Herring Law Group Leads another Successful AAML Institute of Trial Advocacy!

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!)

Herring Law Group Welcomes Jack Ucciferri

HLG welcomes our newest attorney, Jack Ucciferri! A long-time Santa Barbara resident, Jack brings a unique resume as a local businessman now engaged in the full scope of family law.

Jack attended two tours at the University of California at Santa Barbara. In 2002 he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science and history. He dove straight into business, co-founding and successfully exiting Giant’s Foot Surf in Nicaragua. He went on to consult for Ecometriks LLC (now Solar Census), serve as Board Treasurer for the Fund for Santa Barbara, and work as a Registered Investment Advisor Representative and Research & Advocacy Director for Harrington Investments, Inc.

Nearly ten years later, Jack attained a Master of Arts at UCSB in Global Political Economy. He accomplished this while serving as the Regional Coordinator for Toniic Impact Investor Network. Afterward, he founded OurTown Property Management in Santa Barbara.

During and following law school at the Santa Barbara and Ventura Colleges of Law (graduating in 2020), Jack clerked and then practiced law at the Santa Barbara offices of the national powerhouse, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck. Seeking opportunities toward “doing good” for individuals and families in family law, he changed gears by joining a Ventura family law firm before coming to HLG.

Jack enjoys speaking Spanish whenever the occasion presents. In his spare time, you are likely to spot him adventuring with his family in the hills of Ojai or relishing the beaches of the Central Coast.

With Jack on board, we are now five attorneys strong and more capable than ever!

Another Successful Annual Trial Basics Seminar!

Our American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers Southern California Chapter presented its seventh annual Trial Basics Seminar through Zoom on June 10. Herring Law Group founded the program in 2015. It has become a major annual event. We are pleased to continually host eager and focused family law lawyers from throughout Southern California.

Our Chapter presents TBS at no cost to our students – not a cent has ever been charged! We provide substantial Mandatory Continuing Legal Education Credits to boot!

As South Carolina AAML Fellow and former National President, James T. McClaren, once put it, each family law case has different needs. Our AAML Fellows recognize the availability of various alternative courses of resolution. But we believe that if a case cannot be settled, then the consequence is that the courts are there to decide the issues. Our job is to be prepared to expertly litigate those cases to their logical ends.

We have been blessed each year by the active presence of family law guru and friend, Garrett Dailey, as our moderator. Garrett’s contributions to California Family Law, through his Attorney’s Briefcase legal research and update service, annual Family Law Boot Camp, Family Law 101, and Year in Review seminars, plus advocacy in the trial and appellate courts are unparalleled.

TBS is a fast-moving event. We gave a whopping 22 presentations throughout the day. Topics ranged in chronological order from Pre-trial Discovery Planning all the way through to Appellate Considerations. Our audience continually interacted with us via Zoom’s “chat” and “Q&A” features.

Sincere thanks to all who made it happen: Garrett, Chris Melcher, Robert Benavente, Sandra Mayberry, Annette Hall, “newbie” Kyle Siems, and Justice Sheila Sonenshine (ret.). Supporting all of us was one of HLG’s Legal Administrators, Kristiné Kirschke — without whom we could not have succeeded as we did.

In the seven years that our Chapter has presented TBS, we have educated over 1,000 family law attorneys throughout California! It remains a huge pleasure and honor to continue serving as TBS’ Dean and an ongoing presenter.

The Honorable John R. Smiley – Retired!

Ventura County Superior Court Judge Smiley elegantly retired a couple weeks ago on his 75th birthday. He was a great judge, and we will miss him.

Famously a graduate of Princeton University (his chambers were adorned with Princeton tigers and his orange and black Repp tie was in high rotation), Judge Smiley began his legal career at the Ventura firm, Lucking, Bertelsen, Bysshe, Kuttler & Smiley. There, he specialized in family and business law for thirteen years. As he later joked, he found himself to be a better lawyer than a businessperson. So, he sought appointment to the bench and succeeded in 1986.

California then separated “municipal” courts, where Judge Smiley initially served, from the Superior Court. In 1998 California voters passed a constitutional amendment that provided for voluntary unification of the superior and municipal courts in each county into a single, countywide trial court system. He was then elevated to the Superior Court. As soon as 2004, he was elected Presiding Judge of the Ventura County Superior court, managing the court, assigning cases to other judges and specialized courts, overseeing the court calendar, and deciding cases.

I first met him in about 1999, when I was building a family law specialty on my ten years of experience as a business litigator. I found him not “smiley,” but intimidating. He projected a no-nonsense control of his courtroom. A law professor, too, he knew his stuff through and through — when I might not have!

But that changed. The more cases we had together, the more I appreciated his intelligence, even demeanor, and dry wit. He came to trust me as a straight-up advocate, offering minimal “BS” while still arguing my client’s positions 100%. I learned to modulate in that realm, maintaining credibility while still pushing envelopes where warranted.

Judge Smiley tolerated that. I listened and learned the steps to that dance. I did not always agree with him, but he made no secret that he was doing his best as an imperfect human in a tough job. He did not always agree with me, but he respected that I always did my best, representing clients in complex, expensive, and emotional situations.

An early case “together” involved a client who settled by “buying” the beloved family dog, Pheobe, through assumption of $11,000 of community credit card debt. The next day, she reconsidered, harshly asking me how I could ever have “let” her do that – spending so much for a dog?! This led me to a motion to set-aside the settlement, where Judge Smiley heard me emphasize in open court that it concerned a “shit – zu named Phoebe.” Not quite hiding his amusement, he called counsel into chambers where he helped us work it out absent further drama and fees.

In one of my early multi-day family law trials, opposing counsel’s examination over the family’s assets become interminable. Barely hiding his frustration, Judge Smiley dryly asked counsel if he might stipulate to avoiding any item not worth … “say, at least $75.” Blessedly, counsel got the drift and likely cut the trial time by half! One way or another, Judge Smiley got results.

An annual treat for the Ventura County Bar Association’s Family Law Bar was his “State of the Family Law Courts” address. There, he put his wit on full display, amusing all while still reporting the not-always-good news (Governor Brown and his perennial cuts to the courts’ budget …!) When he later took over the annual address, Judge Liebmann openly complained about what a hard act he had to follow. He was right.

A highlight for both of us was when I was chosen to present Judge Smiley with the Southern California Chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers’ annual “Judicial Officer of the Year” award in 2007. I was then a newly minted Fellow of the AAML, nervous as could be but also proud!

The stories abound. Ultimately, Judge Smiley was every family law lawyer’s dream – a judge who listened, considered, and cared about his decisions and the families they affected. He did the same for the attorneys, witnesses, and other advocates regularly giving their all in this uniquely complex and challenging area of practice. Herring Law Group fondly wishes Jack a well-deserved, happy, and healthy retirement on his beloved golf courses — and anywhere else he might find himself!