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News for, and by, our local legal community, curated and created by the Santa Clara County Bar. The opinions expressed in this blog are the authors' own and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of the Santa Clara County Bar Association, its members, its employees, or its governing board.


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SCCBA Barristers Honor Mariel Block, 2016 Barrister of the Year

Posted By Paula Collis, Thursday, June 23, 2016



The Barristers' Committee of the Santa Clara County Bar Association was thrilled yesterday to present Mariel Block  with the 2016 Barrister of the Year Award. Ms. Block's award was presented by the Hon. Carol Overton who spoke of the the contributions Mariel has made to the local legal community. Among the criteria to be selected for Barrister of the Year, the awardee, "must have demonstrated professional skill and judgement significantly beyond that expected for a lawyer with his or his experience level." 


Ms. Block graduated from UC Berkeley magna cum laude in 2008 and from University of Michigan Law School in December 2011. She was admitted to the California Bar in June 2012. Throughout her education and career, Ms. Block has shown a strong commitment to public interest law. She has clerked at the ACLU in Atlanta, Georgia, the National Immigrant Justice Center in Chicago, Illinois and the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, New York and New Orleans, Louisiana. From March 2013 to August 2014, she worked as a staff attorney defending low income clients in unlawful detainer proceedings in Sacramento County. In September 2014, Ms. Block was hired as the Law Foundation’s Pro Bono Housing Program Staff Attorney and has been serving in that role since that time.


Ms. Block is an extremely knowledgeable, tenacious, resourceful, creative and zealous advocate. During the last year and a half, she has devoted tremendous energy and talent to making the Law Foundation’s Pro Bono Housing Program what it is today. Every Friday, she coordinates the Law Foundation’s eviction clinic, providing support to our 68 volunteer lawyers serving low income tenants in Santa Clara County. She also provides support to pro bono attorneys who take on unlawful detainer cases for ongoing representation and handles her very own case load. The growth of the Program under her lead has been remarkable – in 2014, the clinic provided representation to 295 tenants, 7 of whom received full scope representation. In 2015, the Program provided representation to 373 clients, 60 of whom received ongoing representation throughout the eviction process. Beyond the numbers, Ms. Block’s fierce advocacy and guidance has resulted in some truly amazing outcomes on behalf of low income tenants in our county.


Ms. Block plays a critical part in pro bono work in our county, though she has a supporting role. Since starting as the Law Foundation’s Pro Bono Housing Program Staff Attorney, she has trained and provided technical assistance to over 200 volunteers at our weekly housing clinic and provided support to 45 private attorneys who represented low income tenants in UD proceedings on a pro bono basis.


Ms. Block has been active in the Santa Clara County Legal Services Community. She regularly participates with the local Housing Task Force, which meets regularly to discuss and address issues facing low income tenants in our community. As one of the few tenant attorneys in our county, she has also been active in providing comments to the Language Access Plan Implementation Task Force at the State level.





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June 20 Digest

Posted By Paula Collis, Monday, June 20, 2016
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June 16 Digest

Posted By Administration, Thursday, June 16, 2016

Prosecutors 'lack confidence' in Stanford sex assault judge — and that could be a big problem for him

The judge who sentenced former Stanford University swimmer Brock Turner to six months in jail in a sexual assault case is facing a recall effort as well as demands that he be disciplined. But he’s also facing a different kind of threat from the local district attorney’s office. By Richard Winton — Los Angeles Times

See also: East Bay Times

Gov. Brown drops plan to curb private wage-and-hour litigation

Gov. Jerry Brown has dropped major portions of his plan to curb wage-and-hour litigation in the wake of heavy lobbying by the plaintiffs bar and organized labor. In his January budget proposal, Brown had asked the Legislature for numerous amendments to the 13-year-old Private Attorneys General Act, or PAGA, which allows workers to sue for alleged Labor Code violations when the state declines to act. By Cheryl Miller — The Recorder (sub. req.)

