Solano County Law Library Blog
November/December 2017 Post
In light of National Family Caregivers Month (November 2017) and Universal Human Rights Month (December 2017), you might consider doing research on elder law in California. After all, according to Grama (2004), elder law practice encompasses the following topics:
“…Medicare, Social Security, guardianship proceedings, estate planning, financing nursing home care, pension and other retirement plans, elder abuse, and family matters, such as grandparent visitation and even divorce…”
Given the diversity of elder law litigation, Solano County Law Library possesses several print or electronic resources that customers can access at our location:
California Conservatorship Practice (CEB): While geared towards legal experts, the series addresses topics such as establishing temporary and permanent conservatorship, estate management, and LPS conservatorships. Available in print and via the database CEB OnLAW (Solano County Law Library only).
California Elder Law Litigation (CEB): As another title geared towards legal experts, the volume contains detailed information on elder abuse topics. There is ample information that pertains to financial abuse (whether by a business or a beneficiary) and filing actions against nursing homes or residential care facilities. Available in print and via the database CEB OnLAW (Solano County Law Library only).
California Elder Resources, Benefits and Planning (CEB): This is another attorney-oriented title that addresses elder law, though covers the insurance and government benefit aspects of elderly clients. Available in print and via the database CEB OnLAW (Solano County Law Library only).
Long-Term Care (Nolo): A self-help title that addresses the planning and paying of long-term care. There are chapters devoted to topics such as the prevention of elder fraud, an overview of government benefits, and making insurance decisions. It is a comparable resource to California Elder Resources, Benefits and Planning, though the content might be easier for laypersons to understand. Available in print and via the database Legal Information Reference Center (accessible in-person at Solano County Law Library; available 24-7 via Solano County Library).
Plan Your Estate (Nolo): A self-help title that addresses topics related to estate planning. There are chapters devoted to estate taxes, avoiding probate, and developing plans for issues ranging from medical to burial decisions. Available in print and via the database Legal Information Reference Center (accessible in-person at Solano County Law Library; available 24-7 via Solano County Library).
This posting only addresses a few resources, as Solano County Law Library possesses even more materials on legal topics such as trusts, probate, wills, and even pension and retirement benefits. Law Library staff can also refer customers to online self-help resources that pertain to grandparent visitation and divorce. Also, be sure to check out the free or low-cost legal services that are geared towards seniors in Solano County: http://solanolibrary.com/legal-assistance.
Any materials shared by Solano County Law Library is for informational purposes only and should not be interpreted as legal advice. Please contact a lawyer for advice on specific legal issues.
Cue the scene. The Final Girl is in view:
Lila Crane reluctantly climbs the stairs of the house behind the Bates Motel…
Laurie Strode crosses the street towards the shadowy Wallace residence…
Sidney Prescott, battle-ready, considers her options as she stands outside a swank L.A. mansion…
Before you can scream “Molly, you in danger, girl!” (Okay, wrong genre), the heroine enters the house. And so a familiar horror trope unfolds to set up the final showdown. In the above scenarios, you know there is a maniac in the house that intends to do the Final Girl harm. But what if it is the house itself that is the menace?
You probably thought: “Do you mean, like, the Amityville house?” Yes and no. Yes, in 1974, Ronald J. DeFeo, Jr. brutally murdered his parents and four siblings in the infamous house. The “no” answer comes from the Amityville haunting having been debunked. In fact, you can even find lawsuits filed in relation to the hoax. So, what would a “real” haunted property be called? According to Thompson, the National Association of Realtors uses the term stigmatized property, which is defined as the following:
“…psychologically impacted by an event, which occurred or was suspected to have occurred on the property, such event being one that has no physical impact of any kind.“
In which case, as the author describes, stigmatizing factors include murder, suicide, serious crimes, and (you guessed it) hauntings and other paranormal activity. If the property is stigmatized, the homebuyer might shy away from paying the full market price.
You might wonder why someone would even take a chance with a stigmatized property, especially after we all saw what happened to Carol Anne Freeling in Poltergeist. John C. Murray’s 2016 article “Scary Stuff: ‘Haunted’ and ‘Stigmatized’ Real Property” offers a general overview of stigmatized properties. During the course of his article, Murray cites several cases such as Stambovsky v. Ackley. He analyzes the concept of stigmatized property and how each state has its own disclosure requirements. For instance, to greatly paraphrase California Civil Code §1710.2, the death of an occupant (and the manner of death) does not have to be disclosed to the homebuyer if it occurred three years prior to the sale. Murray’s article offers several other interesting tidbits.
So before you call the priest (The Exorcist), psychic (Insidious), ghostbuster (The Conjuring) or set up a video camera to document any hauntings (Paranormal Activity), please be sure to familiarize yourself with the necessary California laws first.
