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Thank you for an extraordinary year as SCCBA President

Posted By Dianne L. Sweeney, 2014 SCCBA President, Thursday, December 11, 2014

Dianne L. Sweeneyby Dianne L. Sweeney

Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP

2014 SCCBA President

 

While it seems to me that 2014 passed in a matter of weeks and I am eager to continue the work that still must be done, I wanted to take this moment to thank each of you for an extraordinary year.  I have been profoundly honored and grateful to serve as your President this year.  One of the many benefits I have enjoyed as president is having the vantage point to see the accomplishments of our organization as a whole.  To see member, after member, working to better our legal community.  While I list some of the specific achievements below, what the SCCBA has more broadly accomplished is a renewed and more focused commitment to those principles that bind us as an organization—professionalism, diversity/inclusion, commitment to pro bono service and a desire to see our members develop thriving law practices.  These principles emanate through the daily actions of the SCCBA and guide our leadership and our members down parallel paths to ensure that our day-to-day work mirrors our mission.  

 

Working to maintain and improve the legal system is one of the most important contributions we can make as lawyers and I thank each of you for your ongoing support of the SCCBA in its mission to improve the legal system here in Santa Clara County.  It takes only a short read of the daily news around the world to appreciate again the vital role of lawyers, judges and courts in free societies.  One critical benefit that we enjoy in Santa Clara County is that we have a bench and a community that enthusiastically shares our values.  

 

I am confident that our successes will continue under the incoming leadership of the bar.  The leaders for 2015, John Mlnarik (president), Matt Poppe (president-elect), Kate Wilson (secretary) and Nicole Isger (treasurer), have each been actively involved in our leadership and are each committed to the mission of the SCCBA.  I wish them all the best in 2015 and thank them for their dedication and continued service.  

 

While the Board and I have had the pleasure of leading the volunteer component of the SCCBA, our achievements could not have been possible without the daily support and guidance of our CEO and General Counsel, Christine Burdick and her staff.  Through countless events, meetings and requests, whether long in planning or at a moment’s notice, the staff has worked diligently to deliver excellence on each occasion.  Sara Brylowski, our new marketing director, both developed and implemented an entirely new marketing look and feel across our entire platform, including launching a new website.  Angie Loyola, Irene Cortez, Tiffany Taubodo, Delores Hernandez, Veronica Chavez, Alisa D’Angelo, Smita  Joshi and Craig Melton have, in various ways, ensured that our volunteer members are able to deliver excellent content to our members (through traditional MCLE events, webcasts, blogs, social mixers and community service), connect potential clients and counsel through our lawyer referral service program, resolve fee disputes through the fee arbitration process and, all the while, ensuring that our budget is balanced, our bills are paid, our phones are answered and our technology platform is up and running.  It takes a village to accomplish our work so please join me in thanking each one of them for their service, support and good sense of humor.

 

I also want to thank the 2014 volunteer leadership team that has provided countless hours to advance all the activities and programs sponsored by the SCCBA.  First, I want to give special recognition and thanks to the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees who are on the front line to provide input to me, our CEO, Chris Burdick and the Board.  They are:  the 2014 SCCBA Officers (John Mlnarik, Nicole Isger and Matt Poppe) as well as members Kate Wilson, Jill Fox, Carlos Orellana, Gabriel Gregg and Elisa Tolentino.  The 2014 Executive Committee provided thoughtful input and invaluable support to me throughout this year.

 

Last but not least, I want to think the 2014 Board of Trustees comprised of both elected trustees and representatives of our minority bar associations and SCCBA Diversity, Barristers and Women Lawyers.  They have given the SCCBA a new foundation for the Board’s ongoing comprehensive strategic planning that will continue into 2015.  These fine leaders include our Executive Committee members, former presidents Steven B. Haley and Mindy Morton, and trustees Adam J. Davis, Aileen F. Casanave, Carmen Rosas, Christopher W. Dull, Dana Brody-Brown, Elisa T. Tolentino, Kevin M. Hammon, Lauren E. Jones, Laurie M. Charrington, Megan E. Ottoboni, Ram Fletcher, Robert B. Wong and Sylvia Perez-MacDonald.  I would also like to thank Bob Weeks for his long-term service as our ABA Delegate as well as our former-president Mark Shem, who just completed his term as the State Bar Trustee for our District. 

 

Some of our accomplishments in 2014 include:

  • New Website designed to better showcase the work and resources available to SCCBA members including streamlining the process to join SCCBA committees and sections, opening new channels to connect with other members so that new ideas and opportunities can be readily shared.
  • Formation and Launch of The Center for Ethics & Professionalism.  The Center showcases our extensive work and commitment in this area and provides a host of centralized resources to members.
  • Creation and release of our new logo which balances a modern look and feel with our deep ties to our nearly 100 year history.
  • Completion of our First Phase of Strategic Planning at a Board level to ensure, among other things, that our long-term plans account for the demands of our newer and future members as well as the retirement of some of our baby-boomer members. 
  • Continued commitment to the community through our Lawyers in the Community as well as the Courtroom Program.  This year we held another Second Harvest Food Bank Service event and began a collaborative process with the San Jose Mayor’s Office to ensure that our members are more aware of City commission and board volunteer opportunities
  • Held the 2014 Bench/Bar Leadership Professionalism Summit as one of the various steps we took to keep the Code embedded in our day-to-day practice and experience with the courts.
  • The Northern District of California adopted its first civility code based on the SCCBA Code of Professionalism. We are now asking other counties to join in that effort so we can further share the benefits that the Code has long provided to our local legal community.  
  • Launched the new Judicial Assessment Committee, implementing the Judicial Assessment Procedure for the first time and created a new survey that will be distributed in first quarter 2015.

