Public Law

Past Honorees of the Public Lawyer of the Year

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2023 Public Lawyer of the Year: Judy Hartley

This year, Public Law has selected Retired Chief Counsel, Judy Hartley as the recipient of the PLOY Award.

Judy Hartley worked to protect the public from financial fraud and abuse for over three decades through her service with the Enforcement Division of the California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation. During her career, Ms. Hartley was instrumental in requiring predatory finance lenders and mortgagers to refund millions of dollars to Californians and in protecting the deposits of those vulnerable when financial institutions failed, among other accomplishments.  In addition to serving the public, she has also notably and generously served as an invaluable mentor to other public law attorneys, providing guidance and feedback even while balancing the many responsibilities and demands of the highest-ranking attorney in the Department.

Ms. Hartley’s dedication to public service, admirable work ethic, and commitment to supportive and effective leadership is a true example to us all. We are honored to recognize her as the Public Law Attorney of the Year. 

2022 Public Lawyer of the Year: Dean Erwin Chemerinsky
Erwin Chemerinsky

Erwin Chemerinsky became the 13th Dean of Berkeley Law on July 1, 2017, when he joined the faculty as the Jesse H. Choper Distinguished Professor of Law.

Prior to assuming this position, from 2008-2017, he was the founding Dean and Distinguished Professor of Law, and Raymond Pryke Professor of First Amendment Law, at the University of California, Irvine School of Law.  Before that, he was the Alston and Bird Professor of Law and Political Science at Duke University from 2004-2008, and from 1983-2004 was a professor at the University of Southern California Law School, including as the Sydney M. Irmas Professor of Public Interest Law, Legal Ethics, and Political Science. From 1980-1983, he was an assistant professor at DePaul College of Law.

He is the author of fourteen books, including leading casebooks and treatises about constitutional law, criminal procedure, and federal jurisdiction.  His most recent books are Presumed Guilty:  How the Supreme Court Empowered the Police and Subverted Civil Rights (Norton 2021), and The Religion Clauses:  The Case for Separating Church and State (with Howard Gillman) (Oxford University Press 2020).

2021 Public Lawyer of the Year: Jodi Cleesattle 
Jodi Cleesattle

The Public Law Section of the California Lawyers Association honors Jodi Cleesattle as the 2021 Ronald M. George Public Lawyer of the Year.

Cleesattle embodies the traits that the California Lawyer’s Association honors with the Ronald M. George Award. Retired Chief Justice Ronald M. George was honored in recognition of his distinguished career dedicated to serving the public and longtime support of the Public Law Section. Similarly, Cleesattle has dedicated the last fifteen years of her career to the public not only as a Deputy Attorney General, but also as an active volunteer in the community.  She demonstrates a passion for helping the under-represented, personally and professionally, in her community and has dedicated herself to public service through her many volunteer activities, going far above and beyond the ordinary.

Beginning her legal career in private practice, Cleesattle left partnership at a Washington, D.C.-based firm to join the California Attorney General’s Office in 2007. She has worked in the Employment and Administrative Mandate Section of the Attorney General’s Office ever since with innovative problem-solving skills to correct deficiencies in public law. She represents state agencies in employment litigation and administrative law cases, and conducts investigations, including Title IX investigations for California’s state universities. As an advisor to state agencies, Cleesattle has counseled on employment issues and on the implementation of diversity and inclusion initiatives.

Since December 2020, in addition to her regular employment law caseload and supervising duties, Cleesattle has been assisting the DOJ’s Government Law Section in litigating challenges to the state’s COVID-19 public health orders. She has represented the Governor, the Attorney General, public health officials and other public officials as well as state agencies in lawsuits brought by restaurants, bars, hair salons, gyms and other businesses asserting constitutional challenges to the public health orders that temporarily closed or limited their operations. She has worked tirelessly beyond her normal work hours to respond to emergency motions for temporary restraining orders and preliminary injunctions. She has helped compel businesses to stop violating public health orders – in one case, obtaining compliance from a basketball gym that had hosted a youth tournament that resulted in at least 94 COVID-19 cases. Not only did Cleesattle take on these important challenges, but she volunteered because the Government Law Section was overwhelmed by the number of cases being filed and needed assistance from attorneys who could pivot quickly to help address these novel legal issues.

As an active member of the legal community, Cleesattle’s commitment to improving the lives of Californians extends beyond her employment.  Jodi has held leadership roles in various state and local bar associations.  She currently serves on the boards of California Women Lawyers and of the Tom Homann LGBTQ+ Law Association (THLA), and she previously served on the boards of the San Diego County Bar Association and Lawyers Club of San Diego, a bar association dedicated to the advancement of women.  She is a past co-chair of the State Bar’s Council of State Bar Sections (the predecessor to the California Lawyers Association board of trustees) and a past chair of the Public Law Section.  During her tenure as chair of the Public Law Section, Cleesattle led the planning of the section’s first annual Public Records and Open Meetings Conference.  As the organizer and moderator of the 2021 THLA program, “Beyond Defund the Police: A Vision for Policing in San Diego,” she provided in-depth analysis of police practices. The program brought together public officials, community leaders, activists, and law enforcement to discuss the current relationship between law enforcement and the community, particularly with diverse and queer communities. The discussion also included proposed reforms in San Diego and the ideal vision of policing in San Diego neighborhoods.

Cleesattle gives tirelessly to the community in other ways as well.  She participates in programs for incarcerated women sponsored by the National Association of Women Judges (NAWJ), cooks meals once a month for a local homeless shelter, and serves as the President of the Juvenile Court Book Club, a public benefit non-profit organization that operates innovative literacy programs inside San Diego’s youth detention facilities. She also participates in the Color of Justice and MentorJet programs, providing advice and mentoring to local high school students.

2020 Public Lawyer of the Year: Mara W. Elliott

Mara W. Elliott, San Diego City Attorney, has been named the 2020 Ronald M. George Public Lawyer of the Year by the California Lawyers Association’s Public Law Section.

The Public Lawyer of the Year Award recognizes Elliott as an exceptional attorney who has demonstrated a commitment to public service throughout her career.

The selection of Mara W. Elliott as the 2020 Public Lawyer of the Year continues the tradition of selecting a public attorney who constantly goes above and beyond providing mere legal advice to her clients. “Her distinguished career demonstrates a commitment to safeguarding taxpayer dollars and protecting the rights and safety of Californians,” said Alex Calero, chair of the Public Law Section.  “Elliott is recognized as a national leader in preventing gun violence, a fierce champion for consumers, workers and the environment, and a staunch protector of victims of domestic violence and sex trafficking.”

Elliott has prioritized consumer and environmental protection and created the Affirmative Civil Enforcement (ACE) Unit that takes on major corporate offenders: Experian for violating San Diegans’ privacy, Purdue Pharma for knowingly addicting vulnerable San Diegans to opioids, and Instacart for exploiting workers. Mara has prosecuted poachers and polluters who flout California’s environmental laws and protected endangered elephants by prosecuting traffickers in the biggest ivory bust in California history. 

“As City Attorney, Mara relaunched the San Diego Family Justice Center to bolster support for victims of domestic violence and expand its services to victims of sex trafficking.  Every year, the SDFJC offers hundreds of families free legal advice, medical exams, counseling and other support services in a safe and private safety,” said Heather Finlay, Chief Executive Officer of the YWCA of San Diego County. “Additionally, Mara created San Diego’s pioneering Gun Violence Restraining Order program to stop shootings by keeping dangerous people from having guns. Through Mara’s leadership, courts have removed over 500 firearms, including 40 assault weapons, from people who posed a threat to themselves and others.”  Since creating the program, the City Attorney’s Office has conducted or participated in nearly 30 formal trainings throughout the state, training more than 400 law enforcement agencies and governments, including college and unified school district police, mental health providers and non-government organizations on the Gun Violence Restraining Order program. 

Rafael J. Hurtado, President of the San Diego La Raza Lawyers’ Association, commends Elliott for having taken concrete steps to uphold the values of inclusion, diversity and equal opportunity.  “Mara is the first woman, the first Latina, and the first mom to hold the office of San Diego City Attorney”, said Lorena Gonzalez, Assemblywoman, 80th District.  “Mara is an inspiring example to others who want to serve, uplift and truly empower their communities, particularly by pursuing a career in public law.”

The daughter of a longshoreman father and immigrant mother, Elliott was the first in her family to graduate college, attending University of California at Santa Barbara and McGeorge School of Law.  Always dedicated to public service, Elliott served as legal counsel to public schools, the transit district, and the County of San Diego. Elliott served as a Chief Deputy City Attorney before winning election in 2016.  Mara is past president of the City Attorneys Association of San Diego County and currently serves as board president of the San Diego Law Library, an organization focused on ensuring access to justice.   

2019 Public Lawyer of the Year: John E. Brown

John E. Brown, partner at Best Best & Krieger LLP, has been named the 2019 Ronald M. George Public Lawyer of the Year by the California Lawyers Association’s Public Law Section.

The Public Lawyer of the Year Award recognizes Brown as an exceptional attorney who has demonstrated a commitment to public service throughout his career.

“The selection of John E. Brown as the 2019 Public Lawyer of the Year continues the tradition of selecting a public attorney who constantly goes above and beyond providing mere legal advice to his clients. His long career demonstrates a commitment to providing advice to public entities on a broad range of legal issues while striving for innovative solutions to the ever-growing complex problems facing public entities today,” said Bernadette Curry, chair of the Public Law Section. ”

Brown has spent his entire legal career — more than 40 years — representing public agencies as an attorney at BB&K. He landed his first city attorney position with Desert Hot Springs in 1976 and served in that capacity for a decade. He served as city attorney to nearly two dozen municipalities, including Ontario for 22 years and Lafayette, San Jacinto, Perris, La Habra Heights and Apple Valley.“John quickly became an integral member of the management team and a stabilizing force, working with the mayor and a council committed to changing the culture and becoming a model of good governance,” said Gregory Devereaux, managing partner at Worthington Partners and the former city manager of Ontario. “He utilized an approach to public service based on implementing the Council’s goals and direction whenever both a legal and ethical way forward could be found. This was coupled with the courage to stand firm on principle, no matter the level of discomfort or the cost, if it could not.”

Brown also represented numerous redevelopment agencies, assisted school districts with design-build projects and served as bond counsel and special district counsel. Brown has served as general counsel to the Elsinore Valley Municipal Water District for more than 40 years, and also the Hi-Desert Water District, the March Joint Powers Authority and the March Inland Port Airport Authority.

