Serving Those Who Serve: Meet James Touchstone

For decades, service to our state’s law enforcement agencies has been central to Jones & Mayer’s mission. Partner James Touchstone carries on the tradition today. We asked him to offer his reflections on his work and career, and the changes he sees on the horizon for his practice.

Roots in public service

Mr. Touchstone grew up in a military family as the son of a career Marine. Like so many kids growing up in military families, Mr. Touchstone bounced all over the country as his father changed stations. He didn’t know it at the time, but growing up the son of a Marine Corps officer set the course of Mr. Touchstone’s career. 

“Law enforcement agencies can be thought of as paramilitary organizations that ensure our safety and protect our civil rights,” he says. The distinct interplay of those features and the law has been a source of inspiration in his work.

Mr. Touchstone traces his interest in law to a mock trial during a class in high school. “When I look back on it now, what we did was pretty silly, but at the time we thought we were doing great stuff,” he says. When he won the case, it planted a seed. “I remember thinking, this is fun and important. I might be good at it.”

Finding his way into public service

The family moved from Jacksonville, North Carolina, to Twentynine Palms, California, for Mr. Touchstone’s senior year of high school. It was a tough change, but it positioned him to see California as the place he wanted to be. When his parents moved back to North Carolina he was entering his junior year at U.C. Riverside. “I was sick of moving, so I stayed,” he says. 

At UCR Mr. Touchstone wanted a degree that would give him flexibility. “I took a practical approach,” he says. “Coming from a modest background, I pursued business skills to broaden my job chances.” He used his business degree to land a job at a credit union and managed to pay off his undergraduate debt in just two years. Being debt-free positioned him to have options as he explored opportunities during law school at U.C. Davis.

“My first job was for a medical defense firm. It paid the bills and I enjoyed the work, but it wasn’t my passion.” Although he didn’t want to be pigeonholed into the medical defense practice, the experience he gained there was invaluable. “In my first year I did fifty or sixty depositions, which was really educational,” he says. “It gave me a good foundation in law.”

When the opportunity arose to join Best Best & Krieger in Ontario, Mr. Touchstone took it. It was at BB&K that he took on his first civil rights litigation cases. “My first case sparked something,” he says. “Trial work is scary but exhilarating. The stakes are high and the issues are incredibly important.”

A chance to work with one of the greats

His work at BB&K was deeply satisfying. “I was happy. I had a five-mile commute against traffic. It was a very good law firm that was growing quickly. I was the firm’s go-to for civil rights cases.”

Being happy where he was, he was not looking to move when Jones & Mayer came knocking. A former BB&K partner reached out to him to tell him about the need at Jones & Mayer for a litigator like him. “He said to me, ‘By the way, you get to work with Marty Mayer,’ and that sealed it.”

Jones & Mayer partner Martin Mayer, who passed away in 2017, was a law enforcement icon. “For what I did, Marty was the best,” Mr. Touchstone recalls. “He was a member of a very small circle of attorneys for whom I’d be willing to carry their briefcase.” 

He joined the firm in 2009 to head the litigation department and to work with Mr. Mayer on law enforcement matters. It was part of the firm’s transition planning efforts. “I began operating as Marty’s second-in-command when it came to advising the three major law enforcement associations,” Mr. Touchstone says. “I got to know everyone and got to learn from Marty. He helped me to recognize all that I didn’t know. It was invaluable experience.”

Doing important work every day

Focusing his career on serving law enforcement agencies has been deeply rewarding. He describes it as a great way to serve society without putting on a badge or a military uniform. His work has two main facets: defending his client agencies against litigation, and helping to ensure the law enforcement profession maintains high standards of professionalism.

“Law enforcement is a hard job,” Mr. Touchstone says. “Officers have to make split-second decisions. Scenarios can develop incredibly quickly. It’s understandable that some officers make mistakes.” 

Defending against civil litigation has become increasingly challenging. “Society wants to focus on the bad and react to it, instead of taking a closer look to make careful, prudent decisions,” Mr. Touchstone says. “Unfortunately, terrible outcomes can happen when someone doesn’t listen to commands. Emotional factors are driving up jury verdicts in cases where there is no basis in the evidence for a big award, so it’s up to us to pull jurors out of their gut reactions.”

On the labor side, Mr. Touchstone sees his work on behalf of agencies as a gatekeeping role. “We’re protecting a profession,” Mr. Touchstone says. “We make sure the officers who are doing something wrong are held accountable, and where appropriate even taken out of the profession. The motto of protect and serve is something we can’t lose sight of. They are stewards of the community.” 

A future with challenges to tackle

Mr. Touchstone strives to help his clients advocate for better policymaking in a challenging political climate. “My concern as a citizen is that the unintended consequence of ‘depolicing’ will be an incentive structure that pushes officers to do less work. Rather than preventing crime, we’ll see less accountability. We’re already seeing that with theft.” He thinks specific law enforcement challenges, ranging from rampant drug abuse to mental illness and homelessness, are not getting the attention they deserve.

From Mr. Touchstone’s perspective, ever-more transparency is the future for all aspects of government. “I don’t think that’s a bad thing,” he says. “The public can see what public officials are doing and why they do it.” Still, transparency comes at a tremendous cost. “Body camera footage has been transformational, but it requires a big investment of time to protect privacy rights and the integrity of criminal investigations.”

He also sees criminal justice reform having big impacts on the profession. “It’s gaining traction, and rightfully so in some respects. Divergent sentencing and disproportionate impacts on people of color need to be addressed.” Nevertheless, reform needs to be handled with care. “Fentanyl is killing thousands but is being treated on the same level as marijuana,” he says. “We have to approach reform holistically and allocate resources with care.”

For new attorneys, Mr. Touchstone thinks municipal law is a place of great opportunity. “There are so many topics to explore and ways to get involved,” he says. “The constitutional overlay keeps the work fresh. There’s never a dull moment, and at the end of the day, we’re helping to make the community a better place for everyone.”

Mr. Touchstone can be reached at