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Of the People, By the People, For the People: The Importance of Civics Education

Posted By Administration, Monday, August 7, 2017

By Kate Wilson

Attorney at law

2017 SCCBA President

It is hard to believe that as I write this month’s President’s Column we are more than halfway through 2017 and just a few weeks away from the start of a new school year.  Like many organizations, while we are busy executing on our goals and objectives for 2017, the SCCBA is also busy planning for 2018.  In fact, last week I attended a Strategic Planning Committee meeting where President-Elect Kevin Hammon shared his goals and vision for the association in 2018.  I was happy to learn that Kevin plans to continue his long-standing commitment to law related education and he will focus a significant amount of his time as SCCBA President on promoting legal and civics education with young people in our community. 

The United States is the oldest truly democratic form of government in the world and in his Gettysburg Address in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln aptly described America as a government, “of the people, for the people, by the people.”  However, this means for our democracy to flourish and function at its highest level, we must have citizens who are educated, engaged and committed to continuing our democracy.  Unfortunately, surveys and polls regularly show that American citizens lack a basic understanding of how our government operates.  In fact, only 1 in 3 Americans can name the three branches of government. 

When citizens lack basic information and an understanding of how our government operates, it can leave them ill equipped to act as the voice of the people.  For example, as many of my predecessors have written about and as Judge Lucas reminded us in her March 2017 guest article, while our government is divided into separate executive, legislative and judicial branches, our court systems are woefully underfunded making it difficult to provide the services and programs to which the public is entitled.  In California alone, over $1 billion has been taken out of the judicial branch budget since 2010 and the years of underfunding have impaired our courts’ ability to serve the public in the way our judicial officers want to serve.  Despite this fact, there has been a lack of public outcry about our court funding crisis.  I believe this is the case because many people do not clearly appreciate how the underfunding of our courts can undermine our judicial branch and in turn place in jeopardy many of the rights and freedoms that we all enjoy.  In 2012 then SCCBA President Mindy Morton noted that the judicial branch of our government is the one charged with protecting our citizens’ rights and freedoms in a direct manner on a day-to-day basis.  And, as Mindy regularly reminded us throughout her term as SCCBA President, “No Courts, No Freedom, No Justice.”  

A strong civics education starting in youth will go a long way to developing an educated, engaged and responsible citizenry.  Specifically, when we teach young people the basics of how our government works it instills in them the importance of the independence of the three branches of government and how they must remain separate as a means of checks and balances while at the same time working together to pass and enforce laws.  In addition, a civics education gives individuals the tools they need to embrace that it is the people that the government must serve and to whom it must answer.  An early civics education can also provide individuals with a sense of ownership and commitment to our democracy by emphasizing the importance and privilege of being the voice of the people, voting and making informed decisions.  An early civics education lays the foundation that each and every one of us must take responsibility for how our government operates and we must take that responsibility seriously by making our voices heard, both in support of and opposition to our government. 

How does promoting a civics education with young people and the public involve attorneys?  As attorneys, we are well educated in the workings of our government as well as protecting the rights and freedoms of individuals.  We are also well positioned to understand the limitations of government and to identify when those limits may be exceeded.   Moreover, we bear a duty to foster and protect our democracy and we swear an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States.  As part of our commitment, we can play a big role in delivering a solid civics education to our community.  Just a few ways that we can easily get involved include joining the SCCBA’s Law Related Education Committee, volunteering for the annual Santa Clara County Mock Trial Tournament, participating in Law Day each May, lobbying our legislators regarding important issues, or just talking with our family, friends and neighbors about issues such as court funding and the importance of maintaining an independent judiciary and three separate and distinct branches of government.  In addition, as we move into 2018, I know that 2018 SCCBA President Kevin Hammon will identify further opportunities and programs where we can give back and promote a greater civics education and law related education for our community.  I encourage each and everyone one of us to get involved and I look forward to working with you on one or more of these initiatives in the near future.  

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The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

Posted By Administration, Thursday, July 6, 2017

By Kate Wilson

Attorney at law

2017 SCCBA President


Happy 4th of July!!!!  I hope this message finds you well and enjoying the summer.  For many of us, summer is a time of celebration and reflection as we attend weddings and graduations and look forward to school breaks and vacations.  This year, after a short break from my President’s Messages to welcome a new baby to our family, I found myself reflecting on the first 6 months of my term as President of the SCCBA as well as the past decade as a practicing attorney.  As I look back on my years of practice and the association events I have had the privilege to attend throughout the first half of our centennial year celebration, I frequently find myself thinking and saying: the more things change, the more they stay the same.  

