Bar Soap: February 2015


It does seem quite a while since I penned a Bar Soap column for the Contra Costa Lawyer. Perhaps so, but here goes the latest … and actually, I did not “pen” this article. My kids give me a hard enough time with my electronic skills or lack thereof, so I want to make it clear: I use a computer.

I am a bit annoyed with a recent interview concerning a Coroner’s Inquest. In fact so annoyed, I penned a separate article (okay, I didn’t actually pen), on just the topic of Coroner’s Inquests.

As a longtime Coroner’s Inquest Hearing Officer, I do not normally give interviews concerning specific Inquests, and in fact when you read about a Coroner’s Inquest in the Contra Costa Times, the hearing officer’s name is never mentioned. And that is as it should be. So look for my separate article coming soon, and you will learn all about Coroner’s Inquests in Contra Costa County.

I recently went to trial in Contra Costa County. That is unusual for several reasons. The first of which is that although I am a Contra Costa lawyer, most of my cases are tried in other venues. Another reason is that not many civil cases actually get to verdict. You will have to read about the results in my latest “Civil Jury Verdicts” column.

The salient point being: Most often when a case goes to trial, one side or the other miscalculated. Very few cases in my view offer such novel issues that a jury must decide. Perhaps that is the reason so few civil cases go to verdict as compared to days gone by. The reasons are many, but suffice it to say, most lawyers have gotten that message.

The year 2015 greets us with a number of changes in our Contra Costa Superior Court Civil Bench. That is not to say that our judges who do criminal matters, probate matters, family law matters, juvenile matters, et al., are not civil. I am talking about the departments we at one time called “Fast Track” departments. Anyone wanting to use that term should sit in for a few trial setting conferences. Trials are regularly being set in the fall of 2016. Yes, 2016, not 2015.

But, I digress. Judge Jill Fannin is taking over the civil calendar from Judge Laurel Brady. So, we will once again have a Fannin in a civil trial department in Contra Costa. I only hope her taste in neck ties is different than her father’s. Rick Flier can weigh in on this issue if he likes.

Judge Barry Goode is headed back to the complex litigation department and Judge Judy Craddick is moving over the hallway to take over Judge Austin’s department, while Judge George Spanos remains in place in department 34 on the third floor.

Speaking of civil matters, I do have to chuckle once again at the whole Court Call “experiment.” So, why do some lawyers talk way too much, and a number not enough, when on Court Call? Often is heard the words by the court: “Hello, are you still there?”

The mind boggles at what may be going on behind the scenes. More often the responses are long, tedious and without a muzzle. I suppose if lawyers are in their kitchens, in their pajamas, with the news blasting in the background, they think they can talk on Court Call as if they are in their kitchens, in their pajamas, with the news blasting in the background. A little hint to all: State your appearance, say only what is needed to let the court know you have that new CMC date, then shut up.

Sadly, it seems I never fail to have to mention the passing of members of our local legal community. Some have thanked me for being the local legal obituary column. I don’t really mean to be that, but I do feel the need to mention the passings. I read about the death of Seymour Rose. Seymour was a real character for many years in our community. A UC Berkeley grad and a Boalt Hall grad, Seymour was admitted to the State Bar in 1955. How many of you can say you were even alive in the ‘50s?

Dean West Wright was also a UC Berkeley grad and a Boalt Hall grad. While he spent much of his legal career in an Oakland office, we certainly saw him in our local courts. Dean spent 55 years in the practice of law, and finally retired in 2004. That is a long time.

Although not lawyers, we lost several members of our local police department over the past few months. Fortunately, not in the actual line of duty. I worked very closely with Dan Lynch and Carlos Rose when I was a deputy district attorney. Dan was a Martinez police officer and most recently an inspector with the Contra Costa District Attorney’s Office. Carlos was longtime Concord police officer. Both left us too soon.

Now onto more pleasant news of “People on the Move.” Sitting in one of our civil courtrooms recently I saw Jay Chafetz seated nearby, but not suited up in his usual attorney appearance attire. Turns out, Jay is now a research attorney with our Superior Court. In chatting I learned he was one of eight such research attorneys. Congratulations, Jay. Looks like no more client meetings and certainly no more monthly pre-bills. Oh the thought of it! I wonder if they have any openings?

Ralph Zappala is now at Busby & Zappala in Lafayette. Shortens up that commute, I bet. Ralph was a longtimer at Lewis Brisbois in the city. Congratulations, Ralph, on your new firm.

Read in the SF Business Times, my former colleague at Ropers Majeski, Jim Lassart, is now a shareholder at Murphy Pearson. He came over to Murphy Pearson a while back as Senior Trial Counsel. Saw that Dennis Strazulo and Maurice Fitzgerald have also made moves. Dennis and Maurice were also at Ropers when I was in the city. Maurice is now at the Cartright firm in San Francisco. And Dennis is the California managing partner of a big Atlanta firm. Sounds very nice for both of them. I should mention that the Bus Times also mentioned the addition of three new lawyers at Ropers Majeski.

Remember last time I asked for local lawyers to let me know if they had achieved “Super Lawyers” status? I heard from Ross Pytlik who was designated a “Rising Star” by Super Lawyers. Congratulations, Ross. The only other person I heard from was me.

After the death of our good friend Mark Ericsson, I wondered what would happen at his firm. Well, wonder no more. Not letting any moss grow under his feet, Walt Youngman has hired Jean Claude Mallein Jr., and Tara Shine, as attorneys at the firm.

I saw a recent announcement that Mike Brown and Audrey Gee had celebrated two years at their firm Brown Church & Gee. Two years? It seems they just started that firm last week. Congratulations to them on the two-year anniversary.

Time to go. I am sure there is more to talk about. Keep those cards and letters coming or email me at


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