At BB&K, Brown emerged quickly as a leader. He helped the firm develop emerging practice areas to better serve public law clients and served as the firm’s Municipal and Redevelopment Law Practice Group leader for 12 years and on its Executive Committee. From the beginning, Brown was a leader in firm efforts to diversity, ensuring the firm mirrored the diversity of its public law clients.

“Long before law firms and companies began touting their commitment to hiring a diverse work force, John was actively involved in recruiting and mentoring lawyers of diverse backgrounds at Best Best & Krieger,” said Partner Sonia Carvalho. “John’s efforts have resulted in numerous attorneys now providing subject-matter expertise to city councils, boards, staff and to the communities they serve.”

Brown’s public service includes a variety of community organizations and nonprofits. He chaired Riverside’s first Homeless Advisory Commission and authored and presented that Committee’s continuum of care recommendations to address homelessness. His nonprofit board service includes the Mission Inn Foundation, the Sam and Alfreda Maloof Foundation for Arts and Crafts, Evergreen Memorial Historic Cemetery and the California Historical Society.

His work on the Homeless Advisory Commission is his “most significant contribution” to the community, according to Ronald Loveridge, director of the Inland Center for Sustainable Development and a former Riverside mayor and president of both the League of California Cities and the National League of Cities. Loveridge appointed Brown as chair of the Commission’s Task Force and the report Brown wrote became the basis for actions that started and enhanced homelessness services. “If cities are compared on what they do for the homeless, Riverside is certainly at or near the front of cities across California,” Loveridge said. “The reason is the 2001 Task Force report chaired by John Brown.”

Brown received his undergraduate degree from Claremont McKenna College, a master’s in Urban Studies from Occidental College and his law degree from the University of California, Berkeley.

2018 Public Lawyer of the Year: Bruce Reed Goodmiller

Bruce Reed Goodmiller, City Attorney for the City of Richmond, has been named the 2018 Ronald M. George Public Lawyer of the Year by the California Lawyers Association’s Public Law Section.

Mr. Goodmiller will be honored at a reception on September 14th during the California Lawyers Association Conference in San Diego. The Public Lawyer of the Year Award recognizes Mr. Goodmiller as an exceptional attorney who has demonstrated a commitment to public service throughout his career.

“The selection of Bruce Goodmiller as the 2018 Public Lawyer of the Year continues the rich tradition of honoring lawyers who have dedicated their careers to providing sound advice to public sector clients on a broad range of legal issues, bringing strong leadership skills and the highest degree of ethical standards, both personally and professionally.” said Ryan Baron, Chair of the Public Law Section. “He has successfully blended his passion for the law and public service and embodies the ultimate public servant dedicated to improving the community that he serves.”

Goodmiller began his career as an attorney in 1985 and has been employed by the City of Richmond since 2009, first serving as a Senior Assistant City Attorney before appointment to serve as City Attorney by the City Council in 2012. In his current role, Bruce has guided the City of Richmond through many significant and cutting-edge legal issues including the settlement of major litigation regarding the use of land at the Point Molate, as well as settlement of litigation with Chevron over the 2012 Richmond refinery fire. He also advised the City with regards to the permitting for a major refinery modernization project, which also resulted in a Community Investment Agreement with Chevron Corporation that provides a complex package of community benefits.

“While Bruce is a zealous advocate on behalf of Richmond, I have always found that his dealings with opposing counsel and third parties are both professional and collegial. He never lets his role as advocate interfere with his inherent personal decency. In that regard, as in many others, he is a role model for other public agency attorneys to emulate,” said former Richmond City Attorney Randy Riddle.

Before his term in Richmond, Mr. Goodmiller was a partner at Morrison & Foerster, where he was the Co-Chair of the Local Government and Land Use team. There, he regularly worked with local government agencies on land use matters. Before joining Morrison and Foerster, Mr. Goodmiller spent 10 years in the City of Vallejo’s City Attorney’s Office, where he rose to the position of Assistant City Attorney. While there, Mr. Goodmiller helped lead the City through the closure and early transfer of Mare Island Naval Shipyard.

Mr. Goodmiller received his undergraduate degree from University of California, Berkeley and his Juris Doctor from John F. Kennedy School of Law where he graduated 1st in his class. He is a member of the California Lawyers Association (Public and Environmental Law sections) and past recipient of the Wiley Manual State Bar Award for pro bono service on behalf of low income clients and the Contra Costa County Homeless Continuum of Care Board’s “People Who Care” Award.

2017 Public Lawyer of the Year: Michael J. Mais

Michael J. Mais, Assistant City Attorney for the City of Long Beach, has been named the 2017 Ronald M. George Public Lawyer of the Year by the California State Bar’s Public Law Section.

On August 18, 2017, Mr. Mais will be honored at a public reception during the State Bar’s Section Convention in San Diego. The Public Lawyer of the Year Award recognizes Mr. Mais as an exceptional attorney who has dedicated the past 32 years to public service.

“The selection of Michael Mais as the 2017 Public Lawyer of the Year embodies the ideal public lawyer as one who has dedicated a career to providing advice to his clients on a broad range of legal issues while maintaining his ethics and his sense of humor.” said John Appelbaum, Chair of the Public Law Section. “From the seaport to the City’s airport and everything in between, Mike’s career reflects the diversity of legal challenges facing a public lawyer and has successfully relied upon that experience to serve as a mentor and role model to younger attorneys new to the field of public law.”

Mr. Mais began his career in the Long Beach City Prosecutor’s office as an attorney in 1979 and has been employed by the Long Beach City Attorney’s office since 1985, where he has served as Assistant City Attorney since 2003. In his current capacity, Mr. Mais oversees all four departments in the Long Beach City Attorney’s office which includes: Litigation, Departmental Counsel, Workers’ Compensation and Harbor and is well-known for his sound and practical advice to all of his clients.

“Mike has more than exemplified the quintessential city attorney by going above and beyond to serve not only the City of Long Beach but by acting as a role model for others as to what a city attorney should be. His longevity with the city demonstrates his extraordinary commitment to both the practice of law and the City of Long Beach,” said Long Beach City Attorney Charles Parkin.

Mr. Mais received his undergraduate degree from University of California, San Diego and his Juris Doctor from University of San Diego. He is a member of the California State Bar Association (Public and Environmental Law sections) and the Long Beach Bar Association as well as Past President of the City Attorneys Association of Los Angeles County (CAALAC). In his spare time, he finds time to work with local youth as a mock trial coach and serves on the Board of Directors for Young Horizons, a nonprofit organization working to provide affordable child care for low income families in the Long Beach area.

2016 Public Lawyer of the Year: Sylvia Torres-Guillén

Sylvia Torres-Guillén, Special Counsel to the Office of the Governor, was named the 2016 Ronald M. George Public Lawyer of the Year by the California State Bar’s Public Law Section. Torres-Guillén was honored at a reception in September during the State Bar’s Annual Meeting in San Diego. The Public Lawyer of the Year Award recognizes Torres-Guillén as an exceptional attorney who has dedicated a significant portion of her career to public service.

“Sylvia Torres-Guillén is an exemplary public lawyer and wholly deserving of this award,” said Elizabeth G. Pianca, chair of the Public Law Section. “Throughout her career, Ms. Torres-Guillén has served the public, both as a lawyer and educator, mentoring young lawyers for careers in public service. From her early days of coaching criminal defense attorneys in trial techniques to her dedication to the protection of farm worker rights, Ms. Torres-Guillén embodies the mission of the Public Law section of the State Bar. The Executive Committee is proud to honor her with the 2016 Public Lawyer of the Year Award.”

2015 Public Lawyer of the Year: Barbara J. Parker

Oakland City Attorney Barbara J. Parker was named the 2015 Ronald M. George Public Lawyer of the Year by the State Bar of California’s Public Law Section.

Parker was honored at a reception in September during the State Bar’s Annual Meeting in Anaheim. The Public Lawyer of the Year Award recognizes Parker as an exceptional attorney who has dedicated a significant portion of her career to public service.

“Barbara Parker is an exemplary public lawyer and richly deserving of this award,” said Scott Dickey, chair of the Public Law Section. “Throughout her career, Ms. Parker has served the public, both as a lawyer and as a community eader. Her dedication to promoting and advancing the public interest through public law practice made her stand out among this year’s other highly-qualified nominees. The Executive Committee is proud to honor her with the 2015 Public Lawyer of the Year Award.”

Parker, an Oakland resident for more than 30 years, has been an advocate for civil rights, women’s empowerment and children’s issues. In November 2012, Oakland voters elected Parker to a 4-year term as Oakland’s second elected City Attorney. She first took office in July 2011, when a majority of the City Council appointed her to serve the remainder of the term ending in January 2013. Prior to becoming City Attorney, Parker served 20 years in the Oakland City Attorney’s Office, including more than 10 years as Chief Assistant City Attorney.

“I am delighted that the Public Law Section of the State Bar has named Barbara Parker the 2015 recipient of the Public Lawyer of the Year. Barbara has tirelessly dedicated her time, energy and outstanding legal talents to promoting the public interest, and improving the quality of life for the residents of Oakland. She truly deserves this award,” said former San Francisco City Attorney Louise Renne and Partner at Renne Sloan Holtzman Sakai LLP.

In an award-winning legal career spanning nearly four decades, Parker has developed extensive expertise as an attorney at all levels of government (federal, state and local) as well as in the private sector. She began her career at the San Francisco law firm Pillsbury Madison & Sutro (now Pillsbury Winthrop), specializing in litigation and real property matters, worked in the litigation division of the law firm Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison, LLP, and practiced employment and health law in the general counsel’s office of the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan. Parker also served as an Assistant United States Attorney for the Northern District of California, representing the United States in federal court litigation involving complex policy matters.

Parker has also contributed to the community outside of work. In 2005, the State Bar Board of Governors selected Parker for an appointment to the prestigious State Judicial Council. She also serves as President of the Black Adoption Placement and Research Center, an organization that finds permanent, loving and supportive homes for waiting children, many of whom are in the foster care system. She is co-President of Sankofa Holistic Healing Institute (supporting holistic health and healing for cancer and depression patients) and has served as a mentor for the East Bay College Fund. Parker is a member of the Charles Houston and Alameda County Bar Associations, the Berkeley-Bay Area Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., the League of Women Voters, the National Women’s Political Caucus, Black Women Organized for Political Action, and the Black Women Lawyers Association.