For nearly 100 years, the SCCBA has been a leader in our community and, as we approach our century-mark, I am proud to report that the SCCBA is a vibrant and critical leader in the local and statewide legal community and, I am proud to have been given the opportunity to serve as your President.  I wish each of you a wonderful holiday season and look forward to seeing you in 2015.

 

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Bench and Bar Leaders Meet to Further Professionalism in Santa Clara County

Posted By Dianne L. Sweeney, Thursday, November 6, 2014

October was an extraordinary month for the Bar.  Judges’ Night 2014 was a tremendous success, and it was a great honor to have Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye as our keynote speaker.  I also have to again congratulate the members who received our 2014 honors Allen Ruby (Professionalism), Suchitra Nayaren (Diversity) and Mark Shem and Jim Scharf (Pro Bono) as well as Presiding Judge Brian Walsh who received our Outstanding Jurist of the Year award.  Each of the awardees are role models in our community and reflect the Bar’s long-standing commitments to continuing to raise the standards of the legal practice in this County and ensuring that our legal community is inclusive and diverse and provides access to justice for every community member.

The Professional Committee and I also had the pleasure of conducting the 2014 Professionalism Summit with members of the bench from the civil, criminal, and family divisions,  including Presiding Judge Brian Walsh, incoming Presiding Judge Rise Pichon as well as incoming Assistant Presiding Judge Patricia Lucas.  The purpose of the Summit was to discuss further expanding the reach of the SCCBA Code of Professionalism (“Code”) as well as how to ensure that the Code remains the vibrant standard for civility and professionalism in the practice of law in this County.  The Professionalism Committee will be focusing on proposals to the Board and the Court including how the Bar can support professionalism in the courtroom long before it rises to the sanctions level and before both the parties and the Court have expended unnecessary resources and fees.

 

To support your efforts in increasing professionalism in your law practice, here are a few updates and reminders:

  • For nearly 25 years, the Code has been the standard in this County for attorney civility and professionalism.  The Santa Clara Superior Court officially adopted the Code by General Order in 1992, and it continues to be a standing order of the Court.
  • In 2007, the California State Bar modeled a state wide civility and professionalism code after the SCCBA Code and earlier this year, the United States District Court for the Northern District of California adopted the Code as its model for civility. 
  • All members are strongly encouraged to sign the pledge to the Code.  Once you sign the pledge, a designation will be added to your member profile.  If you have not signed the pledge yet, you are just a few clicks away.  Go to the SCCBA homepage, select “Manage Your Profile” in the bottom right hand menu, select “Edit My Member Profile”, then scroll down the page until you see “Pledge to Professionalism Code” in the Personal Information section.  Select “YES “to the pledge. Your online member directory profile will reflect your pledge to the Code. 
  • While the Court makes the Code available throughout the courthouse, please take a few minutes at the outset of any new matter to direct the opposing party to the Court’s Standing Order and a link to the Code.  If you want to provide the hardcopy booklet of the Code to opposing counsel in your cases, just contact the SCCBA offices and staff will be happy to send you a copy of the Code.
  • As of January 20, 2015, discovery matters will no longer be severed from the Civil Team Leaders.  Going forward, your assigned Civil Team Leader will hear both pre-trial matters (e.g., ex parte, TRO, preliminary injunction) and discovery disputes.  This new five department configuration will allow the litigants to spend additional time with the Court and allow the Court to build a deeper knowledge of the case, including the observation of the Code by all parties.  The Civil Team Leaders for 2015 are as follows:  Judge Lucas (also Assistant Presiding Judge and Civil Division Supervising Judge), Judge Arand, Judge Elfving, Judge Folan and Judge Huber.

As always, if you have specific ideas about how we can further support use of the Code and expand our professionalism efforts, please email me at info@sccba.com

 

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Informed Voters & An Independent Judiciary

Posted By Dianne L. Sweeney, Wednesday, August 6, 2014
Dianne L. Sweeney
Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP
2014 SCCBA President

As judicial elections heat up again, efforts are being made throughout the country to educate the electorate about the judicial branch—the only non-political branch of government—and how to best preserve fair and impartial elections.

The National Association of Women Judges has asked for our support of their informed voter project aimed at ensuring that our judicial system is free from special interest groups.  Unlike the upcoming gubernatorial and mayoral elections, judicial elections are not a popularity contest.  Good judging is about fair and diligent application of law.  If a litigant believes the judge made an error, the recourse is not to wait until to the next election but to file an appeal.  NAWJ suggests that voters seek information and evaluate judges based on the following areas: 

•    Integrity – A judge should be honest, upright and committed to the rule of law
•    Professional Competence – A judge should have a keen intellect, extensive legal knowledge and strong writing skills
•    Judicial Temperament  – A judge must be neutral, decisive, respectful and composed
•    Experience – A judge should have a strong record of professional excellence in the law
•    Service  –  A judge should be committed to public service and the administration of justice

As lawyers in this County, we have a special interest in ensuring that the candidates to our bench meet these criteria and are dedicated to the impartial and fair administration of justice for all.  We also have a responsibility to educate the community about the special nature of judicial elections and to support elections that are not based on the outcome of any specific case or special interest.  

