Chris Garrett – New Associate Attorney

We are pleased to announce we have hired Christopher Garrett as an Associate Attorney with our firm. A graduate of Columbia Law School New York, Chris did his undergraduate work at Willamette University, Oregon. Chris brings a wealth of litigation experience to the firm.

Amazed and gratified to see all the legal community volunteers who assisted in the 31st Annual Contra Costa County High School Mock Trial. Many of our local Judges and Commissioners, our District Attorney, many Deputy DA’s and Deputy Public Defenders, and enumerable private practice lawyers, provided assistance. I was thoroughly impressed with the performance of the High School participants.

Matt Guichard spent last Friday, March 9th, at his High School, St. Joseph Notre Dame in Alameda. The occasion was the annual Career Day for class juniors. He gave a talk on his International legal experience in Salzburg, Austria and Odense, Denmark. He then spoke of his time as a deputy DA in Contra Costa County. After that he discussed his experience at Ropers Majeski in San Francisco and as Managing Director of their Sacramento Office. And finally his adventure for the past 15 years or so at Guichard, Teng & Portello. What a fun day it was! Lots of students are interested in the law. Matt’s talk was very well received by the students and he looks forward to participating again next year.

A long-awaited change in immigration law for U.S. citizens married to undocumented immigrants is on its way. On January 6, 2012, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced on the Federal Register its plan to reduce the time that U.S. citizens are separated from their spouses and children while those family members go through the process of becoming legal residents.

Currently, undocumented spouses and sons and daughters of U.S. citizens who have accrued a certain period of unlawful presence in the United States and have to leave the country as part of the legal immigration process, are barred from returning to their U.S. families for as long as 3 or 10 years. However, they can receive a waiver to allow them to return to their families by showing that their U.S. citizen family member would face extreme hardship as a result of the separation. Unfortunately, the time for adjudication of the waiver can take up to two years. Meanwhile, U.S. citizen relatives are left in the United States with the full responsibility for their households, usually without the support of their spouses. Because of the inability to cover all expenses, they are often forced to have two jobs or even to ask for public assistance, affecting the economy as a whole.

Also, most of the waivers are filed in Ciudad Juarez on the U.S.-Mexico border, an extremely dangerous city where more than one applicant has been murdered or seriously harmed.

Under the proposed change, individuals will be able to apply for a waiver within the U.S. Once adjudicated, as part of the process they will have to leave for a visa interview at a consulate abroad. However, the time spent outside the U.S. will be less, as they will have a pre-approved waiver that will allow them to return to the U.S. much faster. While there are questions that remain as to some of the details of the process, hopefully these questions will be answered before the new rule is implemented.

The change has been applauded by many, including this author. Although this issue represents a small portion of the myriad problems arrising from the broken immigration system, this solution presents a significant, positive change in process for many individuals. This new change will definitely reduce the stress that many families are now forced to go through while trying to secure their relative’s lawful status in the United States.

There is great hope these changes will lead to a much-needed immigration reform. While many are concerned with legalizing “criminal behavior”, most undocumented immigrants do not have any criminal records. The only criminal act the party has committed is entering and remaining in the U.S. unlawfully. While that should not be condoned, punishing families with irrational laws that promote fear and discrimination, and create a further strain on the public fisc, provides no relief. Instead, a well thought-out law should be implemented to benefit not only the undocumented immigrants but the economy as well.

Goodness! After years of begging for jury verdicts for my column, I have finally found out how to get people’s attention: Report that someone has moved and taken a new job. I think the strategy will be to say: “John Doe has just joined a new firm and has been nominated for ABODA, so if you want me to talk about you, send a jury verdict”.

I am certain that will work. I cannot tell you the number of calls and messages I have recently received, complaining that I didn’t post some announcement in Bar Soap. I am thinking of telling my partners I have no time to contribute to firm business, as I must run down rumors of law firm changes in our local legal community. I am sure they will understand. (I am smiling as I write this, you know.)

