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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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Cat custody battle plays out in Sonoma County courtroom

Posted By Administration, Thursday, July 16, 2015

One calls him David. The other says his name is Whiley.

Two women are battling in a Sonoma County court over which of them is the rightful owner of a beloved tuxedo cat.

The black and white feline is the subject of a lawsuit from Tiffany Mestas of Fairfield.

The 35-year-old veterinary technician claims the cat went missing seven years ago and was illegally adopted by Therese Weczorek of Kenwood. When Mestas tracked the cat through an identification chip, the retired nurse wouldn’t hand him over.

“I raised him since he was a baby,” Mestas said Wednesday, of the cat she named David, before a court hearing. “He is very important to me.”

Weczorek, 68, who stood a few feet away with her boyfriend, declined to comment. Her lawyer said she adopted the cat in good faith from what she believed was a reputable animal rescue center in 2010 and didn’t find out about the chip until last year. In fact, the center where Weczorek adopted the cat turned out to be an unlicensed facility.

She has declined a $1,000 reward offered by Mestas to give back the cat, whom she calls Whiley, said one of her attorneys, Leo Bartolotta.

“This is her cat,” he said. “She’s had it a long time. It’s part of her family and her life.”

 Read the whole story at The Press Democrat


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Fresno County Cuts Breaking Public Defense System

Posted By Administration, Thursday, July 16, 2015

FRESNO, Calif. (CN) - Fresno County refuses to fix its broken public defense system, where public defenders juggle hundreds of cases a year and can't provide indigent clients meaningful representation, the ACLU says in state court.

"Our adversarial criminal justice system rests on the premise that the prosecution and defense each thoroughly investigate and vigorously argue the facts and the law before a neutral fact-finder, who is then able to find truth and do justice," the American Civil Liberties Union says in a complaint filed on behalf of three county residents against the county, California and Gov. Jerry Brown.

"But in Fresno County, persons accused of a crime who cannot afford to pay for a lawyer are effectively tried within a system where the prosecutors determine the outcome with little or no input or challenge from the defense," the complaint states.

The imbalance in the system is the result of failures by the county and state to satisfy their constitutional obligation to provide meaningful and effective representation to all indigent persons accused of a crime, the complaint says, alleging violations of the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

 ACLU attorney Novella Coleman told Courthouse News that Fresno County "consistently maintains that its public defense system has always satisfied the requirements of the Constitution, but the county is concentrating on the physical presence of the public defender at the hearings."

"The county's stance doesn't actually acknowledge that there are certain requirements that constitute adequate representation," Coleman said.

 A typical attorney with the Fresno County Public Defender's Office handles an average of 418 felony cases per year, even though national standards set the maximum caseload for felony cases at 150 per attorney, the ACLU says.

Read the whole story at Courthouse News Service

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Bill seeks to address State Bar enforcement against bad lawyers, finance issues

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Nobody was happy, but members of the Assembly Judiciary Committee approved a State Bar dues bill Tuesday with amendments intended to address ongoing concerns about the organization’s inconsistent enforcement against bad lawyers and the ability to manage its own finances.

Senate Bill 387 by Democratic Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson from Santa Barbara would allow the State Bar of California to charge annual dues of up to $390 in 2016, the same rate as this year. A slew of new amendments also address concerns about a year of turmoil at the agency that regulates more than 250,000 lawyers in the state.

First, in November 2014, the State Bar terminated executive director Joe Dunn. He turned around and filed a lawsuit alleging the bar fired him for filing whistleblower complaints alleging financial improprieties. The two sides are in now in arbitration. Then, last month, a critical state audit blasted the State Bar for inconsistent discipline and shoddy finances.

“I don’t know that I’m pleased to present (Senate Bill 387) ... but we believe this measure will tighten the bar and hold it more accountable,” Jackson said to committee members.

If approved by lawmakers and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, the bill would authorize the bar to collect dues and continue operations through 2016. Senate Bill 387 also includes many recommendations by the State Auditor, including a better definition of what constitutes the bar ”backlog” of discipline cases.

Read the whole story at Sacramento Business Journal


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Silicon Valley company's software starting to take divorces, other court disputes online

Posted By Administration, Monday, July 13, 2015

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Imagine working out a divorce without hiring an attorney or stepping into court or disputing the tax assessment on your home completely online.

A Silicon Valley company is starting to make both possibilities a reality with software that experts say represents the next wave of technology in which the law is turned into computer code that can solve legal battles without the need for a judge or attorney.

"We're not quite at the Google car stage in law, but there are no conceptual or technical barriers to what we're talking about," said Oliver Goodenough, director of the Center for Legal Innovation at Vermont Law School, referring to Google's self-driving car.

The computer programs, at least initially, have the ability to relieve overburdened courts of small claims cases, traffic fines and some family law matters. But Goodenough and other experts envision a future in which even more complicated disputes are resolved online, and they say San Jose, California-based Modria has gone far in developing software to realize that.