Any materials shared by Solano County Law Library is for informational purposes only and should not be interpreted as legal advice. Please contact a lawyer for advice on specific legal issues.
When it comes to tattoos, what do you usually think of?
The creativity and the artistic statement being made…
The person that is being commemorated in the design…
The potential for a lawsuit…
Wait, a lawsuit? How could a centuries-old visual art form be a topic for litigation? Do you remember when Ed Helms’ character had a facial tattoo that resembled Mike Tyson’s in the film “The Hangover, Part II”? In 2011, tattoo artist S. Victor Whitmill sued Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.—arguing that that the studio should have obtained permission from him first. Warner Bros. counter-argued that the tattoo design was fair use. The case was settled for an undisclosed amount later that year.
In 2016, Matthew Siegler and his Solid Oak Sketches LLC sued Take-Two Interactive over copyrighted tattoos depicted on LeBron James and other players in the video game “NBA 2K.” As of August 2017, the case is still ongoing. Take-Two Interactive recently filed a motion for summary judgment “[claiming] that the tattoos that appear in the game are protected by copyright law’s doctrines of fair use and de minimis use.”
Safe Body Art Act is a chapter of California’s Health & Safety Code which “is intended to protect both the practitioner and the client from the transmission of infectious diseases through minimum statewide standards…” In reference to the Safe Body Art Act, Solano County has created a page designed for tattooing, body piercing and permanent cosmetics. Many other counties have set up similar pages designed to address the act and how it intertwines with their local business regulations.
There is also the issue of who exactly may be tattooed. According to California Penal Code §653, it is a misdemeanor to tattoo (or offer to tattoo) a person under the age of 18. There is a similar code for inmates, as 15 CCR §3063 not only prohibits tattooing but also their removal. For tattoo removal in general, according to the Medical Board of California, only physicians, registered nurses (must be supervised by a doctor), and physician assistants (must be supervised by a doctor) are permitted to perform it via laser procedures. The laser removal process can be delicate, and there are certain instances in which an individual has filed a lawsuit due to a botched procedure.
If you happen to stop by a Solano County Library branch this month, check out their displays of books, movies and music related to tattoos. If you visit Solano County Law Library, you can access cases and other law-related resources pertaining to tattoo law in our legal databases. For instance, you might want to explore other aspects of tattoo law—such as if owners can perform body art on a pet. Be sure to also visit Solano County Law Library on Facebook and Twitter.
Any materials shared by Solano County Law Library is for informational purposes only and should not be interpreted as legal advice. Please contact a lawyer for advice on specific legal issues.
If you travelled to unusual destinations in July, you might be spending August relaxing. What better way to wind down then by…drinking coffee? Oh, you didn’t know that August is National Coffee Month? Well, as blogger Nanea Hoffman once wrote—“First coffee, then on to today’s episode of ‘NOW WHAT.’”
Yes, there are still ongoing debates about the health benefits of coffee. But why aren’t there discussions about the coffee-related lawsuit that took the United States by storm? While you may be thinking of the Starbucks cases from 2015 and 2017, I am referring to the 1994 case that started it all. In Liebeck v. McDonald's Restaurants (1994), Stella Liebeck sued McDonald’s for the third-degree burns that she suffered after spilling her takeout coffee on her lap. Over the years, the case—informally known as the “McDonald’s coffee case” or the “hot coffee lawsuit”—has been ridiculed by popular culture. It eventually became synonymous with the term “frivolous lawsuit.”
The 2011 documentary Hot Coffee: Is Justice Being Served? (available at Solano County Library) attempts to set the record straight regarding the case. Filmmaker Susan Saladoff (who had once practiced as an attorney) argues that Leibeck’s story was distorted due to a public relations campaign launched by the defendant. Saladoff uses Liebeck’s case (as well as other cases) to illustrate a “David and Goliath” situation in which litigants are battling corporate machinations.
Other sources such as Kevin G. Gain’s article “And Now the Rest of the Story…The McDonald’s Lawsuit” (Journal of Consumer & Commercial Law, July/August 2007) also outline the facts surrounding the case:
In 1992, as opposed to the popular version, 79-year-old Liebeck was not driving the vehicle nor was the vehicle in motion. Her grandson was the driver.
After her grandson stopped the car, Liebeck attempted to remove the lid to sweeten her coffee—which resulted in the spill.
Liebeck suffered third-degree burns to her lower body because her sweatpants instantaneously absorbed the hot liquid (heated between 180-190 degrees). As defined by MedlinePlus, third-degree burns “extend into deeper tissues, causing brown or blackened skin that may be numb.”
