Bar Soap

There are so many things to talk about in our local legal community, I am developing a case of mental paralysis. Things come up and I make a mental note to mention it in a Bar Soap. Then when it comes time to actually put pen to paper I freeze up. (Well okay, fingers to a key board). Did I remember everything? Is there room in the column to even mention what I did remember? So, I have taken to putting thoughts on a list each time I think it might bear mentioning in a Bar Soap. Problem is, I have so many such lists. Anyway, here goes another Bar Soap column.

By way of history, and stop me if I already told you, some years ago Harvey Sohnen called to ask if I would be willing to author a column in our Bar magazine about local legal news. It was to be kind of a “Herb Caen” style column and titled “Bar Soap.” Harvey came up with the clever title. I thought about it for a moment or two, knowing I might have trouble putting my hands on the type of typewriter Herb always bragged about. However I did leap at the chance to give it a try, but confessed it would have to be done on a computer, not a typewriter. The column always gets a response, some good and some not so good. But I do enjoy it and should certainly get it done more than I do now. I am shooting for every other month.

As a practicing civil attorney (both a civil attorney AND I like to think a civil attorney) I always look closely at the annual judicial assignments in the Contra Costa Superior Courts. Our 2018 assignments came out recently and the civil bench remains relatively unchanged. Being a creature of habit I rather like that. I did note lots of changes in Criminal, Family law and some new categories. We have a Mental Health assignment, and a Specialty Courts assignment. My Deputy DA days are in the past, so I don’t have a feel for the changes in the criminal or specialty assignments, but I am very pleased with the move of Juvenile to the Walnut Creek Courthouse. That empty courthouse needed to be enlivened. There hasn’t been that much excitement in Walnut Creek since some disaffected fellow tried to burn that courthouse down. Recall he didn’t just pick on Walnut Creek. He also started a fire in the Martinez Courthouse and the Concord Courthouse. All in all, the courthouses got new coats of paint and some other upgrades, except of course the Concord Courthouse, which got bulldozed.

We have a couple of new judges. Time was I knew all the judges on our bench. Not anymore however. I will certainly make a point of saying hello when I get the chance. You should do the same. One of the benefits of being a member of the Robert G. McGrath American Inn of Court is meeting judges I would normally never appear before. Those who are not members of the Inn should certainly give it a thought. It is nice to meet our judges in an informal setting, unburdened by benches, bars and robes.

Speaking of the Robert G. McGrath Inn, we recently had the 20 year anniversary celebration of our Inn. It was a wonderful event and very well attended. Although many have contributed to the Inn over the years, we honored Justice James Marchiano and Judge John Minney as the individuals behind the push to start our local Inn, as well as Joyce Cram the original president. I was lucky enough to be the president of the Inn at our 10 year anniversary. That too was a fun celebration and we had Judge McGrath’s wife as our honored guest. Very hard to believe it has already been ten years since that last celebration. This time around Justice Marchiano gave a very nice history of the Inns in the United Sates and then our Inn in particular. He is a very good historian when it comes to our local legal community. Perhaps sometime he can write a history of our Inn for all to read.

Our local Bar Association works very hard to schedule events to bring us all together for a bit of fun and education. By the time you read this we will have had another of the very special MCLE Spectaculars. I know I have said it is the best attended legal event in the Bay Area, and well worth the time and relatively small expense. A great time to catch up with old friends, get those continuing legal education credits and actually learn something.

The 33rd Annual Dinner Meeting of The One Hundred Club of Contra Costa County took place this past November 9. The President of the club Dominique Yancey presided. Dominique is a Deputy District Attorney in Contra Costa County. The guest speaker was none other than our Presiding Judge the Honorable Jill Fannin. Judge Fannin gave us all an update (and perhaps a hopeful wish list) of the anticipated computer systems scheduled to come on line in the Superior Court in the next few years. I had no idea we are still using tin cans and string to communicate between the various departments.

Let’s move on to a bit about the actual practice of law. I keep mentioning my personal observations when I attend case management conferences in person throughout the state. Each county does it differently and it would be wonderful to see some uniformity. San Francisco only has appearances in very limited single assignment matters. Alameda County normally issues tentative rulings the day before a conference and in most cases, no appearance is required.  Here in Contra Costa we do have regular appearances and I rather like that. However, we need a code of conduct for those who use Court Call. Please limit comments to relevant issues. Please do not bring up discovery issues. We have a place for that and a nasty comment about discovery at the CMC is not the place for that fight. Brevity and civility should be the rule of the day. As I have always advised, if a comment will be neither helpful nor instructive, please don’t say it. Vitriol should be left to comments about your favorite sports team or perhaps your least favorite politician, and all outside the courtroom setting.

I recently attended mandatory fee arbitration training. I have been a regular State Bar Fee Arbitrator for going on 20 years and the Bar recommended its fee arbitrators attend class for an update. The course was held in the newly refurbished Old Solano County Courthouse. They did a wonderful job bringing the old place back to life. At any rate I will mention an issue which seems to come up in almost all the fee arbitrations I handle. That is Fee Agreements, or as I like to call them “Legal Services Agreements.” Please ensure you have an updated agreement. Research the law regularly so that your agreement complies with the newest regulations, and from my perspective be very careful with those “flat fee” non-refundable retainers.

Many people on the move. As I mentioned we have some new judges and more on the way. People on the move always makes for a positive story. We do have a new DA and congratulations to her. The Honorable Diana Becton was appointed by the Board of Supervisors to complete the term of our former DA. That of course promises an election soon. Deputy District Attorney Paul Graves has thrown his hat in the ring. We shall see who else plans a run for that coveted office.

Our long time firm partner Will Portello has taken a position as Director of Litigation Management at Bickmore Risk Services. No more form interrogatories for Will to ponder. He actually will manage litigation all over the state. Will is a brilliant lawyer and we will certainly miss him. We wish him the very best in his new endeavor. We have always maintained the name Guichard, Teng & Portello even with new partners. Now we must change that. I thought perhaps it would be easy, as another partner is Erika Portillo. I thought perhaps a magic marker to simply change the “e” in Will’s last name to an “I” in Erika’s last name, but that didn’t look so good. Our firm will now be Guichard, Teng, Portillo & Garrett. Chris Garrett has been elevated to partner. Congratulations Chris.

My friend and occasional legal adversary Zachary Smith has left the Farmer’s staff counsel office and taken a position at Freeman, Mathis & Gary LLP, in San Francisco. Congratulations Zach. And Irene Takahashi a former partner at Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith, recently joined ADR Services, Inc., as a panel mediator. I remember well, being mentored on trial issues when we were both Deputy DAs in the Contra Costa County DA’s Office. Congratulations Irene. And speaking of our DA’s office again, Steve Mowad recently left that office to become Chief Trial Counsel at The State Bar of California. Very nice move for Steve.

Finally I will end on the sad note of mentioning a couple of attorneys we lost this year. Michael C. Scranton, the founder of the Scranton Law Firm passed away this year. He was a giant in the civil trial world and his firm handled many of the cases I first saw when I went to work at Ropers Majeski Kohn Bentley Wagner & Kane. We also lost James Giller this past summer. Jim was a giant in the criminal defense filed. He was a real gentleman. At the time I was a member of the Contra Costa County DA’s Homicide team, I often crossed paths with Jim and other members of his law firm.

Please keep those cards and letters coming so that I can report on the comings and goings in our wonderful legal community.

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