Bar Soap – March 2017

As I mentioned in my last Bar Soap, the Contra Costa High School Mock Trial Competition was on the horizon. It has now taken place and it was the usual tremendous success. Miramonte High School was the winner this year. That makes two years in a row for Miramonte. I served as judge two nights during the preliminary rounds. I never cease to be impressed by the skill and enthusiasm of all the participants who appeared before me. Another shout out needs to go to all the volunteer judges. Many of our sitting judges volunteer their time, as well as many of our local attorneys. Additionally many of our local judges and attorneys spend months with the high school students, mentoring them as they prepare for the competition. Thanks to all for making it an incredible experience.

Let’s chat now about the concept of “flouting the law.” By that I mean the issue of so many drivers obviously operating motor vehicles while using their mobile devices in obvious view of anyone who cares to look. People ask me, “Isn’t there a law against that?” In fact there is. With that recurring question in mind I asked a CHP officer and several local police agency officers if their respective agencies were writing tickets for mobile telephone use while driving, as well as texting and driving. I was told by all that indeed they are writing scores of tickets. However, the problem is so big they cannot possibly cite everyone, even when they see the violations. Otherwise, that is all they would be writing. I then contacted a traffic court commissioner and inquired if those types of cases are arriving in traffic court with any frequency. I was advised that at least 25 cases per day come before one traffic court on that very issue. So folks, it is not that the police are not writing tickets. It is also not that the cases are not getting to court. It is simply that the people are flouting the law. As an aside, I recently asked a local police officer if her municipality benefited financially by writing more traffic tickets. Her answer surprised me. Most of the revenue goes to the State of California, not to the local municipality.

Inn of Court

It’s time to mention once again our wonderful Robert G. McGrath American Inn of Court. Hard to believe we are coming up on 20 years of its existence. Goodness, I was president of the Inn in 2006 and 2007. We had our 10 year anniversary celebration back then and we presented an award to Judge McGrath’s wife. Wonder what the Inn has planned for the 20 year anniversary? If you are not a member, please get an application. There is a waiting list. It is a very fine organization and you will not be disappointed at any meeting with the presentations and the dinner following the presentation. This year our Inn president is Dean Barbieri. Great name for a law school dean I’m thinking!

On the Move

As for people on the move, we know that Dean Barbieri moved into the Inn of Court president’s spot. So who else is on the move? I see that Ken McCormick has hung out his own shingle. He now has a new position at McCormick Law Firm. Rob Robards has a new position at the Law Offices of Robards & Stearns. Rob was my new associate way back when I opened the new Sacramento office of Ropers, Majeski, Kohn, Bentley, Wagner & Kane. And speaking of Ropers Majeski, our new Bar President Philip Andersen and I were colleagues at that firm in the 90’s. 1990’s that is, not 1890’s. And I guess, speaking of me, I was just elected to the board of the Walnut Chamber of Commerce. And I am now a proud member of the Mt. Diablo Beekeepers Association and I just got my Ham radio license. My wife asked, so where do you think you can find the time for all that plus everything else? We shall see. The honey is awfully good I must say.

The 100 Club of Contra Costa County is dedicated to provide immediate financial and moral support to the surviving spouse and minor children of peace officers and firefighters who have died while in the line of duty in the county; to assist with the continuing educational needs of the children; and to provide ongoing emotional support to the family. The current president of that wonderful organization is Dominique Yancey, an attorney in the District Attorney’s Office.

For those of you who missed it, Jill Fannin is our new Presiding Judge. Not sure if congratulations or condolences are in order. It is a two-year term and as for all those budget issues we hear about with the courts: they are in her lap now. I will however offer congratulations. For my practice in the Civil Courts in Martinez, the only change we will see is Judge Austin back in place in Judge Fannin’s spot on the civil bench. Anyone notice that spring in his step now that he is not the PJ? Lots of other changes, but you can look them up on your own. We have seen the retirement of Judge Maddock, and the rumors that a couple of other judges will soon be out the door. If you have your judicial application on file, there might be a chance for you to get a spot. By the way, how many of you have downloaded a judicial application? I think there is even a question about your mother’s mother’s next door neighbor’s nickname. It cannot be completed in a weekend is all I am saying.

In Memoriam

Every Bar Soap comes with the mention of the passing of local attorneys and luminaries. This one is no different. Wayne V.R. Smith passed on January 12 of this year. He was a wonderful person and practiced right up until the time of his death. He practiced law in Northern California for 45 years. Wayne was a University of Texas at Austin Law School alum. He died unexpectedly of a heart attack.

Henry O. Noffsinger of Martinez passed in November of last year. He graduated from San Francisco Law School and practiced until his retirement in 2004.

Lee Bardellini of Hoge Fenton recently passed. A very nice man and a very well respected Bay Area attorney, Lee graduated from Hastings School of Law.

Although not a lawyer, but a friend and former Fire Chief of the Consolidated Fire District, William Maxfield died on January 8 of this year. After retirement he did not let any grass grow under his feet. He started a company called 9-1-1 Consulting and among other things, was instrumental in getting a number of fire safety regulations enacted into law.

Another Issue

An issue worth mentioning to practicing attorneys is the withdrawal from representation of a client due to non-payment of fees. That is a sticky issue and all too often a problem in our industry. The point which needs to be made is that at all times one must be aware of confidential client information. That means one must never state in a declaration in support of withdrawal that the withdrawal is because the client is not paying. I just saw such a declaration in a case. It obviously puts a client in a disadvantage in relation to the “other side.” Initially one should advise a conflict has arisen such that withdrawal is required. If necessary at some point an offer of an in camera discussion with the judge may be offered. One can certainly see that an opponent knowing a client cannot pay his counsel gains a distinct advantage.

Keep your eyes and ears open for a Civil Jury Verdicts column to follow. I even have a jury verdict of my own to report. And continue to keep those cards and letters coming.

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