Despite undergoing various medical procedures (which totaled $11,000.00), Liebeck’s lower body was still “disfigured and disabled” (Gain, 2007).
As with Saladoff’s documentary, Gain’s article unveils other details that did not make it into the popularized narrative. While this month’s posting may not undo the case’s history as a punchline, it is hoped that it will at least provide some insight into the complexity of tort law and how perceptions can easily be distorted.
With parents having been celebrated (Mother’s Day, Father’s Day) and the graduations finished, July usually means planning a nice Independence Day fête and caking yourself with sunscreen.
July may also be the start of your summer traveling. To show the scope of travel law, I was initially planning to have this month’s posting focus on GPSOLO Magazine’s 2010 issue on the “Law of Leisure.” But what if we wanted to experience the joy of globe-trotting through the eyes of somebody who was once a legal practitioner? After all, we peruse blogs to gain various tips and viewpoints. If they say that lawyers possess highly analytical minds, how might laypersons benefit from reading such traveling perspectives?
Here is where Jodi Ettenberg’s blog Legal Nomads comes into play. Before launching her blog, Ettenberg worked as a corporate lawyer for several years in New York. She quit her job to take a sabbatical from the legal field. To her surprise, Ettenberg loved traveling so much that she has yet to resume her legal practice.
Her vivid posts depict a destination’s history, culture, scenery, and most importantly, cuisine (particularly gluten-free choices). Whether she is enjoying lobster in the Dominican Republic or bun rieu from a San Francisco eatery, Ettenberg’s photographs immerse you in environments that are exotic yet accessible. Although it may seem that she lives a charmed life, Ettenberg does address the pitfalls of traveling (such as financial issues or becoming ill) in her article “I Quit My High-Paying Job as a Lawyer to Travel…And It's Not All Sunshine and Rainbows” (Redbook, 2015). Ettenberg’s legal background still plays a significant part in her blogging, as there is a section devoted to attorneys who might be seeking an alternative career choice.
There are other travel blogs written by former attorneys, such as Jo Fitzsimon’s Indiana Jo, Claudia Tavani’s My Adventures Across the World and Michael Hodson’s Go, See, Write. Please note that this posting is not endorsing any of the individuals or products featured in the abovementioned blogs.
If you would like to plan a trip, please be sure to check out Solano County Library’s wide-ranging travel guide collection. If you would like to research on actual travel law, please be sure to visit Solano County Law Library.
They say that the month of June is all about “dads & grads.” Once the graduation ceremony ends and the caps are thrown in the air à la Mary Tyler Moore (“…You’re gonna make it after all…”), what comes next?
Do you follow the sage advice of columnist Mary Schmich to wear sunscreen (check out Baz Luhrmann’s “Everybody’s Free to Wear Sunscreen" which is based on Schmich’s column)? Or do you turn to the State Bar of California’s resource When You Turn 18: A Survival Guide for Teenagers?
As someone once said, “Now [that] you’re 18 the government will treat you like an adult, even if your parents still want to treat you like a kid.” When Your Turn 18: A Survival Guide for Teenagers—last revised by the State Bar of California in March 2014 (a Spanish version is also available)—has been around since 1991.The guide first addresses the perks of reaching the age of majority such as voting and no longer needing parental consent (e.g., making medical decisions, buying and selling property, joining the military, etc.). Then, there are the other adult matters that are rarely mentioned in commencement speeches. Did you know newly turned eighteen-year-olds can now look forward to paying income taxes, receiving harsher punishments for criminal acts, and to being sued personally in a lawsuit?
All of the guide’s information is structured in a Q&A format and there are references to pertinent California laws. There is ample devotion to real-world situations such as the following:
What if someone “crashes” my party?
What if I spend more money than I have in my bank account?
Is downloading certain content from the internet illegal?
What happens if I buy a car that is a lemon?
When Your Turn 18: A Survival Guide for Teenagers is not intended to scare teenagers about adulthood. Rather, it provides teenagers with the basic tools to handle any legal situations that might arise. If you are a teenager that wants to know the full extent of your legal rights, I highly encourage you to visit Solano County Law Library and explore our legal collection. We can also refer you to free or low-cost legal services that are available in Solano County: http://solanolibrary.com/legal-assistance. In the meantime, enjoy graduation day and play out “Pomp and Circumstance” to your heart’s content:
On April 29, 2016, former President Barack Obama recognized May’s month-long observance of National Building Safety Month in a Presidential Proclamation. According to the International Code Council’s (ICC) website, National Building Safety Month originated to "[help]…improve public safety by increasing awareness about how building codes and code officials improve and protect the places where we live, learn, work, worship and play.”
