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Meet the Team: Chuck Sheldon

Attorney: Charles T. Sheldon | Published 7.29.21

In our latest installment of Meet the Team, we would like to introduce you to San Francisco-based partner, Chuck Sheldon. Chuck has been with Walsworth for almost 10 years and focuses his practice on toxic tort, asbestos, and related product liability claims.

Chuck is an Arizona native and will forever consider himself a “displaced Arizonan” despite the small detail that he has lived in Northern California much longer than he ever did in AZ. He loved growing up there, misses it from time to time, and still maintains many parts of the Arizona state of mind. He found his way to Northern California via UC Berkeley, and then stayed in the area through law school at UC Hastings College of Law in San Francisco.

Chuck’s longtime passion project is Waggin’ Trails Rescue Foundation – a 501(c)(3) animal rescue. Chuck and his wife (fellow Walsworth partner Ingrid Campagne) are currently fostering eight little dogs while they await their forever homes. Mealtimes are intense with eight rescues, the couple’s own dogs, and six young kittens they are currently caring for. While no-kill shelters have been instrumental in helping animals in need, most are overwhelmed. Chuck and Ingrid realized they could help about 15 years ago, eventually starting their own rescue to focus on transporting dogs and cats from impacted California shelters to rescue partners in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, and parts of Western Canada where there aren’t as many small dogs and cats waiting for homes as there are here in California. Waggin’ Trails has saved thousands of animals with the invaluable help of Ingrid’s mother, their rescue partners, and their many sponsors and supporters. Waggin’ Trails also helps older dogs and dogs with health issues get out of shelters and find their perfect, forever home. Chuck emphasized during this interview how important socialization is to the rescue process. If shelter animals aren’t properly socialized, it becomes even more difficult to find these little creatures a good home where they will be safe and loved for the rest of their lives.

Chuck explained with a chuckle that his father was a large animal veterinarian and expected his son would join the family business after college. There might have been some familial disappointment with Chuck not following in his dad’s footsteps, but his dad would probably be very pleased that Chuck’s life still revolves around animals – just like in childhood.

Read on to find out more about Chuck’s favorite drinks (and when to enjoy them), what it’s like to work with his best friend, and why he loves defending toxic tort and asbestos cases.

Current favorites:
Music: I’m a huge fan of storytelling in music, which has given me an appreciation for country. I recently rediscovered my country music roots – the old stuff is great, but there are gems in new country, and country/rap crossovers.
Film/Series: The Star Wars series is my forever comfort watch. I was a big comic book nerd as a kid and I am thrilled that the world is finally realizing the coolness of the Marvel universe. True crime is another favorite.
Book(s): Anything by Stephen King, the Lincoln Rhyme Series by Jeffery Deaver, and the Harry Bosch books by Michael Connelly.
Quote: “Do or do not, there is no try.” – Yoda

Who is your mentor or the person you most admire?
This is an easy one. The person who made me realize I could genuinely enjoy practicing law (after a mixed experience at law school) was a senior partner at my first firm, Sedgwick, Roger Sleight. He passed away recently after a great, long life and it was a huge loss. Roger was a one-of-a-kind guy who gave so much of himself to help others. There was always a line of attorneys waiting outside his door to talk to him and get his guidance. So many people that knew him all say the same thing about Roger – he seemed to “manufacture” extra time to give his wisdom and guidance to us.

Roger placed a big focus on the way a person did the job, and how he or she treated every other person during the day no matter who they were. He continues to inspire me to help when I can, and is someone I measure myself against as a lawyer and a person.

If someone were to write a book about you, what do you think the title should be?:
My book title would be, “Who Left That Guy in Charge?” Over the years, I have found myself in positions of either authority or leadership that needed to be filled, so I stepped up. I know I don’t know everything but … in this job, you have to have a lot of confidence or you’ll be eaten alive. I am aware that, on occasion, people have thought I should do things differently, or that someone else would have been a better fit. And I can be pretty stubborn/obstinate if I believe in something, and I don’t give up easily. That said, I will always fall back on collaboration and persuasion to try to get things done.

What does being part of the Walsworth Family mean to you?:
I’m not a Walsworth lifer like my wife, Ingrid, but I married into the Walsworth family long before I ever worked for the firm. Ingrid and I started dating in 1998 when she was already pretty deep into her career working here, so I went to holiday parties and socialized with many Walsworth folks long before I came aboard. It was tough for me to leave my old firm, but when the time did come that I needed to leave, Walsworth was the only other place I could see myself – I felt like I grew up with Walsworth in a way. Also, Kate Gardiner and Derek Johnson came with me from Sedgwick, which made it easier for me to try to recreate the good things we had there over here. You always hope the people you care about will also care about each other, and I think we all accomplished that when we moved over here. No firm is perfect, and there are always things that need to be fixed or tweaked, but the genuineness of the people at Walsworth makes it a great place to work.