Scott Jenny goes to trial a lot, and he always reports his verdicts. So Scott, I wasn’t talking about you. Scott of Jenny, Jenny & Jenny LLP, Martinez, California tried a case in Sacramento County Superior Court. Case No. 34200900066316, The Honorable Robert C. Hight presided at trial. County Counsel Keith Floyd represented the Sacramento Area Flood Control District SAFCA. Scott represented Patricia Hewitt, who owned 33 acres on the Garden Highway. On that property was an equestrian facility and her home. Ms. Hewitt is an author, a retired lawyer, a lobbyist, a teacher and a horse trainer. The SAFCA took Ms. Hewitt’s property and offered her $1,100,000. The property had been appraised at $2,500,000. The jury awarded Ms. Hewitt $2,500,000. Fancy that!

On another Scott Jenny note, he was named as a Super Lawyer this year in eminent domain. Congratulations, Scott! Well deserved. And speaking of the devil, Matt Guichard made it again this year. But not in eminent domain.

Very, very happy to see The Governor appointed Terri Mockler to our Superior Court. Congratulations, Judge Mockler! She is already a member of the Robert G. McGrath American Inn of Court, so we can safely draft her to head a pupilage group when we have a judge opening. Certainly, that must have been her motivation in applying for a judgeship.

Speaking of local Judges, Judge Harlan Grossman and Judge Peter Berger retired. Makes me feel a bit odd, as Harlan was on my hiring panel when I applied for a job in the District Attorney’s Office, and Peter and I opposed each other in cases while he was a Public Defender. No, I am not retiring anytime soon. Remember, I have a ten-year-old and a nine-year-old. I am retiring from coaching their baseball teams this year however. Does that count?

I was sad to hear that Judge Arnason was stepping down after 49 incredible years of service. Certainly no one can ever fill that role in our legal community. He mentored lawyers, fellow judges and staff in such a professional, kind and thoughtful manner. I recall well his statement to those he had just sentenced. Remember, he said “Bye, Bye”? It was always meant as a good-will gesture. It was always taken as a good-will gesture, too. When I was the Calendar Deputy in Department 2, he advised me to be kind to those from whom I took pleas. They were after all going off to State Prison.

Speaking of judges, The Honorable Diana Becton is to receive the California Women Lawyers’ 2012 Rose Bird Memorial Award. That is wonderful news and a very nice honor. I am told a reception is planned for March 23.

Robert Field, formerly of Field, Richardson & Wilhelmy, has announced his retirement after 51 years of law practice. Wow! Quite an accomplishment!

Kristen Thall Peters was elected as the managing partner of the Walnut Creek Office of Cooper White & Cooper. In that role she will also be on the firm’s managing committee. Congratulations, Kristen!

It has been a while, so where to start?

How about a solution for the Occupy Movement? Lots of vacant office space in the East Bay due to law firm break-ups. Simply move the folks in and voilá! In fact, 1331 N. California Boulevard in Walnut Creek is particularly in need of some occupation.

The positive news is the announcement of new firms in our midst. It is always cause for celebration when lawyers get together to form a new venture among themselves. Remember the excitement and anticipation?

George Cabot, formerly of Morgan Miller Blair (MMB) formed a new boutique firm entitled PremierCounsel, LLP. Greg Allio and Steve Gasser have joined George as partners. The principal office will be in San Francisco, with an “Auxiliary” office in Lafayette. The new firm will focus on corporate, securities, taxation and M&A transactions.

Another important MMB spin-off is Brown, Church & Gee LLP, with offices in Walnut Creek and San Jose. Managing Partner Mike Brown, Terry Church, Audrey Gee and Katherine Wenger make up that new firm. I am told there will be another member soon. So, stay tuned.

Another new firm has started in our legal community, and it is not a MMB spin-off. Steele George Schofield & Ramos, LLP. Geoffrey Steele, Virginia George, Kathryn Schofield and Alan Ramos make up that new marriage, with a wide-ranging practice.