In February 2017, the ICC announced its theme for its 37th annual National Building Safety Month—“Code Officials: Partners in Community Safety and Economic Growth.” With regard to home improvement projects, how might building safety and code officials figure into the process?
If you are a fan of TV shows such as Ask this Old House and Property Brothers, you might be surprised to read Teresa Mears’ article “Fan of Home Renovation Shows? The Fantasy vs. Reality” (2016). She mentions some of the procedures that are rarely shown on camera: drawing up architectural plans, analyzing structural issues, and “getting permits from local building officials.” There is also the Nolo article “When Homeowners Must Obtain Permits for Home Projects” to consider, which summarizes the instances in which a building permit is recommended. Not to mention Riha’s article “7 Building Code Violations You Should Definitely Avoid: DIYers Beware” (2015) that cautions on topics ranging from skipping permits to selecting the wrong junction box.
Given that home improvement projects require care, what are some of the resources available to you?
Once you have familiarized yourself with building codes and safety measures, please be sure to also explore Solano County Library’s collection of do-it-yourself resources.
For this year’s Women’s History Month, I finally had the chance to fulfill a research promise that I made two years ago. To honor the first women to practice law in the United States and California, I wrote the piece “Legacy of American Female Attorneys.” Since then, I vowed to find out who the first women were to practice law in Solano County.
In 2006, in a Daily Republic article written about the then newly appointed Judge Wendy G. Getty, the now retired Judge Dwight Ely mentioned that “‘when I first started there were two women who practiced law in the county…’” (Sullivan, 2006). Given that Judge Ely was admitted to the State Bar of California in 1959, I began researching through Ancestry.com (freely accessible at any Solano County Library branch) for any pre-1959 records on practicing female attorneys. I stumbled upon a 1940 U.S. Federal Census that listed female Vallejo resident F. (Frances) Marian Leachman’s occupation as an “attorney.” A 1940 voter registration record also listed her as an attorney, though identified her as “Miriam F. Leachman.” Since there were no other records from 1940-1959 (and even pre-1940) that listed a female attorney, I narrowed my focus on Leachman.
Leachman was born on September 3, 1908 to Ream Sesostris Leachman (1877-1962) and Anna Muller (1886-1969) in Vallejo, California. She was the first child, and would later have a younger brother named James Debo Leachman (1910-1938). Her father Ream was a prominent physician and surgeon who, during the course of his career, co-managed a hospital in Vallejo from 1912-1914 (Wichel, 1964). The Leachman family was mentioned in various social columns in the San Francisco Call. A Sacramento Union society article (January 29, 1922) even provides insights into Leachman’s early education. It was announced that Leachman had just completed her grammar school education, and was setting sail for Europe with her grandparents to study music and language arts at a French school. Leachman would later attend Stanford University, where she received her A.B. (Political Science; 1930) and LL.B (1939). This posting shows a photo excerpt of Leachman taken from the 1930 yearbook edition of The Stanford Quad (U.S., School Yearbooks, 1880-2012 for F Marian Leachman; Ancestry.com). During her time at Stanford University, Leachman excelled in extracurricular activities such as theater, golf, basketball and tennis. She most likely inherited her athleticism from her mother, as Anna was a tennis star throughout Leachman’s formative years.
On March 7, 1938, tragedy befell the Leachman family. James died while flying a plane that was to be repaired in Salt Lake City, Utah. At the time of his death, he was working as an airfield manager at the Walla Walla Airport in Washington (The Daily Herald, 1938). Leachman passed the California Bar exam the following year. By 1940, she set up her own private practice at 102 Civic Center Building in Vallejo (Stanford Illustrated Review, 41:7). In April 1942, she married fellow attorney Ellis Richard Randall (1905-1995). They may have met while serving as the Solano County Bar Association’s delegates at the 1941 Annual Meeting of the State Bar of California. Their union produced daughter Diane Leachman Randall (b. 1943). An online source stated that Leachman served as a World War II police judge during her pregnancy. However, although there are sources that allude to her being a member of the American Judicature Society, I searched through the Roster of State, County, City and Township Officials of the State of California… editions published during that time period but could not substantiate this claim.
According to Ladies Home Journal (Vol. 69, pg. 52), Leachman—now going by her married name Randall—became Vallejo’s first female council member in 1952. In the article, Randall stated that she was encouraged by her husband to run for office. It goes on to state that Randall was tactful in her new political role, though she was quoted as saying “’I don't want to hide behind my skirts as a woman in office.’" As of 1953, she likely continued practicing law while serving as a council member—as she was listed as having a practice at 600 Virginia Street in a Vallejo city directory. Thompson (2014) stated that she served one term, and that there would not be another female Vallejo council member “until Florence Douglas became mayor in 1963.” In the late 1950s, Randall remained active in other capacities. In a 1959 transcript, she was identified as the Vice President and the Legislative Chairman of the California Association of Recreation and Park Districts. It is uncertain, however, if she continued practicing law or working in politics in the 1960s and 1970s. What is known is that, in 1966, her husband Ellis was appointed Judge of the Solano County Superior Court. Randall passed away on February 26, 1975 in Vallejo.