I have to mention a couple of people who are still at Walsworth that helped me during my transition over here: Ron Bevins helped me greatly with the issues I was facing at Sedgwick, and helped me advise others who were also in the same spot. Jeff Walsworth was right in the middle of a huge case when we moved over in 2012, but he always made time for me. Both are great, self-made men who have inspired me with their leadership.

Practicing law is hard, and takes up so much time, but I get to do this with my best friend by my side. Ingrid is my rock, and I’m thankful every day we found each other. Walsworth is a great fit for me and will be my final stop before I hang up my Westlaw subscription.

What is your favorite vacation spot:
I’d have to say Maui, Hawaii. Maui was the first big trip I took Ingrid on, pretty early in our relationship, and I wasn’t even sure she would still like me when we got back. We went back to celebrate our 10th anniversary, but we missed a return trip there for our 20th in 2020 due to COVID.

If you could instantly become an expert at anything, what would it be?
Besides what I’m already an expert at?!? But seriously, the one thing I would like to be better at is my bartending ability. I play around with standards to try to come up with something new and different, but could always use some more professional guidance. It seems like a useful skill for my aging years. I have different preferred drinks for different times of the year: winter – Manhattan, early summer – Margarita, late summer: Mai Tai. I have many favorites, but it’s more about who I am enjoying the drink with!

(Interviewer’s note: I got some hot tips from Chuck for fellow gin and tonic lovers, like myself, looking to mix it up. Try different gins that have different flavor profiles. Skip the citrus ones as you can always add a little lime or Meyer lemon which will give a juniper or floral base gin more complexity. You don’t have to settle for ordinary Schweppes tonic either. Try Fever-Tree or another craft variety and integrate it into the drink below.)

Chuck’s cocktail suggestion for gin lovers – The Bee’s Knees/Beekeeper/Bee Sting:

  1. Start with a gin base;
  2. Add the juice of a Meyer lemon;
  3. Mix honey or a honey liqueur into the gin;
  4. Ice and enjoy. NOTE: a dash or two of Tabasco can be added for the sting version.

What attracted you to the Toxic Tort/Asbestos/Product Liability practice area?: When I came out of law school in 1991, I wanted to try cases since as a kid I was a big fan of Perry Mason and LA Law. I figured what lawyers do is stand up in court and try cases. Of course, neither were very realistic representations of the practice. When I graduated law school, California had a hiring freeze on District Attorney and Public Defender spots, which were my first choice. So, instead I found my way to a litigation-only firm (Sedgwick), which I hoped would let me try cases sooner than later. The firm took some chances on me, and some key people along the way supported me and my goal of getting into the courtroom. Ultimately, it was the asbestos cases that got me through the door – there were a lot of cases and they needed a lot of trial lawyers. Most of the cases were not super high stakes, but they were for me, and each taught me how to do the job from start to finish. I am naturally competitive, and love that aspect of trial work.

Here is my advice for newer lawyers. If you are at the right firm that will support you and train you and give you a chance, then you can quickly find out if you actually enjoy doing whatever you think you want your focus to be. There are bad days in every profession, and work that can often seem like “sameness” and drudgery, but with the right role models and support, you can figure out how to get valuable experience as quickly as possible so you can chart your own course. Walsworth is a lot like my old firm. If you want to try cases, the opportunities to get into the courtroom are everywhere, all the time. You just need to push for those chances, and take advantage of any opportunities given.

The last year and a half have been difficult for everyone, including me. Like everyone else, I am stuck staring at my own four walls, while courtroom access has been unavailable or sharply curtailed. I have missed the butterflies I still get before an appearance, even after 30 years of doing this, and I am still an obsessive over-preparer. That’s just how I get ready. What’s interesting to me now is that courts feel like they’ve had reasonable enough success with remote trials and appearances. I personally prefer in-person appearances and look forward to their return, but we also have to learn to adapt, and there is definitely some value in some parts of the remote litigation process – I think I have boarded my last 6 a.m. flight to LA for an 8:30 a.m. appearance. The silver lining in all of this is that clients will save money, decrease the burden of travel on the environment, and hopefully allow a little more access to certain types of appearances for younger lawyers.