John is a litigator focusing on business disputes, with an emphasis on fiduciary duty, contract, commercial torts, trade secret, trademark, and copyright matters. John has successfully prosecuted and defended actions to final judgment on behalf of both public and private entities, as well as individuals. While the goal is often to achieve resolution prior to litigation, John has extensive experience in state and federal court and in alternative dispute resolution.  He has prevailed to verdict on bet-the-company cases in both court and arbitration.  John has also prevailed on multiple post-award appeals. John’s efforts have resulted in his clients affirmatively recovering tens of millions of dollars and incalculable savings in defense.    

John’s unique skill is his ability to reduce complicated matters into clear and concise presentations for both opposing counsel and, if needed, the judge and jury. While no two cases are alike, there are efficient principles that can be applied to every case to identify the core issues that control the decision-making process. Understanding the push-pull, and not simply working up the case, has led to great results in both high-profile matters and small stakes disputes. The majority of John’s business comes from referrals from past clients and opposing counsel who have appreciated his work and approach.   

John received his bachelor’s degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and his juris doctor from the University of San Diego School of Law. John is active in the local San Diego community and takes pride in giving back to the community both through his legal representation and charitable efforts. He lives in the San Diego neighborhood of South Park with his wife, Charlene, and their two children, where he enjoys the local beer and avidly supports the Padres from near and the Tar Heels from afar.  


  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (B.A., 2005; Biology, Political Science)
  • University of San Diego School of Law (J.D., 2009)
    • Managing Editor of the San Diego Journal of Climate & Energy Law


  • Downtown San Diego Partnership
    • Downtown Planning and Public Policy Committee
  • San Diego County Bar Association
  • State Bar of California
  • State Bar of North Carolina

awards & recognition

  • Super Lawyer, 2019-2023, Super Lawyers
  • San Diego Rising Stars 2016-2018, Super Lawyers
  • Best of the Bar 2015 & 2017, San Diego Business Journal

community service

  • Board of Directors, Bosh Bosh, Inc., 2015-2017
  • Board of Directors, Compassion It, 2014-2016

Related News


We are delighted to announce the elevation of John Schena and Kristen Bush to named partners, marking a significant milestone for the firm. Effective February 1, 2024, the firm proudly embraces its new identity as Schwartz Semerdjian Cauley Schena & Bush (SSCSB). Additionally, we are pleased to recognize the outstanding accomplishment of attorney Mark Bale, who is being elevated to partner.

These advancements underscore our commitment to nurturing and promoting exceptional talent within our ranks. Managing Partner Ross Schwartz expressed his enthusiasm, stating, “John, Kristen and Mark have grown with our firm over the years and we are thrilled to see them assuming new leadership roles to help take the firm to a new generation in the San Diego community.”

John Schena is a seasoned trial attorney with an emphasis on commercial litigation, including fiduciary duty, trade secret, and employment matters.  John has significant arbitration and trial experience, including first-chairing three jury trials over the last year.  He is dedicated the communities in San Diego and Baja and provides expertise to local non-profits. 

Kristen Bush is an accomplished business litigator, dedicated to representing individuals and businesses in a diverse spectrum of legal challenges, including contract disputes, professional liability matters, construction-related issues, and various other facets of business torts. Her expertise has garnered recognition at a national level, exemplified by her exclusive selection for the American Bar Association's Tort Trial & Insurance Practice Leadership Academy, an honor that only 25 attorneys nationwide receive.

Mark Bale has over twenty-five years of experience litigating civil matters with an emphasis on business, commercial, real estate, construction, liability defense, and lender/creditor issues.  He regularly represents clients in complex disputes in state, federal and bankruptcy courts throughout California.

Founding Partner Dick Semerdjian expressed his confidence in the newly appointed leaders, stating, “John, Kristen and Mark have built tremendous rapport with our clients and the San Diego community over the years, and we look forward to seeing them flourish in their new leadership roles.”

Congratulations, John, Kristen and Mark!


Congratulations to firm partner John Schena for recently completing a five-week jury trial resulting in a zero damages award! John defended clients who were accused of fraud in a real estate deal that occurred over a decade ago. The firm took on the case after almost seven years of litigation on the eve of trial and with unforgiving rulings from a prior trial between the parties that were read to the jury. The jury trial was John’s third in the last year. If you have any questions about trial practice, please feel free to reach out to Dick Semerdjian or John Schena.


We are proud to announce three of our attorneys have been selected as top outstanding lawyers in San Diego County by Super Lawyers!