Judge dismisses lawyer from Chow case

A federal judge dismissed one of the lead attorneys who defended Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow at his recent murder and racketeering trial, after a closed hearing where he spoke with Chow for an hour. All three of Chow's attorneys-- Curtis Briggs, J. Tony Serra and Tyler Smith-- had moved earlier this month to withdraw from the case, citing "irreconcilable differences" in their filing. By Maria Dinzeo — Courthouse News Service

Yanking licenses over unpaid fines harms the poor, suit charges

A repayment program established by the state last year to protect low-income Californians from losing their driver’s licenses over unpaid traffic fines is not working in many California counties, according to a coalition of civil rights advocates, who say local courts are failing to take a person’s ability to pay into account. Led by the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, the coalition filed suit Wednesday against Solano County Superior Court — one of dozens, it says, that have been intractable on the issue — and warned 26 others that they could be next. By Michael Cabanatuan — San Francisco Chronicle

Are non-lawyers the future of law school? One school in Delaware thinks so

Cheryl Kettinger isn’t a lawyer, but she is a law school graduate. In 2012, Kettinger graduated from a special program at Widener University School of Law designed to educate people like her — those who work with the law but aren’t angling to become licensed attorneys. By Avi Wolfman-Arent — Newsworks

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June 14 Digest

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Legal settlement may set precedent for detained immigrants seeking lawyers

Thousands of immigrants detained in facilities in northern California will enjoy improved access to legal counsel, following a major class action settlement that lawyers hope will set a nationwide precedent. The settlement will ensure detainees at four centres are permitted freer access to telephones in order to contact attorneys throughout their removal proceedings, a right they claimed was routinely denied due to unconstitutional restrictions that violated Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s own guidelines. By Olivia Laughland — The Guardian

Juror in Stanford sex assault case appalled by sentence

A juror who helped convict a former Stanford University student-athlete of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman complained to the judge about his "ridiculously lenient" six-month jail sentence, which the juror said made a mockery of the panel's verdict, a newspaper reported Monday. The Palo Alto Weekly published a letter that the juror sent Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky over the weekend to convey his shock and disappointment over the sentence 20-year-old Brock Turner received. — The Associated Press

East Bay attorney convicted of hit-and-run faces consequences if he lied to judge

A San Ramon attorney convicted in the 2012 hit-and-run death of a Chinese tourist in Dublin has finished serving his jail sentence, but he is not off the hook just yet. Spencer Freeman Smith, 36, pleaded no contest and was convicted of killing Bo Hu, 57, in March 2012. By Angela Ruggiero — East Bay Times

Court upholds Obama-backed net neutrality rules

A federal appeals court Tuesday upheld a White House-supported effort to make internet service providers treat all web traffic equally, delivering a major defeat to cable and telephone companies. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals sustained the FCC's latest net neutrality rules, which consumer groups and President Barack Obama had backed as essential to preventing broadband providers from blocking or degrading the Internet traffic. By Alex Byers — POLITICO

See also: The Washington PostThe New York TimesLos Angeles Times

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SCCBA Statement on Judicial Independence

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Last Friday, June 10, 2016, the SCCBA issued a public statement regarding the Brock Turner case, the calls for Judge Persky’s removal from the bench, and the implications for judicial independence.  The statement was distributed to all SCCBA members, among others.  In view of the ongoing nature of the controversy, we devote this space today to reproducing the full text of the SCCBA statement.


The SCCBA is aware of the substantial public commentary and criticism that have been provoked by the sentence in the Brock Turner sexual assault case and by Judge Aaron Persky’s explanation of the sentence in court (as summarized by the media).  These events have been the topic of national media attention, extensive social media discussion, and petitions and other demands seeking Judge Persky’s removal from the bench.

The SCCBA recognizes and supports the public’s right to comment on issues of public interest, including the proper adjudication of sexual assault cases and the fair and equal treatment of all who come before the courts.  The SCCBA does not itself comment on rulings in individual cases to which it is not a party or amicus, and it therefore will not state a position on the Turner sentence.

However, the SCCBA also recognizes the importance of judicial independence, a principle that has not featured prominently in the national discussion to date.  The judiciary plays a critical role in upholding the rule of law in our society and constitutional system.  Judges have a duty to apply the law to the facts and evidence before them, regardless of public opinion or political pressure.  In that role, judges provide an important check against other political forces.  If judges had to fear direct, personal repercussions as a result of their decisions in individual cases, the rule of law would suffer.  These principles date back to the founding of our nation and are a bedrock of the United States and California Constitutions.

To further these principles, the SCCBA adopted a resolution in 2003 entitled “Independence of the Judiciary.”  The resolution observed that “judicial independence is an essential part of our system of justice, allowing judges to fulfill their duty to uphold the Constitution and laws of the United States of America and the State of California and to protect the rights of all who appear before them…. [O]ur judicial system and the freedoms it guarantees will be destroyed if judges must test the political winds and popular opinion before ruling….”