2014 Public Lawyer of the Year: Wendy Patrick

San Diego County Deputy District Attorney Wendy Patrick has been named the 2014 Ronald M. George Public Lawyer of the Year by the California State Bar’s Public Law Section.

The award was at a reception in September at the State Bar’s Annual Meeting in San Diego. The Public Lawyer of the Year Award recognizes Patrick as an exceptional lawyer who has dedicated her career to serving the public by prosecuting the most horrible types of crimes and to promoting legal ethics and improving the legal community.

“Wendy Patrick has spent her entire legal career serving the public, first as a Deputy Public Defender and then for the last 17 years as a Deputy District Attorney,” said David Hirsch, chair of the Public Law Section. “We received nominations of many truly exceptional public law attorneys this year. We are pleased and honored to name Wendy Patrick as California’s Public Lawyer of the Year.”

2013 Public Lawyer of the Year: Burk E. Delventhal

The Public Law Section of the California State Bar is pleased to present Burk E. Delventhal the 2013 Ronald M. George Public Lawyer of the Year Award. This prestigious award, which is named for retired California Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald M George, recognizes exceptional attorneys who have shown outstanding service and have dedicated their
careers to the public.

Known to his family, friends and colleagues as “Buck,” he joined the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office directly out of law school in 1970 and has served the City and County of San Francisco for more than 43 years. Buck has led the Government Team at City Attorney’s Office since the formation of that Division in the late 1970s. During the course of his long and distinguished career, Buck has argued landmark cases in the California Supreme Court, California courts of appeal, and the Ninth Circuit, and has been an attorney of record in over 100 appellate cases. In addition to his work on the City Attorney’s Government Team, Buck has been active with the State’s City Attorney and County Counsel associations, and has served as a member of the League of California Cities Legal Advocacy Committee for over three decades, as well as being on the Legal Oversight Committee of the County Counsels’ Association.

Not only has Buck been named the 2013 Public Lawyer of the Year, this year the International Municipal Lawyer Association (IMLA) will recognize his good work by awarding him the Charles S. Rhyne Lifetime Achievement Award. This prestigious award is the highest honor given by that organization. According to IMLA’s standards for the Award, it is not to be bestowed on a regular basis, but instead is a recognition bestowed only occasionally and then only upon a truly uncommon individual.

Buck received his International Relations from UC Davis in 1965 and his J.D. from UC Hastings College of the Law in 1969. In addition to mentoring attorneys in the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office, he teaches classes in Local Government Law at Hastings.

In addition to being recognized for his exceptional expertise in municipal law, Buck is known for his daily dips in the San Francisco Bay, at Aquatic Park, where he has been swimming since 1978 as a member of the city’s famous South End Rowing Club. Buck and his wife spend weekends in Bolinas. His son, Ivan, followed him into the legal profession, graduating from UC Hastings in 2008. Ivan works at Renne Sloan Holtzman Sakai LLP in San Francisco, also focusing on public agency law.

2012 Public Lawyer of the Year: Phyllis Cheng

California Department of Fair Employment and Housing director Phyllis Cheng has been named the 2012 Ronald M. George Public Lawyer of the Year Award by the California State Bar’s Public Law Section.

Cheng was honored Oct. 12 at the State Bar’s Annual Meeting in Monterey. The Public Lawyer of the Year Award recognized Cheng as an exceptional lawyer who dedicated a significant portion of her career to public service.

Appointed in 2008, Cheng heads the largest state civil rights agency in the nation. She previously was of counsel at national employment and labor law firm Littler Mendelson; a senior appellate attorney for 2nd Court of Appeal Justice Laurie Zelon; a deputy attorney general in the Civil Rights Enforcement Section of the California Department of Justice; and an associate at Hadsell & Stormer, where she practiced employment discrimination law.

“Ms. Cheng is an exemplary public lawyer and richly deserving of this award,” said Anna Caballero, Secretary of the State and Consumer Services Agency, and Cheng’s immediate supervisor. “I can attest to her enthusiasm for her work; for training students to become future civil rights lawyers; for helping the bar to better represent their clients; for operationalizing efficiencies that help the department complete its mission in an era of declining revenues; [and for] investigating, mediating and prosecuting discrimination complaints against employers, housing providers and businesses throughout California.”

Among her accomplishments at the DFEH, Cheng developed a telephone and online intake process for new claims and a grading system to rank and target cases for investigation and prosecution. She reorganized the DFEH’s mediation system and dramatically expanded the department’s class action capability, overseeing the largest settlement in DFEH history, a $6 million settlement in a class action against Verizon Services Corp. She also established civil rights clinics at UC Irvine and UC Davis law schools to train students and assist in litigating discrimination cases.

“Since taking over as the director of the DFEH, Phyllis has accomplished so much with less resources than ever,” said Tony Skogen, a shareholder at Littler Mendelson who wrote in support of Cheng’s nomination. “As many public sector workers are struggling to overcome rising workloads and shrinking budgets, Phyllis tackles and solves problem after problem with a positive attitude and infectious smile.”

Cheng’s colleagues praised her hard work and dedication in supporting her nomination for Public Lawyer of the Year.

“Phyllis deserves this award because she is fearless,” said Tim Muscat, DFEH Chief of Enforcement. “All too often, boldly innovative work in government is not adequately rewarded. Indeed, leaders who carry out difficult reforms are often opposed by those who prefer the status quo. Phyllis never backs away from challenges. Indeed, she champions them. Phyllis has rebuilt DFEH into a department that champions civil rights enforcement. All of California has benefited from her efforts.”

Cheng previously served two terms on the California Fair Employment and Housing Commission, ruling on nearly 80 fair employment and housing and civil rights act cases. She also has served on the California Commission on the Status of Women and the Interagency Coordinating Task Force on Early Intervention.

Cheng has been a member of the State Bar Committee of Bar Examiners and the executive committees of the Labor & Employment Law and Public Law Sections, and she co-founded the Fair Housing and Public Accommodations Subsection of the State Bar’s Real Property Law Section. Cheng also edited both the California Labor & Employment Law Review and the Public Law Journal and is an attorney editor of two chapters of Employment Litigation (The Rutter Group California Practice Guide, 2009-current editions) and a chapter contributor to an upcoming California Fair Housing and Public Accommodations Practice Guide (The Rutter Group, California Practice Guide, in progress). She also authors a regular column on cases pending before the California Supreme Court, has been widely published in both legal journals and newspapers, and provides a free case alert service on new labor and employment law decisions to thousands of practitioners.

Before becoming a lawyer, Cheng was a public school teacher. She then began studying urban educational policy and planning and civil rights policy and planning. While pursuing her doctorate, she worked at RAND Corporation researching school desegregation. She was then hired as Title IX coordinator for the Los Angeles Unified School District, where she founded and directed a citizens’ commission that addressed sex discrimination and monitored a Title VII consent decree promoting women into administration. She continued her focus on educational equality issues, ultimately drafting California’s version of Title IX (Cal. Ed. Code § 200 et seq.) passed in 1982.

Cheng received her B.A. and M.Ed. degrees from UCLA, her Ph.D. from the University of Southern California, and her J.D. from Southwestern Law School.

2011 Public Lawyer of the Year: Richard Winnie

The California State Bar’s Public Law Section is both pleased and saddened to announce the winner of the 2011 Ronald M. George Public Lawyer of the Year Award – longtime Alameda County Counsel Richard Winnie, who passed away after a long illness March 28, 2011.

Winnie, who had held the post of County Counsel since 1998, will be honored at a reception during the State Bar’s Annual Meeting Sept. 15-18 in Long Beach, Calif. The Public Lawyer of the Year Award recognizes Winnie as an exceptional lawyer who dedicated a significant portion of his career to public service. Award recipients are lawyers who represent the highest level of professional and ethical standards and who are inspirational advocates for the public interest.

“He epitomized what we all want from our public servants,” Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson told the Oakland Tribune. “He had the skills to be in private practice, but chose to be in the public sector.”

Before becoming County Counsel, Winnie practiced public law with the Oakland firm of Wendel Rosen Black & Dean (1993-1998) and with the San Francisco firm Jacobs Spotswood Ryken & Winnie (1987-1993). He previously served as Oakland City Attorney from 1981 to 1987 and also worked in the City Attorney’s offices for Berkeley (1977-1979) and Santa Rosa (1979-1981).

Winnie also advised numerous foreign governments in the establishment of new economic and governmental institutions throughout his career. He worked closely with the High and the Intermediate Peoples Courts of Dalian, China to develop methods of resolving commercial disputes involving foreigners; he advised the government of Armenia in its transition from a Soviet republic to an independent nation with a market economy; he served as a legal advisor for local government issues for the Republics of Georgia, Bulgaria, Romania, Macedonia, Croatia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina; he served as Senior Legal Advisor to the Ministry of Local Self Government for the government of Albania; and he advised international organizations on the development of local government institutions in Kazakhstan, Surinam and the West Bank/Gaza Strip.

Closer to home, Winnie also volunteered his time with local civic organizations. He served as a commissioner on the Oakland Housing Authority, chairing the board from 1999 to 2004. He also served on the boards of directors of the Alameda/Contra Costa Transit District Retirement System and the California County Counsels’ Association, among other boards. He was the founder and served eleven years as president of the Merritt Community Capital Corporation, the nation’s second largest non-profit housing equity fund, and he chaired AnewAmerica Community Corporation, an organization that provides technical assistance and other support to new immigrants in Alameda, Contra Costa and Santa Clara counties.

Winnie began his government career in 1971 as a policy analyst for the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C., where he authored and co-authored several books on municipal government. He received a B.A., magna cum laude, from Humboldt State University; a Master’s Degree, with honors, from the University of California, Berkeley; and a J.D. from the University of San Francisco.

The Public Lawyer of the Year Award is named after recently retired California Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald M. George, who traditionally spoke at the award ceremony and introduced the year’s winner.

“Each year this award goes to an extraordinary individual for outstanding service to the public,” George said at the 2010 awards ceremony. “By celebrating the contributions and career of a single attorney, we also recognize the power of the law in serving the public interest, and honor the fundamental values of the legal profession.” 