SCCBA has a long and unique history in supporting fair elections and our local Bench.  As discussed a few months back, our Fair Elections Practices Commission provides candidates with ethical guidelines and works to confidentially resolve any campaign disputes.  Additionally, new this year to the SCCBA is our Judicial Assessment Committee (“JAC “) that allows lawyers to confidentially raise issues about a particular judicial officer and seek advice from well-established practitioners.  The JAC will also raise the issue with the Court if the lawyer so desires.  Later this year, we will also conduct our first assessment poll to see how the Courts are functioning and to gather information about your day-to-day experiences.  If you would like more information about the JAC you can find it on the SCCBA website at get involved >>> judicial assessment.

Lawyers in the Community
In other activities at the bar, we are sponsoring an event as part of our “Lawyers in the Community as well as the Courtroom” initiative.  As service to the community is a critical and rewarding part of our practice, I hope that you will join me, our Executive Committee and Board of Trustees at the Second Harvest Food Bank for an evening of service.  The feedback from our last event was overwhelmingly positive and helped us refocus on the basic needs of our community.  I hope to see you on August 13, 2014.

Budget Woes Trigger Consolidation in our Superior Court
We may also have new volunteer opportunities to support our Court in the months to come.  As many of you have now read, the Court announced that it has been forced to consolidate courtrooms by discontinuing civil, small claims and traffic calendars that are currently being heard in the Morgan Hill and Palo Alto courthouses and moving those appearances to the Downtown San Jose or Santa Clara courthouses.  Judge Walsh called me last week to apprise the Bar of the consolidation and to discuss the devastating impacts of the ongoing budget shortfalls.  Judge Walsh and our dedicated judiciary members and staff are doing all they can to keep current services in place, but you should expect to see longer lines and additional delays as the Court struggles to maintain its operations with insufficient resources.  Going forward, further changes may be required by the Court and we may be called upon to support the Court in new ways.  In the interim Judge Walsh wanted to convey to the Bar that he and his team are doing all they can to continue to provide services in all areas.   

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SCCBA Launches the Center for Ethics & Professionalism

Posted By Dianne L. Sweeney, Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Dianne L. Sweeney
Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP
2014 SCCBA President

While the Board of Trustees’ strategic planning efforts are in their nascent stage, the Trustees’ efforts so far have reaffirmed that one of the most engrained elements of our legal culture is our commitment to maintaining the highest standards of professionalism in the practice of law.  


Our county is known for lawyers with a reputation for professionalism and, for decades, the SCCBA has fostered and promoted that reputation through numerous professionalism initiatives.  As a result, the SCCBA has a national reputation for its involvement in and influence of promoting civility, professionalism and ethics in the legal community.


While the efforts have been substantial, in the past we have not had a specific platform to base our efforts.  Thanks to our latest technology upgrade, we are proud to announce the SCCBA’s Center for Ethics & Professionalism.


The Center will serve as the cornerstone of the SCCBA’s influence on the culture of professionalism in the Santa Clara County legal community and courts. The purpose of SCCBA’s Center is to encourage attorneys to adhere to the highest standards of professional conduct in zealously representing their clients; provide attorneys with the tools and guidelines to achieve that goal through the SCCBA Code of Professionalism; facilitate access to ethics opinions and various online formats to promote member-to-member ethics' discussions; and to recognize those attorneys in the SCCBA who exemplify the standards set out in the Code.


I encourage each of you to go to the new website and explore what the Center has to offer.  The components of the Center include:



As part of our ongoing efforts to support professionalism, the Professionalism Committee, at my request, is organizing a Professionalism Summit.  The Summit will be a joint meeting with leaders of the bench and bar to discuss issues of professionalism and ethics in the courts and what further efforts are needed to continue ensuring that lawyers practicing in Santa Clara County courts adhere to the highest standards of professionalism and civility.


In addition, we are working with the Northern District of California to launch the first set of professionalism guidelines for federal court practitioners.  The Northern District has been impressed with the SCCBA Code of Professionalism (which we first published in 1992) and is considering the adoption of professionalism guidelines similar to our Code.  Regardless of the ultimate form of the Northern District guidelines, we are certainly pleased to see the professionalism focus.


Ultimately, professionalism serves our clients and the community at large as it disavows the waste of court and client resources on frivolous issues and advances the efficient and effective administration of justice.  For this to happen, however, attorneys must continue to embrace these standards of professionalism and civility through their conduct in dealing with clients, opposing counsel, opposing litigants, witnesses and the court.  Simply declaring our commitment to professionalism and the ethical practice of law is not enough.  The new Center for Professionalism & Ethics goal is to assist lawyers in translating words to action.


