BEHIND THE BAR’S ‘FIRST’ MEMBER

Ever wondered who was the first lawyer in California? Or even the 666th?

Well, the handy dandy tool on the State Bar’s Web site that lets anyone search for attorneys by bar number can be a fun, if somewhat nerdy, distraction.

A search for No. 1 pulls up the name of former San Franciscan William Harrison Waste, who was admitted to practice law in June 1894 at the age of 25.

But wait a minute. A search for No. 100 brings up John Ferard Leicester, another San Franciscan who was admitted in January 1892, a full 2 1/2 years before Waste. In fact, several other lawyers � including Nos. 2 through 5 � were admitted years before Waste.

What’s up? Well, a search of the State Bar Web site turns up a 1996 story by the California Bar Journal � the Bar’s in-house newspaper � explaining that Waste was given the top spot as a professional courtesy. You see, he was fortunate enough to be California’s chief justice in 1927, the year the State Bar was formed.

But why are there so many lawyers with numbers that don’t seem to equate with their admission date? A State Bar spokeswoman said officials’ “best guess” is that when Bar membership became mandatory in 1927, “letters probably went out to all the lawyers [of the time] to send in papers to join the bar.” And the responses probably came in randomly for quite a while.

A related Bar Journal story in 1996 points out some other interesting bar numbers � No. 33334 was held by the late Johnnie Cochran Jr., who defended O.J. Simpson, and No. 15989 was held by the late � and disgraced � Richard Milhous Nixon.

The Bar Journal story also notes that No. 2596 � held by Clara Shortridge Foltz with an admission date of December 1879 � went to the first woman on the membership rolls.

That got The Recorder thinking about other numbers. Current Chief Justice Ronald George, who was admitted in June 1965, holds No. 36837, while the unfortunate No. 666 landed on the now-deceased George L. Bachman, a Long Beach resident who was admitted in May 1912.

No. 1492 went to Santa Barbara’s Donovan W. Woods, admitted in July 1915, and No. 1776 was held by Oakland’s John C. Scott, admitted in October 1901.

How about the landmark high numbers? No. 50000 is held by James Monroe Allen, a partner in San Francisco’s Leland, Parachini, Steinberg, Matzger & Melnick, while No. 100000 went to Saratoga solo practitioner Jann Marie Nakashima.

So who’s the most recent addition to the membership rolls? That honor goes to No. 250357, Milton Edward Foster III, an attorney at Pasadena’s Gutierrez, Preciado & House. At least he was the newest as of Monday.

In an e-mail to The Recorder, Foster observed, “The thing about being newly licensed is that many people assume you instantly have a huge amount of disposable income and that you have intricate knowledge regarding all areas of the law. Most friends and family are stunned when I answer most of their questions with: ‘I don’t know, but everything is available online.’”

But, he wrote, he’s enjoying his firm and the opportunities given to new associates. As a former engineer who changed careers, “It has been a challenging but rewarding road to becoming an attorney.”

Welcome aboard.

Mike McKee

DOMESTIC PARTNER CATCH-22

If California’s domestic partner law gives the rights and duties of marriage to registered domestic partners, does it also afford the same protections as marriage does in a breakup?

According to Lambda Legal, it should.

Tara Borelli, a Lambda Legal staff attorney based in Los Angeles, is appealing an Orange County ruling that dismissed a case asking for a dissolution of a domestic partnership and a division of property. Her client, Darrin Ellis, claims to have discovered only upon separation that his partner had never mailed a form to register as domestic partners with the state.

Orange County Judge Mark Millard ruled in February that couples must be registered as domestic partners in order to claim the rights provided by
AB 205, the state law that broadened domestic partner rights in 2005.

Borelli, who filed her appeal (.pdf) in the Fourth District Court of Appeal on Friday, acknowledges that AB 205 does not explicitly list a right to the “putative spouse doctrine,” under which courts give someone the same benefits and rights of a legal spouse for as long as that person believed they were in a valid marriage. But Borelli argues that the law should give a gay person the same protection as a heterosexual person who believed he was in a valid marriage and discovered later he was not.

Millard was unable to be reached Monday. But according to Borelli’s brief that quoted Millard from a transcript, he said in court that if “the legislature intended to apply putative domestic partnerships, then it could have said so.”

But the putative spouse doctrine, Borelli stresses in her brief, applies only to couples who lack a valid legal status.

The fight over whether AB 205 affords this protection is just one of the multiple issues lawyers are litigating since the implementation of the domestic partner law, which does not enumerate the rights for domestic partners.

“We’re just beginning to see cases that reflect the different vulnerabilities that the limitations of domestic partnership is inflicting on same-sex couples,” Borelli said.

The real problem, Borelli said, stems from the fact that same-sex couples are denied access to marriage.

California Supreme Court justices have asked attorneys litigating the gay marriage case for briefing on the differences between the legal rights and obligations of domestic partners and married couples.

“There wouldn’t be a question here about whether our client would have access to these protections if California provided marriage equality [to homosexual couples],” Borelli said. “Then it would be clear as day that the same rules applied to everybody.”

Millie Lapidario