Three years ago, Orange County family law legend, Eleanor Stegmeier, asked me to serve as Dean of the 2023 Institute of Trial Advocacy our Southern California Chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers presents annually. She was then our Chapter’s President and respected that each Institute takes three years of planning and preparation.
I knew what she was asking. As a then-new Fellow of the AAML, I previously served as Dean for our 2010 Institute. I respected it as a huge commitment. Eleanor is a particularly persuasive lawyer – and she got my “yes” again (only two other Fellows have served as Dean twice)!
The results were hugely successful. We held the event – our 31st — during the Martin Luther King weekend, January 13-16, 2023, at the Balboa Bay Resort in Newport Beach. Our theme was New Waves in Family Law. Our focus was presenting continuing education programs designed to assist the advanced family law practitioner in preparing for and presenting a case in court.
Beginning in 2020 I spoke with various Fellows, expert witnesses, and judicial officers toward developing our many programs. They included California Rules of Court/Family Code Interplay, How to Present a Case (presented in three parts over the weekend), Pre-Appellate Considerations in Trial Court, Evidence Code Privileges and Policies, Family Law Presumptions at Trial, Discovery Referees, Proving and Defending Domestic Violence Claims, Creative Procedures for Enforcing Orders and Judgments, Family Law Tax Update, Managing Expert Witnesses, “Hybrid” Custody Evaluations toward Settlements, Parentage Litigation Update, and Audio-visual Presentations in Hearings and Trials.
All proved excellent. Sincere thanks to our 29 presenters!
The weekend’s social highlight was Saturday Night’s black tie formal Gala. There we feted California Supreme Court Chief Justice Patricia Guerrero as our annual Family Law Person of the Year. This was the second time we enjoyed the presence of a Chief Justice – Chief Justice Ronald M. George (ret.) was our 2010 honoree (when I first served as Dean). Friend and Fellow, Judge Laura H. Miller (San Diego County Superior Court), gave a hilarious and heartfelt presentation, and Chief Justice Guerrero accepted with gratitude and grace.
The same evening, we presented our annual Distinguished Jurist award to The Honorable Linda L. Miller (ret.). Friend and Fellow, Justice Sheila Prell Sonenshine (ret.), introduced her by describing their many years together as then up-and-coming female lawyers in a not-always-welcoming environment at the time. Judge Miller enthusiastically embraced the honor with her family proudly watching.
We capped off the night with an animated performance by “Ventura locals gone big time” and friends, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy! – Crazy!
Over the three years of preparation, our team poured hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of hours into the event. While so many worked hard, some especially helped make it an Institute to remember:
* Co-dean, Stephen Hamilton, is a brother in San Luis Obispo County. He is true blue, and he enthusiastically leaned in.
* Herring Law Group Legal Administrators, Kristiné Kirschke and Lynn Goodman, were (and are in all ways) smart, dedicated, and hard-working. They stressed as much as me (and that was a lot!) toward “making everything perfect” — and they accomplished that!
* Dana O’Masters, with Cage & Miles in San Diego, supervised our attendee and sponsor “numbers and receipts.”
* Los Angeles family law maven, Steven A. Mindel, ran point in retaining and organizing our many sponsors.
* Saul Gelbart, from San Diego, facilitated our Person of the Year logistics.
* Sandra Mayberry, from San Diego, provided me “therapy” when needed (a lot!), and assisted in all ways.
* My wife, Penny, enthusiastically and meaningfully supported all our efforts – and me!
The Institute’s countless obligations on our time and attention presented as a tsunami, dramatically rising in July – August 2022 and cresting through the event. Simultaneously, one of HLG’s big Santa Barbara cases started “blowing up” in mid-December – forcing us to finalize and present the Institute while simultaneously handling “hot litigation” heading straight into a multi-day trial (which ended in a rare directed verdict in our client’s favor!). The considerable time spent and stress suffered were worth it. HLG proudly reiterated itself as an ongoing leader in California family law, while exhibiting grace under pressure throughout.
(… but there will not be a third Institute with me serving as the Dean!)