The 2003 resolution provides that the SCCBA should speak out against “statements and actions which exceed the bounds of proper criticism and threaten judicial independence.”  This prescription is based in part on recognizing that “the canons of judicial ethics often place judges in a position of not being able to respond effectively to criticism, making it incumbent upon the legal profession to speak out on issues such as these.”  Notably, no member of the California judiciary has publicly addressed the controversy over the Brock Turner sentence.

In view of these principles, the SCCBA opposes the present attempts to remove Judge Persky from the bench based on his sentence in the Brock Turner case.  The SCCBA has seen no credible assertions that in issuing the sentence, Judge Persky violated the law or his ethical obligations or acted in bad faith.  Nor is the SCCBA aware of any other complaints or allegations of impropriety against Judge Persky during his 13 years on the bench.  Seeking to punish a judge under these circumstances presents the very threat to judicial independence that the SCCBA has resolved to condemn.


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June 7 Digest

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, June 8, 2016

California Supreme Court rules for Jerry Brown in prison case

The California Supreme Court, siding with Gov. Jerry Brown in a major prison case, on Monday overturned a lower court ruling blocking his initiative to make some nonviolent felons eligible for early parole. In a 6-1 ruling, the court found Brown acted within his discretion when he filed the November ballot initiative as an amendment to a narrower measure concerning juvenile justice. By David Siders — The Sacramento Bee


Light sentence in Stanford sexual assault causes outrage

A lenient sentence handed to a former Stanford swimmer convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman last year has exploded in a global outcry and a petition to recall the judge who gave Brock Turner six months behind bars. The reaction -- which has sparked international media attention and an online petition to recall the judge, with 152,000 signatures as of Monday evening -- was fueled by a widely circulated, extraordinary letter the victim wrote to Turner and read aloud in the courtroom about the trauma she endured after waking up in the hospital with no memory of the assault and, later, withstanding invasive questions during the criminal proceedings. By Katy Murphy — East Bay Times

See also: ReutersNBC News


Diana Ware didn’t think she’d live to see her stepdaughter’s killer brought to justice. In the decades since 23-year-old Barbara Ware was shot and killed in 1987, Ware had gotten used to waiting. By James Queally and Marisa Gerber — Los Angeles Times

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June 6 Digest

Posted By Administration, Monday, June 6, 2016

California Supreme Court to rule on governor's prison plan

The California Supreme Court is set to decide whether Gov. Jerry Brown can put his plan to reduce the state's prison population before voters in November. At stake in the ruling expected Monday are Brown's amendments to a juvenile justice initiative increasing sentencing credits for adult inmates and allowing earlier parole for non-violent felons. — The Associated Press

On California's death row, too insane to execute

On an August afternoon in 1984, Linda Marie Baltazar Pasnick, a 27-year-old aspiring model, was running errands before a fashion competition when she pulled into the drive-through at a Der Wienerschnitzel. As she waited in line, a panhandler pushed his face into her window and she shooed him away. By Paige St. John — Los Angeles Times

Sex assault victim to ex-Stanford swimmer: "Assault is not an accident"

A six-month jail term for a former Stanford University swimmer convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman is being decried as a slap on the wrist. A California judge sentenced Brock Turner to six months in county jail and three years' probation after the woman who was assaulted read the court an emotional statement that has gone viral. — CBS News

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June 3 Digest

Posted By Administration, Friday, June 3, 2016
Updated: Monday, June 6, 2016

After rejecting State Bar of California funding, Assembly passes a revised plan

After rejecting State Bar of California funding, Assembly passes a revised plan Two days of private negotiations among lawmakers resulted Thursday in brand-new legislation that would change the State Bar of California's governing board and examine the idea of a major overhaul of the quasi-state agency.On Tuesday, lawmakers rejected an earlier version of a funding plan, criticizing how little reform there was in that bill for an agency that's long been at the center of controversy and conflict. By John Myers — Los Angeles Times


California declines to file charges in O.C. courthouse brawl tied to informant scandal

No criminal charges will be filed in the March 9 courthouse brawl between an Orange County District Attorney's investigator and a defense lawyer who won a victory in the county’s jailhouse informant controversy, state prosecutors saidThursday. State Attorney General Kamala Harris' office concluded it was unclear whether either investigator Dillon Alley or Orange attorney James Crawford was criminally at fault in the bloody fight in a court hallway. By Tony Saavedra — The Orange County Register


