Inside Guest Editor’s Column: April 2014


Joseph Morrill


Anne Freeman

It was with pleasure, though a bit of trepidation, that we undertook the honor of guest editing this issue of the Contra Costa Lawyer on “The Contra Costa Family.” This is the first time that this issue, traditionally covering only family law, was expanded to encompass other areas of law that overlap with family law, and undoubtedly affect our notion of “family” and families in Contra Costa County. We were thrilled with the interest and the outpouring of articles that were received for inclusion in this issue, introduced as follows:

Retired Commissioner Berkow’s article, “Family Means No One Gets Left Behind or Forgotten,” discusses the battles to modernize family rights and responsibilities, and the danger of these being lost without adequate funding for enforcement and to improve current resolution processes.

R. Ann Fallon, Esq., interviews Matt Taddei, a Life Insurance Expert, regarding the controversial recent appellate court decision, In re Marriage of Burwell (2013) 221 Cal. App. 4th 1. The interview discusses the problems that any expert faces in applying the Burwell rules.

Melinda Self, Esq., Supervising Attorney of the Contra Costa County Department of Child Support Services, writes regarding the recent successes of the department, including the Smith/Ostler Program commenced in May 2013. Since the inception of the program, DCSS has collected over $1.5 million in additional support for children and families.

Rhonda Barovsky, PsyD., explores the challenges faced by the family courts concerning the issue of undocumented domestic violence in evaluating custody arrangements. Her article discusses the phenomenon whereby two parents who have experienced Interpersonal Violence (IPV) in a marriage or non-marital relationship, are ordered by the Family Court to share a joint physical custody parenting plan after separation due to the absence of documentation of such abuse.

As a Professional Family Supervisor, Barbara Kelley discusses the children of families in transition and her suggestion to standardize the support that professional custody supervisors can provide to Family Court Services in the best interest of these children.

Retired Judge Cram’s article explores the inception and development of the Contra Costa County Elder Court. She examines the particularized need for such a court to serve elderly litigants, and how Contra Costa has made a concerted effort to promote justice for the elderly in a way that maximizes access to the system.

Michael LaMay discusses recent developments in legislation regarding undue influence, as well as a recent case interpreting undue influence. The article goes beyond mere statutory interpretation, explaining the purpose behind the recent changes to the statute, and analyzing undue influence in particular situations, such as between husband and wife.

Daniel Quane writes on the issues that parties face when pre-nuptial agreements are litigated in probate proceedings. This article investigates the interplay between issues of family law and probate law, discussing results arising both from the face of the pre-nuptial agreement, as well as probate remedies available in the event the pre-nuptial agreement fails.

Andrew Verriere’s article provides an overview of how plaintiffs can obtain writs of attachment in financial elder abuse cases. This remedy, which is usually only available in certain types of cases, is a valuable tool for plaintiffs pursuing claims of financial elder abuse. The article explains the purpose behind the inclusion of this pre-judgment remedy, and provides a step-by-step explanation of how to obtain and implement a writ of attachment.

Ryan Szczepanik’s article explores the difficulties practitioners will face when litigating issues involving financial abuse of a dependent adult. He discusses how the courts have attempted to define the relatively vague term of “dependent adult,” and provides guidance to practitioners in the area.

Finally, we look forward to reading the responses to the April Coffee Talk topic: “How does being a lawyer affect your family life?” In coming up with the topic at the editorial board meeting, we had a brief but lively discussion ourselves. Being a lawyer, and being a member of a family in any form, are two topics on which we all seem to have a great deal to say; the manner in which these are intertwined are no doubt deeply personal to each of us.

Anne Freeman is an attorney at Whiting, Fallon, Ross & Abel, LLP in Walnut Creek. Her practice focuses exclusively on all aspects of family law including divorce, legal separation, nullity, child custody, child/spousal/family support, complex asset division, pre- and post-marital agreements, and pre-divorce counseling and planning. For more information, visit Anne’s profile at, or contact Anne as

Joe Morrill is a partner at Morrill Law Firm. Located in Walnut Creek, Morrill Law Firm specializes in financial elder abuse litigation, probate litigation (will and trust disputes and conservatorship disputes), and appellate work. For more information, visit You can contact Joe at

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