Sean E. Ponist

Top rated Business Litigation attorney in Rancho Santa Fe, California

Ponist Law Group, P.C.
Sean E. Ponist
Ponist Law Group, P.C.

Practice Areas: Business Litigation, Construction Litigation, Real Estate; view more

Licensed in California since: 1999

Education: University of California Davis School of Law

Selected to Super Lawyers: 2019 - 2024

Ponist Law Group, P.C.

16236 San Dieguito Rd
Ste 2-10 / #9318
Rancho Santa Fe, CA 92091 Visit website


Sean E. Ponist is a highly regarded trial attorney and the owner and founder of the Ponist Law Group, P.C., with offices in San Diego and San Francisco.  As a skilled civil litigator and former prosecutor, Mr. Ponist is a forceful courtroom advocate for his clients.  He represents people and companies throughout the state in real estate, business and construction disputes as well as financial elder abuse and government enforcement actions (white collar defense).  He has tried over 35 cases to verdict and brings significant litigation and trial experience to his representation of clients. 

In acknowledgment of his accomplishments, Mr. Ponist has been recognized as a “Super Lawyer,” a distinction awarded to less than 5% of attorneys, for more than ten years.  Additionally, Mr. Ponist is a fellow of the Litigation Counsel of America, a trial lawyer honorary society whose membership is limited to less than one-half of 1% percent of North American lawyers, judges and scholars.  He has also been recognized as one of the Best of the Bar by the San Diego Business Journal.

Mr. Ponist’s practice covers a broad range of high stakes civil litigation matters, including real estate (purchase and sale disputes, nondisclosure issues, broker malpractice, commercial unlawful detainer, and other real property issues), construction and construction defect (construction delay, construction and design defect cases, mechanic's liens and other construction issues), business litigation (breach of contract actions, officer and director liability, unfair competition, business insurance claims, securities litigation and other business partnership and corporate disputes) and financial elder abuse and government enforcement actions (white collar defense) matters. 

Additionally, he is on the Board of the Real Property Section for San Francisco Bar Association (BASF).  He has also served as the Chair of the Civil Litigation Section and the Real Property Section for the San Diego County Bar Association (SDCBA) and was on the Board of the Construction Law Section for the SDCBA. 

He has further lectured on legal topics for various bar associations and other legal education providers, including “Deconstructing Commercial Leases,” “Commercial Real Estate Brokerage Standard of Care,” “Bringing Down the House: Assessing Damages in Real Estate Cases,” “Best Use of Experts in Real Estate Cases,” “The Rogue Agent: Agency Issues In Real Estate,” “When Real Estate Deals Go Bad,” “Agent-Principal Relationship,” and “Direct and Cross-Examination for Civil Litigators.”

Mr. Ponist graduated from UC Davis School of Law, receiving his Juris Doctor degree in 1999.  Prior to law school, Mr. Ponist attended UCLA where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy in 1995 and was a Departmental Scholar.  He is admitted to practice before all California federal and state courts, the California Supreme Court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court. 

Practice areas

Business Litigation, Construction Litigation: Business, Real Estate: Business, Civil Litigation: Plaintiff, Civil Litigation: Defense, Criminal Defense: White Collar, Elder Law

Focus areas

Construction Defects, Landlord/Tenant

  • 20% Business Litigation
  • 20% Construction Litigation: Business
  • 20% Real Estate: Business
  • 10% Civil Litigation: Plaintiff
  • 10% Civil Litigation: Defense
  • 10% Criminal Defense: White Collar
  • 10% Other

First Admitted: 1999, California

Professional Webpage:

