Sheila Sonenshine

Hon. Sheila Prell Sonenshine (Ret.)

Case Manager
Lisa Abrantes
T: 619-237-0801
F: 619-236-9032
5 Park Plaza, Suite 400, Irvine, CA 92614


Justice Sonenshine has first-hand financial, business, and judicial experience navigating the legal landscape of financial markets under public and regulatory scrutiny.

As a trial court judge and a justice with the California Court of Appeal, the SEC-licensed former litigator oversaw cases dealing with financial markets and complex business matters.

She was a founding board member of a federally chartered commercial bank, later sold to Wells Fargo. She also founded and served as an executive with an investment bank that was acquired by H&R Block. The investment bank specialized in mergers and acquisitions, divestitures, capital raising, and fairness opinions for privately held, middle-market companies.

In addition, Justice Sonenshine worked with investment firm E.F. Hutton to set up one of the nation’s first estate-planning computer programs. She ran a private equity investment fund before becoming a full-time arbitrator and mediator.

Justice Sonenshine’s business and litigation backgrounds gives her nuanced and real-life insight into all sides of a legal dispute—a valuable rarity among arbitration and mediation professionals.


  • Legal Experience
    • Served for nearly two decades as a justice on the California Court of Appeal after sitting as a Orange County Superior Court judge
    • Heard thousands of appeals and authored nearly 2,000 opinions while serving on the California Court of Appeal
    • Inaugurated and oversaw California’s first mandatory appellate settlement conference program, resulting in the settlement of nearly 50% of the Court’s civil cases
    • Starting as a sole practitioner, Justice Sonenshine built Sonenshine and Armstrong into a major Orange County law firm
    • She then became Managing Partner of the Orange County office of Gordon, Weinberg, Sonenshine and Zipser
    • Her clients included a Wall Street stock brokerage firm and its high net-worth clients, a federally chartered bank, and a national restaurant chain
  • Business Experience
    • As executive managing director of the investment bank, she helped shape the company’s strategic direction, established its European headquarters, and oversaw its growing international presence
    • Created the company’s International Buyer Symposia program attended by CEOs and senior executives from Europe’s largest strategic and financial buyers, institutional investors, and advisors. These symposia addressed the North American middle-market acquisition climate.
    • As the head of an investment bank, she gained experience with financial industry employment issues
    • The company has generated billions of dollars in client liquidity and has become an internationally ranked top mergers and acquisitions advisor
    • Founded a federally chartered bank later purchased by Wells Fargo Bank
    • Founded a private equity fund focused on growth-state businesses
    • Served on numerous corporate boards
    • Experienced in hiring, training, and setting expectations and goals in an international business environment
    • Her mergers and acquisitions mid-market experience makes her well suited to resolve disputes involving smaller, closely-held businesses
  • Securities (SEC) and other licenses
    • SEC General Securities Representative (Series 7)
    • SEC General Securities Principal (Series 24)
    • SEC Uniform Securities Agent - State Law (Series 63)
    • California Real Estate Broker License

Representative Matters

Justice Sonenshine’s published cases, mediations, and arbitrations deal with a wide range of financial issues, including:

  • Banking
    • International money transfers
    • Refinancing and third-party guarantees
    • D’Oench Doctrine (a defense or claim seeking to defeat or diminish assets held by a federal insurer must be contained in writing)
    • Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation protected from secret agreements between banks and its debtors (FDIC v. Bureau (1989) 212 CA 3d 956)
    • Extended to a real property exchange contract with a savings and loan taken over by the FDIC
    • FDIC acting as receiver for insolvent bank protected from unrecorded oral agreement between bank president and principals
    • Unrecorded claims against insolvent institutions taken over by FDIC disallowed whether framed in tort or contract, asserted affirmatively or as a defense or whether general creditors or plaintiffs seek a specific asset (Bartram v. FDIC (1991) 235 CA 3d 1749)
    • FDIC initial assignee on matured note entitled to six-year federal statute of limitations (Professional Collection Consultants v. Hamada (1997) 53 CA 4th 1016)
    • Full credit bid rule bars lender bank from maintaining negligence action against third party non borrower
  • Bankruptcy
    • State court is without jurisdiction to hear tort matters arising out of alleged misuse of the bankruptcy process (Saks v. Parilla, Hubbard & Militzok (1998) 67 CA 4th 565)
  • Business Taxes and Fees
    • Stock transfer resulting in corporate change of control is change of ownership (Kraft v. County of Orange (1990) 219 Cal.App.3d 1104)
    • Revenue and Tax Code section 60 change of ownership applies when vendor sells a fee simple interest to a purchaser and simultaneously acquires a future leasehold interest in the property (Crow Winthrop Operating Partnership v. County of Orange (1992) 10 CA 4th 1848)
  • Corporate/Business/private equity
    • Suit by corporation and two directors against former employees, directors, and major shareholder for breach of fiduciary duty, conversion, accounting, constructive trust, slander, and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional damages
  • Employment
    • SEC-licensed securities firm's failure to pay bonus compensation and severance
    • International accounting firm's breach of employment contract
    • Exercise of stock options and phantom stock
  • Real Estate/Real Property
  • Professional Practices
    • CPA fee and contract disputes
    • Suit against CPA for bad tax advice and negligent accounting work

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


  • 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

Counsel Comments

    • "Sheila Sonenshine is the absolute best settlement officer I have ever seen. She is knowledgeable and always fully prepared. Moreover she is practical and understands the goal of dispute resolution is to get all parties to believe they have made the best overall decision they can make, taking possible outcomes into account." 

      - Appellate Counsel
    • “Justice Sonenshine’s tenacity, business background, and common sense hands-on approach make her stand out among neutrals.” 

      - Legal strategist and former Sr. Vice President and General Counsel of one of the largest private real estate and development companies in the United States
    • "Justice Sonenshine has the experience, objectivity, and common sense to cut to the heart of an employment dispute and get the parties there with her."
    • "She put the lawyers, and the parties, in their place, and with tenacity, unmatched knowledge of the law and a presence that can only be described as breathtaking, gave us hope that we could actually settle a case where the parties could not have been further apart. Without her tireless assistance, exceptional mediation skills and unbridled commitment, there is no way this case could have settled."



Practice Areas

Available nationwide


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