Bar Soap: April 2016

Bar Soap - a column by Matt Guichard

Bar Soap – a column by Matt Guichard

As I recall, I have regularly mentioned the Contra Costa County Bar Association’s MCLE Spectacular as the social and legally substantive event of the year. It is a “Do Not Miss it Event.” Now I have rediscovered another: the CCCBA Annual Officer Installation Luncheon.

I must confess, I have missed going the past few years. I did not make that mistake this year. It is truly an important and extremely valuable event. Elva Harding is our new President, and her remarks, as well as the remarks of our outgoing President Nick Casper, were worth the price of admission on their own.

Our Presiding Judge Steve Austin gave a very informative “State of the Court” chat, then we were treated to a presentation by Elizabeth Parker, Executive Director of the State Bar. And finally, a presentation by Jessica Therkelsen. It was also a nice time to chat up with friends. All in all, a very important event for all local attorneys. Do not miss it next year!

Another important event in the county is the annual Contra Costa County High School Mock Trials competition. The annual event is put on by the Contra Costa County Office of Education. Many of our local Superior Court judges and attorneys were privileged to participate as judges and/or attorney scorers. The event occurs over several weeks, culminating in a county winner. That winning team then goes on to the state competition.

If you have an opportunity, please volunteer next year. The performances of the various high school students are truly amazing. I promise you will be impressed with the skill of the students. This year, the case was a criminal case. The mock trial itself is a court trial, with a pre-trial motion, then presentation of the case by teams of prosecuting students and defending students. Another not to be missed event.

Although I did not get enough reports to prepare a Civil Jury Verdicts column this month, I do want to mention one significant trial reported by Bob Slattery of the McNamara firm. The case is entitled Kuhlmann/Perkins vs. Johnson & Johnson et al, Alameda County Superior Court Case No. RG13675753. The actual parties were the listed plaintiffs and defendants Ethicon Endosurgery, LLC., Johnson & Johnson Healthcare Systems, Inc. and Rakhee N. Shah, M.D.

The Honorable Ioana Petrou presided. Plaintiffs were represented by Richard Alexander, Nina Shapirshteyn and Annie Wu. Genese Dopson and Jae Lee from Wilson Elser represented Ethicon Endosurgery and Johnson & Johnson. Bob Slattery and Peter Sekelick represented Dr. Rakhee N. Shah.

The case involved a claim of medical malpractice and products liability against a surgeon and the manufacturer and seller of a surgical device. Apparently, during surgery the medical device failed, resulting in permanent injury to the plaintiff and resulting damages claimed by her husband. Incidentally, the surgical device was recalled seven months after the surgery. After a seven-week trial, the jury found Dr. Shah was not medically negligent. Congratulations to Bob Slattery for that result.

No settlement demand had been made to the doctor and no settlement offer was made on behalf of the doctor. The plaintiffs did make a CCP 998 offer to settle to the corporate defendants in the amount of $3.5 million. No offer was made by those corporate defendants. The jury awarded $9.8 million against the corporate defendants in compensatory damages, and $70 million in punitive damages against the manufacturer of the product. Ouch!

I know there are a number of trials going out in Contra Costa, so once again, please report those verdicts to me. I cannot report your interesting verdicts if you do not let me know.

Here is a topic I have mentioned before: Court Call appearances. It is most amusing, but also embarrassing, to sit in court waiting for a case to be called and being forced to listen to attorneys appear on Court Call and drone on about issues unrelated to their cases. A little tip for those attorneys: Keep it short and sweet. Respond to the judge’s questions directly. Do not fight about discovery at a Case Management Conference (CMC). And remember, everyone in the courtroom can hear you. Think about that.

I know how we can fix the whole CMC issue. Do as Alameda County does and issue tentative CMC rulings on the day before the CMC. In most cases, there is no requirement to actually appear, but rather the court sets trial dates, mediation completion dates or whatever is necessary and all without having to hear some attorney on Court Call eat his Cheerios and wax eloquent about how smart he is.

While I am on a roll, I want to mention again the issue of the use of “myself.” I hear it every day in court and it’s starting to drive me mad. Our language really allows us to use “I” and “me,” as perfectly understood words. Do not say “Counsel and myself will complete mediation by June 3.” “Counsel and I” is what you should use. Don’t say that he sent the discovery to “myself.” Say to “me.”

Okay, forgive me, but I must mention one more pet peeve. That is uncivil attorneys, otherwise known as jerks. You do not have to be a jerk to practice law. In fact, in most cases, it actually hurts your clients. Remember, it is not about you, it is about your client. You can be firm and you must be professional, but please, being a jerk is not helpful to anyone. One of the goals of the Inns of Court is to mentor and encourage civility in the practice of law. Two tips on that note: Join an Inn of Court and take a breath before hitting that send key.

Every Bar Soap column has reports on people on the move. I find it fun and satisfying to report on most moves. It’s particularly satisfying to hear of attorneys leaving firms to try it on their own. Start your own firm and learn about bills, collections and problem clients. And on that note, Patricia Kelly has moved into solo practice, I am told. On the move to the bench is Hon. David E. Goldstein. Congratulations, David. He has moved from the Contra Costa County Public Defender’s Office.

Jennifer Sommer has taken up residence in the San Francisco office of Gilbert, Kelly, Crowley & Jennett, LLP. Craig S. Nevin has joined Youngman Ericsson Scott, LLP, as Senior Counsel. Josh Genser is now General Counsel at Overaa Construction. Genser & Watkins continues, and has moved its offices from Richmond to Walnut Creek. Congratulations in their new endeavors to all who have made moves.

I suppose a Bar Soap column would not be complete without the mention of the loss of one or more attorneys. W. David Walker passed away in December 2015. The majority of his legal career was spent at Craddick, Candland & Conti. He practiced law for almost 40 years.

Keep me posted on your moves, interesting verdicts, interesting settlements or just local gossip. Email me at mguichard@gtplawyers.com.

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  1. Theresa Hurley says:

    Matt,
    Thanks so much for your plug for the MCLE Spectacular and the Annual Officer Installation Luncheon. This year’s Spectacular will be held on Friday, November 18th – keep your eyes out for the brochure in September.

    A huge thank you to all the attorneys who volunteered for this year’s Mock Trial competition. The students work so hard to prepare for this event and it couldn’t happen without your participation.