  • Litigation Counsel of America, a trial lawyer honorary society whose membership is limited to less than one-half of 1% percent of North American lawyers, judges and scholars. Based on Mr. Ponist's "accomplishment in the practice and discipline of litigation in trial and appellate courts, excellence in the art of advocacy, and highest ethical standards and integrity," he was selected as a fellow, Litigation Counsel of America
  • Super Lawyer, 2011
  • Best of Bar, San Diego Business Journal, 2016
Representative Clients:
  • Business clients, including corporations, LLCs, limited and general partnerships as well as corporate officers and directors.
  • Elders who have been victims of financial elder abuse.  
  • Real estate clients include brokers, agents, investors, developers and contractors. 
Bar/Professional Activity:
  • Chair and Board Member, San Diego County Bar Association Civil Litigation Section (2018-2021)
  • Chair and Board Member, San Diego County Bar Association Real Property Section (2014–2018)
  • Board Member, San Francisco Bar Association Real Property Section, 2011 to Present
  • Member, San Diego County and San Francisco Bar Associations
  • Supreme Court of the United States
  • United States Court of Appeal, Ninth Circuit
  • All California federal and state courts
  • All Nevada federal and state courts
Pro bono/Community Service:
  • Mr. Ponist has volunteered with and devoted himself to the following organizations: Home & Hope (Served on Board of Directors for nonprofit organization which helps to provide food and shelter to homeless families); Special Olympics (Served as Coach to special athletes); Cal Mentor (Served as mentor to troubled youths); Project Angel Food (Served as Volunteer for home bound individuals in need of assistance).
Verdicts/Settlements (Case Results):
  • Deputy District Attorney Experience, Marin County District Attorney's Office.  Prosecuted over 25 cases to verdict, ranging from violent crime to environmental protection.  Maintained a perfect trial record in the prosecution of felony cases, 2000-2003
  • Dismissal of Action on Behalf of Clients.  Represented clients wrongly accused of failing to pay back a purchase money loan and of fraud in connection therewith.  Attacking the merits of the action, PLG moved for dismissal (judgment on the pleadings).  Based on the strength of our moving papers, the other side dismissed the action and agreed to a full release of all claims against our clients.  , 2021
  • Obtained summary judgment for client.  In a lawsuit alleging fraud and misrepresentations in connection with a commercial construction loan, we obtained summary adjudication on behalf of its clients, leading to a favorable defense settlement with the remaining plaintiffs for less than 3% of the amount of damages sought., 2020
  • Favorable Settlement on behalf of National Shopping Center Owner/Developer.  In the lawsuit, the general contractor claimed it was owed significant sums under the construction contract for work reconstructing part of the shopping mall. We were able to negotiate an early resolution on behalf of its owner-client, which fully compensated our client for delay damages and allowed it to pay a greatly reduced sum for the contractor’s services., 2018
  • In re Business Acquisition Matter.  Represented an elderly client in a confidential arbitration in connection with the purchase of business in which we brought claims for breach of contract, rescission, fraud/misrepresentation and financial elder abuse.  Following a multi-week arbitration proceeding, we were able to reach a favorable resolution on behalf of our client, 2018
  • Nationwide Biweekly Administration v. Dept. of Business Oversight, 873 F.3d 716 (9th Cir. 2017).  Represented out-of-state business who had been charged with allegedly violating California's prorater laws for purportedly acting as a prorater without a license do so.  Based on challenges brought under the Dormant Commerce Clause, the Ninth Circuit found in favor of our client, 2017
  • In re FINRA Securities Matter.  Represented three seperate families in a confidential FINRA arbitration matter in which a securities broker was not properly supervised and churned the families' accounts and placed the families in unsuitable investments.  We were able to force a settlement in which our clients recovered in excess of $2,000,000 from the culpable broker-dealer, 2017
  • In re Paternity Testing matter.  Defended a laboratory against claims that it had erroneously switched paternity testing results, allegedly inaccurately indicating that one man was the father of the subject child when, accordingly to plaintiff, it was another man.  According to plaintiff, this caused irreparable damage and emotional distress.  We were able to successfully resolve the matter early for a nuisance settlement, 2017
  • FBO Paul Family Revocable Trust A v. Hughes.  Successfully represented landlord in an unlawful detainer action to recover possession, receiving judgment in client's favor after for possession following trial, 2017
  • Nationwide Biweekly Administration v. the People of the State of California (2018) 24 Cal.App.5th 438.  Represented a business who was being civilly prosecuted by the four different District Attorney offices and the Department of Business Oversight for alleged violations of consumer protection laws.  In the action, even the People sought massive civil penalties, the trial court had denied our client the right to a jury trial.  In conjunction with appellate counsel, we took a writ (appeal) and obtained a favorable decision which granted our client the right to a jury trial and established a jury trial right for similarly situated businesses, 2017
