It was an emotional morning Saturday at the State Bar convention in Monterey when the chief justice gave his farewell address, his principal attorney was honored, and the incoming State Bar president described a family tragedy that renewed his appreciation of lawyers.
Supreme Court attorney Beth Jay, principal attorney to Chief Justice Ronald George, received the Bernard E. Witkin medal for outstanding contribution to California jurisprudence. Jay, the Winston Wolf of the Supreme Court who does her work behind the scenes, was described by outgoing California Judges Association President Michael Vicenzia as “the key” to the court. “Anyone who wants to be successful as a leader, you need a Beth Jay,” he said.
George, meanwhile, looked back at his 14 years as chief justice, ticking off accomplishments including trial court consolidation and state funding, improvements to jury service, services for pro se litigants, better community outreach, a courthouse construction program, and a “developing statewide case management system” -- developing being something of a euphemism.
George reiterated the reasons he's stepping down from the bench, then, departing from his prepared remarks, added: “In a word, after 45 years in public service it was perhaps a time for some self-service.”
Outgoing State Bar president Howard Miller revealed an interesting tidbit when introducing his successor, William Hebert of Calvo & Clark. Miller, of L.A.'s Girardi & Keese, said the Calvo and Girardi firms have been locked in “protracted and not pleasant litigation spanning the pacific.” But the two have enjoyed a constructive working relationship on the board, Miller said, with the only mention of the litigation being when, upon becoming president, Miller assured Hebert it would play no factor in committee assignments or other perks.
Hebert, meanwhile, described matter-of-factly the tragedy that exposed him to law: the 2001 robbery and murder of his father. The prosecutor, J. Patrick White of Iowa City, “made my family feel like he was our lawyer.” But Hebert also respected the defense lawyers, who didn't stand in the way when the murderer confessed to clear his conscience and apoligized for the crime.
Hebert said that confirmed for him that the ability to “help people through troubled times is the defining trait of a good lawyer.”