2010 Public Lawyer of the Year: Michael G. Colantuono

The California State Bar’s Public Law Section honored the winner of the 2010 Ronald M. George Public Lawyer of the Year Award (PLOY) at a reception during the State Bar’s Annual Meeting Sept. 23-26 in Monterey, California. The 2010 award winner is Michael G. Colantuono, a shareholder with the firm of Colantuono & Levin in Los Angeles and Penn Valley, California. Colantuono has specialized in municipal law since 1989, and he serves as counsel to numerous cities and local government entities. In 2003-04 he served as President of the City Attorneys Department of the League of California Cities. While President he appointed the Department’s first ethics committee, which developed a guidebook on professional ethics for public lawyers, as well as aspirational ethical guidelines for public lawyers.

He currently serves as City Attorney for the cities of Auburn and Calabasas, and as Agency or General Counsel for the Auburn Urban Development Agency, the North Yuba Water District, the Yuba County LAFCO and the Rough & Ready and Ophir Hill Fire Districts. He previously served as City Attorney of Barstow (1997-2004), Cudahy (1994-1999), La Habra Heights (1994-2004), Monrovia (1999-2002), and Sierra Madre (2004-2006), as General Counsel to the Barstow (1997-2004) and Sierra Madre (2004-2006) ReDevelopment Agencies, and as General Counsel of the Big Bear City Community Services District (1994-2001).

Colantuono has taken a leadership role in advocating for local governments in the area of municipal revenues, leading the committee which drafted and negotiated the Proposition 218 Omnibus Implementation Act. He also served on the committee which wrote the League of California Cities Proposition 218 Implementation Guide in 1997, as well as having edited and contributed to updates to the Guide. He has argued before the California Supreme Court on behalf of public entities frequently, including Richmond v. Shasta Community Services District (2004), as well as successfully arguing on behalf of the League of California Cities in an amicus role in Bonander v. Town of Tiburon in 2009. He also recently appeared before the California Supreme Court in Greene v Marin County Flood Control and Water Conservation District.

The Public Lawyer of the Year Award was renamed in 2009 after California Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald M. George to recognize the Chief Justice’s exceptional contributions to the public and to further define and exemplify the caliber of the contributions provided to the public by the award recipients.

2009 Public Lawyer of the Year: Patricia Sturdevant

The Public Law Section Executive Committee is pleased to announce Patricia Tenoso Sturdevant as this year’s recipient of the distinguished Ronald M. George Public Lawyer of the Year Award.  Ms. Sturdevant is the Assistant Chief Counsel in the Enforcement Division of the State Department of Managed Health Care.

The annual award recognizes Ms. Sturdevant as an exceptional lawyer who has dedicated a significant portion of her career to public service. She is among a group of esteemed award recipients who represent the highest level of professional and ethical standards and who are inspirational advocates for the public interest. 

Ms. Sturdevant is nationally recognized as a consumer advocate with extensive expertise in health care law, managed health care issues, and predatory mortgage lending. She has been hailed as an innovative thinker who pioneered both the negotiation of third party payments in settlement of Department of Managed Health Care Enforcement actions to mitigate harm caused enrollees by plan misconduct, and the modern use of cy pres remedies in class action cases. 

She is also a successful litigator who recovered more than $100 million in damage awards in complex unlawful business practices and class action cases, and directed work of multidisciplinary teams of public relations and accounting professionals distributing those damage awards to class members. 

2008 Public Lawyer of the Year: Jeff Thom

Jeff Thom has dedicated his career to working in the public sector and, despite being blind since birth, he has never let his disability stand in the way of his personal commitment to public service.

After graduating from Stanford Law School in 1978, Mr. Thom’s first job was as a disabled rights attorney for what is now called the Disability Rights Law Center. There, he represented clients in a number of administrative hearings before the Social Security Administration.

In 1979, Mr. Thom joined the Office of Legislative Counsel in Sacramento where his work involves drafting legislation and writing legal opinions for members of the Legislature. Mr. Thom has handled some highly complex and important legal issues during his tenure in the Office in such diverse areas as state and local government, health, human services, public safety, and labor and employment. In particular, Mr. Thom helped draft major Medi-Cal Reform legislation in 1982 and the Greater Avenues for Independence Act in 1985.

When Proposition 187, an initiative measure limiting services for illegal aliens, qualified for the ballot, Mr. Thom prepared a comprehensive legal analysis regarding its validity. More recently, Mr. Thom was involved in preparing legislation related to HIV/AIDS confidentiality, and in helping craft the comprehensive welfare reform legislation known as the Thompson-Maddy-Ducheny-Ashburn Welfare-to-Work Act of 1997.

Based on his extensive knowledge in these areas, Mr. Thom’s expertise is frequently sought by legislative members and their staffs. Currently, he supervises the section of the office that handles health and care facilities, Medi-Cal, public health, public social services and workers’ compensation.

Outside the office, Mr. Thom is similarly committed to public service. For the last 30 years, he has been a member of various organizations that promote the rights of the disabled. Since 2003, he has been the President of the California Council of the Blind, an organization that has worked on behalf of a variety of issues of importance to persons who are blind or have low vision, including pedestrian safety, “talking” ATMs, and tactile point-of-sale machines in retail stores. He is currently the chair of the City of Sacramento Disabilities Advisory Commission (2005-) which, among other things, was successful in promoting the city’s adoption of a taxicab ordinance requiring a percentage of taxicabs to be wheelchair accessible. Mr. Thom is also currently a board member of both the American Council of the Blind (2006- ) and the American foundation for the Blind (2007- ), and he is past president of Sierra Regional Ski for Light (2000-04).

The Public Law Section Executive Committee believes that Mr. Thom’s distinguished record of professional service to the public, both as an attorney and as a civic leader, exemplifies what it is to be a public lawyer.

2007 Public Lawyer of the Year: Ann Ravel

The Section was pleased to announce Ann Miller Ravel as the 2007 Public Lawyer of the Year Award. Ms. Miller is pictured left at the awards ceremony with Chief Justice Ronald George and 2007-2008 Public Law Section Chair Betty Ann Downing.

Ms. Ravel has spent most of her career dedicated to the practice of public law and to serving her community both professionally and through service. She is currently County Counsel for Santa Clara, where she has worked since 1977. She has served in her current capacity since 1997.

In addition, she has worked tirelessly on state issues through her appointment to the Judicial Council and through numerous State Bar committees. In addition, she has been active in her local bar and has served as a judge pro tem and arbitrator for the Superior and former Municipal courts.

Finally, Ms. Ravel is also involved in numerous community organizations, including volunteering in varying capacities for local school programs and boards.

The Public Lawyer of the Year Award event, was held at the State Bar Annual Meeting in Anaheim.

Biographical Statement of Ann Ravel

Ann M. Ravel is the County Counsel of the County of Santa Clara. She graduated from Hastings Law School in 1974, and has practiced civil law in various areas of the law since that time, with an emphasis in political law and ethics, labor and employment, and civil rights litigation. She has broadened the scope of the Santa Clara County Counsel’s office to include the award-winning Elder Abuse litigation team, the Educational Rights Project, and Impact Litigation, plaintiff’s litigation on behalf of the County and the citizens of the community to enforce their legal rights.

Ann received the Woman of Achievement Award from the San Jose Mercury News and the Commission on the Status of Women for “professions” in 1980, the Elizabeth Ent award for contributions to law and justice in 1995, the 2001 Professional Lawyer of the Year Award presented by the Santa Clara County Bar Assn., the American Bar Assn. Award for State and Local Government Law Advocacy presented in 2002, the Unsung Hero Award by the Santa Clara County Bar Assn., and the Circle of Service Achievement Award by the California State Association of Counties in 2004.

Ann is currently a lawyer representative to the U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, a member of the President’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Diversity in the Legal Profession in Silicon Valley, and member of the State Bar Committee on Professional Responsibility and Conduct. Additionally, she has many Bar Association and teaching affiliations, and has served on numerous commissions and task forces with a particular emphasis on standards of professionalism and ethics.

2006 Public Lawyer of the Year: Clara Slifkin

The award was presented by Chief Justice Ronald George during the State Bar of California 2006 Annual Meeting in Monterey. The Public Lawyer of the Year Award presentation and reception was held on Friday, October 6, 2006 4:30 p.m. – 6 p.m. in the Portola Room of the Portola Plaza Hotel.

Clara Slifkin has devoted her entire legal career to serving the public interest. Until her recent appointment as Administrative Law Judge, she served 17 years as Deputy Attorney General in the Land Law and Business and Tax Sections of the California Department of Justice. There, she litigated public policy matters and advised state agencies such as the California Coastal Commission, Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, State Board of Equalization, Department of Real Estate, and Department of Insurance. She argued before the California Supreme Court and won a victory in Beatrice Co. v. State Bd. of Equalization (1993) 6 Cal.4th 767 [the assumption by the subsidiary of a parent corporation’s liabilities constituted consideration for the transferred property which subjected the transaction to taxation.] Clara also played a leading role in the Attorney General’s $73 million settlement with Montrose Chemical Corporation to clean up DDT and PCBs on the Palos Verdes shelf.

Prior to her career as a prosecutor, Clara served 12 years as Deputy Public Defender in Los Angeles County, where she represented indigent criminal defendants. She also served for two years as Legislative Analyst for the Los Angeles City Council, where she drafted and analyzed municipal legislation affecting every facet of urban life.

Aside from the practice of public law, Clara has been a leader in improving the legal profession at The State Bar of California. The first government attorney elected to its Board of Governors from District 7 (Los Angeles), Clara brought recognition to and gave government/public lawyers a voice in the operation of the State Bar. She was Vice President and member of the State Bar’s Board of Governors at a time when the unified Bar was restructured. Former State Bar President Jim Towery appointed Clara as Chair of the Task Force on Government Lawyers. Former Chief Justice Malcolm Lucas appointed her to the Judicial Council’s Advisory Committee on Judicial Performance and Procedures and the Committee to Save the Unified Bar. In addition, Clara was former Chair of the Public Law Section, Council of Sections, Future Planning Committee, and was Vice Chair of the Commission on Corrections. In all these capacities, she brought the unique perspective of the public lawyer in shaping a Bar that is more accountable to the public trust and better serves the members of our profession.

Ever committed to public service, Clara currently serves as Vice President and Scholarship Committee Chair of the Board of the Foundation of the State Bar, which distributes scholarships to law students and grants to nonprofit organizations, courts, and bar associations for law-related projects. She is also Board Secretary of the Center for Civic Education, which promotes civic education in the schools, encourages students’ commitment to fundamental values and principles of constitutional democracy, including individual rights, the common good and the rule of law.