  • Vaughns v. Malm et al. Represented commercial real estate brokerage company, its designated broker and its agent in a dispute in which plaintiff real estate investors alleged breach of fiduciary duties and conduct falling below the standard of care. After a two week trial, our clients received a complete defense verdict, absolving them of any wrongdoing, 2016
  • Excelsior Academy v. San Diego Unified School District. Represented school serving special needs students against lessor attempting to terminate school’s lease. After a bench trial, the judge rejected lessor’s efforts to terminate the lease early and, instead, awarded the school an extension of its lease, 2015
  • In re Tamir.  Represented owner of a business in partnership with one of the other partners over the ownership of the business.  After a two week trial, client-owner prevailed in ownership dispute and awarded all interests and rights sought, 2012
  • Blue Barn Assocs. v. Honey Baked Hams, Inc.  Represented commercial landowner in a quiet title action, involving complex title and ground lease issues.  After a two week trial, the party contesting ownership agreed to relinquish all rights, title and interest in the property to our client landowner and dismissed all of its claims against our client, 2010
  • United States of America et al v. Maxxam Inc. et al.  As part of a trial team, represented two California state agency employees in a whistleblower action against a national timber company for allegedly defrauding the government in connection with the purchase and sale of the Headwaters Forest. A favorable settlement was reached after parties had completed two weeks of a scheduled three week jury trial, 2009
  • The Lao Trust v. S&P Investments et al.  Represented commercial real estate brokerage and its agents in an arbitrated matter in which plaintiff buyer sought damages for alleged nondisclosure of material facts and clients sought recovery of their commission.  After arbitration, plaintiffs' claims were rejected and clients were awarded their commission, 2006
  • Olen Residential Realty Corp. v. First Premier Drywall and Paint, et al.  As part of a trial team, represented real estate investor in action against contractors and design professionals to recover damages for defects in the construction and design of various large-scale apartment complexes.  After extensive litigation and trial, sought and obtained $115 million construction defect verdict, 2004
Educational Background:
  • UCLA, B.A., Philosophy (Departmental Scholar, Dean’s Honor List), 1995
  • UC Davis School of Law, J.D. (Moot Court, Mock Trial Team), 1999
Scholarly Lectures/Writings:
  • Presenter, "Real Estate Standard of Care," San Francisco Bar Association: the seminar examined standard of care in real estate transactions for agents and brokers as well as duties of buyers/sellers. It will cover duties of agents/brokers in real estate transactions; agency law and dual agency problems; out-of-state problems—out-of-state brokers and out-of-state properties; buyer/seller obligations; and new case law update.    , 2022
  • Presenter, "The Ins-and-Outs of Real Property Liens and Encumbrances," San Francisco Bar Association:  The seminar examined common liens/encumbrances placed on real property, including lis pendens, prejudgment/attachment liens, judgment liens, execution liens, mechanics liens and stop payment notices, design professional liens, HOA liens, buyer liens, deeds of trust, options to purchase and other clouds on title. The CLE discussed, among other things, particular requirements to place such liens/encumbrances as well as steps necessary to remove them., 2021
  • Presenter, "The Art of Taking and Defending Virtual Depositions," San Diego County Bar Association:  This seminar addressed the new age of taking and defending virtual depositions, from the new (virtual) deposition notices and admonitions through tips to having your client make the best impression for the camera. Topics include: The nuts-and-bolts of taking a virtual deposition (including a discussion of remote realtime, videography and exhibit sharing);  Taking the deposition as if you were in trial (as it may very well be used in lieu of live testimony at trial);  Defending the deposition remotely (away from your client/witness and everyone else);  Preparing your client/witness to make a great impression (including a discussion of the impact of stereotypes, biases, nonverbal language, etc.). , 2020
  • Presenter, "Real Estate Brokerage During These Extraordinary Times," San Francisco Bar Association:  This legal education presentation discussed new laws and current issues affecting real estate brokerage industry during the extraordinary times of the pandemic, including: Recent dual agency cases and issues—the conflicts, the ethics and the liability;  Navigating broker duties—e.g., the duty to inspect and disclose vs. the obligation to shelter-in-place, etc.;  Agent advertising and promoting—when boasting becomes actionable; Standard of care for agents involved in distressed sales, e.g., short sales and foreclosures; New COVID-19 disclosures and other disclosures in real estate transactions., 2020
  • Presenter, "Court Practice Series:  Superior Court (Civil)," San Diego County Bar Association:  In this seminar, Superior Court Judge Eddie C. Sturgeon and experienced trial attorney Sean E. Ponist discussed keys to success in the courtroom and useful tips for litigators. The presentation covers, among other things, “knowing your judge,” “sizing up your case,” motion practice and argument as well as trial pointers., 2020
