John Knox was a neighbor, a friend, a bond counsel for the City of Richmond, a talented musician, and father of Alex Knox, my first mayor’s campaign manager, mayor’s staff member and former Mayor’s Office chief of staff. He will be missed on many fronts. The social impact bonds used by the Richmond Community Foundation to rehab distressed properties in Richmond and turn them over to people needing affordable housing was John’s idea. Following are several tributes by media and his colleagues:
John Knox, 64, Orrick attorney in Stockton bankruptcy, dies
John Knox, 64, a public finance lawyer and former partner at Orrick who aided the cities of Vallejo and Stockton through bankruptcy almost a decade ago, died at home on Feb. 27.
John Knox, a public finance lawyer and former partner at Orrick
Knox was a summer associate in 1986 at the global law firm that services the technology, energy, infrastructure, and finance sectors. A year later, he joined as a first year associate, and was later promoted to partner after only six years with the firm.
“Those of us who worked closely with John marveled at his complete command of the politics, policy goals, personalities and business realities of every client and every deal,” Justin Cooper, a partner at Orrick said.
“He was an outstanding technical lawyer who saw the law as an arsenal of tools to be combined and pulled apart to solve any problem,” Orrick Partner Charles Cardall added.
During his career, Knox built and maintained a large local government practice centered around California’s Bay Area.
One of his lasting legacies is the Statewide Community Infrastructure Program, a pooled tax-exempt bond financing program issued by the California Statewide Communities Development Authority. The program — which issues 30-year tax-exempt bonds secured by property owner assessments — can finance impact fees and public improvements for private developments.
After the 2008 financial crisis when redevelopment agencies were eliminated and land-secured financings dried up, he built a successful municipal restructuring practice.
Through that practice, two of his significant clients included the cities of Vallejo and Stockton, California, whom he and partner Marc Levinson, senior counsel and restructuring partner at Orrick, guided through bankruptcy from 2010 to 2013.
Knox handled the public financing side, involving creditors, banks, and the restructuring of debt.
The cities’ successful completion of Chapter 9 led to the establishment of the legal criteria for a city’s eligibility to be a Chapter 9 debtor. In 2012, Stockton was the largest U.S. city to file for bankruptcy protection.
Among other professional accolades, his work with the cities’ restructuring earned Knox and Levinson recognition by California Lawyer magazine in 2013 as “Attorneys of the Year,” an achievement known as the CLAY award. Knox was also a 2005 and 2017 CLAY recipient.
The award recognizes 60 lawyers throughout the state for their significant impact based on their legal work in a particular year.
Knox was also a driving force behind the initial establishment of the David Jewell award to honor his friend and colleague, also an Orrick partner, who died in 2002. The annual award honors a partner who exemplifies an enduring commitment to integrity, excellence, and teamwork, according to the firm.
During his career, Knox was also a pioneer in working remotely — practicing from Guanajuato, Mexico, and Whidbey Island, Washington — long before the advent of Zoom.
Born in 1957, Knox was raised in Richmond, California, where he attended John F. Kennedy High School.
He graduated from the University of California at Berkeley in 1984 with a degree in political economy of industrial societies, and later from Berkeley Law with a Juris Doctorate degree in 1987.
His father, Jack Knox, was the speaker of the California Assembly.
His hobbies included fishing and music. Between college and law school, Knox had a brief career as a professional jazz pianist.
Knox is survived by his wife, Aracely, and children Carlos, Alex, Gina, and Antonia, and their spouses and extended family.
From Austin Cooper of Orrick:
Dear San Francisco Colleagues:
It is with great sadness that I report the passing of our former partner, John Knox. John passed away at his home early on Saturday morning, February 27, 2021. John was surrounded by his loving wife, Aracely, and adoring family, including his children Carlos, Alex, Gina and Antonia, their spouses and extended family.
John joined Orrick as a first year associate in 1987, after having been a summer associate in 1986. Between college and law school he had a brief career as a professional jazz pianist, but he arrived at Orrick fully committed to a career as a public finance lawyer. In fact, the story is that John went to law school with the stated intention of joining Orrick to practice public finance, even though his father was a name partner at Nossaman. John immediately distinguished himself as a star, and was promoted to partner after only six years. Chas Cardall says that “John saw the entire playing field” right from the start. Those of us who worked closely with John marveled at his complete command of the politics, policy goals, personalities and business realities of every client and every deal. He was an outstanding technical lawyer who saw the law as an arsenal of tools to be combined and pulled apart to solve any problem. He was also the consummate trusted advisor: his clients were his friends and they turned to him for advice because they knew he was brilliant, caring, and unfailingly inquisitive. John built a large and highly successful local government practice centered around the Bay Area. When redevelopment agencies were eliminated and “land secured” financings dried up after the 2008 financial crisis, he promptly built an equally successful municipal restructuring practice, guiding the cities of Vallejo and Stockton through bankruptcy together with his friend and partner Marc Levinson. John was the quickest thinker around and there seemed to be nothing he couldn’t do.
John was the driving force behind the David Jewell award. He, David and Al Sawyers, among others, were on the Peer Review Committee (or possibly the Annual Committee – someone may need to correct the record here) at the time David died. John had the idea for an award in David's honor, which everyone on the committee heartily supported, and he was also the one who carried it from an idea to reality, including noting what the award honored. John was also a pioneer in remote working, practicing from Guanajuato, Mexico and Whidbey Island, Washington, long before anyone had heard of Zoom.
No one who knew John could fail to mention his love of fishing and music. One of his lasting legacies, the Statewide Community Infrastructure Program, was dreamed up on a fishing trip in Baja California. John played piano beautifully, effortlessly and without any expectation of praise or even an audience. Wherever there was a piano, he would just sit down and play and sooner or later, people would gather around and before you knew it, it was a hootenanny. Devin Brennan recalls one such instance:
“One of my fondest memories with John was standing around him at the piano at the Wheeling PFD retreat, with eight or nine other people, while he played and we (led by our brand new associate at the time, Steffi Chan!) sang tunes. He was so good, and we were having so much rollicking fun together, that a singer from a local blues band, who if memory serves was a bridesmaid in a wedding party at the same hotel, left her party and came over and started singing with Steffi while John played. It was pure magic.”
We all loved John, were blessed and made better for having known him, and will miss him terribly.