As always, please take the time this month to bring a new member to an SCCBA event.  As you explore the new SCCBA website, you will see that we have now launched a “Be A Promoter” program so the more SCCBA members you recruit, the more incentives you will receive from the SCCBA (e.g., free MCLE).  For each member you recruit, do make sure they review the Code of Professionalism and sign the Professionalism Pledge.


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SCCBA: An Opportunity to Build Your Network and Enjoy a Respite from Practice Demands

Posted By Dianne L. Sweeney, Tuesday, June 10, 2014
Updated: Thursday, June 26, 2014

Dianne L. Sweeney
Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP
2014 SCCBA President

Lawyering is tough work.  To be a Lawyer is a noble calling but, like all things, it takes its toll over time. When we are not working directly on a client matter, we are often strategizing about other matters, researching the latest case law, working on business development and, if truth be told, worrying about our clients. We are personally invested in our clients’ successes, and we share in their losses.  With so much going on, it is no wonder that many lawyers burn out and, at times, tune out.  While the Bar cannot alter the nature of the practice of law, we do offer a community of resources to support your professional development and help you get out of your office and into the community.

If you are a new lawyer, join the Barristers.  You can meet Adam Davis, the 2014 Barrister of the Year, mingle with lawyers new to the practice and develop relationships that you can enjoy and rely upon for years to come.  If your practice feels routine, consider joining an event with lawyers outside your main practice area, or perhaps it is time to get engaged with our Professionalism Committee (next month we will be unveiling the SCCBA’s new Center for Ethics and Professionalism so it is an exciting time to join that committee).

Activities coming up this summer include:

  • Solo & Small Firm Practitioners’ Section Summer Mixer, June 25, 2014, 5:30 PM at Myth Taverna and Lounge
  • When Judges Cross the Line, June 17, 2014, 6 – 8 PM at the SCCBA Offices featuring the Hon. Erica Yew and Hon. James Towery
  • Forming Connections & Bridging the Experience Gap A Speed Networking Event September 17, 2014, 5:30 PM at the SCCBA Offices

To view these and all our upcoming events, please go to www.sccba.com.

Beyond the activities of our traditional sections and committees, we also have community service opportunities.  If you are interested in joining Lawyers in the Community, we will shortly be scheduling our next community service event at the Second Harvest Food Bank.  I am hopeful that our Board members will be able to join this event so that you can have some time to get to know our dedicated Trustees, including the nine (9) new Trustees who joined the Board in 2014.  In addition, the Barristers’ Committee is planning a clothes donation drive to contribute clothing to a local agency working with those seeking employment to prepare them for employment interviews.  The Women Lawyers’ Section will sponsor its annual silent auction and raffle at its annual Holiday Lunch to raise funds for local charities such as battered women’s shelters.

Whether you would like to meet the current leadership or simply share an evening with other SCCBA members, I hope you will volunteer your valuable time to serve our local community.  While providing these service hours is critical to the agencies and people they serve, the response from members has consistently been that volunteering their time, outside of the office, is a gift to themselves.  It is a chance to take a break from your practice and reset your perspective and your role in advancing the administration of justice for our local legal community.  If you have a particular interest in joining Lawyers in the Community and working on events that help bring us closer to the communities we serve, please let me know as I am looking for members to add to our committee.

 

While you are considering your schedule, please ensure you hold the date for Judges’ Night—October 22, 2014.  This year promises to be a very special event.  I am delighted to announce that our Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye of the Supreme Court of California has graciously agreed to be our featured speaker.  I look forward to seeing each of you at events throughout the summer and early fall and, of course, at Judges’ Night this October.

- See more at: http://sccba-news.com/?p=2841#sthash.oW0hxRYY.dpuf

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Coming in the Summer 2014: SCCBA Website 2.0

Posted By Dianne L. Sweeney, Tuesday, May 13, 2014


Dianne L. Sweeney
Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP
2014 SCCBA President



In 1999, the SCCBA was the first voluntary bar association in the country to completely transition to electronic communication with its members and the first bar association to develop a web-based platform to support online features allowing members to access services more easily and efficiently.  These features included online registration for MCLE programs and bar association events, as well as an online membership directory with profiles that could be updated and changed in real time by members.  

At the same time, we also launched the first online streaming video of MCLE programs, which made us the second bar association in the country to have online MCLE programs accessible to members 24/7.  Over the years, we have expanded our technology reach to our members and explored ways to assist other bar organizations without a technology platform to leverage our technology and MCLE programs as a service to their members.  

While we remain on the forefront of technology, it seems only appropriate that the associations located in the Silicon Valley should continue to lead bar associations to the next generation of web based services. 

This summer, the SCCBA will launch its next generation website delivering to its members a go-to site for a wide array of legal needs.  The new platform is designed to keep the SCCBA on the cutting edge of association technology while delivering a broader range of services and richer content.  For the first time members will have an opportunity to participate in online professional legal networking within SCCBA’s network and also to obtain and track their MCLE credits online 24/7. 

As part of the new website rollout, the SCCBA will introduce its new logo, which we hope will capture the forward-looking excitement about our organization and help us celebrate our nearly 100 year history.

Here is a sneak preview of just a few features members will be able to take advantage of this summer.