  • Presenter, "The Keys to the House: Unraveling Damages in Real Property Sales (Part 1 of 2)," San Francisco Bar Association:  This seminar examined real estate damages arising from disputes before and after closing. This was the first in a two-part series and focused on damages; the second focused on real estate remedies. Topics include: Discussion of recoverable damages arising from contract breaches and tortious conduct Analysis of threshold requirements to establish damages as well as to establish the amount of damages A look beyond compensatory damages at appreciation damages, stigma damages, punitive damages, emotional distress and Stearman costs Analysis of broker commission claims and disputes, 2019
  • Presenter, "The Keys to the House:  Unraveling Equitable Remedies in Real Property Transactions (Part 2 of 2)," San Francisco Bar Association:  This seminar examined real estate remedies arising from disputes both before and after closing. This was the second in a two-part series and focused on powerful remedies, beyond damages, to enforce client rights, including a discussion of rescission, reformation, specific performance and other equitable remedies.Topics Include:Analysis of the nature and grounds for rescission as well as notice, restoration and pleading requirements for rescission Discussion of the grounds and requirements in order to successfully maintain an action for specific performance A look at other remedies and actions, including reformation, cancellation, and actions to quiet title, 2019
  • Presenter, "Dual Agency Law Following the California Supreme Court's Landmark Horiike Decision," Orange County/San Diego County/San Francisco County Bar Associations:  a legal education seminar covering agency and dual agency law in California generally, with an in-depth analysis of the California Supreme Court’s landmark Horiike decision as well as the impact on agency and dual agency responsibilities following the Horiike decision and legislative proposals following the Horiike decision, 2018
  • Presenter, "How to Keep Your Expert In and Keep Their Expert Out," San Diego/San Francisco County Bar Associations:  a legal education seminar which started with the expert report and took the attendees right up through motions in limine, covering federal and state expert disclosure, exchange and report requirements as well as litigation tactics at each stage in the process. The program further discussed the seminal Daubert/Sargon decisions as well as how to attack and how to defend an expert's report and opinions, 2018
  • Presenter, "Rescission of Real Estate Contracts," Lorman:  Rescission is one of the most powerful remedies available to a party who has suffered damages resulting from breach of contract or fraud. Rescission is one of the few remedies which allows parties to truly be restored to their respective positions before the alleged harm. In this practical seminar, attendees learned how to effectively assert, and defend against, this forceful weapon, 2017
  • Presenter, "Mediating Real Estate Cases," San Diego County Bar Association: Almost every real estate dispute involves some form of mediation. This legal education covered mediation of real estate disputes including, among other things, opening session and advocate remarks, caucus conversations with each side, mediation strategies and nailing down a settlement, 2016
  • Presenter, "Arbitrating Real Estate Cases," San Diego County Bar Association.  Legal presentation discussing:  What kind of preparation needs to be completed before arbitration, including an arbitration brief and evidence; Issues typically raised at arbitration; Advocates’ strategies; What arbitrators look for and more, 2016
  • Presenter, "Having Real Estate Contracts Interpreted in Your Client's Favor," San Francisco Bar Association:  A legal education seminar covering key rules of construction of real estate and legal documents, including lease agreements, grant deeds, agreements with public entities, deeds of trust, and other real estate contracts, 2015
  • Presenter, "Deconstructing Commercial Leases," San Diego County Bar Association:  A legal education seminar analyzing commercial leasing issues from the start of a transaction through the completion of the transaction and beyond into litigation, 2015
  • Author, "Going to the Source:  Minimize your liability by providing attributions," Commercial Investment Real Estate Magazine (May/June 2015).  This article discusses how real estate agents, brokers and sellers can minimize their liability for the unintentional disclosure of inaccurate information by attributing the source of the information, 2015
  • Presenter, "Commercial Real Estate Brokerage Standard of Care," San Diego and San Francisco County Bar Associations:  A legal education seminar which looked at the duties and obligations of commercial real estate agents and brokers who, unlike their residential counterparts, are not presently bound by strict statutory requirements, 2014
  • Presenter, "50 Shades of Legal," Women's Council of Realtors, Presentation to realtors covering general duties of real estate agents and brokers, traditional and novel legal issues arising in real estate transactions and "rogue" agent issues, 2013
  • Presenter, "The Rogue Agent:  Agency Issues in Real Estate," San Francisco and San Mateo County Bar Associations, A legal seminar covering the existence and scope of agency relationships, including a discussion of agency agreements, ostensible agency, ratification, negligent supervision and the legal relationship between agents and principals, 2013
  • Moderator, "Private Investigation and the Legal Community," San Francisco Bar Association, A legal education seminar covering private investigator techniques to assist lawyers in the prosecution and defense of their actions as well as the identification of critical persons and assets in litigation, 2013