Five years ago, I had the opportunity to be a guest author for the July 2012 SCCBA President’s Message.  In my reflections on the first half of our centennial year celebration and my own decade in practice, I was pleasantly surprised to find that, although we have continued to develop, grow and evolve, the words I wrote in 2012 continue to apply today and, the more things change, the more they stay the same.  Following in italics are excerpts of my 2012 guest column along with updates from some of our recent SCCBA events.  

In looking back on my first few years as a practicing attorney, one thing became abundantly clear: nobody becomes a great attorney alone or in a vacuum.  In fact, as I prepared my comments for the Barristers’ Annual Judges Luncheon, I quickly realized that there are far too many people to acknowledge and thank and far too many anecdotes from lessons learned to share in a few short minutes.  As a result, a few key elements or themes that are instrumental in attorney development (for both newly minted attorneys and experienced attorneys alike) emerged: 1) Santa Clara County is a unique legal community that we must continue to foster; 2) it takes a village to raise an attorney; and 3) community involvement is essential.

Santa Clara County Is a Unique Legal Community

When Judge Neal Cabrinha swore me in as an attorney in his Santa Clara Superior Courtroom about 5 years ago, one of the things he said to me was, “I hope to see you practicing in this county someday.”  At the time, I was working in Alameda County and did not understand the meaning of Judge Cabrinha’s statement.  However, after practicing in Santa Clara County over the past few years, I now know exactly what he meant.  We are privileged to work and practice in this county.  While Santa Clara County is a large legal community in terms of the number of attorneys, the community has worked hard over the years to continue to be one that operates and feels more like a small-town community.  Attorneys, judicial officers, court staff and other members of our community know one another and civility and competence among our colleagues is the norm, not the exception.  Without a doubt, in Santa Clara County your reputation is by far your most valuable asset.

The quality of the legal community in Santa Clara County is significantly enhanced through the efforts of the Santa Clara County Bar Association.  20 years ago, the SCCBA (under the leadership of Judge Brian Walsh, then the SCCBA President) created the SCCBA Code of Professionalism.  The Santa Clara County Superior Court Bench adopted the Code as a guideline to decorum for all attorneys practicing in the Superior Court of Santa Clara County, encouraging all of us to adhere to the precepts of the Code.  As the Preamble of the Code charges, ‘[a]s lawyers, we owe duties of professionalism to our clients, opposing parties and their counsel, the courts and other tribunals, and the public as a whole. Those duties include among others: civility, professional integrity, personal dignity, candor, diligence, respect, courtesy, cooperation, and competence.”  We have inherited a vibrant legal community and it is our responsibility to preserve that positive atmosphere and pass it along to future members of our legal community.  One simple way to help accomplish this is to sign-on to the Code and ensure that those you interact with in your practice are aware of the Code and the associated expectations while practicing in Santa Clara County.

On June 1st, the SCCBA hosted a New Admittee Swearing-In Ceremony and Celebration.  During this celebration, Judge Patricia Lucas and Judge Edward Davila administered the state and federal oaths and welcomed the new attorneys to our legal community.  In addition, both judges addressed our new admittees and encouraged them to be outstanding advocates while placing the utmost value on ethics, integrity and professionalism.  I also had the privilege of addressing our new admittees and I found myself reiterating Judge Cabrinha’s words to me, “I hope to see you practicing in this county someday.”  I also found myself pointing our new attorneys to our SCCBA Code of Professionalism (which was updated and revised in 2016) to help guide them in their interactions with their clients, opposing counsel and our courts.  The more things change, the more things stay the same.  

It Takes a Village to Raise an Attorney

There is an old Nigerian Igbo culture proverb “Ora na azu nwa” which means it takes the community/village to raise a child. The Igbo’s also name their children “Nwa ora” which means child of the community.  Like raising children, it takes a community to raise and develop an attorney.  We enter the legal profession as eager law students in our first days of law school where we learn how to learn the law; next we start our legal careers where we learn how to practice the law; and, finally, we begin to master certain areas of the law and our advocacy skills.  However, we never stop being students of the law and we must continually hone our knowledge and skills.  This only happens through the assistance of the collective knowledge of our legal community and those around us.