SCCBA Networking Profile for Members
:  Each member will have access to a members-only portal with some new features to facilitate direct networking and communication with other SCCBA members:

  • Enhanced Profiles:  Allows the member to post not merely a three line profile but an extended bio as well 
  • Personal “Wall”:   For posting comments, events, achievements, interesting happenings
  • Personalized Website Pages:    Create additional website pages to your member profile or simply provide a link to your website.  Also, members may create a custom url for direct linking to a private or a public directory profile. 
  • “Connections” (for “friending” other SCCBA members):   Better networking with SCCBA members by making “connections” with other members; keep track of and manage your “connections” and stay in touch with email available through the member portal to your connections  
  • Twitter Feed:  Authorize your Twitter feed for display on your profile “wall” so SCCBA members can more easily follow you
  • Forums/Blogs:    Manage your committee and section forums and blogs in your member portal, or create your own personal blog

My CLE Manager:  My CLE Manager will automatically track all the MCLE credits you earn through attending SCCBA MCLE programs.  If you happen to attend a non-SCCBA MCLE, you can still enter that program into your personalized tracker.  You will also have the ability to print/email a certificate of credits per program and print/email a transcript of all credits earned, SCCBA and non-SCCBA.


Enhanced Committee/Section Pages
:  Each committee/section will also be able to create its own website presence that can include:

  • a member roster, 
  • a calendar with only that committee/section meetings, MCLE programs and events,
  • its own blog or forum, and 
  • a Twitter feed.

Further updates will be issued concerning the launch of the new website and we look forward to seeing you online this summer.  Until then, please do your part to support SCCBA—recruit a member, encourage a mentee to sign the professionalism pledge, join a committee or come to a networking mixer—it’s your continuing efforts and commitment to the legal community that has kept us strong since 1917.   

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Judicial Election Campaigns—the Santa Clara County Way

Posted By Dianne L. Sweeney, Tuesday, April 1, 2014
Updated: Wednesday, April 23, 2014

by Dianne L. Sweeney
Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP
2014 SCCBA President 

and Chris Burdick
SCCBA CEO and General Counsel

In many counties across the country, contested judicial elections have become something of a political spectacle laden with negative campaigning.  But what is the impact of mudslinging and smear campaigns on a branch of government dedicated to ensuring justice for all?  How does the public both watch the smear campaign and then, after the election, trust that the judiciary is independent and fair?

Is it even possible for contested judicial election campaigns to be conducted with the dignity and integrity of the judicial office to which one of the candidates will be elected?

In Santa Clara County, we think the answer is a loud and resounding “yes” – yes, judicial campaigns can be conducted in a judicious manner and, yes, voters can make informed decisions based on a campaign conducted with dignity, fairness and integrity.

As the Santa Clara County Bar Association (“SCCBA”) continues to examine our strategic plan for the next 100 years, we are also taking stock of those areas where we are leading the pack.  Nearly 40 years ago, the SCCBA under the leadership of then President Alden Danner (now the Hon. Alden Danner, ret.) drafted and adopted a Judicial Campaign Code of Ethics and a Fair Judicial Election Practices Commission to evaluate the campaign practices and conduct of candidates so each campaign would be conducted in a dignified manner.  For the last 40 years, our Judicial Campaign Code and Commission have been in effect for every judicial election.

The SCCBA’s Judicial Campaign Code and Commission is the oldest judicial election campaign oversight process in the United States.  This groundbreaking achievement was acknowledged by the National Center for State Courts National Ad Hoc Committee on Judicial Campaign Oversight which singled out the SCCBA’s Code and Commission as a model for other counties and states.

The vision supporting our ongoing campaign oversight process then and now is the same:  the legal profession has a responsibility and vested interest in ensuring that the judiciary is both independent and fair and that those who seek judicial office demonstrate those requisite characteristics during the course of a judicial election.

The Judicial Election Campaign Code of Ethics is an integral part of the SCCBA’s effort to support and encourage dignified judicial campaigns.  The Code provides that:

The purpose of the Judicial Election Campaign Code of Ethics is to promote the discussion of issues and qualifications in fair and open public debate and to encourage candidates to conduct campaigns for judicial office mindful of the honor and dignity of the Judiciary and the legal profession.  As a participant in the election of judges through the endorsement of candidates for judicial office, the Santa Clara County Bar Association recognizes that the campaign process lies at the heart of our democracy.  The Santa Clara County Bar Association maintains that campaign conduct reflects a candidate’s integrity and values and only those candidates willing to abide by this Code of Ethics merit … election by the people of Santa Clara County.

The Fair Election Practices Commission “acts as a forum to resolve disputes between candidates over the interpretation of the Standards of Conduct in this Code.  It is prepared to examine the truthfulness and fairness of a candidate’s statements which are alleged to be false or misleading” when requested to do so by one of the candidates.  The Commission is comprised of 12 members and up to 3 alternate members.  The SCCBA President and Superior Court Presiding Judge serve as the Commission’s co-chairs.  Commissioners are appointed by the SCCBA President acting in consultation with the Presiding Judge.  The SCCBA’s Board of Trustees, in turn, reviews and ratifies the appointments.  Generally, the Commission consists of 6 judges (state and federal), 5 attorney-members and 1 non-attorney member.  The alternates are both judges and attorneys.