  • Partner Dick Semerdjian named a 2023 San Diego Super Lawyer in the area of Business Litigation for the sixteenth straight year.
  • Partner Sarah Evans named a 2023 San Diego Super Lawyer in the area of Employment & Labor.
  • Partner John Schena named a 2023 San Diego Super Lawyer in the area of Business Litigation for the fifth straight year.

The San Diego Super Lawyers selection process involves a multi-phase selection process which includes nominations, independent third-party research, peer evaluations and final selection.

Congratulations, Dick, Sarah and John!


Congratulations to firm partner John Schena for prevailing after a five-week jury trial in Orange County Superior Court - Complex Division. The jury awarded John’s client $700,000 for breach of fiduciary duty related to usurpation of corporate opportunities. In doing so, the jury rejected the former director’s defenses including good faith, ratification, consent and his request for indemnification. This jury trial was the first in the department since COVID-19, and the firm client is extremely happy to have this victory in its column. 

If you have questions regarding fiduciary matters, please contact firm partners John Schena or Dick Semerdjian.


John Schena recently achieved an extremely favorable confidential settlement in favor of a plaintiff alleging pregnancy discrimination and wrongful termination by her former employer. The SSCE client settled for a confidential sum in the high six figures (representing nearly nine years of salary) on the eve of trial after not being offered anything during the prior two years of litigation. 

John’s work over the past two years has resulted in over $6 million in awards and settlements to former employees who have been discriminated against as a result of a legally protected characteristic, blown the whistle on their employer’s illegal activity, or had their equity interest improperly revoked. If you would like to discuss employment litigation, please contact firm partners Sarah Evans or John Schena


After four years of hard-fought litigation, a Schwartz Semerdjian client recently prevailed on a motion for summary judgment in the Complex Division of Orange County Superior Court. Firm partner John Schena represented a tech company CEO accused of breaching his fiduciary duties by the company's founder. Along the way, SSCE prevailed on an anti-SLAPP motion and numerous discovery motions resulting in tens of thousands of dollars of interim awards of attorneys’ fees and rarely awarded issue sanctions. John’s work ultimately led the Court to issue a ruling that there were no material factual disputes that could permit a jury to hear the allegations and dismissed our client from the case. If you would like to discuss breach of fiduciary duty matters, anti-SLAPP motions, or discovery sanctions please contact firm partners Dick Semerdjian or John Schena


Congratulations to John Schena who recently prevailed at arbitration representing a corporate client that was accused of breach of contract by a Fortune 500 company.  John was able to show the claimant had not established that it had performed its contractual obligations such that it could pursue damages. Additionally, John was able to prove that the liquidated damage clause in the contract was an unenforceable penalty under California law. The win is a huge victory for our client who avoided multiple years of penalties and damages that were being sought and can now return its focus on work instead of litigation. 


Our firm is honored to be working as outside counsel with the office of San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliott. This week, Elliott along with attorneys Dick Semerdjian and John Schena, took legal action to void the city’s lease-to-own agreements for the 101 Ash Street and Civic Center Plaza buildings and recoup more than $44 million from the sellers. The lawsuit also seeks monetary and punitive damages from a local commercial real estate broker, as well as a judicial declaration that the contracts are void and the city is entitled to reimbursement of $24 million paid in rent for 101 Ash Street and $20 million paid in rent for Civic Center Plaza. Click here for City Attorney Mara Elliott's recent press release regarding this case. 


John Schena recently prevailed at arbitration in a matter where a minority shareholder demanded millions of dollars and involuntary dissolution of a company with nearly $50 million in annual revenue. John represented the company and was able to prove the majority shareholder did not breach his fiduciary obligations, distributions of retained earnings to the shareholders were not necessary, and that the minority shareholder had unclean hands that prevented him from properly seeking relief. Thanks to John’s efforts in litigation and Ross Schwartz’s efforts in advising the company, our client is able to keep more than 40 people employed. Kudos to John and Ross!


Congratulations to John Schena and Kristen Bush who recently prevailed at arbitration defending a claim brought by a business broker against a local business who refused to succumb to pressure and sell its assets at a reduced price. John and Kristen were able to prove that the brokerage firm breached its fiduciary obligations and as such no damages were awarded. Instead, the broker was ordered to pay the client's attorney's fees expended in having to defend the litigation. We are thrilled to have complete defense on the books. Well done, John and Kristen!