Joshua Cohen, formerly of (you guessed it) MMB has joined Wendel, Rosen, Black & Dean LLP. Pattie Curtin and Todd Williams also joined that firm a few months ago. They too were former MMB partners.

Hey, I am not picking on MMB. Law firms, like big families, beget other firms and sometimes simply pass away. That is how life works. It is a real testament to that firm to see so many accomplished lawyers landing on their feet.

My good friend and former Roper’s colleague Paul Herbert has joined Robert J. Frassetto to form Frassetto & Herbert LLP. Their new office is located in Oakland. Paul also spent some time working for our own Justice Mark Simons at the California Court of Appeal in San Francisco. By the way, anyone notice all those new firms are LLPs? I better call Mark Ericsson about that. Our firm is an APC. Button shoes perhaps?

Speaking of Mark Ericsson, he has been named a JFK Alumni of the Year, and a Super Lawyer. Congratulations Mark!

Speaking of awards, The Honorable Maria P. Rivera has earned the 2011 Aranda Access to Justice Award. The Aranda Award honors a trial judge or Appellate justice whose activities demonstrate a long term commitment to improving access to justice. Hard to believe she has been gone from our local bench and on the State Court of Appeal for almost ten years. Where do those years go?

I even saw my own name come up in a Daily Journal profile of Justice Robert Dossee. He is now with JAMS, and, it seems. I said some nice things about him. All true, I might add.

So, a number of you have asked, ‘Whatever happened to Civil Jury Verdicts?’ Well, glad you asked. Simply read on. Just forgive me if some of the reports didn’t actually involve a jury. But at this point, beggars can’t be choosers.

Scott Jenny reported Napa County Flood Control and Water Conservation District v. Lewis Steven Case. (Yes, Case, not case.) The Napa County Superior Court Case No. 26-50766 was tried before the Honorable Francisca Tisher. Scott Jenny and Richard Jenny of Martinez represented the property owner Defendant Case. Ethan Friedman of Walnut Creek represented the District. The one week jury trial involved the partial taking of the property owner’s residential property. The District valued the property at $215,802. The appraiser for Mr. Case valued the property at $533,000. The jury award was $476,586. Case offered to settle before trial for $410,000.

Neil McGowan v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., et al was tried in Alameda County Superior Court. Case No. RG07-360427 was tried before the Honorable Ronni B. MacLaren. Glenn H. Wechsler of Walnut Creek represented Defendant. Donald Drummond of San Francisco represented the Plaintiffs. In a complicated matter involving a landslide on Plaintiff’s property, delinquent property taxes, loan defaults et al, the Plaintiffs demanded well into six figures before trial. The Court trial involved Plaintiffs’ request for declaratory relief in the First cause of Action. The Court ruled in favor of defendant. The Tentative Decision was something like sixteen pages long. Of course, they don’t pay me by the word, so I have abbreviated the report.

Robert Mitchell of Spellman & Mitchell, Walnut Creek, reported a Family Law case in which his client prevailed and the attorney’s fees awarded to his client was $116,506.95, which may be one of the bigger fee awards in our County in a dissolution action. But, I will leave it to Bob to tell you all the details. Give him a call if you like. It sounds like a very impressive award.

Keep those cards and letters coming, and please write to me about those civil verdicts/settlements of any kind:

Feeling a bit confused and confounded with this new column? So, let’s see: It’s a bit gossip, some facts about people on the move, some jury verdicts, some court verdicts, some interesting settlements and perhaps some not so interesting comments from me. Do I have that right? And when I have enough jury verdict reports, I will get one of those columns to you.

Not sure if you saw the mention in our local newspaper of two local Bar Association members; Nadia Costa and Joshua Safran. Though the Habeas Project, they took on representation of a wrongfully incarcerated women. Their work, documented in the film “Crime After Crime”, was presented at the San Francisco International Film Festival.