With rare exception, the Commission conducts itself in confidential session and issues a confidential decision.  The confidential nature of these proceedings supports the Commission’s goal of ensuring that no candidate uses the Commission process for an improper advantage in the public campaign.  The ability of the Commission to act quickly and discretely allows for a prompt course-correction in the event of any improper campaign activities, and a return to the substance of the campaign.

Santa Clara County contested judicial elections may remain unique among many jurisdictions in the country.  The vast majority of our judicial candidates agree to abide by the Judicial Campaign Code and submit their disputes to the Commission for prompt resolution in confidence.  By maintaining campaigns that are worthy of the office of a judge and that mirror the important qualities of a judge, elections in Santa Clara County focus on independence, truthfulness, integrity, dignity and appropriate temperament.

Because of our long-standing dedication to fair elections, we have been able to avoid judicial campaigns that cause the public to question the ability and dedication of the judiciary to promote access to justice for all members of the public.

We salute then-SCCBA President Alden Danner and the trustees who supported him for their foresight and commitment to ensuring that the public retains it confidence in the independence and fairness of the judiciary.  We also thank all current SCCBA members who support our commitment by continuing membership in the SCCBA.

We appreciate your continued support and, as always, we ask that you join us in promoting the great works of the SCCBA by sharing our history, leadership and Code of Professionalism with new lawyers and inviting them to join the SCCBA.  It is only through growing our membership that these efforts can be sustained.

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Trial Court Budget Woes: Limited Funds = Limited Civil Rights

Posted By Administration, Monday, March 10, 2014
Updated: Tuesday, May 13, 2014

by: Brian C. Walsh
Presiding Judge, Superior Court, Santa Clara County

Underfunding Undermines Our Judicial System

The economy is recovering from the Great Recession.  Money is beginning to flow into sectors bashed by the nasty downturn.  But, for California’s courts, adequate funding remains elusive.

Since the high-water mark of 2008, California’s trial courts have suffered over $1 billion dollars in cumulative reductions, including nearly $1/2 billion dollars in permanent ongoing reductions, resulting in annual budgets of approximately $2 billion.  Statewide impacts include:  51 courthouses closed, 205 courtrooms closed, 30 courts with reduced public service hours, and 37 with reduced Self-Help/Family Law Facilitator services.  The number of citizens affected by closures of courthouses in their communities exceeds 2 million people.

On a local level, the Santa Clara County Superior Court has suffered similar reductions.  Our cumulative cuts since 2008 are $91.8 million, with permanent ongoing reductions of $26.5 million per year, shrinking our funding to $95 million per year.

As lawyers who practice in our courts know, these cuts have led to a loss in important services.  To balance our budget, we have been forced to allow attrition to up our vacancy rate to approximately 25%, resulting in every 3 employees doing the work of 4.  The effects on our employees cannot be minimalized:  stress and overwork is their daily fare.  And, the lawyers and litigants who use our courts have suffered along with our employees:  longer lines, backlogged filings, inadequate facilities, and delayed hearings.

As Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye has observed:  “We are rationing justice, and it’s become more than a fiscal problem.  It is in my view now a civil rights problem.  Because when you can no longer guarantee timely access to justice, and you can no longer provide litigants a courtroom in his or her community of his or her peers, then we know we are denying the protections of an American democracy.”

Fortunately, legislative leaders have come to understand the plight of the courts.  Assembly Judiciary Committee Chair Bob Wieckowski recently stated:  “Californians rely on a fully functioning court system to protect their constitutional rights, secure protective orders, resolve child custody issues, and settle business disputes.  I share the concerns of the Chief Justice regarding the importance of access to justice and the need to provide fair and adequate funding for the judicial branch.”

And, the President Pro Tem of the Senate, Darrell Steinberg asserted that, in spreading the pain of budget reductions among state-funded entities, “[t]he courts deserve special consideration … [L]et’s not forget the people who depend upon what goes on [in] … our courts.”

The Chief Justice has proposed a “Blueprint for a Fully Functioning Judicial Branch,” which is a three-year plan for reinvesting in our judicial system so that courts will be able to provide the high quality and timely access to justice that the public expects and deserves.  The Blueprint proposes a reinvestment of $613 million in the coming fiscal year (2014-15), increasing to $879 million in 2015-16, and $1.2 billion in 2016-17.  These may seem large amounts, but the money is sorely needed and the State is expected to have ample reserves to afford the restoration:  the Legislative Analyst’s Office predicts the State will be accumulating reserves of $5.6 billion in 2014-15, increasing to $9.8 billion within three years.

The Governor’s Proposed Budget for Fiscal Year 2014-2015

The Governor’s Proposed Budget, released two months ago, provides for a $100 million restoration of budget reductions for the trial courts.  Certainly, this is better than the $0 proposed by the Governor last year.  But, it is inadequate to stop the bleeding and inadequate to address our structural deficit.  It is not even adequate to keep us level with last year.

As the leadership of the Judicial Branch has explained, it will require $250-$300 million to simply keep pace with last year’s reduced budget:  “The amount of new funding necessary to simply maintain current year service levels is $67 million (increased employee health and retirement costs) and $197 million (one-time funds no longer available) for a total of approximately $264 million.”  That amount will expand to the extent costs for services and employees escalate.

