Bar Soap – June 2016


Bar Soap: Judge Arnason Celebration Tops them All

Every time I report on an interesting local event, I keep thinking nothing can top it. Recall my mention of the MCLE Spectacular, the Annual Installation Luncheon, Contra Costa County Mock Trial Competition and other Bar Association events. Well, I do believe the Celebration to Honor the Life of the Honorable Richard E. Arnason topped them all. The ceremony took place in the Supervisors’ Chambers, with a reception afterwards at the Classic Courthouse. I must say it was a truly wonderful event. Unknown to many, Judge Arnason was a private man, and his funeral was a very private invitation-only ceremony. Because he was such a remarkable, respected and beloved man in our legal community many thought there should be a public ceremony to celebrate the life of Judge Arnason. Many thanks to all who worked so diligently to put the program together, particularly our Bar Association Executive Director Theresa Hurley.

The Judge Arnason program started out with an honor guard from the Martinez Police Department. The master of ceremonies was our presiding judge, The Honorable Steven K. Austin. Speakers included Judge Arnason’s long time court clerk Virginia Nelson, Public Defender Robin Lipetzky, District Attorney Mark Peterson, Attorney William Gagan, and the Honorable James J. Marchiano. Each one of the speakers had something interesting to say about Judge Arnason and his record-breaking term on the bench. Incredibly Judge Arnason spent just short of 50 years on our local bench. That is a record in the State of California. After he left the bench, Public Defender Robin Lipetzky found a spot for Judge Arnason to hang his hat at her offices in Martinez. I love that fact, as she obviously recognized Judge Arnason could not just hang it up, but needed a place to read his “advance sheets” and to continue his lifelong legal mentoring of attorneys.

The history of Judge Arnason’s life is one of the truly feel-good stories. He certainly will be missed.

As I often walk the halls of the Classic Courthouse, I note that civil jury trials are often taking place on the third floor. However, it seems harder and harder for me to get attorneys to report the results of those trials. Please do your best to let me know about civil jury verdicts. The Civil Jury Verdicts column is a very popular column in the Contra Costa Lawyer, but it doesn’t get written without reports from those involved.

Not sure if many of you know of the delightful work done by Justice James Marchiano in writing “Bray Building Stories” and “More Stories from the A.F. Bray Courts Building”. Get your hands on them if you can. Let me know if you would like me to help.

Last time I reported on the Contra Costa County Mock Trial Competition. We now have the results of this year’s competition. Miramonte High School came in first, followed by Acalanes, Heritage and California, as the top four schools. Keep an eye out next year and be sure to volunteer some time on that program. Contact John Lance at the Contra Costa Office of Education for information on volunteering.

Interesting legal issues arise with “self-driving cars.” The Yolo County California Inn of Court put on a very informative and thought-provoking program involving self-driving cars. A video of that program has been sent to the National Inns and it is available in the national program data bank. One of my partners Will Portello is in that Yolo County Inn. A few interesting points: (1) Is someone a DUI driver if the sole occupant of a self-driving car? (2) Does one need a driver’s license to occupy a self-driving car? (3) Can someone who is disabled be the lone occupant of a self-driving car? And what if that occupant is blind? (4) Does the accident avoidance program for a self-driving car choose between running into a child in a cross walk, or swerving into the oncoming lane of traffic to avoid a collision with the pedestrian? There are lots and lots of questions and legal issues. Sounds like we need an article on the topic. Who wants to volunteer?

I do recall I asked those of you who have been designated as “super lawyers” this year to let me know. Do not just limit it to “super lawyers.” Brag a little and let me know if you have achieved any other honors. I am very happy to mention such honors in the column.

I often receive confidential requests regarding the evaluation of persons applying for superior court judge positions. It’s nice to see friends and colleagues applying for positions as judges in the California Superior Courts. Keep an eye out for bar association programs for attorneys contemplating applying for positions on the bench. I see our own bar association is putting on such an event in May.

Although he was not an attorney, Dr. Mario M. Menesini was a very active member of our Contra Costa community for many years. The Central Contra Costa Sanitary District recently dedicated its environmental laboratory in Pacheco in honor of Dr. Menesini. He was way out front on issues related to the environment and assisted in the drafting of legislation to protect our environment. The lab is named the Dr. Mario M. Menesini Environmental Laboratory. Dr. Menesini passed away on April 28, 2013.

I know I mentioned in the last column that Patricia Kelly moved her office to Walnut Creek — just did not have the address. I do now have that address. Pat’s new address is Law Offices of Patricia M. Kelly, 700 Ygnacio Valley Road, Suite 300, Walnut Creek 94596.

On a funny note, I reported in my last column that Harvey Sohnen had retired. Harvey reported to me he felt a bit like Mark Twain reading his own obituary. In fact, Harvey has not retired. He is still working away in the same place in Orinda. Sorry Harvey.

It’s nice to see the Honorable William Kolin, Ret., has landed at Alternative Resolution Centers.

My friend Andy Port reported that Emard Danoff Port Tamulski & Walovich LLP has closed, and the members have joined Sedgwick LLP as part of Sedgwick’s admiralty practice.

And now my all-too-frequent report on attorneys who have passed away recently. Charles E. Townsend of Orinda passed away on April 5, 2016. You might recognize the name, as he was a founding member along with his older brother of the powerhouse firm of Townsend & Townsend.

Alvin Buchignani of Moraga passed away on March 11, 2016. He practiced law for 55 years, right up until the day he died.

William H. Plageman, Jr., of Oakland passed away on April 1, 2016. Bill graduated from Boalt Hall in 1968 and worked for years as a partner at Thelen, Marrin, Johnson, and Bridges, and ultimately Plageman, Lund & Cannon.

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


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