When I sat down to list the people I needed to thank while accepting the honor of the Barrister of the Year Award, the list quickly grew to an unmanageable size.  Of course, there are my parents who worked tirelessly to ensure that my educational opportunities were abundant and never squandered, and my brother (my original, and to this day, toughest adversary) who taught me the important lesson that someone can be your adversary in one situation and your champion and partner in another situation without any inconsistency.  The list also includes: my large extended family and friends who helped me on the road to and through law school; my Santa Clara University School of Law classmates, study partners, professors and mentors; my Berliner Cohen family which has taught me how to practice the law at the highest level; my SCCBA colleagues, friends and mentors; the Santa Clara County judiciary; and my clients and opposing parties and counsel to name just a few.  In short, like any attorney, my thank you list includes all of the people I have met and interacted with along the way because each and every relationship and interaction has helped me to develop my skills and reputation as an attorney.

On June 16th, the SCCBA Barristers’ Committee hosted the Barristers’ Annual Judges’ Luncheon where the Honorable Theodore C. Zayner presented Golnesa Monazamfar with the 2017 Barrister of the Year award and addressed the attendees.  During his remarks, Judge Zayner reminded the barristers that they have a responsibility to uphold the values and virtues of our profession as well as the local legal community and Judge Zayner charged the Barristers’ with being the guardians of our galaxy.  In accepting her award, Golnesa expressed that her development as an attorney and a professional has hinged on the support of family, colleagues, mentors, the judiciary, clients, classmates, and all of those with whom she has crossed paths.  Clearly, from Golnesa’s impressive resume of pro bono work, commitment to the SCCBA and her advocacy on behalf of her clients, she has accepted Judge Zayner’s charge to be a guardian of our galaxy and she is well on her way to inspiring the future of our profession.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Community Involvement is Essential

Community involvement is essential to the development of our skills and reputations as attorneys. This year Mindy Morton’s President’s Project is to encourage volunteerism by our membership.  While your initial reaction may be that you do not have enough time to participate in volunteer activities, ask yourself if you can afford not to do so.

Inevitably, every time I have volunteered my time to a project or organization in which I am interested, I have received far more than I have given.  I consider myself privileged to call many of the people I have met through my community activities friends and mentors and they have proven to be invaluable resources for me.  I am certain that my professional development would not have been as great over the past 4 ½ years had I not gotten involved in my communities.

I challenge each of you to find a cause, activity and/or organization in which you are interested and get involved.  And, if you are a newer attorney, I encourage you to get involved in the SCCBA Barristers’ Committee and consider applying for the SCCBA Barristers’ Leadership Program.  The Barristers’ Committee was a gateway to many opportunities and valuable experiences in my career and the Barristers’ are always eager to welcome new members.

On May 9th, the SCCBA hosted its Annual Reception Honoring Unsung Heroes.  Each year the Diversity Committee of the Santa Clara County Bar Association presents the Unsung Heroes Awards, recognizing individuals and organizations in our community, regardless of ethnicity, who have demonstrated a long-standing commitment to encouraging the advancement of minorities in the legal profession or promoting equal access to the administration of justice for individuals.  This year Eugene Flemate, Ram Fletcher and the Honorable Shawna Schwarz were honored as our 2017 Unsung Heroes for their unwavering commitments to making our communities and profession better.  The time and energy that all of our Unsung Heroes have given is significant and impressive.  However, in listening to all of our Unsung Heroes speak, it is clear that they have each found projects and issues that they are passionate about and that they are happy to find time to support their causes.  And, all of Unsung Heroes encouraged attendees to finds ways in which to get involved and to give back, no matter how big or how small.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.  

As we move into the second half of our centennial year, I hope to see many of you at one or more of our many events and programs.  And, please be sure to mark your calendars to join us for our Annual Judges’ Night Dinner.  This Year Judges’ Night will be held on Wednesday, November 1st and it will be the culmination of our centennial celebrations.  More information and early bird registration opportunities for Judges’ Night will be sent to you shortly.  