In 2015, Judge Cynda Riggins Unger led me towards a research path by naming a late Solano County female attorney: Adey May Dunnell. Dunnell was born on September 2, 1922 in Martinez, California to Leo Cornelius Dunnell (1897-1968) and Adey Laura Taffinder (1900-1998). Although the family was initially settled in Contra Costa County, Dunnell’s father Leo had established roots in Solano County. He graduated from Fairfield, California's Armijo High School in 1915, and went on to attend Stanford University (1917) and King’s College, University of London (1919) (Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory, Incorporated, 1968). He married Adey Laura in 1921 and was admitted to the State Bar of California in 1923. By 1930, according to the U.S. Federal Census issued that year, the Dunnell family had resettled in Suisun, California. According to The Stanford Daily (August 13, 1931), he was appointed as an assistant to U.S. Attorney George Hatfield of San Francisco. The article goes on to mention that Leo worked as a Deputy District Attorney for Solano County for a four-year time span, and practiced law in Fairfield.
Dunnell would eventually follow in her father’s footsteps. She first obtained her A.B. at the University of Nevada (1944) before completing her LL.B. at her father’s alma mater Stanford University (1948). While at the University of Nevada, she was the business manager for the campus newspaper Sagebrush. Aside from her educational and professional endeavors, the 1940s also led to a significant change in Dunnell’s personal life. The Reno Gazette-Journal (October 25, 1943) announced Dunnell’s marriage to her first husband Bernard “Bernie” Shapiro, a fellow classmate at the University of Nevada. She was described as a “petite blonde bride…in [a] smart brown ensemble trimmed in red…[with an] orchid corsage.” The photo of Dunnell used in this posting was taken from the University of Nevada’s Artemisia Yearbook (1943).
In May 1948, it was announced in The Stanford Daily that Dunnell passed the California Bar exam. She would eventually form the law practice Dunnell & Dunnell with her father at 620 Great Jones Street in Fairfield. In 1966, Dunnell and her father attended the Eleventh Conference of the International Bar Association in Lausanne, Switzerland. During her years of practice, Dunnell was a member of the Solano County Bar Association. She was also an arbitrator for Solano County. Around 1997, she donated six-acres on Hilborn Road to the City of Fairfield (Antonius, 2009)—which is now known as the Dunnell Nature Park & Education Center Project. The park also goes by the names Dunnell-Burton Ranch and Peacock Ranch due to its peacock population. There is actually a family story behind the peacocks as, according to Judge Unger, they are descendants of a pair given to Leo Dunnell and Adey May Taffinder as a wedding present.
As Judge Unger recollects, Dunnell was well-versed in the culinary arts and bred and showed Chesapeake Bay Retrievers. Per the registries kept by the American Chesapeake Club, Dunnell gave her dogs colorful names such as Alibi Lonely Hunter. Dunnell passed away in Alturas, California on February 3, 2011.
