Call it the Siege of Monterey.
From Thursday to Sunday, the small coastal resort town was inundated by airplane enthusiasts attending a major air show in nearby Salinas, bikers competing at the Laguna Seca Raceway and, oh yes, thousands of lawyers attending the annual meeting of the State Bar of California.
It was quite a mix, but let’s concentrate on the lawyers holed up at the Portola Hotel & Spa, the Monterey Marriott Hotel and the Hyatt Regency Monterey. And, of course, there were the judges attending the California Judges Association’s annual meeting at the Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa.
Speeches were given, lectures provided, resolutions approved and frivolity held — as in the “Studio 54esq” dance party and Connie Champagne’s “A Night with Judy Garland” drag show, both on Saturday night. And there was the Friday night president’s reception at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, where the legal sharks met with their finny brethren over fancy hors d’oeuvres and cocktails.
California Chief Justice Ronald George was just about everywhere, running at a whirlwind pace beginning with a speech before the California Women Lawyers on Thursday night and ending with a Q&A with the state’s jurists on Sunday morning.
George was the first man ever to speak to the California Women Lawyers, and got loud cheers and applause every time anyone mentioned his May 15 ruling on same-sex marriage.
“Never has such a seemingly obvious principle that marriage is a fundamental right to all citizens created such havoc,” outgoing CWL president Karen Goodman, a Sacramento lawyer, said in her farewell speech. “We were the first state to find that sexual orientation is a protected class.”
And in a jab at Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin — not a popular person at the conference — Goodman said, “Whether it is the lipstick jungle, pit bulls with lipstick or ‘lipstick on a pig,’ we as women lawyers haven’t been afraid to stand out in a crowd in these chaotic times.”
George played to the mostly female crowd by talking about the great strides women have made in the law — from the times when female law school graduates got stuck with secretarial roles to now, when more than one-third of the nation’s chief justices are women.
He also got a roar when he said he was pleased “on my behalf, and as a proxy for, my 2-year-old granddaughter — the first female born in the George family in 63 years — to proclaim how confident I am we shall continue to move ahead toward the goal of a society free of gender discrimination and all other types of bias.”
On Saturday, George got another wild reception when he gave his State of the Judiciary address to the Conference of Delegates of California Bar Associations. The chief was in a particularly good mood because less than 24 hours earlier, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger had OK’d $5 billion for courthouse construction and repairs.
“Some facilities do not meet present earthquake standards. Others simply are overcrowded,” George told the assembled lawyers. “In some locations, jurors have no assembly room and must stand or wait in stairwells, halls or even outdoors. There are staff and judges who work in converted closets.”
Minutes later, George swore in Holly Fujie, only the third woman and third member of an ethnic minority to serve as State Bar president. Fujie, a Japanese American and a partner with Los Angeles’ Buchalter Nemer, responded with a speech that was part inspirational message for women and minorities and part stand-up comic routine.
She summarized her background this way: “I am a Northern California born, Southern California practicing, Methodist minority woman partner in a majority large firm with a Catholic Caucasian husband in a small firm and two half-Asian kids, raised in a black neighborhood and living in a white one.”
“So when I speak to young women and minority lawyers … about what they need to do to make the profession more diverse, I speak from experience.”
Fujie also joked about well-meaning colleagues making sure to tell her how much they love Japanese food and recently learning that a partner in a firm she left 25 years ago still refers to every Asian woman attorney as Holly.
Meanwhile, at other events, Thomas Daschle, the former majority and minority leader of the U.S. Senate, spoke on trends shaping America in the 21st century, California Supreme Court Justice Ming Chin led a hearing on the politicization of the courts and delegates to the Conference of Delegates of California Bar Associations did silly things such as tossing out fake tomatoes and singing the annual credentials report to the tune of the Village People’s “YMCA.”
Yes, it’s painful to hear a group of lawyers singing, badly, “CDCBA: I’ve Got to be a Delegate” — all the while dressed as a policeman, an Indian chief, a construction worker and, oh well, you get it.
— Mike McKee