Happy to see another one of our own, Mark Ericsson was named a Super Lawyer. For those of you who have been nominated as a Super Lawyer in your field, please let me know. It is a very nice honor and I am always happy to mention it. Congratulations, Mark! And now that we mentioned Mark and his firm Youngman & Ericsson, Chastity A. Schults has become a partner at that firm. Congratulations, Chastity!

Speaking of people on the move, Hallert & Hallert have relocated to 1331 North California Boulevard, Suite 200, in Walnut Creek. Lots of moves in the works. Wonder if it has anything to do with the commercial real estate market?

Steve Hallert reported that, during the move, he discovered some old fee schedules for filings in both Alameda County and Contra Costa County Courts. I plan to look at them and write about them in my next column. Sounds like the equivalent of 25 cent gas and 15 cents for a loaf of bread. The schedules are at the Bar Association – Ask to see them the next time you are there for a visit.

News of those striking out on their own include Dirk Manoukian. Dirk started his own shop and will be practicing out of the same space he has been in for some time. Pamela Marraccini has started her own practice. She has moved into the same space occupied by some other guy named Marraccini. Craig Nevin has opened the Law Office of Craig S. Nevin. He too has relocated to 1331 N. California Boulevard, Suite 200, in Walnut Creek. William Diffenderfer has relocated his practice to 2415 San Ramon Valley Boulevard, Suite 4337, in San Ramon.

Paul Mulligan, a senior inspector in the District Attorney’s Office and a licensed California Lawyer has been named Chief of Inspectors in the Contra Costa District Attorney’s Office. Now we just have to get him to join our local Bar Association. Speaking of the District Attorney’s Office, Lisa Reep, Erika Portillo and I (Matt Guichard)recently made a presentation at Mark Peterson’s invitation to the attorneys in that office to join the organization. I have heard there have been a number of applications.

Although we are on our summer break from the Robert G. McGrath American Inn of Court, the new membership year starts in September. Get those applications in to the Inn. Again, several members of the District Attorney’s Office have requested applications. The DA’s office is, after all, the largest group of lawyers in our County, and we need to get Deputy District Attorneys into all our local legal organizations.

Jay Chafetz reported he obtained a verdict in a Contra Costa County Superior Court (Yea, a local verdict actually reported to me!). Pryor vs. Saadzoi, Case No C10-00387, was heard before the Honorable Judith Craddick in Department 9. Jay represented the Plaintiff and Christopher Patton of Oakland represented the Defendant. The matter involved a motor vehicle accident. Negligence was admitted. Causation and damages were contested as the Plaintiff waited three and a half months before seeking treatment, and he then went for extensive chiropractic treatment and some pain management. The last defense offer was $2500. Plaintiff served a CCP 998 offer to settle in the amount of $35,000. The verdict was $40,000.

Joe Morrill of Danville reported on his verdict in Contra Costa Court. The case was entitled “In the Matter of The Lawton Trust, dated August 25, 1989.” The Honorable Joyce Cram presided. Case no.MSP09-00397. Plaintiff’s attorney was William Salzwedel of Thousand Oaks. Defense attorneys were Joseph Morrill, and Thomas R. Hayes of Monterey Park.

The matter was filed in Los Angeles County, but transferred by motion to Contra Costa County. In a nutshell the case involved the attempt by a daughter to invalidate an amendment to her mother’s trust which disinherited the daughter on the grounds of undue influence and fraud/deceit. Respondents contended the mother had the requisite testamentary capacity at all relevant times, the 2006 amendment was not the product of undue influence, and the respondent did not breach any duties owed.

After the evidence was submitted, the Court found the daughter failed to meet her burden of proof on any of her claims against the respondents. Respondents were awarded costs.

Speaking of failing to meet a burden; please give the editors of the Contra Costa Lawyer a break. The “Coffee Talk” topics are meant to be provocative and to elict responses on all sides of an issue. Am I in trouble for that comment?

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