61 Cal. App. 4th 158)
      • Surety relief from bail forfeiture when defendant detained in foreign jurisdiction (County of Orange v. Ranger Insurance Corp. (1998) 61 CA 4th 795)
      • Insurance matters involving pre-existing conditions
      • Fuel contamination; continuing nuisance (Resolution Trust Corp. v. Rossmoor Corp (1995) 34 CA 4th 93)
  • Personal Injury
      • Inapt when injured plaintiff assumed shark bite risk because he was a recognized expert in field and hired accordingly (Rosenbloom v. Hanour Corp. (1998) 66 CA 4th 1477)
      • Inapt when plaintiff bites into bone fragment in hamburger sold by defendant grocery store because fragment remained a natural substance of the hamburger under the foreign natural distinction
      • Liability of individual condominium owners for injuries sustained in common area (Ruoff v. Harbor Creek Community Association (1992) 10 Cal. App. 4th 1624)
      • Cases involving duty absent special relationship
      • Penile implant manufacturer not strictly liable for injuries caused by product if properly made and distributed with information regarding risks and dangers
      • Action by wife for damages after husband injured in nursing home
      • Case involving sexual battery and repressed memory (Wilson v. Phillips (1999) 73 CA 4th 250)
  • Real Property
      • Review of bifurcated judgment in real estate commissions matter and mediation thereof
      • Residential and apartment conditional use permit (Harris v. City of Costa Mesa (1994) 25 CA 4th 963)
      • Variance; compensation for taking (Metropolitan Outdoor Advertising Corporation v. City of Santa Ana (1994) 23 CA 4th 1401)
      • Action by buyer against broker and seller for recession of purchase and sale agreements
      • Redevelopment credits dispute between city and shopping center development
      • Class Action by homebuyers against real estate developer and its wholly owned escrow company for violations of the Cartwright Act (Bus. & Prof Code section 16720 et seq.) and Civil Code section 2995 prohibiting real estate developers from requiring escrow services by entities in which developers have financial interests (MacManus v. A.E. Realty Partners 195 Cal. App. 3d 1106)
      • Perpetual lease extension renewals exempt from uniform statutory rule against perpetuities (Shaver v. Clanton (1994) 26 CA 4th 568)
      • Lease extension involving town or city subject to a 99-year term (Shaver v. Clanton (1994) 26 CA 4th 568)
      • Cancellation provision and option to extend; forfeiture; right to fire proceeds (Long Beach Partnership v. Libaw (1999) 70 CA 4th 212)
      • Tenant's purported lease renewal did not extend original period of lease to preclude exercise of provision permitting termination for total or sufficient partial destruction of premises within two years of end of lease's term
      • Damages against a bank, notary, her employer and surety resulting from plaintiff's forged signature on note and trust deed (McComber v. Wells (1999) 72 CA 4th 512)
      • Creditor seeking satisfaction of judgment lien against debtor, real property purchaser and financial institutions must correctly spell debtor's name in abstract of judgment. Doctrine of idem sonans is inapt. (Orr v. Byers (1998) 198 CA 3d 666)
      • Party owes duties as both real estate broker and foreclosure consultant; plaintiff entitled to actual damages of the difference between what defendants paid for the house at foreclosure sale and property's market value at that time; award of treble exemplary damages; recession allowed despite plaintiff's failure to tender default amount because it would have been inequitable to so require (Onofrio v. Rice (1997) 55 Cal. App. 4th 413)
      • Action to rescind loan and damages for misleading promise regarding home loan preapproval

Honors, Memberships, and Professional Activities

Completed Virtual ADR training conducted by the JAMS Institute, the training arm of JAMS.

Bar Associations, Affiliates and Other Professional and Pro Bono Groups

  • Recipient of the Project Youth OCBF Volunteer Excellence Award, Project Youth Orange County Bar Foundation, 2019
  • Named one of Loyola Law School's 50 Inspirational Alumni, 2014
  • First recipient of Justice David G. Sills Award for Appellate Excellence, Orange County Bar Association Appellate Law Section, 2011
  • Robert Samuel Barnes Award, Orange County Bar Foundation, 2006
  • Marcus Kaugman Jurisprudence Award, Anti-Defamation League, 2004
  • Founder and Chair, Sonenshine Pro Bono Reception, 1995-present
  • Franklin G. West Lifetime Achievement Award, Orange County Bar Association, 1995


  • Member: International Women's Forum/The Trusteeship, The Anti-Defamation League of Orange County and Long Beach's Regional Board
  • Past Member: The Orange County Performing Arts Center Board of Directors
  • Speaker for educational, legal, and business groups, as well as a contributing author on topics relating to law, business, and finance

Family Law

  • Service to Family Law Award, American Bar Association Family Law Section, 1993
  • Family Law Person of the Year, American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, 1993
  • Jurist of the Year, State Bar of California Family Law Section, 1991


Background and Education

  • Principal in Sonenshine Enterprises since 2004. In that capacity, she has invested in a number of women-led companies, and served as a trusted advisor to numerous female entrepreneurs
  • Co-Founder and Executive Managing Director, EquiCo (subsequently RSM EquiCo after being acquired by H&R Block in 2001), now known as McGladrey Capital Markets, 1999-2004
  • Associate Justice, California Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, Division Three, 1982-1999
  • Judge, Orange County Superior Court, 1981-1982 (Presiding Judge, Family Law Panel)
  • Private law practice, Newport Beach, 1971-1981
  • J.D., Loyola School of Law, 1970 (St. Thomas More Honor Society)
  • B.A., Economics, University of California, Los Angeles, 1967


This page is for general information purposes.  JAMS makes no representations or warranties regarding its accuracy or completeness.  Interested persons should conduct their own research regarding information on this website before deciding to use JAMS, including investigation and research of JAMS neutrals. See More

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