Clara was further active in the American Bar Association’s Public Lawyer Section, where she planned programs for government attorneys.

Accordingly, Clara is the very model of an outstanding public lawyer, who has well served the citizens of California and the members of our profession.

2005 Public Lawyer of the Year: Manuela Albuquerque

The Public Law Section named Manuela Albuquerque the 2005 Public Lawyer of the Year. The award was presented by Chief Justice Ronald George during the State Bar of California 2005 Annual Meeting at 4:30 p.m. on September 9, 2005 in the Manchester room of the San Diego Marriott Hotel and Marina.

Ms. Albuquerque has served as the City Attorney of Berkeley for nearly twenty (20) years, during which time, she has faced virtually every conceivable legal issue and become a leader amongst her peers. She served as President of the City Attorney’s Department of the League of California Cities in 1994 –1995, as well as serving as on the League’s Board of Directors, and has been a frequent speaker on a myriad of public law issues. She has also served on the Executive Board of the Public Law Section of the State Bar, and presently still serves as an advisor to this body.

In recent years, Manuela has distinguished herself as a leader in the area of public law ethics. She was a major force in the League of Cities City Attorney Ad Hoc Committee on Legal Ethics, which published “Practicing Ethics: A Handbook for Municipal Lawyers.” She also worked tirelessly with COPRAC, the League of Cities, the State Bar Public Law Section and State Legislators on prior legislative efforts to define when a public lawyer could ethically disclose the improper conduct of his or her clients; and she is currently working with the State Bar Rules Revision Committee in an effort to amend Rule 2-100 – Communication with a Represented Party – to address the unique concerns public attorneys face when adverse parties seek to speak directly with public officials about on-going litigation.

In addition, Manuela is on the League of Cities City Attorneys Department Ad Hoc Committee on Due Process, which is in the process of writing “model guidelines” that city attorney’s offices may follow in an effort to avoid the pitfalls of the Nightlife and Quintero cases. As part of this project, Manuela has drafted proposed legislation that addresses these concerns. She is working with the League staff to find a Legislator to sponsor this legislation.

2004 Public Lawyer of the Year: Roderick Walston

The annual Public Law Section Reception at the State Bar’s Annual Meeting was held on Friday, October 8, 2004 from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. in the Sobranes Room of the Hotel Pacific in Monterey.

Roderick E. Walston, a lifelong public lawyer, was selected as the 2004 Public Lawyer of the Year by the State Bar of California. He received the prestigious annual award from California Chief Justice Ronald M. George at the State Bar’s Annual Meeting in Monterey October 8, 2004.

Walston’s career in public service spans over 43 years. After graduating from Columbia University and Stanford Law School, where he was an editor of the Stanford Law Review, Walston served as a Law Clerk to Judge M. Oliver Koelsch of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals from 1961 to 1962. Thereafter, Walston began a long and distinguished career as an attorney with the California Department of Justice.

Walston was one of the first members of the Justice Department’s natural resources practice group, and he quickly became a leader in the field of water rights law.

While a Deputy Attorney General, Walston argued many cases before the United States Supreme Court, California Supreme Court, and other appellate courts. Some of Walston’s major cases include California v. United States, a 1978 case in which the U.S Supreme Court held that federal agencies must comply with state water laws in operating federal reclamation projects; and California v. Cabazon Band of Mission Indians, a 1987 case regarding state regulation of Indian gaming. Another notable case is 1983’s National Audubon Society v. Superior Court, in which the California Supreme Court held the public trust doctrine applies to water rights. This was a landmark case in the evolving law of the public trust. In 1997, Walston received the U.S. Supreme Court “Best Brief Award” from the National Association of Attorneys General.

Walston left state service in 2000 to become General Counsel of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the largest municipal water agency in the United States. In 2002, Walston was nominated by the President of the United States as Deputy Solicitor of the U.S. Department of the Interior. In April 2004, Walston left Interior as the Acting Solicitor to join the law firm of Stoel Rives in San Francisco, where he is a member of the firm’s Resources, Development, and Environment Group.

2003 Public Lawyer of the Year: Ariel Pierre Calonne

In 2003, the Public Lawyer of the Year Award was presented to Ariel Pierre Calonne, City Attorney of Palo Alto.

Chief Justice Ronald George presented the award to Calonne on Friday, September 5, at a hosted reception during 2003 State Bar of California Annual Meeting.

As Palo Alto’s City Attorney over the past 13 years, Mr. Calonne has served a full-service chartered city of 60,000, supervised its attorney office, and advised its Mayor and City Council. He is general counsel to the city’s gas, electric, dark fiber, storm drainage, sewage treatment, and water utilities.

He represented Palo Alto in major development negotiations with Stanford University, and advised the city on the development of the 2010 Comprehensive Plan. Calonne personally litigated major public records, environmental and land use cases. He filed a friend-of-the-court brief in Roberts v. City of Palmdale(1993) 5 Cal. 4th 363, the California Supreme Court’s landmark case upholding attorney-client privilege in the public sector. On September 7, 2003, Calonne will take his 20-year public law experience to become City Attorney of Boulder, Colorado.

Prior to his current position, Calonne was an associate attorney with Richards Watson & Gershon, where he represented many municipalities on various legal affairs, including CEQA, land use, zoning, environmental, water rights, strategic planning and other matters. Calonne was also an associate with Best Best & Kreiger, where he focused on municipalities’ water rights and environmental issues. In addition to Palo Alto, Calonne has represented the cities of Rancho Palos Verdes, Palmdale, Westlake Village, Ventura, Corona, Redlands, Banning, Desert Hot Springs and Perris.

A leading expert on the Brown Act and Public Records Act, Calonne has served on the Advisory Committee to the Joint Senate-Assembly Task Force on Personal Information and Privacy, as well as the Electronic Access to Public Records Task Force of a Senate Committee. Active on the League of California Cities, Calonne served as president of the group’s City Attorneys Department, chaired its Public Records Act where he initiated an electronic discussion group among city attorneys statewide, and participated on its Legal Advocacy Committee. A particularly notable accomplishment has been his contribution in the development and monitoring of the 457-member City Attorneys’ Department Web site, a valuable resource accessible akin to that of a large municipal law firm, which is accessible to every California city attorney. Calonne has also held leadership positions in the Los Angeles County Bar Association on land use planning issues and on the City of Riverside’s Environmental Protection Commission. He has further published and presented papers on a variety of local government topics.

On Calonne’s selection as Public Lawyer of the Year, the Bar’s Public Law Section Chairperson Stephen Millich commented that “it is an award richly deserved!”

Ariel Pierre Calonne’s Acceptance Speech  Upon Being Named 2003 Public Lawyer of the Year

September 5, 2003, Anaheim, California

Chief Justice George, thank you for your kind remarks. And thank you for your service leading our Supreme Court, your long service in the judiciary, and your leadership earlier in your career in the Attorney General’s Office.

I’d also like to thank the Public Law Section Executive Committee for recognizing me as California’s Public Lawyer of the Year for 2003.

Finally, and most importantly, I’d like to thank my client, the City of Palo Alto, for providing me the opportunity to achieve. Every scientist needs a laboratory, and I have had a great one.

As you all know, I am in the unusual position of accepting this prestigious award just 10 days before I become the City Attorney (designate) of Boulder, Colorado. I have taken residence in Boulder after 13 years of service to the City of Palo Alto. I find myself in the enviable position of leaving a richly endowed community to join a community endowed with environmental and human riches. Boulder, like Palo Alto and all California cities, has engaged the good fight to protect the constitutional home rule powers the electorate reserved to them. The challenges will be great.

Yet I leave California grudgingly. I realized the other day that I have never been outside California for longer 2 weeks or so. I love this state from corner to corner. I am sure that is a common bond among public lawyers. My career has been dedicated to creating common bonds between public lawyers.

Today I am being honored in large part because of my work creating and moderating a dedicated e-mail listserv that connects nearly 500 California city attorneys. I developed the group (which is dubbed “CCA**” for California City Attorneys) in 1998 while I was president of the City Attorney’s Department of the League of California Cities. I was flattered the other day when Mike Martello, the City Attorney of Mountain View, described CCA as a transformative resource for the practice of municipal law, perhaps having an even greater impact than the California Municipal Law Handbook which JoAnne Speers described when she received this award in 1999.

CCA was achieved through leadership to prove that technology is both powerful and openhearted. Email is a cold medium; a medium that doesn’t allow the face-to-face interaction, the voir dire upon which we depend to assess credibility. Yet CCA flourishes because we have added the human dimension back into the communication by moderating the list. Moderating is reviewing,  editing, or rejecting, each and every message and response. CCA has become somewhat of an annotated discussion, much like the annotated codes and case head notes that define traditional legal information retrieval systems. And it is the process of making everyone show his or her editorial and annotational skills that makes the list work. We actually get to evaluate each other daily in that most important legal medium – the written word. Thus we have transformed a cold medium into another way to communicate that which makes us real and human.

CCA was also an adaptive concession to changing times. I am pleased to join Andy Gustafson, JoAnne Speers and Jayne Williams as local government recipients of this award. I got to know Andy when I worked for the City of Ventura, and JoAnne and Jayne are great leaders in my own field of municipal practice. I have also been appreciative of Mr. Elkins’ consumer protection work.

But our practice as public lawyers has changed. Municipal law has become one of the most sophisticated and challenging practice areas. CCA lets us work with our collective brainpower to overcome the economic and political constraints that can impact the effectiveness of public lawyers. Just as in Roberts v. Palmdale we public lawyers were fighting for our clients’ right to have effective representation through appropriate confidential advice, CCA is letting us assure quality-controlled communication and education for 500 city attorneys. The result is that we reach decisions faster, with more thorough research and with more consistency around the state.

I am proud to announce that after 5 years of development, I have made a gift of CCA to the League of California Cities. I’d like to close with a few comments about the ethical challenges we are facing. They are real and they are daunting. Last year the Governor vetoed legislation that would have allowed each of us to whistle blow against our clients in certain circumstances. I would respectfully submit that so dramatic a change in the core, confidential trusting relationship between lawyer and client ought to be given very careful scrutiny, and accepted if at all with great skepticism. First and foremost, our clients must trust us as lawyers, public lawyers or not. Second, the same pressure to work faster, to use e-mail, to skip traditional research channels, raises some concerns about the standards of care we must exercise. CCA, for example, fills what Professor Riesenfeld use to call our desire to make “mashed potatoes” of the law. But “the law comes in little lumps” he would say, meaning that answers can be elusive and disintegrated from their parts. And so we find ourselves less often able to rely safely upon the traditional legal system of storing and retrieving precedent. Head notes are being replaced by full text electronic searches.