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The Drought is over for the State but not for Our Local Court

Posted By Administration, Thursday, March 9, 2017


Guest Message By
Hon. Patricia Lucas
Presiding Judge
Superior Court of California,
County of Santa Clara


The hills are finally green after a long drought, and state revenues have been back up for some time now following the great recession.  Why, then, does Santa Clara Superior Court continue to be woefully underfunded?

As you are probably aware, since 2010 over $1 billion has been taken out of the judicial branch budget.  Furthermore, as Judge Pichon wrote during her term as presiding judge, a limit of 1% has been imposed on the reserves a trial court can carry from one year to the next, drastically limiting the options a court has to deal with budget cuts year to year.  The Governor’s January proposal for the 2017-18 budget is essentially flat for the judicial branch, and when the Workload Allocation Funding Methodology (WAFM) formula is applied to a flat budget, that means a further cut for Santa Clara—of about $1 million.

Compared to about ten years ago, our Court’s budget is roughly three-quarters of what it was—and that does not take into account that things are more expensive than they were then. Could you buy the same amount of housing, food, and living expenses with 75% of unadjusted dollars compared to ten years ago?  The Court has about two-thirds of the staffing we had ten years ago.  Could your law office get the same amount of work done if you had only two employees when you used to have three?

No one questions that year after year of under funding has impaired our ability to serve the public in the way our judicial officers want to serve.  These circumstances are especially disappointing given our Court’s long history of excellence and innovation.  When the court system was funded by the counties, we were fortunate that our local county government was so firmly committed to ensuring a high quality of public service in our local courts.  Santa Clara was out in front consistently with innovations in family and juvenile court operations and in implementing collaborative courts that helped people turn their lives around.

Although we are proud to be the only Bay Area court that successfully avoided laying off employees during the great recession, we unfortunately had to increase our employee vacancy rate as one means to address the under funding.  And while we have tried for years to do 100% with far less, even our hard-working and devoted team cannot do it all.  We are disappointed not to be able to give our public the timely service they have a right to expect.

Nevertheless, there are some bright spots that give us reason to hope that we can maintain and improve service levels despite further budget cuts.  First, our employees are indeed devoted and hard-working, and for their tireless and cheerful work we are so grateful.  Next, we have a dynamic new Court Executive Officer in Rebecca Fleming, an experienced court administrator we were able to lure from Stanislaus Superior Court, who is well connected in statewide groups and well respected by employees and managers as well as judges.  Rebecca has new ideas and new energy, and a wonderful down-to-earth mode of communication.  Finally, we are fortunate that our friends in county government remain so devoted to our local justice system and are willing to collaborate with the Court in creative ways—all to the benefit of the same public we all serve. 

What can SCCBA and its members do to help?  There are several ways.  First, please continue to be patient and courteous in your interactions with our employees.   We know that your inquiries arise from the duty you owe to your clients, but we all have the same goal of trying to process cases as expeditiously as possible given our staffing constraints.  Second, please continue to support our Court operations with the generous gift of your time as temporary judges in family court, the civil and probate divisions, small claims and traffic court.  We literally could not do it without you, and the judges are so grateful for the services you provide directly to members of the public and, when they are represented, to their counsel. 

Finally, please contact your legislators and join our judges in advocating for adequate trial court funding.   The voice of the bar is a strong one, and your perspective will be important to your representatives in Sacramento.  The judicial branch represents barely more than one percent of the general fund expense of our state—which means that the under funding could be corrected with a minimal effect on the overall state budget.  Moreover, California’s current funding level for the judicial branch is by percentage among the very lowest nationwide when compared with other states where the judicial branch is funded by state monies rather than local funds.  Californians deserve better.  Many current members of the legislature are not law-trained and may not appreciate that the trial courts are the social service agency of last resort for many of the state’s most vulnerable: abused and neglected children, families in the midst of emotional and financial upheaval, victims of domestic violence seeking protection, veterans, the elderly, those who are addicted or mentally ill, and job seekers whose employment depends on clearance of criminal records.  Please use your voice to help our legislators understand the importance of providing a justice system that has the resources to serve and protect all those who must seek justice. 