We are thrilled to count another victory for our client - an individual terminated from his position and accused of breaching his fiduciary duties and misappropriation trade secrets. SSCE maintained he was wrongfully terminated to avoid paying contractual severance, and attorneys Ross Schwartz and John Schena aggressively litigated the client's claims. They successfully transferred the action from Nevada to California and pursued novel legal theories until the matter resolved in our client's favor for more than $4.5 million in a non-confidential settlement. Congratulations to our team for another job well done advocating for a client!


Schwartz Semerdjian partners Dick Semerdjian and John Schena have been named 2019 San Diego Super Lawyers, both in the practice area of Business Litigation. John was previously named a Rising Star by Super Lawyers for 2016-2018. This is the 13th straight year that Dick has been recognized by Super Lawyers.

Each year, Super Lawyers recognizes the top lawyers in San Diego via a patented multi-phase selection process involving peer nomination, independent research and peer evaluation. The San Diego lawyers who receive the highest point totals during this selection process are further recognized in San Diego Super Lawyers Top Lists.

SSCM is proud to have two partners named to the 2019 Super Lawyers list. Congratulations, John and Dick!


Schwartz Semerdjian Cauley & Moot is pleased to announce that it has acquired Small & Schena LLP, and that attorneys William F. Small and John A. Schena will be joining the firm as partners effective January 2, 2019.  With a focus on business litigation, employment law, intellectual property and related practice areas, Small and Schena will add nearly two decades of combined litigation experience in state and federal courts throughout California to Schwartz Semerdjian’s extensive roster of expertise. 

“We couldn’t be more excited about Will and John joining our firm,” said Managing Partner Ross Schwartz.  “John actually started his career with our firm in 2009 as a law clerk. When he left to join Will in 2014, we continued to work with both of them and are thrilled that things have come full circle and they are joining Schwartz Semerdjian.  They are both exceptional attorneys and great people, and will make a welcome addition to our team.”

Schwartz Semerdjian will continue its extensive practice in civil trial and appellate practice in state and federal courts, with an emphasis in business and commercial litigation, employment litigation and labor counseling, construction litigation, personal injury, wrongful death, product liability, officers and directors liability, professional liability, insurance defense, intellectual property, including trademark and copyright, and unfair competition litigation.

William F. Small - Prior to joining Schwartz Semerdjian, William Small was a partner in his own law practice, Small & Schena LLP, and before that served as senior counsel at the San Diego office of Gordon & Rees.  His practice focuses on business and employment litigation as well as professional liability and defamation litigation.  William also advises clients on legal issues ranging from contracts to compliance with employment laws - with the goal of avoiding litigation.   

William is active in the San Diego legal community, serving as Chair of the San Diego County Bar Association's Civil Litigation Executive Committee in 2016 and 2017.  Some of his recent accolades include being named a San Diego County Top Attorney in Corporate Litigation in 2015 by the San Diego Daily Transcript, Best of the Bar in 2015 and 2016 by the San Diego Business Journaland a Rising Star in 2017 by Super Lawyers.

William obtained his Bachelors from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and graduated from the University of North Carolina School of Law.  He and his family reside in the Point Loma neighborhood of San Diego.

John A. Schena - John Schena founded Small & Schena LLP with William Small in 2014.  John is a litigator focusing on the resolution of business disputes, with an emphasis on fiduciary duty, contract, privacy law, commercial torts, trade secret, trademark, and copyright matters.  He has successfully prosecuted and defended actions to final judgment on behalf of both public and private entities, as well as individuals, throughout California.  He has extensive experience with bench and jury trials, as well as arbitration and administrative law proceedings.

John has dedicated pro bono hours to the formation and assistance of many local nonprofits, including sitting on the board of directors of CompassionIt and Bosh Bosh.  A frequent contributor to Trial Bar News, the monthly periodical of the Consumer Attorneys of San Diego, John has written articles regarding identification of misappropriated trade secrets in litigation, managing the costs of discovery, the scope of the attorney-client privilege, and effective summary judgment practice.  Some of his recent accolades include being named a Rising Star in 2016, 2017, and 2018 by Super Lawyers, being recognized as a Super Lawyer in 2019, and being named to the Best of the Bar 2015 and 2017 by the San Diego Business Journal.

John obtained his Bachelors from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and graduated from the University of San Diego School of Law.  He, his fiancé, and sonlive in the San Diego neighborhood of South Park.

About Schwartz Semerdjian

Schwartz Semerdjian specializes in business counseling and transactional services in corporate and entity formation, real estate, business sales and acquisitions, employment, landlord/tenant, commercial, licensor/licensee, and probate, trusts and estate planning.