CCA is the first step of a major new tradition in the practice of public law, and I am proud to have been the instrument of its creation.

2002 Public Lawyer of the Year: Herschel Elkins

In 2002, the Public Lawyer of the Year Award was presented to Herschel Elkins at the Public Law Reception on Friday, October 11, 4:30 p.m. at the 2002 State Bar of California Annual Meeting.

Chief Justice Ronald M. George presented Elkins with the award on October 11 at the State Bar Annual Meeting in Monterey. See the Chief Justice’s speech below:

Good evening. I am pleased to participate in these ceremonies conferring the Public Lawyer Award on Herschel T. Elkins. As a public lawyer for my entire career, I consistently have derived great satisfaction from providing public service, and I am honored to take part in this occasion recognizing the contributions of an exemplary public servant.

While I have served more than 30 years on the bench, my first job out of law school found me working for the Attorney General of California in Los Angeles as a trial and appellate lawyer in the Criminal Division. It was there that I had the pleasure of meeting today’s honoree. I did not have an opportunity to directly practice with him because he had moved on to head the new Consumer Law Section, but his intelligence, skill and dedication were already well-known and well-appreciated throughout the office.

Being a public lawyer is not for the faint of heart or the easily discouraged. Public legal service certainly is not the most remunerative practice in which one may engage, and may not garner the biggest headlines. But in my view, it can be a source of the greatest satisfaction. The work of the public lawyer is essential to our society because of its focus on ensuring that government, at whatever level, does its job well for the public as a whole.

The broad range of subjects addressed by public lawyers makes for exciting practice opportunities. Public lawyers are employed at every level of government, and their practice specializes in criminal prosecution, utilities law, antitrust, licensing and regulation, environmental, civil rights, tax, municipal law, and enforcement of local ordinances, to name a few. Public lawyers often encounter unique legal problems that enable them to make important contributions both to the community and to the development of the law.

Herschel T. Elkins is an excellent example of a public lawyer who took the challenge and made a difference. He has had a 45-year career in the Attorney General’s office, leading the Consumer Law Section since 1965 — after its creation by the Attorney General, my late former colleague Stanley Mosk, shortly before he took the bench.

Herschel has been involved in and has led numerous statewide groups and committees addressing consumer protection matters, and has participated in drafting many of California’s consumer protection statutes. And he has been generous with his time and expertise in encouraging others to actively engage in consumer protection.

He has lectured law enforcement and other agencies on consumer protection law and its practical implications, and authored the “Consumer Protection & Civil Injunctions Points and Authorities Manual,” which is widely used by prosecutors across the State and is now in its 17th edition.

Every day, consumers who deal with obtaining credit, who seek housing, purchase automobiles or other retail goods, enter into health club and dance studio contracts, hire contractors to do home repair work, or encounter door-to-door salesmen, have Herschel Elkins to thank for increasing consumer protection and ensuring California’s leadership role in this area of the law.

Too frequently of late, we hear of lawyers — who serve as officers of the court, and are expected to adhere to a stringent ethical code — being accused of forgetting their roots as professionals. During his entire career, Herschel Elkins has demonstrated through his extraordinary accomplishments that an individual dedicated to the highest principles of the practice of law can make both government and the law work to the great benefit of the public whom they are intended to serve.

Herschel, by conferring upon you the Public Lawyer Award, your peers have recognized your truly exceptional achievements. On behalf of the entire judicial system, and as a former colleague in the Attorney General’s office, it gives me great pleasure to extend my warmest congratulations.

2001 Public Lawyer of the Year: Jayne W. Williams

In 2001, the Public Lawyer of the Year Award was presented to Jayne W. Williams at the Public Law Reception on Friday, September 7, 4:30p.m. at the State Bar of California Annual Meeting.

Jayne Williams is a member of the Meyers, Nave, Riback, Silver & Wilson Law Firm’s Public Law Department. Before joining Meyers, Nave, Ms. Williams served as City Attorney of Oakland from 1987 to 2000. She currently serves as the City Attorney for Suisun City and the Interim City Attorney for the City of Merced. She was the first African-American woman to hold the position of City Attorney in California. A Bay Area native, she began her tenure with the Oakland City Attorney’s Office in 1974 specializing in housing and redevelopment. She served as the City’s Director of Personnel from 1978-1980. Thereafter, Ms. Williams returned to the City Attorney’s Office and was appointed Assistant City Attorney responsible for the management of the litigation division of the office, until her appointment as City Attorney.

Ms. Williams is the current President of the City Attorney’s Department of the League of California Cities. She is the former elected representative to the Executive Committee of the Ninth Circuit Judicial Conference and co-chairperson of the Northern District lawyer representative delegation to the Ninth Circuit Judicial Conference. Ms. Williams is a former member of the Executive Committee of the Litigation Section of the California State Bar, is a past chair of the Executive Committee of the State Bar’s Public Law Section and served as a member of the State Bar’s Commission on the Future of the State Bar and the Legal Profession.

Ms. Williams is an active member of various professional and civic associations including the American Inns of Court, the California Association of Black Lawyers, the Charles Houston Bar Association and the Alameda County Bar Association. She is a frequent speaker and panelist on municipal law issues.

Ms. Williams is the recipient of several honors awards including the 1995 Hastings College of the Law Black Alumni of the Year Award, Mark of Excellence Award from the National Forum of Black Public Administrators, the Charles Houston Bar Association’s President’s Award, the Loren Miller Award from the California Association of Black Lawyers, the 1998 Award of Excellence from the Clara Foltz Feminist Association of Hastings College of the Law, the 1999 Leadership Award from Black Women Organized for Political Action, the 1999 Clinton W. White Advocacy Award from the Charles Houston Bar Association and the 2000 Outstanding Community Service Award from the Wiley Manual Law Foundation.

Ms. Williams received her undergraduate degree from California State University, Hayward and her J.D. from the University of California, Hastings College of the Law in 1974.

2000 Public Lawyer of the Year: Prudence Kay Poppink

Prudence Kay Poppink was honored as the 2000 Public Lawyer of the Year during the Public Law Section’s annual reception at the State Bar of California’s Annual Meeting in San Diego on Saturday, September 16, 2000.

Prudence Kay Poppink is an attorney with 25 years experience in employment and housing law. Since 1984, Pru has worked with the California Fair Employment and Housing Commission (FEHC). For the past seven years, she has worked as a Commission Hearing Officer, responsible for adjudicating cases of employment and housing discrimination for the Commission.

Pru has had many accomplishments while working for the Commission. Pru has served as a supervising Hearing Officer and Commission Counsel, overseeing the work of other attorneys in the office while also handling the longest hearings the Commission has had and some of the most complex. Among the issues upon which Pru has worked are the recognition of HIV-status and AIDS as a disability under FEHA, the holding that an employer’s fetal protection plan constituted sex discrimination under FEHA, and a holding that a university can be held liable for a professor’s sexual harassment of a student.

Pru also has handled legislation for the Commission, shepherding through the Legislature important bills modifying the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), the act that the Commission administers. For example, last year Pru worked on the Commission’s behalf to pass AB 1670, carried by Assemblywoman Sheila Kuehl, a Commission-sponsored omnibus civil rights bill amending the FEHA and increasing the damages the Commission can award.

Pru has served as an expert in the office and to the public in several important areas including family care leave, disability, and sexual harassment. Pru worked closely with former Assemblywoman Gwen Moore to pass the 1993 Moore-Brown-Roberti Act, also known as the California Family Rights Act (CFRA). CFRA gives employees the right to take a 12-week for their own or a close family member’s serious health condition. After CFRA passed, Pru worked with the Commission to draft regulations interpreting CFRA. She has provided training ever since to employers, employees, attorneys, and Department of Fair Employment and Housing personnel on CFRA.

Prior to Pru’s work with the Commission, she worked for four years with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), prosecuting employment and housing discrimination complaints on behalf of the state. In 1981, she argued the American National Insurance Co. (ANI) decision before the California Supreme Court. ANI was a landmark case interpreting the definition of a disability under FEHA. In addition, Pru worked for five years as a staff attorney at the Employment Law Center here in San Francisco, concentrating on disability issues.

Pru is a graduate of Barnard College of Columbia University and of Hastings College of the Law. She has served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Columbia.

1999 Public Lawyer of the Year: Joanne Speers

JoAnne Speers was honored as the 1999 Public Lawyer of the Year during the Public Law Section’s annual reception at the California State Bar’s annual meeting in Long Beach, California on October 2, 1999.

Presentation Speech by California Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald George

Good afternoon. I am very please to be here to participate in the presentation of this award to the Public Lawyer of the Year. The recipient, JoAnne Speers, has a background that exemplifies the essential service to our state provided by public attorneys in our state’s legal and governmental system.

Our government structures depend on the contributions of public lawyers who provide the legal knowledge, expertise, and guidance that assist every sector of government in performing the public’s business. Ms. Speer’s career provides an excellent example of the key role that such lawyers play.

She has served as General Counsel of the League of California Cities for 10 years, providing in-house counsel assistance to city attorneys across California. Her expertise in the area is reflected in her work updating the California Municipal Law Handbook, her authorship of the City Attorney’s Newsletter, and her staff support to State Bar training programs that help others to develop the necessary skills to serve as city attorneys. She also serves as the Assistant Director for Customer Services, overseeing the customer service unit which includes the staff of the League of California Cities’ functional departments.

Perhaps the best reflection of the diversity of interests in which JoAnne Speers has developed a working knowledge is to note some of the projects underdevelopment by the Institute for Local Self Government, for which she serves as Executive Director. They include regulatory takings, public confidence and government, and arts in the community.

I will not digress into a discussion of regulatory takings and arts in the community may be a subject best left to my wife, as a member of the California Commission on the arts. I did, however, want to pause for a minute to focus on the public confidence and government. This is an area of great concern to the judicial system as well.