So, it is clear that the Governor’s proposal is not the solution . . . but it is a beginning.  Last year the Governor’s proposed budget of $0 restoration for the trial courts became, after extensive budget negotiations, a $60 million restoration.  This year we must advocate for more and trust that, like last year, the legislative leadership will pass a budget with significantly more money for the trial courts and, like last year, succeed in obtaining the Governor’s agreement to increase the amount of funds restored to the courts.

Workload Allocation Funding Methodology (WAFM)

Though all trial courts have been hurting, some are in far worse shape than others due to historical funding policies.  In 2013, at the urging of the Legislature and the Governor’s Office, and with the blessing of the full California Judicial Branch, a small group of Presiding Judges and Court Executive Officers, including myself and our CEO, David Yamasaki, worked to create a trial court funding formula that would allocate greater resources to the woefully underfunded courts in California, such as Riverside and San Bernardino.

The adoption of the WAFM funding formula by the Judicial Council last year was the right thing to do and its implementation has begun to bring some alleviation to the suffering of the most underfunded courts.  But it is a zero-sum game – increased funds for the courts that are worse off comes from courts, such as Santa Clara County Superior Court, which, historically, were not as underfunded.  Therefore, of the $60 million of restored cuts received last year, Santa Clara netted only $161,000.  Of the $100 million additional restoration to the trial courts proposed by the Governor this year, Santa Clara would receive only $1.5 million to offset its $26.5 million shortfall.  We need so much more!

1% Cap on Court Reserves

Our budget problems are compounded by a new statute which will, for the first time, limit trial court reserves to 1%.  This is particularly harmful for a frugal court like ours.  In past years, we anticipated the budget cuts and slashed our own expenses severely.  By doing so, we were able to end each fiscal year with a few million dollars in reserve, which we then used to carry us through the funding reductions of the succeeding fiscal year and cover increases in expenses over which the court had no control.

Absent a change in statute, beginning July 1, 2014, each trial court will be able to carry forward only 1% in reserves.  That covers only 4 days of payroll!  I know of no well-run organization that works in that fashion.  Most organizations have a “rainy day fund” to cushion against down budget cycles.  By way of comparison, school districts in California typically maintain reserves of 15 – 20%.  It is unclear why the trial courts of California are being denied this same fiscally responsible tool.

We will continue to advocate for removing that limitation so that we can maintain adequate reserves – stressing that needs for cash flow, business planning, improvement in the delivery of services and simple prudent fiscal management compel the conclusion that a 1% reserve would undermine the fiscal health of the trial courts.

Advocacy Efforts

The good news in this fight is that we have the strong support of our county’s very able legislative delegation.  Senators Jim Beall, Ellen Corbett, Jerry Hill and Bill Monning, and Assemblymembers Luis Alejo, Nora Campos, Paul Fong, Rich Gordon, Mark Stone and Bob Wieckowski have all taken positions supporting increased funding for the courts.  But, as the budget season comes into full bloom, our advocacy efforts must now be increased.  On March 17, the Chief Justice will present her State of the Judiciary speech to the California Legislature, which will be coordinated with a Bench-Bar Coalition day of advocacy in Sacramento, the continuation of a coordinated effort between judges and lawyers to protect the ability of the courts to meet the needs of Californians.

As Chair of our statewide Trial Court Presiding Judges Advisory Committee, I have made repeated visits to representatives of the Legislature and the Governor’s Office – joined by many Presiding Judges and Judicial Council members – and those will continue until the June 15 budget deadline.  The value of our visits are often enhanced when we are joined by attorneys – from Santa Clara County and around the state.  Lawyers have a unique ability to communicate to Sacramento the pain that budget cuts have caused their individual clients, sometimes by presenting the clients themselves to describe their experiences directly.  Those real life constituent stories are the coin of the realm in Sacramento.  We need your continued help in providing them.

Thank you to all of those who have helped advocate for the courts.  Please continue your partnership with the judiciary to sustain the good fight to protect the courts, and the civil rights, on which all of us rely!

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Taking Stock: Strategic Planning for the Next 100 Years

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, February 5, 2014
Updated: Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Congratulations to the leadership of 2014. The installation event was a tremendous success and well attended by our members and bench. I especially want to thank Judge Risë Pichon for administering the oaths of office and Judge James Towrey for his thoughtful reflections on professionalism and how the Santa Clara Bar has been at the forefront of this significant area. On behalf of the 2014 Officers (John Mlnarik, Nicole Isger and Matt Poppe) as well as the Board of Trustees, thank you for your kind support. We are honored to serve this excellent legal community.

2014 marks a transformative year for the Bar and we will continue to need your strong support and participation throughout this year. As I stated in my last column, as we near our 100th anniversary, the Board of Trustees is undertaking substantial strategic planning efforts to ensure that we are strong and vibrant for the next 100 years. Among other things, the leadership will be addressing our core values—who we are and how we can best continue to serve our legal community in the long-term. We will also consider the changing demographics in our legal community as well as what newer lawyers value in a legal organization.

To undertake this journey, it is important that we understand our past. When the Bar was founded in 1917, Woodrow Wilson was President, the world was involved in the First World War and John F. Kennedy was born. 1917 was also a time for development of ideas that continue to be part of our daily lives. The USPTO issued the first patents for the Separable Fastener (later known as the zipper) and sheetrock and a forward thinking automaker designed the first dual power car (a gasoline and electric hybrid known as the Woods Dual Power coupe). Other inventions, such as the World Book Encyclopedia series, have passed their viable lifecycle and/or evolved to fit in an electronic world.