  • Presenter, "Best Use of Expert Witnesses in Real Estate Cases," San Francisco Bar Association and San Mateo County Bar Association, A legal education seminar covering the best and most effective uses of experts in litigation and at trial, including a detailed discussed of expert depositions and approaches to direct examination and cross-examination at trial, 2012
  • Presenter, "How Expert Witnesses can Improve their Relationship with Busy Trial Attorneys," Forensic Expert Witness Association, A presentation to expert witnesses covering of all aspects of the relationship between experts and counsel, including the role of an expert in litigation and at trial as well as key issues for experts to be aware of in discovery and at trial, 2012
  • Presenter, "Bringing Down the House: Assessing Damages in Real Estate Cases," San Francisco Bar Association, A legal education seminar covering pre-closing remedies, post-closing remedies, equitable remedies and broker commissions, 2011
  • Author, "Recovering Lost Profits In Real Estate Transactions," Real Estate Quarterly Supplement to The Daily Journal 2011.  Summary:  The article discusses the recent Greenwich decision which has opened the door to the recovery of lost profits, but just slightly. As explained in the article, "Aggrieved investors should seek lost profits, but need to be mindful that courts are still skeptical of lost profits damages and will not allow them where even remotely uncertain or speculative.", 2011
  • Author, "Should Equitable Indemnity Apply Against Negligent Misrepresentation Claims?" The Daily Journal 2010.  Summary:  "The law is clear that a party is entitled to seek equitable indemnity against negligence claims alleged against it. Similarly, the law is clear that a party is not entitled to indemnity against fraud, intentional torts and other torts for which the application of indemnity would violate public policy. But the law is much less clear as to a party’s right to indemnity for negligent misrepresentation, a cause of action which straddles the line between negligence and fraud. Although the issue arises frequently between joint tortfeasors, the appellate courts have yet to address it. In their silence, trial courts have been all over the map...", 2010
  • Author, "The Nonrefundable Deposit-Not!"  California Lawyer Magazine 2010.  Summary:  "In many transactions, the seller requires that the buyer pay earnest money in the form of a non-refundable deposit. The deposit is one way the buyer can communicate to the seller that he or she really means business. Indeed, such deposits have for years been commonplace. Recently, however, the court of appeal ruled that a non-refundable deposit is in reality a form of liquidated damages and voided the practice despite the clear contractual documents that called for it. (Kuish v. Smith, 181 Cal.App.4th 1419 (2010).) Whether the Kuish decision is a good thing or a bad thing is not the point; the fact is, real estate lawyers and their clients must deal with a new reality when proceeding to escrow...", 2010
  • Presenter, “When Real Estate Deals Go Bad,” San Mateo County Bar Association, A legal education seminar covering issues arsing in real estate transactions, including preventative measures aimed at avoiding problems commonly encountered in real estate transactions, obligations and duties of parties in real estate transactions, and problems occurring after the close of escrow, 2010
  • Presenter, "Direct and Cross-Examination For Civil Litigators," National Business Institute, A legal education seminar covering the skillful and effective use of testimony and evidence in the courtroom which provided attendees with the skills necessary to elicit the testimony needed in order to build a strong case and to put themselves in the best position to win, 2009
Other Outstanding Achievements:
  • Fellow, Litigation Counsel of America, 2022
  • San Diego Super Lawyer, 2022
  • Northern California Super Lawyer, 2022
  • Fellow, Litigation Counsel of America, 2021
  • San Diego Super Lawyer, 2021
  • Northern California Super Lawyer, 2021
  • Fellow, Litigation Counsel of America, 2020
  • San Diego Super Lawyer, 2020
  • Northern California Super Lawyer, 2020
  • Fellow, Litigation Counsel of America, 2019
  • San Diego Super Lawyer, 2019
  • Northern California Super Lawyer, 2019
  • Fellow, Litigation Counsel of America, 2018
  • San Diego Super Lawyer, 2018
  • Northern California Super Lawyer, 2018
  • Fellow, Litigation Counsel of America, 2017
  • Northern California Super Lawyer, 2017
  • Best of the Bar, 2016
  • Northern California Super Lawyer, 2016
  • Northern California Super Lawyer, 2015
  • Northern California Super Lawyer, 2015
  • Northern California Super Lawyer, 2014
  • Northern California Super Lawyer, 2013
  • Northern California Super Lawyer, 2012
  • Northern California Super Lawyer, 2012
Industry Groups:
  • Agent-broker liability
  • Business & Professions Code 17200/17500 (false Advertising) (unfair business practices)
  • Construction Defect
  • Construction delay
  • Construction Litigation
  • Contract Disputes
  • Design defect
  • Financial Elder Abuse
  • Fraud and nondisclsoure
  • Government enforcement actions
  • Mechanics Liens
  • Purchase And Sale Disputes
  • Qui Tam (False Claim/Whistle Blower)
  • Real Estate Litigation
  • Securities Litigation
  • Specific Performance
  • White Collar Defense

Office location for Sean E. Ponist

16236 San Dieguito Rd
Ste 2-10 / #9318
Rancho Santa Fe, CA 92091

Phone: 858-412-1211


6 Years Super Lawyers
  • Super Lawyers: 2019 - 2024

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