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Hot sauce for the gander

James E. Herman 2002-03 President State Bar of California

President, State Bar of California

I will talk about Mohammed in a second. But James and I hit it off right away. We share the same given name. And, a few chapters into Judith St. George's illustrated White House history, "So You Want to be President," we also discover "James" is the most popular name for United States presidents. (We count President Carter even though he goes by "Jimmy.") This almost makes up for James' and his Loma Vista Elementary School third grade pals' misimpression they are meeting the president of the United States instead of the mere presidentofthestatebarofcalifornia (emphasis subtracted).

Lawyers for Literacy, aimed at local third graders, is Orange County Bar Associa-tion President Robert Gerard's brainchild. My reader duties kicked off a great Orange County legal community day organized by Gerard and District 6 Governor Joel Miliband.

"During this time of budget cutbacks and increased focus on test scores, the influx of donated books and volunteers to read them is an important contribution OCBA can make to the community," according to Gerard. Volunteer lawyers also take the opportunity to talk a bit about law practice.

Oh, and the last I see James, all gap-toothed smile, he is clutching "So You Want to be President" as proof, on name alone, his shot at the Oval Office is statistically enhanced.

After lunch, I drafted my own bankruptcy petition without a hitch (don't tell my partners) using I-CAN software jointly developed by the Orange County Superior Court and Orange County Legal Aid for the Self-Help Litigant Kiosk Center. On my visit, the kiosk, winner of the 2003 Ralph M. Kleps Award, presented by Chief Justice Ronald George, operated at full capacity.

According to Robert Cohen of the Orange County Legal Aid Society, "This well-used resource is a front line access to justice program now being shared with other counties throughout California." I-CAN also helps users apply for tax rebates, so far returning over $300,000 to Orange County's low-income population.

Cohen and his IT guru, A.J. Tavares, point out pro per dockets move about 6 percent faster with I-CAN. Orange County CEO Alan Slater, an information technology innovator, is nevertheless worried about the impact of trial court defunding on the civil trial courts and especially on programs like the self-help center. Assistant Presiding Judge David McEachen noted Orange County has already curtailed night court and cut back on hours at the clerk's office.

My day also included lunch with the OCBA board, a roundtable with the local specialty bars and an OCBA reception. As my friends Andy Guilford and Scott Wylie (obviously relative strangers to the charms of Santa Barbara County) like to say, Orange is America's finest county.

On the other hand, if you want a bottle of "Contempt of Court" pepper sauce or "Juvenile Justice" taco sauce, Wendell Dean Peters, former teacher, former child advocate, criminal defense lawyer of Auburn and owner of Judicial Flavors is the guy to see. A self-styled "Chili Head," Peters claims he has eaten fewer than three meals over the last 20 years sans peppers and garlic. He does not look or smell the worse for wear.

I noticed Peters' logo sweatshirt at the very well-attended Placer County Bar Association's MCLE Conference held at Lake Tahoe. PCBA attracts an independent breed with some skepticism about the State Bar as PCBA President and conference organizer Larry Skidmore warned me. But after a few minutes of reminding the conferees about the affinity fish counties, such as mine, have for cow counties, such as theirs, they warmed up like Peters' hot sauce.

My bar outreach trips around the state are beginning to make me feel like Charles Kuralt-at-law.

Peters insisted, by the way, I would have to sign a waiver before he would ship me his fiery "So Sue Me" hot sauce. Peters' sauce is special because he donates a portion of the proceeds to one of my favorite programs, the teen Peer Court for juvenile offenders. Teens sit in judgment of their juvenile peers and after thorough hearing and deliberation, decide on appropriate sentences.

If you want to know about either the sauce, which may become the Official Hot Sauce of the State Bar, or the program, look up Peters' contact information on our newly spruced up and expanded attorney records database at

Placer County is also concerned about trial court defunding. I urge you to contact Sacramento policymakers to help roll back the projected cuts.

And work with your local courts to see what you can do to help. Our mission statement is, after all, "To preserve and improve the justice system in order to assure a fair and just society under the law."

As far as things to come, keep your eye out for local meetings on the court budget crisis, Business & Professions Code §17200, and the rollout of our new pamphlet, Seniors and the Law, in your area. Look for the publication of simplified jury instructions later in the year.

Justice James Ward, former member of the board of governors, leads this Judicial Council effort with a nod to public member Jan Green, the State Bar Litigation Section and State Bar Assistant Executive Director Starr Babcock for their support of the effort.

Mohammed? 1998 State Bar President Mark Adelman e-mailed me a radio editorial on Mohammed, the Iraqi lawyer whose courage and compassion saved Private Jessica Lynch. Mohammed, witnessing Lynch's abuse at the hands of her keepers in an Iraqi hospital, contacted American authorities. At their request, he went back to the hospital three times, at great personal risk, to gather more information to help with the extraction.

Mohammed, you make me proud to be a lawyer.

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