Jay Mootz will be moving out of the Craftsman cottage that is home to the dean of McGeorge School of Law next year. Mootz, 55, told faculty, staff, alumni and students last week that he will not sign a new contract as dean after his five-year term ends onJune 30, 2017. By Diana Lambert — The Sacramento Bee


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June 2 Digest

Posted By Administration, Thursday, June 2, 2016

Uber, Lyft set to defend driver settlements in court

Uber and Lyft on Thursday will attempt to persuade separate U.S. judges to approve class action settlements which keep drivers classified as independent contractors instead of employees. The ride-hailing companies are seeking to resolve lawsuits by drivers who contend they should be deemed employees and therefore entitled to reimbursement for expenses, including gasoline and vehicle maintenance. By Heather Somerville and Dan Levine — Reuters

Federal judge rejects lawsuit Bernie Sanders backers had hoped would boost his California chances

A federal judge refused Wednesday to reopen voter registration in California ahead of next week’s presidential primary, telling a group led by backers of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders that the rights of the state’s unaffiliated voters have not been harmed. “There’s absolutely no showing of any federal violation,” said U.S. District Judge William Alsup. By John Myers — Los Angeles Times


Trump University case: Who is federal Judge Gonzalo Curiel?

Donald Trump has branded him a "hater," "very hostile" and "Mexican." U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who's presiding over two of the three lawsuits against Trump University in San Diego, is clearly now in the cross hairs of the bombastic presumptive Republican presidential nominee. By Erik Ortiz — NBC News

Gay custody fights redefine legal parenthood

New York’s highest court will soon tackle a thorny legal question at the center of an increasing number of custody battles nationwide: What constitutes a parent? On Thursday, the New York Court of Appeals will hear arguments in a case brought by a gay woman seeking visitation rights for a young boy she says she helped raise. By Sara Randazzo — The Wall Street Journal (sub. req.)

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June 1 Digest

Posted By Administration, Thursday, June 2, 2016

California Assembly kills bill overhauling State Bar

In a clear rebuke to California’s system for regulating attorneys, the Assembly on Tuesday decisively rejected a bill that sought to overhaul the State Bar. A recent audit of the quasi-governmental agency lambasted it for a backlog of claims related to attorney misconduct, which the agency is tasked with investigating. By Jeremy B. White — The Sacramento Bee


Former Trump University workers call the school a ‘lie’ and a ‘scheme’ in testimony

In blunt testimony revealed on Tuesday, former managers of Trump University, the for-profit school started by Donald J. Trump, portray it as an unscrupulous business that relied on high-pressure sales tactics, employed unqualified instructors, made deceptive claims and exploited vulnerable students willing to pay tens of thousands for Mr. Trump’s insights. One sales manager for Trump University, Ronald Schnackenberg, recounted how he was reprimanded for not pushing a financially struggling couple hard enough to sign up for a $35,000 real estate class, despite his conclusion that it would endanger their economic future. By Michael Barbaro and Steve Eder — The New York Times

Campaigning for a judge's seat? A sexier title could get you elected — or sued

Every two years, candidates campaigning for judge in Los Angeles County follow the same trusted routine. Hang political signs. Vie for endorsements. And head to court to accuse rivals of lying about their ballot title. By Marisa Gerber — Los Angeles Times

Kamala Harris takes measured approach to probing SF cop shootings

In TV ads for her U.S. Senate campaign, California Attorney General Kamala Harris describes herself as fearlessly taking on “powerful” interests on behalf of “voiceless and vulnerable” Californians. But some civil rights advocates, legal scholars and community leaders say California’s top law enforcement official hasn’t done enough when it comes to investigating officer-involved shootings in San Francisco, where she was elected twice as district attorney. By Joe Garofoli — San Francisco Chronicle (sub. req.)

CA judges oppose bill to transfer judgeships

California trial judges are opposing the Judicial Council's latest political move, the introduction of a last-minute "gut and amend" bill that would allow the council to move five vacant judgeships among county courts. The effort has found an ally in the California Legislature with Assembly Member Jay Obernolte, a Republican from San Bernardino, recently signing on as a sponsor for the bill. By Maria Dinzeo — Courthouse News Service

US court: Police don't need warrant for cell tower records

Police don't have to get a search warrant to obtain records about cellphone locations in criminal investigations, a federal appeals court ruledTuesday in a case closely watched by privacy rights advocates. The 12-3 decision by the full 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a three-judge panel's ruling last year that the constitutional protection against unreasonable search and seizure requires police to get a warrant for information obtained from cell towers. By Larry O'Dell — The Associated Press

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