The judicial branch places the highest priority on improving access to justice. In furtherance of that goal, the Judicial Council, the constitutional entity charged with oversight of the administration of justice, which I chair, has been very active in promoting activities to improve court/community outreach and communication.

A council advisory committee has already begun assisting courts in implementing projects to engage with and better respond to their local community. The council has adopted a standard of judicial administration urging judges to become more involved in their communities. Efforts to improve juror service, provide better compensation for interpreters have already met with partial success. And courts are experimenting with user-friendly kiosks, and limited legal assistance to assist pro per litigants, particularly in the family law arena. Our goal in pursuing these and many other related projects is to provide improved services, and thereby also to improve public confidence in the courts – and ultimately, our government as a whole.

Any public lawyer, serving in any segment of government, is, I am certain, keenly aware of the public’s too-frequent skepticism about government, yet our state is most fortunate that so many skilled and capable individuals continue to serve with dedication and creativity at every level. They all deserve our gratitude and our admiration.

The award the JoAnne Speers is receiving today from the Public Law Section of the State Bar is recognition by her peers of her extraordinary contributions in this very important area of legal and public life. Her background demonstrates that the scope of a public lawyer’s contributions can be broad, varied, and creative. On behalf of the California judicial community, I’m pleased to present this award to Ms. Speeers.

Acceptance Speech by JoAnne Speers

Thank you very much Chief Justice George and to the Public Law Section executive committee for this tremendous honor.

I know it has become a tradition for the recipient of this award to share their thoughts on what the practice of public law and this honor means to them. Finding the words to express what each means to me has been quite a challenge.

What This Award Celebrates: Collective Action For the Betterment of Municipal Law

Part of the reason for this challenge is that my role as a public lawyer with the League of California Cities is really rather unique. This is because the League’s role is rather unique. The League is a vehicle, powered by its members. Without this fuel, the League would be much like my 66 Mustang that rarely finds itself out of the garage.

  • For example, although I write Chief Justice George more letters in a year than I do to my family, all of the League’s full-blown appellate amicus briefs are prepared on a pro bono basis by public law attorneys through out the state.
  • Another example is the League’s pride and joy–the California Municipal Law Handbook. This 1300 page tome on municipal law is the result of literally hundreds of public law attorneys’ efforts and the list of attorneys contributing to this work grows each year with the annual update process.
  • The new regulatory takings educational effort (which has just been funded by the Packard Foundation for $450,000 over two years) was the grassroots concept of a group of public agency attorneys and others concerned about the development and lack of clarity in the law in this area. This group labored some 23 months (and through just about as many drafts of grant proposals) to make the project a reality.

The result of all of this is that I have come to know well the capabilities and contributions of many public lawyers. There are literally dozens of attorneys–many of whom are in this room–who qualify not only as public lawyers of the year, but of the century.

To the extent that this award reflects my work for the League, the success of my efforts have depended heavily on these attorneys’ willingness to contribute their time and expertise. More than anything else, I truly believe this award recognizes all of our efforts and the value of collaboration.

What Public Law Means to Me: Promoting the Efficacy of Collective Action at The Local Level

Having said this, I cannot tell you how much it means to me to be recognized as a public lawyer and that my colleagues would believe my work with the League has made some kind of contribution to the practice of public law. The reason it means so much to me is I care very deeply about what public agencies–particularly cities–do and what the League does to help cities serve their communities.

This is because I think cities are very important in our system of government. In a 1997 Western City series about home rule and the value of cities, Professor John Kirlin of USC noted that cities are instruments of collective action and expressions of collective visions on a human scale. If you think about it, cities are the way in which we as individuals can better ourselves and our immediate environments. Nearly everything cities do relate to these two forms of betterment–arts and cultural programs, economic development efforts, public safety services, land use planning and the ongoing and sometimes discouraging efforts to muster adequate financial resources to respond effectively to the public’s needs.

The ability of cities to serve this role is critical for the public. Professor Kirlin also notes that, for individuals, the costs of seeking action at the state and national levels are simply prohibitive. Those institutions are geographically remote from us and tend to respond to influences that most of us as individuals are unable to match. Our ability to actually make a difference within those forums is very limited. Professor Kirlin poses an important rhetorical question: without cities, how would citizens have the means to influence the important dimensions of their lives?

The means to influence important dimensions of citizens’ lives is what local control is all about. And the significance of this fundamental democratic principle is why the California Constitution recognizes and protects the intrinsic value of municipal home rule for charter cities–even in the face of conflicting and/or unclear state law. In fact, the importance of keeping public agency decisions as close to the people as possible is also why courts should be highly discerning in deciding even ordinary preemption cases. Local decisions should only be overridden when the Legislature has clearly stated its intention and justification for doing so.

The League and Cities: Instruments for Expressing Collective Visions

Being able to advocate on behalf of such worthy principles is truly a privilege. Being able to work with such a fine group of fellow public lawyers in so doing is the professional equivalent of nirvana.

Just as the priorities cities set for themselves are the collective expressions of vision for their communities, the League is municipal lawyers’ instrument for expressing a collective vision about the betterment of public law. This is true whether the undertaking is to protect local control or create tools to help city officials respond effectively and knowledgeably to their community’s needs.

Thank you all for sharing this very special evening with me. I have learned so much from the attorneys that help the League with its work and I know I have so much more to learn. I am grateful for the opportunity to serve as a public lawyer and I am grateful for the very much appreciated pat on the back that this award represents. Again, it means more than words truly can express.

1998 Public Lawyer of the Year: Peter Belton

Peter Belton was honored as the 1998 Public Lawyer of the Year during the Public Law Section’s annual reception at the California State Bar’s annual meeting in Monterey on October 3, 1998.

Mr. Belton joined the legal staff of the California Supreme Court in 1960. He has served as staff attorney for Justice Stanley Mosk since Justice Mosk joined the court in 1964. A 1959 Harvard Law School graduate, Mr. Belton is widely viewed as one of the most able attorneys at the court.

He currently chairs the Editorial Review Panel for the Judicial Council’s Appellate Advisory Committee, which is revising the appellate portions of the California Rules of Court.

Peter Belton’s Acceptance Speech

Thank you very much, Justice Werdegar, for your kind words, and for reading the kind words of my boss and almost lifelong friend, Justice Mosk. If his schedule allowed, he’d certainly be with us. I also want to thank Manuela Albuquerque for nominating me for this award, Margaret Sohagi and the Executive Committee for selecting me, and all my fellow public lawyers for honoring me. I truly appreciate it.

As Justice Werdegar said, I have served as a Supreme Court staff attorney  for more than 38 years, the last 34 as the senior staff attorney for Justice Mosk. When Manuela told me I’m the first judicial staff attorney to receive this award, my initial reaction was to talk to you about who Supreme Court staff attorneys are and what we do. But the subject was well covered in a recent article by Dick Goldberg entitled The Shadow Court in the July 1997 issue of the California Lawyer magazine. The article gives the basic facts: There are currently 69 attorneys on the Supreme Court staff. Most are career positions. Most of the attorneys were in private practice before coming to the Court. About half are women. Of the 69,30 serve on the Central Staff, the specialized staff that prepares memoranda for the Justices on the petitions for review. The other 39 attorneys are divided among the staffs of the individual Justices. Each assists his or her Justice in various ways, primarily by studying the briefs in the cases assigned to that Justice, summarizing the facts, analyzing the issues, researching the law, discussing the case with the Justice, and drafting an opinion that expresses the Justice’s views.

The Goldberg article, however, doesn’t emphasize one aspect of the contribution of staff attorneys to the work of the Court that is harder to pin down but I think is equally important: it is the fact that each staff attorney–like each Justice–brings to the job an individual perspective and understanding gained from his or her own life experience. In some instances, that experience can give the Justice a deeper appreciation of what is really at stake in the case–its underlying reality. Such cases happen to all of us, and they happened to me a few memorable times. I’d like to tell you about two of those instances. I’ll call it A Tale of Two Cases.

To appreciate the first case, you need to know I was not born an American citizen. In fact, I didn’t immigrate to this country until I was 12. But English was not a problem: I was a British citizen, and had all my elementary education in schools in England and Toronto. After I settled in the United States, I had my secondary education in New York, earned a bachelor’s degree from Harvard College, and entered Harvard Law School. I had resident alien status, but I felt and acted as American as apple pie–I loved baseball, paid my taxes, and had even been classified 1A in the draft! By then I had lived in this country for almost a decade, and I intended to live here for the rest of my life, making a career in the law.

In middle of my second year Constitutional Law class, however, I had a rude awakening. While discussing the rights and disabilities of aliens, my professor happened to mention that in most states–perhaps all–you had to be a citizen in order to practice law. I was surprised and dismayed. It seemed unfair, even irrational. I had worked long and hard to get through college and law school, and I believed I would make a good lawyer. I couldn’t understand why I would be excluded from my chosen career just because I was a resident alien–why I had no right to practice law yet had to obey all the laws that a citizen obeyed, including paying taxes and being drafted. If nothing else, it seemed–to use a term I had just learned–invidious discrimination.

But at the time I believed I had no choice: I had to become a citizen or forget about becoming a lawyer. I therefore applied for my citizenship papers and went through the process quaintly called “naturalization.” (Had I been “unnatural” until then? Being an “alien”–even before E.T.–seemed sufficiently alienating.) Because I had been a legal resident of this country for over a decade, the process in my case took only a few months; many others would not be so lucky.

In due course, though, I had the chance to contribute to a solution to the problem. After graduation I settled in California, was admitted to the Bar, and joined the Supreme Court staff. One day about 10 years later a petition called Raffaelli v. Committee of Bar Examiners was assigned–randomly, like all other petitions–to Justice Mosk. For me it was a classic case of deja vu. Paolo Raffaelli was an Italian citizen who immigrated to California intending to make his permanent home here. He entered San Jose State and graduated with a bachelor’s degree. He entered Santa Clara Law School and graduated with a law degree. He passed the Bar exam on his first try. He was hired as a law clerk by a California law firm. He married an American woman, and had the legal status of a permanent resident alien.

But the Committee of Bar Examiners refused to admit him to the Bar on the sole ground that he was not a citizen: by statute, citizenship was a requirement for practicing law in California. (Former Bus. & Prof. Code, § 6060, subd. (a).) Rather than meekly complying as I did, however, Raffaelli chose to “fight it all the way to the Supreme Court”: he filed a petition in our Court challenging the constitutionality of the statute and asking us to order his admission.