"There is a version of the future when computers get so good that we trust them to play this role in our society, and it lets us get justice to more people because it's cheaper and more transparent," said Colin Rule, Modria's co-founder.

Officials in Ohio are using Modria's software to resolve disputes over tax assessments and keep them out of court, and a New York-based arbitration association has deployed it to settle medical claims arising from certain types of car crashes.

Read the whole story at Associated Press

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State Bar wants to boost continuing-education requirements for California lawyers

Posted By Administration, Thursday, July 9, 2015

The State Bar of California wants to increase continuing-education requirements for lawyers. One proposal would boost mandatory training by 44 percent.

It's about time, say some lawyers — because California ranks near the bottom of states that have mandatory requirements. Only Alaska and Hawaii require fewer hours, according the National Committee of Bar Examiners.

California requires active attorneys to take 25 hours of legal education classes every three years. Some states require 45.

“Twenty-five hours is pathetic,” said Julie D’Angelo-Fellmeth, administrative director of the University of San Diego’s Center for Public Interest Law. There’s no requirement that includes a lawyer's field of practice. "An immigration attorney can take a bankruptcy seminar,” she added. “And there are lots of exemptions. I’m exempt because I’m a full-time law professor, but I could represent my brother-in-law in a DUI tomorrow and have no idea what I’m doing.”

Read the whole story at Sacramento Business Journal

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Superior Court of California, County of Santa Clara - Public Notice

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, July 8, 2015
Updated: Wednesday, July 8, 2015


Contact: Joe Macaluso, Public Information Officer - (408) 882-2715 



The Superior Court of California, County of Santa Clara operates a Traffic
Courthouse in Santa Clara. Currently, the traffic night court calendars are
heard four times each month in Departments 55 and 56. Effective August
3, 2015, these calendars will be reduced to twice a month, eliminating the
two calendars heard each month in Department 55. 

Traffic night court calendars will be heard on the 2nd and 4th Tuesdays of
each month at the Santa Clara Courthouse in Department 56. The Santa
Clara Courthouse is located at 1095 Homestead Road, Santa Clara,

The Court finds the above actions are necessary due to the significant and
continuing cuts to the State Judicial Branch Budget. Since 2009, state
funding for the judicial branch has been significantly reduced, with those
reductions impacting the budgets of individual superior courts. The funding
for FY 2015-16 does not make it fiscally feasible to keep these courts open.
We apologize for the inconvenience this may cause. If you would like to
submit comments about the proposed reductions, please send them to
David H. Yamasaki, Court Executive Officer, 191 North First Street, San
Jose, California 95113 by August 3, 2015.

For further information, please check the Superior Court website at

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Publication Notice: New State Bar Ethics Opinion

Posted By Administration, Monday, July 6, 2015

The State Bar Board of Trustees has approved the publication of the following ethics opinion written by the State Bar of California's Committee on Professional Responsibility and Conduct (COPRAC):


Formal Opinion No. 2015-193 (re ESI and Discovery Requests)

What are an attorney’s ethical duties in the handling of discovery of electronically stored information?


The full text of this opinion is posted at the State Bar's website (  From the "Ethics Information" page, select the link to "Opinions" and the most recent group of opinions at the top of the drop down list.

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Message from the Chief Justice: Judicial Branch Budget for 2015-16

Posted By Administration, Monday, July 6, 2015

Note: The new funding the branch received represents a positive outcome for our court system, with the recognition that the work now continues to move toward a more stable funding structure to improve operations and enhance consistent and timely access to justice. 

Dear Colleagues:

The Governor signed the 2015–2016 State Budget earlier today and I wanted to share with you the details on how the state budget affects the judicial branch. Please see the attached memo from Judicial Council Administrative Director Martin Hoshino.

I am pleased to see that this year’s state budget includes a further increase for trial court operations, as well as more funding for dependency counsel. The final signed budget was only $61 million above the amount the Governor proposed in his May Revise with the judicial branch receiving $12.3 million of that additional funding.

The budget also includes a Traffic Amnesty Program. The program provides relief to those who need to take care of past responsibilities in order to keep up with their current ones.

I thank all of you who have worked so tirelessly on the branch budget—the members of the Judicial Council, trial court judicial and administrative leadership, the Bench-Bar Coalition, the California Judges Association, the Open Courts Coalition, as well as Administrative Director Martin Hoshino and Judicial Council staff. Our budget advocacy involves a multi-year effort, and I looked forward to your continued support and assistance.  Thank you.

Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye

Chief Justice of California and

Chair of the Judicial Council

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PRESIDENT'S MESSAGE: Your Professionalism Committee at Work

Posted By Alison P. Buchanan, Monday, July 6, 2015

by Alison Buchanan
2015 Chair, SCCBA Professionalism Committee
Shareholder, Hoge Fenton Jones & Appel


The Santa Clara County Bar Association’s Professionalism Committee is charged with overseeing the SCCBA’s Center for Ethics & Professionalism, maintaining the SCCBA’s Code of Professionalism, reviewing and commenting on proposed State Bar formal ethics opinions, maintaining the Professionalism Forum & Blog, developing continuing legal education programs for civility and professionalism, and interacting with the local bench to ensure and improve civility and professionalism in the courtroom.  The Committee does important work and touches on issues that impact every area of practice.


