The topic was civility, so it seemed downright uncivil when a cell phone broke up a recent meeting of the State Bar Board of Governors not once, but twice.

Members of the board, meeting in Los Angeles on Aug. 19, were voting on a proposed civility code for lawyers when a lilting musical ditty erupted from a vacant seat. A quick search uncovered a ringing cell phone deep inside a satchel belonging to Fresno governor Paul Hokokian, who had left the room a few minutes earlier.

Always ready to inject some levity into meetings, San Francisco governor Jeffrey Bleich quickly made the motion “that all our votes have soundtracks in the future.”

The laughs hadn’t stopped when Hokokian’s cell phone began playing again. As if on cue, Jill Sperber, the director of the State Bar’s Office of Mandatory Fee Arbitration who had just taken a seat at the table for a new discussion, said, “I like musical introductions.”

Both times, the task of silencing the phone fell to President-Elect Sheldon Sloan, who sits to Hokokian’s right.

Mike McKee


As New Orleans commemorates the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, much of the legal work is just beginning.

“I think there was a delay as to when the legal work was needed,” said Amos Hartston, a Los Angeles-based Latham & Watkins attorney who works on the firm’s pro bono efforts. “The work has evolved over time � at first, we didn’t know what was going to be involved.”

Now, Hartston is seeing legal claims related to insurance and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, as well as battles over evictions and health care. Attorneys in the region have also been working on cases involving insurance companies, some of which took positions of no, or limited, coverage.

Many clients were not well positioned to argue because they were homeless and needed a quick settlement, he explained. “Some of these people have never been involved in a legal process before.”

Though Hartston traveled to the Gulf Coast region twice this year, he was able to do a large portion of the pro bono work by exchanging phone calls and letters.

But on the ground, there is also a great need for lawyers to meet with the survivors in person. Latham has also sponsored fellowships for two attorneys in the region, including one for Ranie Thompson, a former American Civil Liberties Union attorney.

Thompson works full-time in Louisiana, interviewing people who come into the legal clinic where she works. Much of her work entails helping people with FEMA claims.

Among the 10 to 12 cases she deals with weekly, several stand out in her memory. One involved a family who had gotten no money from FEMA aside from initial assistance, and had been displaced to Texas with nothing remaining of their house but a concrete slab.

“They were constantly faxing documents and not getting any answers,” she said. “The stress was taxing on the relationship between the husband and wife. Both were unemployed.”

The lawyers involved were able to get them into an apartment, and obtain substantial money for clothing and furniture.

“I think there’s still a huge need,” Hartston said. “Hopefully the passage of time isn’t going to make attorneys focus on other issues.”

Kellie Schmitt