There were, of course, striking similarities between my personal history and Raffaelli’s. Justice Mosk knew my history, and it illustrated for him how irrational and discriminatory it was to exclude all non citizens from the practice of law. Knowing my interest in the subject, he asked me to work on the case. Needless to say, I was delighted.

My research showed that for the first quarter century of statehood, anyone wanting to practice law in California had to be white, male, and a citizen. The exclusion of nonwhites and women was repealed in 1877, but the citizenship requirement persisted. Indeed, in the first part of this century the Legislature expanded the citizenship requirement by imposing it on a wide range of other occupations licensed by state or local government (e.g., teacher, pharmacist, psychologist, policeman, private eye, social worker, insurance broker, etc.)

After discussions with Justice Mosk, I drafted an opinion recommending that we strike down the statute and order Raffaelli’s admission. (Raffaelli v. Committee of Bar Examiners (1972) 7 Cal.3d 288.) We reasoned there must be a rational connection between a law discriminating on the ground of alienage and the purpose the law is said to serve. We then reviewed five purposes that the State Bar claimed were served by the citizenship requirement for lawyers, but found that none was in fact promoted by it. For example, it was argued that a lawyer must be able to “appreciate the spirit of American institutions.” (Id. at p. 296.) Rejecting that argument, we reasoned that the State could not show that aliens as a class were unable to understand American institutions. We said: “Knowledge of this kind comes not so much from the accident of birth as from the experience of the daily life of the community and the role of government in that life. These manifestations unfold to everyone who has lived in America or taken an active interest in the American scene. And there is no prescribed minimum number of years that a person must reside in the United States in order thus to ‘appreciate’ our institutions. Alexis de Tocqueville, after all, lived here for less than a year and never became an American citizen.” (Ibid.)

Our decision unanimously held that the law excluding non citizens from the practice of law was not rationally related to the purposes it was said to serve, and struck it down on the ground it violated the Equal Protection clauses of the United States and California Constitutions. We concluded: “In the light of the modern decisions safeguarding the rights of those among us who are not citizens of the United States, the exclusion appears constitutionally indefensible. It is the lingering vestige of a xenophobic attitude which also once restricted membership in our bar to persons who were both ‘male’ and ‘white.’ It should now be allowed to join those anachronistic classifications among the crumbled pedestals of history.” (Id. at p. 291) The Court ordered Raffaelli admitted to the Bar.

There are two postscripts to this story. First, shortly after our opinion was filed the Legislature began repealing many other laws requiring citizenship as a condition to engaging in an occupation. The process continued for several legislative sessions, and there are very few such laws left today.

Second, although personally satisfying to me, our decision applied only to California law. But 13 months later the United States Supreme Court faced the same question for the first time in a case out of Connecticut called Application of Griffiths (1973) 413 U.S. 717. The Supreme Court’s reasoning was very similar to ours and reached the same conclusion- i.e., to exclude all aliens from the practice of law simply because of their lack of citizenship violates the Equal Protection clause of the United States Constitution. The decision, of course, applied to all states, thus putting an end to such exclusions across the land. And it made my day (it still does) to see that the opinion of the court, written by Justice Lewis Powell, citing Raffaelli, said: “In a thoughtful opinion, the California Supreme Court unanimously declared unconstitutional a similar California rule.” (413 U.S. at p. 729, fn. 22, italics added.)

To appreciate the second case I want to share with you, I need to tell you that I contracted polio in 1954 and have been in a wheelchair ever since. Because I became disabled before my three children were born, they’ve never known me not to be in a wheelchair. Yet I feel that I fully participated, with their mother, in their upbringing. Like any parent, I read to them, played games with them, answered their questions about life and the world (usually in more detail than they wanted), drove them to school in my van equipped with a wheelchair lift and hand controls, helped them with their school work, and shared their adventures on weekends and family vacations. My being in a wheelchair was simply not an obstacle to normal family life, and certainly didn’t prevent my children from participating in active sports — for example, they were competitive swimmers and won many ribbons and medals.

How is all this relevant? One day a petition called In re Marriage of Carney arrived at the Court and was assigned–again randomly — to Justice Mosk. For me it was deja vu all over again! William and Ellen Carney had two sons, but separated while the boys were infants. Ellen gave custody to William; she lived in New York, he in California. He brought up his sons with the help of his significant other; Ellen didn’t even visit them for five years. When the boys were aged six and eight, William had car accident that left him a quadriplegic in a wheelchair. But he remained close to his sons, and bought van with a wheelchair lift and hand controls.

William and Ellen began divorce proceedings. Ellen asked for custody of the boys on the sole ground of William’s physical handicap. At the custody hearing the trial judge–a man in his 70’s, retired and serving pro tem.–questioned the witnesses only about the presumed effect of the handicap on William’s ability to play sports with his sons. For example, he an asked expert witness: “would it be better if they had a parent that was able to actively go places with them, take them places, play Little League baseball, go fishing?” (24 Cal.3d 725, 734.) Although the judge agreed that William had a “great relationship” with his sons, he concluded: “I think it would be detrimental to the boys to grow up until age 18 in the custody of their father. It wouldn’t be a normal relationship between father and boys. It’s unfortunate William has to have help bathing and dressing and undressing. He can’t do anything for the boys himself except maybe talk to them and teach them, be a tutor, which is good, but it’s not enough.” (Id. at p. 735.) The judge awarded custody to Ellen, and William appealed.

The Court of Appeal affirmed in brief unpublished opinion, largely on the ground that a trial judge has broad discretion in awarding custody. William petitioned the California Supreme Court for a hearing, claiming the judge abused his discretion. The Court rarely grants review in such circumstances, but again I was able to contribute to a different result.

Once more, of course, there were striking similarities between my personal history and the facts of the case. My experience with raising my children despite a physical disability illustrated for Justice Mosk how outdated the trial judge’s views on the subject were. Again he asked me to work on the case, and again I was delighted.

First I drafted a memorandum recommending that we grant a hearing, and all seven Justices voted to do so. Then I began work on the opinion. There was no big question of law in the case as there was in Raffaelli, but the record was rife with stereotypical thinking at its worst–stereotypes about the role of parents in their children’s upbringing and the capability of disabled persons to fill that role.

After discussions with Justice Mosk, I drafted an opinion exposing and condemning each of those stereotypes. (In re Marriage of Carney (1979) 24 Cal.3d 725.) As our guiding principle, we declared: “if a person has a physical handicap it is impermissible for the court simply to rely on that condition as prima facie evidence of the person’s unfitness as a parent or of probable detriment to the child; rather, in all cases the court must view the handicapped person as an individual and the family as a whole. To achieve this, the court should inquire into the person’s actual and potential physical capabilities, learn how he or she has adapted to the disability and manages its problems, consider how the other members of the household have adjusted thereto, and take into account the special contributions the person may make to the family despite–or even because of–the handicap.” (Id. at p. 736.)

Applying that principle to the facts of the case, we reasoned: “For some, the court’s emphasis on the importance of a father’s ‘playing baseball’ or ‘going fishing’ with his sons may evoke nostalgic memories of a Norman Rockwell cover on the old Saturday Evening Post. But it has at last been understood that a boy need not prove his masculinity on the playing fields of Ton, nor must a man compete with his son in athletics in order to be a good father: their relationship is no less ‘normal’ if it is built on shared experiences in such fields of interest as science, music, arts and crafts, history or travel, or in pursuing such classic hobbies as stamp or coin collecting. In short, an afternoon that a father and son spend together at a museum or the zoo is surely no less enriching than an equivalent amount of time spent catching either balls or fish.” (Id. at p. 737.)

Turning to the realities of children’s lives today, we said: “the stereotype indulged in by the court is false for an additional reason: it mistakenly assumes that the pa
rent’s handicap inevitably handicaps the child. But children are more adaptable than the court gives them credit for; if one path to their enjoyment of physical activities is closed, they will soon find another. Indeed, having a handicapped parent often stimulates the growth of a child’s imagination, independence, and self-reliance…. It is true that William may not be able to play tennis or swim, ride a bicycle or do gymnastics; but it does not follow that his children cannot learn and enjoy such skills ….” (Id. at pp. 737-738.)

Finally, and most important, we explained: “On a deeper level . . . the stereotype is false because it fails to reach the heart of the parent-child relationship. Contemporary psychology confirms what wise families have perhaps always known–that the essence of parenting is not to be found in the harried rounds of daily carpooling endemic to modern suburban life, or even in the doggedly dutiful acts of ‘togetherness’ committed every weekend by well-meaning fathers and mothers across America. Rather, its essence lies in the ethical, emotional, and intellectual guidance the parent gives to the child throughout his formative years, and often beyond. The source of this guidance is the adult’s own experience of life; its motive power is parental love and concern for the child’s well-being; and its teachings deal with such fundamental matters as the child’s feelings about himself, his relationships with others, his system of values, his standards of conduct, and his goals and priorities in life. Even if it were true, as the court herein asserted, that William cannot do ‘anything’ for his sons except ‘talk to them and teach them, be a tutor,’ that would not only be ‘enough’– contrary to the court’s conclusion–it would be the most valuable service a parent can render. Yet his capacity to do so is entirely unrelated to his physical prowess: however limited his bodily strength may be, a handicapped parent is a whole person to the child who needs his affection, sympathy, and wisdom to deal with the problems of growing up. Indeed, in such matters his handicap may well be an asset: few can pass through the crucible of a severe physical disability without learning enduring lessons in patience and tolerance.” (Id. at p. 739.)

For all those reasons, the Court unanimously held that the order taking custody of the boys away from their father was an abuse of discretion, and ordered a new trial.

Again there are two postscripts. First, at the new trial, before a different judge, the boys were returned to their father.

Second, the case caught the attention of the media, and eventually resulted in a piece on ABC’s “20/20” television newsmagazine and a two-hour, prime-time docudrama movie version on CBS. But that’s a story for another day ….

To conclude, I accept this award not so much for myself as for all judicial staff attorneys, and not only those who work for Supreme Court but also those who work for the Courts of Appeal and the trial courts. We’re few in number and do our work far from the public eye, but we’re all part of a great and honorable tradition of serving the people of our state as public lawyers. We join you today in celebrating that tradition. Thank you very much.

Disclaimer: The statements and opinions here are those of Mr. Belton and not necessarily those of the State Bar of California, the Public Law Section, or any government body.

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