In addition to Randall and Dunnell, there are other female attorneys that have made their mark in Solano County’s history:
According to Chalk (2011), Commissioner Barbara James was “the first female magistrate in Solano County.” Commissioner James came to Solano County “as a military brat whose parents settled down near Travis Air Force Base upon retirement” (Sullivan, 2011). She graduated from the McGeorge School of Law in 1973, and was “one of three women in her graduating class” (Chalk, 2011). Prior to becoming a Commissioner for Solano County Superior Court, she worked as a partner in several law firms and as a Deputy Public Defender in Fresno County (1979-1984). She retired in 2011 after serving on the bench for twenty-two years. [Photo source: Brad Zweerink / Daily Republic]
In my February 2017 blog posting for Black History Month, I mentioned that Judge Ramona J. Garrett was Solano County Superior Court’s first female and first African-American judge (Daily Republic, 2015). According to the UC Davis School of Law, Judge Garrett grew up in a military family. She entered Santa Clara University at age 18 as a single mother, and earned her Bachelor Degree in Philosophy in 1974. She later attended the UC Davis School of Law, and passed the bar exam in 1980. Prior to her judgeship, Judge Garrett worked for Solano County’s District Attorney Office—eventually becoming a Chief Deputy District Attorney. Judge Garrett retired in 2015 after serving on the bench for more than twenty-five years (Sullivan, 2015). [Photo source: UC Davis School of Law]
In 2000, Judge Cynda Riggins Unger became Solano County Superior Court’s first elected female judge. According to the series Judicial Profiles, Judge Unger grew up in Woodland, California and spent much of her time at her father’s ballet studio (Oberthur, 2006). She attended the University of California, Santa Barbara and obtained her B.A. from UC Davis. She then attended the University of the Pacific's McGeorge Law School where she graduated with honors with Order of the Coif recognition. Prior to her judgeship, she worked for eleven years at Dobbins Weir (she became a certified family law specialist during the course of her employment) before joining the family law division of Solano County’s District Attorney Office. In 2006, she was recognized as the California State Bar Association Family Law Executive Committee's Judicial Officer of the Year (State Bar of California, 2016) [Photo source: State Bar of California]
Solano County’s Public Defender Office was established on November, 4, 1968 (Adkins, 2016). On July 25, 2010, Lesli Caldwell became the first female Public Defender in Solano County’s history. As Hamlin (2010) stated, Caldwell—a native of Nampa, Idaho—grew up in Fremont, California. According to her profile on the Public Defender’s website, she received her B.A. in Sociology from UC Berkeley and her J.D. from the University of Santa Clara (1979). Prior to becoming the Public Defender, Caldwell worked as a Deputy Public Defender for Contra Costa County for twenty-seven years before becoming a Chief Deputy for Solano County in February 2007 (Hamlin, 2010). [Photo source: Public Defender—Executive Management, Solano County webpage]
According to York (2012),Claudia Quintana may be Vallejo’s first female and first Latino City Attorney. In an interview with Vallejo Together, Quintana stated that she grew up in El Salvador before immigrating with her family to the United States under political asylum. She would receive her B.A. in English from the University of California, Riverside and her J.D. from UC Hastings College of Law (1995). Upon passing the California Bar exam in 1995, Quintana initially worked as a Deputy Public Defender before becoming a Deputy City Attorney in 2004. The following year, she was admitted to practice before the Eastern District Court of California and subsequently represented the City of Vallejo in several federal cases (City of Vallejo, 2013). [Photo source: City of Vallejo webpage]
The resource History of Solano County… (1879) stated that Solano County’s first District Attorney took office in 1850. In 2014, in what was then the department’s 164th year of existence, Krishna Abrams became Solano County’s first female District Attorney. According to Sullivan (2014), San Francisco native Abrams was admitted to practice law in 1993. She completed her undergraduate education at UC Davis before obtaining her J.D. at the University of the Pacific’s McGeorge School of Law. Prior to joining the District Attorney’s Office in 2000, Abrams worked as a criminal defense attorney near Fresno and for Solano County’s Public Defender office. In 2013, she was “recognized as the leading prosecutor in the state by the California District Attorneys Association” (Chalk, 2013). [Photo source: Daily Republic]
This blog posting is only scratching the surface, as there are many more historical details that are just waiting to be uncovered. It is my hope that this piece will encourage readers to research the history of Solano County’s female attorneys in greater depth. If you have a historical fact that you would like to share, please feel free to contact me at Solano County Law Library at (707) 421-6520.
In honor of Black History Month, this posting will focus on the first African Americans to practice law in the United States, California, and Solano County.
Macon Bolling Allen has the distinction of being the first African American man licensed to practice law in the United States. According to the source American National Biography (accessed via Solano County Library’s database Biography Resource Center), the details of Allen’s early life such as his birthplace, parents, and primary education are either contradictory or unknown. It is known that Allen read law in the offices of abolitionist lawyers Samuel E. Sewell and General Samuel Fessenden before being admitted into the Maine bar in 1844. In 1845, Allen was admitted into the Massachusetts bar after relocating to that state. He would eventually become the state’s first judicial officer after being appointed as a justice of the peace by Massachusetts’ Whig governors in 1847 and 1854. In the 1860s, Allen migrated to Charleston, South Carolina with a group of African American lawyers and activists. He formed the first African American law firm with partners Robert Brown Elliot and William J. Whipper. By 1873, Allen would become a judge of Inferior Court, and later serve as a judicial officer in the probate court from 1876-1878. Allen would later relocate to Washington, D.C. where he remained until his death in 1894.
Washington, D.C. would also give rise to the first African American female lawyer in the United States. Prior to settling in the District of Columbia, Charlotte E. Ray—the seventh child in her blended family—was born in 1850 in New York City to the Reverend Charles Bennett Ray and his second wife Charlotte Augusta Burroughs (American National Biography, 2010). Reverend Ray was a renowned abolitionist pastor who was heavily involved with the Underground Railroad, as well as the former editor of the Colored American. Ray attended Washington D.C.’s Institution for the Education of Colored Youth before becoming a teacher at the Howard University Normal and Preparatory Department in 1869. She studied and specialized in commercial law in Howard University’s Law Department. She became the first African-American woman to graduate from her class in 1872, and would go on to become the first African-American female lawyer admitted to the District of Columbia bar and the entire United States. Ray was admitted by mistake, as she used her first initials “C.E.”—which was misinterpreted as belonging to a man.