In an institution that is the size and complexity of the Bar, we must strive to balance the values of the past with the needs of the generations of lawyers to come. In identifying our core values and what differentiates our Bar from other types of legal organizations, as well as MCLE service providers, I am consistently drawn back to the caliber and quality of our members, our depth of knowledge of the Courts in this County, and the strong working relationship we have with our bench. As the Board explores our strategic planning, I would urge each of you to contribute your thoughts about how the Bar has impacted the legal community and supported your practice/professional development throughout your legal career.

There is much work to be done in serving our legal community and our ability to continue to ensure access to justice for our clients. I expect that the leadership will also continue to grapple with the dire levels of state funding that seriously jeopardize the excellent venue that Santa Clara County provides to all members of the community. I have asked our presiding judge, the Honorable Brian C. Walsh, to be our guest columnist next month and to update us on court funding and how to compensate for the budgetary crises. Judge Walsh has been extensively involved in the quest for reasonable funding levels and was selected by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye to serve as chair of the Trial Court Presiding Judges Advisory Committee. Please look for Judge Walsh’s article next month and take a few moments to share with us what you value in the Bar. Thank you again for your continued support.

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A New Year for the Association and for our Local Legal Community

Posted By Administration, Thursday, January 9, 2014
Updated: Tuesday, May 13, 2014

by Dianne L. Sweeney
Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP
2014 SCCBA President

Happy New Year to each of you and thank you for your ongoing support of the Santa Clara County Bar Association! 2013 was an excellent year for our Bar and much of that was due to the thoughtful and dedicated leadership of our now former president, Steve Haley, the Executive Committee, the Board and, of course, the ongoing support and guidance of Chris Burdick and the Association’s staff.

It is an honor to serve as your president in 2014. Having practiced in Santa Clara County for my entire career, I am continually grateful for the excellent legal community and bench that we have in Santa Clara County. In addition to my role at the Bar, I am a trial lawyer and a member of Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, LLP. My practice focuses on complex commercial and property tax litigation.

2014 marks the 97th birthday of our outstanding organization at SCCBA, making us one of the oldest county bar associations in the United States. We also continue to be one of the largest local bar associations in the country -- larger than some state bar associations. In 2014, the Board will undertake significant planning efforts to ensure our Bar is vibrant and well-positioned to serve the legal community for the next 100 years. These strategic planning efforts will, among many things, address the changing nature of membership-based non-profit organizations, the upcoming retirement of many lawyers from the baby-boomer generation, and the importance of social media to the newer members of our legal community. As the Board develops our strategic plan, I will keep you apprised of their decisions and how you can best support our efforts.

The 2014 Board, as well as the officers, will take their respective oaths of office on January 22, 2014 at the Silicon Valley Capital Club in downtown San Jose at 5:00 p.m. The swearing-in ceremony will be followed by a cocktail reception and plenty of time to network. Our Presiding Judge, the Honorable Brian Walsh, has graciously agreed to administer the oaths of office and provide some brief remarks. I encourage all members to join me, Judge Walsh, and members of our bench and legal community in congratulating our 2014 leaders. This special event at the Silicon Valley Capital Club is made possible by the sponsorship of Pillsbury, and I am grateful to my firm and each of my partners for generously agreeing to host this event and to give us an opportunity to celebrate our leadership and the new year together.

As many of you know, our Bar was one of the first local or state bars to develop a Code of Professionalism. This Code was developed in 1992 under the forward-thinking leadership of Judge Walsh when he served as president. That same year, the Court issued a Standing Order adopting the Code as a guideline for appropriate conduct of all practitioners who appear in Santa Clara County. The Code’s preamble provides that

...all lawyers are encouraged to zealously represent their clients within the highest bounds of professionalism. The legal profession must strive for the highest standards of lawyer behavior to elevate and enhance our service to justice.

Over 20 years later, our Code is still regarded as a leading authority for professionalism and the related duties including civility, integrity, candor, diligence, respect, and courtesy. In 2007, for example, the State Board of Governors adopted a set of civility guidelines based upon our Code of Professionalism. In my view, the concurrent commitment of our members and the Bench to foster a professional and collegial atmosphere makes Santa Clara County a tremendous venue to practice law. Notwithstanding the significant inroads we have made over the last two decades, each year we must take steps to ensure we protect and expand professionalism in our County. This year, we will discuss with the Court our desire to hold a Professionalism Summit with the trial team leaders of the Court to discuss our day-to-day experiences and how we can continue to foster professionalism and reduce incivility. You can help these efforts by joining the Professionalism Committee and ensuring that you have signed the Professionalism Pledge. Also, if you are mentoring a new lawyer, please ensure you direct them to the Code and to the pledge. If you haven’t already, you can easily pledge to the Code, by editing your Membership Directory Profile and selecting that option. Your commitment will be reflected in your listing on the online Membership Directory at the Bar’s website.

I look forward to seeing each of you at Installation on January 22nd and I wish you the best in 2014.

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