“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” – A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh
When I first moved to Los Angeles, Brian Panish sent me to my first CAOC Convention in San Francisco – and I was terrified. Not really knowing anyone else, I was overwhelmed and intimidated by the seemingly endless display of talented and motivated lawyers. I had no idea then what I know now: these lawyers would soon become an essential part of my tribe. Or as Amy Solomon once described it to me, “I had found my home and my people.”
Being the President of such an amazing organization of lawyers, talented staff members, committed board members, and conscientious executive committee members has been such an honor – and the fact that I was the seventh woman and first Asian American to serve in this position makes it even more special to me. Even the second year of an unprecedented pandemic and a virtual annual convention could not dim or lessen the excitement of having this unique opportunity. As we grew more accustomed to our new “normal,” nothing could stop us from making major strides forward this year.
We adopted the motto “Justice Never Closes” this year and we did everything we could to ensure that our courtrooms remained open. We provided statewide survey results from lawyers in every jurisdiction to the Judicial Council, identified areas of particular concern and provided essential data relating to remote technology in our courtrooms. And most importantly, CAOC helped secure an additional $200 million for all our state courts, including $60 million specifically allocated to reduce the backlog in civil cases.
As I write this, I have just completed closing arguments in a trial in Los Angeles County in which I reminded the jury that by being in that courtroom with masks on our faces, we were showing the world that even during a pandemic, justice never closes. Those words were particularly meaningful to me, because I know how hard CAOC worked for all of us to ensure that never happened.
And during each day of this monthlong trial, I marveled at everything I was able to do and use because of the hard work and input of CAOC: from the questionnaire and mini-opening we opted to use, to the use of remote technology in trial for witnesses, as well as some of our jury instructions. Outside the courtroom, long lines of busy lawyers were at the cafeteria and at Starbucks. Almost every trial lawyer I know is currently either in trial, or preparing for trial, or has just finished a trial. It is getting hard to find an available court reporter, expert or visual aid provider – and nothing makes me happier. Trials are back, courts remain open, and justice is being administered to our clients.
This may have not been the year I imagined, but we never missed a beat this year. Pandemic or not, we used remote virtual technology for our smaller meetings, executive committee meetings and board meetings. Our education committee held a wide variety of successful educational seminars, as well as the annual Sonoma and Palm Spring seminars that both had record attendance. We learned how to get things done more efficiently this year without getting in a car or on a plane.
And even during these strange times, we were very effective in the Legislature this year by achieving the following important legislation:
• SB 447: Legislation to enable recovery for a decedent’s pain, suffering or disfigurement (non-economic) damages in survival actions.
• SB 241: Legislation to bring courts into the 21st century with remote technology.
• SB 241: Enacted deadlines for minors’ compromise hearings to prevent reported delays in such hearings.
• AB 1182: Ensured product liability extends to online marketplaces and ultimately assisting in achieving a victory in the courts holding Amazon strictly liable for selling defective products.
• SB 2: Achieved police illegal use of force reform by enacting a decertification program for officers that violate the law and removing three absolute statutory immunities for law enforcement.
• AB 849: Protected elderly nursing home residents by overturning Jarman v. HCR Manorcare, which limited resident’s rights to $500 per lawsuit instead of $500 per violation of each resident’s rights.
We were here every day working for you, and CAOC is even stronger today than it was a year ago. Our membership numbers continue to increase, and attendance at our educational programs and seminars have risen steadily. We were instrumental in getting important legislators elected and helping Governor Newsom defeat the recall effort.
Obviously, none of this would be possible without the wonderful CAOC staff members who work tirelessly for all of us: Nancy Drabble, Nancy Peverini, Lea-Ann Tratten, Laurie Klimchock, Lori Sarraci-no, Jacqueline Serna, Samantha Helton, Saveena Takhar, Sharon Scott, J.G. Preston, Darlene Golladay, Paul Woods, Liz Teves, Wendy Murphy, and Valerie Shope. Thank you all for everything you do; we are so fortunate to have you at CAOC and in our lives.
I also want to thank everyone who supported me this year and all my partners and sisters at Athea Trial Lawyers LLP and Candice Klein, Sarah Kim, Patrick Gunning, Mary Ellen Whiteman, Keilah Betts, and Cesar Garcia at Chang|Klein LLP. I could not have survived this last year without you. And of course, my gratitude also goes to Brian Panish and my other family at Panish | Shea | Boyle | Ravipudi LLP who made me what I am today.
But mostly, my thanks and gratitude go to all of you who are a part of CAOC: my tribe, my home, and my people. The privilege of leading you this one extraordinary year will be something I will treasure for the rest of my life.
Next year will be a challenging year, with the potential for anti-consumer initiatives on the ballot and the continued efforts by the State Bar to deregulate the Bar. These challenges will give us at CAOC the chance to do what we do best: rise to a challenge, together. And so with great confidence, I pass the torch to our new President, Craig Peters. I know that he and our executive committee will do a phenomenal job leading us through the challenges we face. Even though I am sad to say goodbye, I am happy knowing that I leave this great organization in wonderful hands.
Written by Deborah Chang for the CAOC Forum Newsletter