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2017: A year of Celebration and Implementation Off to a Great Start

Posted By Kate Wilson, Tuesday, February 21, 2017
  By Kate Wilson

Attorney at law

2017 SCCBA President

On January 18, the Santa Clara County Bar Association celebrated our Centennial Kickoff and Installation Ceremony at the new Family Justice Center Courthouse. The event was a great success as we packed the beautiful 8th Floor Judicial Conference Room with our members and our local bench. The night was a terrific opportunity to build new relationships and to re-connect and catch-up with friends and colleagues who we may not get to see as often as we may like.  I would like to especially thank Judge Patricia Lucas for administering the oaths of office for our 2017 SCCBA leadership, Judge Julie Emede for sharing some of our rich history and achievements as an association and as a legal community over the past 100 years, and Jim McManis for regaling us with great stories and anecdotes of practicing law in Santa Clara County over the past 50 years.  I would also like to extend a special thank you to the Santa Clara County Superior Court and its staff for allowing us to host our event at the new Family Justice Center Courthouse, the SCCBA staff for all of the hard work and effort devoted to making the evening a success and, of course, our SCCBA Centennial Gold Sponsors, who were also the sponsors of the Kickoff Celebration: Fenwick & West LLP, Greenfield, Hoge Fenton, and Pillsbury.     

As I mentioned in last month’s column and in my remarks during the Centennial Kickoff, 2017 marks a commemorative and important year for the Bar. During this year, we will look to our past to celebrate where we have come from and the achievements we have made over the past 100 years. And, we will look to the future to ensure that we continue to foster the outstanding legal community in Santa Clara County and inspire the next generation of attorneys. It will be a year of honoring the past and inspiring the future in all that we do.  

From an organizational standpoint, we continue to implement the strategic plan and recommendations developed by our Strategic Planning Committees and Boards over the past three years to ensure that the SCCBA will continue to thrive for the next 100 years. To that end, the association has already been hard at work this year. On January 26th, we held a Special Membership Meeting during which our membership approved proposed amendments to our SCCBA By-laws. In chief part, the approved amendments serve to re-organize our leadership structure in the association.  Under the new by-laws, the size of the Board of Trustees will be reduced, the size of the Executive Committee will be reduced and we will eliminate membership elections for uncontested trustee and officer positions and we will instead use an application process. These changes bring our organization into alignment with proven and successful leadership models for modern membership based organization. The revisions to the by-laws will be published shortly. Stay tuned to the SCCBA blog and our news feed for links to redline and clean versions of our amended by-laws. Thank you to all of our members who attended and participated in the Special Membership Meeting. 

The BOT and general Bar leadership also accomplished a significant amount in January. I had the pleasure of meeting and working with our new committee and section chairs at our new chair orientation and training. The committees and sections are off to a great start with new CLE and interesting programs already underway for our membership. And, all of our committees and sections will be working to weave our history from the last 100 years into each of their events throughout the year. I also had the pleasure of meeting and working with all of our new Trustees for 2017 at our new Trustee orientation and training. I continue to be impressed by the enthusiasm and ongoing commitment from all of our Trustees and leaders to making the SCCBA the best it can be. Finally, the BOT appointed Deputy District Attorney Michael Lee to serve as the association’s 2017 Secretary. We are pleased to welcome Michael as an officer of the association and we look forward to Michael’s implementation of his goal of serving as a champion of diversity within the Bar and throughout our legal community. 

With our celebrations and implementation off to a fast start, we must also work to inspire our future. Throughout my career and life, I often find the most inspiration in giving back and getting involved and believe that community involvement is essential to inspiring the future.  While your initial reaction may be that you do not have enough time to participate in volunteer or pro bono activities, ask yourself if you can afford not to do so. Without fail, every time I have volunteered my time to a project or organization in which I am interested, I have received far more than I have given. I consider myself privileged to call many of the people I have met through my community activities friends and mentors and they have proven to be invaluable resources for me. 

I challenge each of you to find a cause, activity and/or organization in which you are interested and get involved. Volunteer opportunities abound in our local communities and many non-profits, schools, business associations and a myriad of other organizations are excited to welcome attorneys into their volunteer ranks for the unique experiences, perspectives and analytical framework we can often bring to issues and problem solving. Within the Bar, we are always eager to welcome new members and our sections and committees have ample opportunities available for our members to get involved. If you haven’t already done so, consider joining a new section or committee this year, volunteering for the Santa Clara County High School Mock Trial Tournament or committing to the SCCBA Pro Bono Initiative. And, if you are a newer attorney, I encourage you to get involved in the SCCBA Barristers’ Committee and consider applying for the SCCBA Barristers’ Leadership Program.

