Paul Lipman likes to hike on weekends when he is not defending corporate clients against catastrophic claims and class action suits. “It recharges me and lets me think. And because I have a longstanding interest in science, and a degree in physical geography and ecosystems, I keep my eye on the landscape. I often spot fossils, and over the years I’ve made a weekend hobby of researching geologic maps and technical articles online, and hiking in the known invertebrate fossil localities of the Los Angeles and Ventura County areas.” Most of these localities are discreetly registered with universities and museums to prevent spoiling, but with enough research and comparison of topological geological maps (which do not have handy reference points like streets), they can be reverse-engineered and found. “It is always exciting to find something that is millions of years old, even if the species and the general location are already known to science”.
But In 2014, Mr. Lipman saw something very unusual, something not known to science: Scattered complete specimens of ornately knobbed and whorled fossilized seashells, on a hillside that had its top layer stripped away by bulldozers working on a new housing development in Simi Valley. Mr. Lipman immediately sent photos from his cell phone to the world’s leading authority on the Eocene fossil record of the west coast of North America, Professor Richard Squires, who is also a key researcher for the Natural History Museum Of Los Angeles County. Prof. Squires promptly responded that the fossils were early Paleocene – 62 million years old, as determined by the overlap in the pictured fossils’ known dates of existence. This was confirmed by him to be a new locality not previously known. Further, he advised that early Paleocene invertebrate localities were rare on the west coast. The matter was urgent, due to construction.
Mr. Lipman contacted the developer and told them of the rarity and importance of the find, forwarding (with his permission) Prof. Squires’ prior emails attesting to the new locality’s scientific importance and the urgency of preserving the fossils before they were built over. Mr. Lipman obtained from the City the Environmental Impact Report filed in 2007 by the paleontological and archaeological impact monitoring company hired by the developer to make sure the area was not scientifically sensitive, which report however missed the fossils, probably because they were still buried. Shown all this, the developer very kindly granted permission to collect, and Mr. Lipman carefully collected and donated to the Museum an enormous amount of material. The area was not built on but was fenced off from the public and remains fenced off. In 2017, a presentation by Paul Lipman was made at USC in connection with the Museum at the 50th Annual Malacology Convention, including a slide show of the fossils found there. The authors were Squires, Lipman and Torrey Nyborg (whose picture was on the front page of the L.A. Times last year in connection with dinosaur discoveries). Mr. Lipman was the speaker, and his son Jacob, who had helped collect the fossils, ran the Power Point.
A new species was among the fossils found and presented, officially recognized, identified and described by Professor Squires. He named it for Mr. Lipman, “ Ravniella lipmanorum “ (the last part of a species’ two-part name is not capitalized). This little guy packed a punch: He was a carnivorous sea snail who invaded the shells or burrows of bigger animals, killed them and ate them.
Remarkably, it turns out to be the only known species of that genus in all of North America. Its nearest relations lived in Poland. This find sheds new light on how life forms made their way from the old world here along the so-called Tethyan currents, at a time when the continents and waters were configured a bit differently.
“I was well prepared to work with both the developer and the City in an effective way because of both my science and legal background” Mr. Lipman recounts.
This week, the discoveries are formally released in the journal The Nautilus in a technical article authored by Professor Squires and Mr. Lipman. Wesierski & Zurek LLP is on the front page as the address of record for Mr. Lipman, for researchers needing to contact him. Thus, Wesierski & Zurek LLP will be in the major universities and libraries of the world, in perpetuity. The fossils have been rescued for future generations from the bulldozer and obscurity, and research on them is already bringing new knowledge of our past to light. Wesierski & Zurek LLP continues leading the way in the courtroom, in science and in the community!