Ray set up a legal practice in Washington, D.C. Yet, as with Allen, Ray would encounter difficulties attracting clients—due in part to the legal segregation that was rampant at the time. In 1879, Ray returned to New York and became an educator in the Brooklyn public school system. Ray remained active in the National Association of Colored Women, and even attended the convention of the National Women Suffrage Association in 1876 to advocate for a woman’s right to vote. Ray passed away in 1911 and was buried in the family plot at Brooklyn’s Cypress Hill Cemetery.
In California, Annie Coker was the first African American woman to practice law. An Oakland native who was born in 1903, Coker would eventually attend the University of California, Berkeley’s Boalt School of Law. She received her B.S. degree (1924) and LL.B. (1929) from the same institution. By 1929, Coker became the first African American woman admitted to the California bar, though she eventually relocated to Alexandra, Virginia for better career prospects (Schiesl, 2015; Smith, 2000).
According to Alameda County Superior Court Judge Brenda Harbin-Forte, female attorneys in general had a difficult time finding employment at law firms—let alone African American women. In the case of Coker, as Judge Harbin-Forte described, the undertaking of a government job turned out to be the best option for her (McCarthy, 2008). Upon returning to California in 1939 and settling in Sacramento, Coker joined the State Office of Legislative Counsel as a junior deputy legislative counsel (Schiesl, 2015). Coker would retire in 1966 after having worked 27 years of distinguished service. You can find additional biographical details about Coker in my 2016 piece “Legacy of American Female Attorneys”
Sources such as the State Bar of California’s piece Celebrating 75 Years state that Oscar Hudson (1876-1928) may have been the first African American man to practice law in California. Hudson was fluent in Spanish and Italian, and served as a Spanish-English translator during the Spanish-American War in 1898. In 1919, he began serving as the Foreign Consul of Liberia. Other resources state that Robert Charles O’Hara (R.C.O.) Benjamin was the first African American man admitted to the California bar (Smith, 1999).
According to The Kentucky African American Encyclopedia (2015), Benjamin was born in St. Kitts in 1855. During his childhood, Benjamin served on numerous trade ships before settling in New York City at the age of fourteen. Benjamin would enter journalism—first for the New York Star and then eventually as an editor and reporter for the Progressive American. Benjamin worked for the postal service in New York and as an educator in Kentucky before reading law in the office of Dave Smith. Benjamin was admitted to practice law in 12 states despite not having a formal legal education (he was admitted to California’s bar in 1888 when he relocated to the state).
Benjamin thrived as an editor and writer in California. He was involved with the Los Angeles Observer, Los Angeles Daily Sun, and San Francisco Sentinel while also publishing works that condemned lynching. Benjamin eventually relocated with his family to Lexington, Kentucky where he worked as the editor for the Lexington Standard. He was murdered in 1900 by a man who had initially assaulted him during his efforts to help African Americans register to vote in Lexington.
In terms of local history, sources such as Ret. Judge R. Michael Smith’s article “Solano County Oral Histories Ready for Legal History Museum” (2010) state that Lewis F. Brown was the first African American to practice law in Solano County. Brown also has the distinction of being Solano County’s first African American elected official to the Vallejo City Council (Bañes, 2013). Additionally, in 1967, Jet Magazine featured a piece about Brown that proclaimed that he was Vallejo’s first African American Vice Mayor. The photograph used of Brown and his family in the aforementioned piece is displayed in this blog posting (Jet Magazine, 32: 9, pg. 5). Check out Sharon McGriff-Payne’s book African Americans in Vallejo, which provides a fascinating account of Brown’s life (including his wife Dorothy), as well as his family photos.
It is known that Judge Ramona J. Garrett was the first female and first African American judge in Solano County’s history. According to the UC Davis School of Law, Judge Garrett grew up in a military family. She entered Santa Clara University at age 18 as a single mother, and earned her Bachelor Degree in Philosophy in 1974. She later attended the UC Davis School of Law, and passed the bar exam in 1980. Prior to her judgeship, Judge Garrett worked for Solano County’s District Attorney Office—eventually becoming a Chief Deputy District Attorney. Judge Garrett retired in 2015 after serving on the bench for more than twenty-five years (Sullivan, 2015).