I look forward to working and celebrating with each of you throughout this year. I hope to see you at a SCCBA event in the near future. Thank you again for your continued support of the SCCBA.

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2017: Honoring the Past, Inspiring the Future

Posted By Kate Wilson, Tuesday, February 21, 2017

By Kate Wilson

Attorney at law

2017 SCCBA President

HAPPY NEW YEAR and thank you for your continuing support of the Santa Clara County Bar Association!!  2016 was an outstanding year for the SCCBA due, in significant part, to the leadership and hard work of our 2016 President, Matt Poppe, the Executive Committee, the Board of Trustees and, of course, the unwavering support and guidance of our CEO, Chris Burdick, and the association’s staff.  Many thanks to all of our 2016 SCCBA volunteers, leaders and staff for a job well done.

I am honored and excited to serve as your 2017 Santa Clara County Bar Association President while we celebrate our 100 year anniversary and we continue to pursue our mission of serving our members, improving the administration of justice and serving the public.  Having practiced almost my entire legal career in Santa Clara County, I am continually impressed by and appreciative of our unparalleled legal community and bench.  Throughout its 100 years, the SCCBA has worked tirelessly to promote and inspire a vibrant, diverse and highly professional community as well as to foster a strong working relationship with our local bench.  I look forward to continuing these rich traditions in 2017.

2017 will be an exciting year for the SCCBA focused on: (i) implementing the new strategic plan that has been carefully developed by the Board over the last few years to ensure that our association continues to thrive and serve our members and community for many years to come; and (ii) celebrating our centennial anniversary by recognizing our vast accomplishments and providing opportunities for our membership to come together and share their experiences while building new relationships.  We will also continue our longstanding commitment to outstanding professionalism in the practice of law in our county and to expanding that professionalism amongst new members and neighboring jurisdictions. Finally, I hope that each of us can work together to use the celebration of our centennial as an outreach opportunity to increase our membership and to solidify our ties to current members by raising awareness of the many benefits and opportunities the SCCBA now offers.

Each year, the SCCBA traditionally gives its President the opportunity to choose a President’s project or theme during his or her year in office.  In considering my options for this year’s theme, it seemed only fitting that it must be “honoring the past, inspiring the future,” the theme of our year-long centennial celebration.  As I reflected back on my own experiences as an attorney and within the SCCBA in preparation for 2017, I could not help but recall comments I made many years ago at a SCCBA Barrister of the Year celebration.  At that time, I noted that a few key elements or themes are instrumental in attorney development (for both newly minted attorneys and experienced attorneys alike) and our legal community.  Those key elements or themes include: (i)Santa Clara County is a unique legal community that we must continue to foster; (ii) it takes a village to raise an attorney; and (iii) community involvement is essential.  It seems the more things change, the more they stay the same as I believe these themes remain consistent and critical as we honor our past and inspire our future.

The SCCBA will host its Centennial Kickoff and Installation Celebration on January 18, 2017 at the new Family Justice Center Courthouse in downtown San Jose from 5:30 pm to 8:30 pm.  The celebration will include: the swearing in of the 2017 SCCBA Officers and Trustees by 2017 Presiding Judge Patricia Lucas who will also provide some brief remarks; several speakers to regale us with past stories of where we've been and what we've accomplished, including James McManis (trial lawyer & 47 year SCCBA member) and the Hon. Julie Emede (2005 SCCBA President); and newly designed SCCBA storyboards highlighting the past decades of our legal community.  I encourage all members to join me, Judge Lucas, and members of our bench and legal community as we kickoff our centennial celebration and congratulate our 2017 leaders.  This special event is made possible by our Centennial Gold Partners, who are also the sponsors of the Kickoff Celebration: Fenwick & West LLP, Greenfield, Hoge Fenton, and Pillsbury.  Thank you to all of our Centennial Sponsors for your generous support of the SCCBA and our milestone anniversary. 

2017 promises to be a commemorative year for the SCCBA.  I look forward to sharing it with each of you.  I hope to see you at the Centennial Kickoff and Installation Celebration on January 18th and at events throughout the year.  

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