Message From the Chair


Message From the Chair

By Michael E. Whitaker

Michael E. Whitaker is a Judge of the Superior Court in and for the County of Los Angeles. Michael received his B.A., with Distinction, in Political Science from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, and obtained his J.D. from the University of Oregon, where he served as a Managing Editor for the Oregon Law Review. He also served on the City of Culver City Civil Service Commission from 2006-2014.

Where did the time go?

"We have so much time and so little to see. Wait a minute, strike that, reverse it. Thank you." —Willie Wonka

That quote, from one of my favorite movies, exemplifies my year as Chair of the Labor and Employment Law Section. I had lots of goals and objectives for the Section, some big and some small. But I had so little time, which has come and gone. Where did the time go?

As I write my last Message from the Chair, I look back to my first message in which I posed the rhetorical question—how did I get here? Now, I pose the question, how did I get to this point—the end of my term as Chair of this Section?

The past year has presented opportunities and challenges for the Section. One of my objectives in assuming leadership roles from Chair of the 2010 Public Sector Conference, to Treasurer, to Secretary, to Vice Chair, and to Chair, was to make the governance of the Executive Committee more efficient. Thus, a couple of years ago, I proposed that the Executive Committee adopt the formation of seven standing committees which covered many areas of the Section’s educational programing. It may seem like insider baseball stuff, but the formation of such committees ensured that there would programming continuity and leadership succession. In turn, that meant the Section could continue to produce quality educational programs and to develop new ways to meet the Section’s mission.

During the last year, the Section’s Executive Committee has faced many challenges, including the struggle to continue to deliver high-quality educational programs at a low cost. With the rising costs of producing in-person programs, such as the Public Sector Conference, Annual Meeting, and Advanced Wage and Hour Conference, the Executive Committee has sought to adopt best practices to keep the overall costs of producing these programs low. This has not been an easy feat. Thus, the Executive Committee recognized that registration fees would need to increase just to keep pace with the rising costs, even as the Section continues to subsidize the in-person programs. The Executive Committee will continue to explore ways during the upcoming year to reduce the Section’s expenses.

Despite the challenges, during the 2014-2015 year, the Executive Committee once again offered the New Employment Lawyer Conference in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Since its inception a few years ago, this program has exceeded expectations for those teaching the course and for those who attend. In addition, the Public Sector Conference in April 2015 was an overall triumph, especially the keynote speaker, Professor Gerald Uelman of Santa Clara University Law School. As an avid California Supreme Court watcher, his insight about the court was invaluable. And, in July 2015, the Executive Committee, taking a step outside of its comfort zone, combined the Advanced Wage and Hour Conference and the Section’s Annual Meeting. Although there may have been trepidation about the combined program, it was a star just like the many other stars who traverse the grounds of L.A. LIVE. Our keynote speaker, DFEH Director Kevin Kish, inspired attorneys on both sides of the bar. These successful programs are the result of many people working hard, including the panelists who lent us their talents for a day and the conference chairs. So I need to extend my gratitude to the chairs, Eileen Goldsmith (New Employment Lawyer), Stephen Mesi (Public Sector), Carol Gillam (Annual Meeting), and Fernando Flores (Wage and Hour) for jobs well done.

I am also proud that the Executive Committee crafted a uniform sponsorship plan this past year. In the plan’s inaugural year, the Section received $50,000 in sponsorships. Thanks to the generous contributions of our sponsors, the Section will be able to mitigate the increased costs of its programs. In addition, the Executive Committee adopted a new community outreach program and formed two ad hoc committees. One of the committees is tasked with developing a basic wage and hour program, and the other committee will explore ways to increase camaraderie and cooperation among employment law practitioners. Of course, there are lots of worthy ideas for new programming, and I hope the Executive Committee in the years to come will have the time to tackle them.

As I close my final message from the Chair, I would like to extend my gratitude to the State Bar staff members who have been helpful to me not only during the last year, but throughout my tenure with the Executive Committee. Thank you Lynn Taylor, Theresa Raglen, Ellen Louie, and Susan Orloff. In addition, I would like to thank my colleagues on the Executive Committee, past and present, for entrusting me with the responsibilities that were attendant to the many roles I have undertaken in my eight years with the Executive Committee. Lastly, I need to salute my predecessors from 2007 through 2014. They all paved the way for me and set high standards for excellence. So thank you Phil Horowitz (2007-2008), Karen Clopton (2008-2009), Patti Perez (2009-2010), Wil Harris (2010-2011), Tim Yeung (2011-2012), Suzy Ambrose (2012-2013), and Carol Koenig (2013-2014).

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Without their vision and dedication to our Mission, the Section and the Executive Committee would not be where it is today. I hope that I served their legacies by helping to move the section forward.

I know that my successor, Amy Oppenheimer, will also be presented with many challenges and opportunities in the coming year. But I know that she is more than capable of carrying out the Section’s mission and facing whatever will come her way. I trust she will enjoy writing Chair Messages as much as I have. In addition, I wish the incoming officers who will be leading the Section in the years to come—Bryan Schwartz and Tom Lenz—all the best. I know all of you will continue to move the Section forward.

It has been a privilege and an honor to serve on the State Bar Labor and Employment Law Section’s Executive Committee. When I started in 2007, I did not expect to be with the Executive Committee for eight years. I was planning to fulfill my three-year term and depart. However, I came to appreciate the important work of the Section, and I stayed for the friendships I developed over the years. As I enter the "winter" of my tenure with the Section, I look back at what has been accomplished and look forward to what more there is to come.

"Do I dare disturb the universe? In a minute there is time. For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse."—T.S. Eliot

Until we meet again, Malama Pono.

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