As the 2015 Chair of the Professionalism Committee for the Santa Clara County Bar Association, I am pleased to report that the Professionalism Committee has had a productive year thus far.  We have undertaken several significant projects, and have also identified a few new exciting projects for the future.  They include:

  • Revisions to the SCCBA’s Code of Professionalism:  For many years, the SCCBA’s Code of Professionalism has provided guidance to our county’s lawyers and judges and has served as a model for many other courts and jurisdictions.  The SCCBA last updated the Code of Professionalism in 2007.  In anticipation of republishing the Code, it is time for us to evaluate whether any revisions are warranted.  Members of the Professionalism Committee and the bench, including Judges Julie Emede, Judge James Towery, Judge Brian Walsh, Lori Pegg, and former SCCBA President Clark Stone, have graciously agreed to review the Code of Professionalism for possible updates, and to ensure that the Code still reflects our legal community’s collective attitudes and values.  The Committee invites and encourages SCCBA members to submit comments and proposed revisions to the Code. 
  • State Bar’s Professional Rules Revision Commission: The Professionalism Committee is following closely (and will provide feedback regarding) the work and progress of the State Bar’s Second Commission for the Revision of the Rules of Professional Conduct.  As you know, last summer the California Supreme Court returned the prior Rules Revision Commission’s final package of sixty-seven revised rules, essentially abandoning the package of proposed revised rules. The Supreme Court instructed that the revised rules set minimum disciplinary standards only, and not include aspirational considerations.  The Supreme Court directed that a Second Commission be appointed and that the Second Commission complete its work by March 2017.  The State Bar’s website includes helpful information regarding public participation it the rules revision process and, specifically, the State Bar encourages members to interact with the Second Commission for the Revision of the Rules of Professional Conduct.
  • Should SCCBA Issue Formal Ethics Opinions?:  Less than a handful of county bar associations in California publish formal ethics opinions.  The SCCBA is not one of them, but should we be?  In the coming months, the SCCBA’s Professionalism Committee will appoint a small task force to evaluate the following questions: (1) should the SCCBA publish formal ethics opinions?; and (2) if so, what should that look like, logistically?  We are interested in your comments and feedback on this issue, so please feel free to communicate your thoughts to the SCCBA.

In addition, the State Bar’s Standing Committee on Professional Responsibility and Conduct (COPRAC) has issued two tentatively approved formal ethics opinions for the 90-day public comment period.  First, COPRAC has tentatively approved Proposed Formal Opinion Interim No. 13-0005 for a 90-day public comment distribution.  The Opinion considers what duty a lawyer owes to current and former clients to refrain from disclosing potentially embarrassing or detrimental information about the client, including publicly available information the lawyer learned during the representation or relating to the representation.  The public comment period expires August 27, 2015, at 5:00 p.m.  Second, in June, COPRAC tentatively approved Proposed Formal Opinion Interim No. 12‑0007 for a 90-day public comment distribution.  This Opinion considers the ethical limitations on the statements the attorney may make to third parties when an attorney is engaged in negotiations on behalf of a client (including statements that may be considered “puffing” or posturing).  The public comment period expires September23, 2015, at 5:00 p.m.  For more information about these Opinions and how to submit comments, go to the State Bar’s public comments page.


This is just a small sampling of what the Professionalism Committee has been working on this year.  Hopefully, these items pique your interest and bolster your enthusiasm for the Committee’s work.   There are many ways you can ensure we maintain those high standards of professionalism for which our legal community known.   If you are interested in joining the Professionalism Committee, or if you are interested in any of the projects we are working on, please feel free to reach out to us.



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When lawyers break the law

Posted By Administration, Monday, July 6, 2015

One longtime San Diego attorney laundered his client’s medical marijuana profits. A second is accused of aiding a global laundering operation with ties to drug traffickers.

A third is awaiting sentencing for stealing from his clients. A fourth got 12 years in prison for helping run a massive mortgage scam.

The prosecutions, all in San Diego federal court, are recent examples of lawyers accused of not only crossing an ethical boundary they’ve sworn to uphold, but venturing into criminal territory.

A federal investigation is still open into six unnamed attorneys and their representatives who are suspected of conspiring to bribe a San Diego DMV official to keep their clients from getting their driver’s licenses suspended in DUI cases.

Prosecutors pay extra attention to cases that involve professional licenses, such as attorneys, physicians and securities brokers, Assistant U.S. Attorney Phillip Halpern said.

“The public has an expectation of trust when someone is a professional, so when there’s a violation of that trust, that would certainly elevate the crime as far as our enforcement,” Halpern said.

Read the whole story at The San Diego Union-Tribune

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