Unfortunately, the first African American woman ever to practice law in Solano County is still a mystery. We want to hear from you. Do you know who Solano County’s first African American female lawyer was?
January is Financial Wellness Month! Okay, so the month-long observance may have started out as a marketing ploy. But given that most New Year’s resolutions involve health, romance, professional aspirations or money, what do you have to lose in making better financial decisions?
In a nutshell, financial wellness is “an individual’s overall financial health and well-being” (Spann, 2016). Whenever you hear “finances,” you probably envision the talk show circuit and experts like Suze Orman, Dave Ramsey and Ed Slott. To benefit employees, some workplaces have even created money-related programming. Yet, as evidenced by the following articles, you can take a number of individual approaches:
“8 Steps to Financial Wellness” (Money; 2015)
“8 Tips for Financial Wellness” (Huffington Post; 2014)
“Tips on Following Path to Financial Wellness” (Seattle Times, 2015)
The biggest takeaway—each person must find their own path to financial wellness. In regards to Solano County Law Library’s collection, these self-help titles may offer some financial guidance:
Nolo’s Essential Retirement Tax Guide (Nolo): Since financial wellness may also involve retirement, this title addresses the monetary decisions that pertain to real estate, investments, and other related topics.
Ripped Off! A Servicemember’s Guide to Common Scams, Frauds, and Bad Deals (ABA): Judge Michael Mattice and Holly Mattice, Esq. generously donated a copy of this book to Solano County Law Library. While the book is mainly intended for servicemembers, there are several tips that civilians might also use to achieve financial wellness.
Solve Your Money Troubles (Nolo): As with any endeavor, achieving financial wellness might be a time-intensive process. Although Solve Your Money Troubles primarily focuses on debts, there is some helpful information on creating a realistic budget and finding ways to live within your means.
The above titles are also available at Solano County Library. Additionally, the Nolo titles can be electronically accessed through the database Legal Information Reference Center (available either in-person at Solano County Law Library or via Solano County Library’s subscription).
If you wanted to research beyond what Solve Your Money Troubles states about debt collection practices, Solano County Law Library also carries titles such as Debt Collection Practice in California and California Practice Guide: Enforcing Judgments and Debts.
Lastly, to learn how to save costs for entertainment, tutoring and other family-related activities, take a look at the infographic “12 Easy Ways to Save Up to $3500 Per Year with Solano County Library.” You will be amazed at the great services offered by our public library system.
In my November piece, I mentioned that biographical details intrigue me.
For this month’s posting, I will start by telling you a little bit about my family history. On my mother’s side of the family, my grandfather served during WWII. I treasure a photograph that I have of my maternal grandparents from that era. They both look like matinee idols staring off into the distance. My grandfather resembled Clark Gable with his pencil-thin mustache and wavy side-part peeking out from underneath his uniform cap. My grandmother’s porcelain skin was hauntingly aglow underneath a jet black curled bob reminiscent of Ava Gardner.
I have traced other details regarding the military service of my mother’s relatives by using resources such as www.ancestry.com (you can also freely access the site at any Solano County Library branch). I learned that my mother’s uncle on her paternal side was a POW during WWII. On my mother’s maternal side, her uncles also served in the military. Upon searching through www.findagrave.com, I was able to find photographs of them in their military uniforms. Such newfound knowledge has made Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day mean even more to me.
The film Hacksaw Ridge takes place during WWII and is based on the true story of Desmond Doss. He was a U.S. Army corporal who refused to kill an enemy soldier or carry a gun due to his religious beliefs as a Seventh-day Adventist.
Desmond Doss pictured above receiving a Medal of Honor.
Doss’s service was not without conflict, as his steadfast beliefs created tension within his division. His commanding officer launched a Section-8 discharge. Doss refused, as he felt that the discharge would imply that his religious beliefs made him “mentally off.” Nevertheless, Doss prevailed and served as a combat medic during WWII. The film dramatizes his brave rescue of 75 casualties during the Battle of Okinawa. Learn more about Doss with Solano County Library’s resources: Larry Smiths’ book Beyond Glory : Medal of Honor Heroes in their Own Words : Extraordinary Stories of Courage from World War II to Vietnam and the film The Conscientious Objector.
Hacksaw Ridge does identify Doss as a conscientious objector. According to Jurden (2005), the U.S. Department of Defense defines conscientious objection as “firm, fixed and sincere objection to participation in war in any form or the bearing of arms, by reason of religious training and belief.” Robert E. Montgomery Jr’s article “God, the Army, and Judicial Review: The In-Service Conscientious Objector” (1968) provides some historical context. To preface his piece, Montgomery quotes from the case Orloff v. Willoughby, (345 U.S. 83; 1953) in which it is requested that the judiciary not interfere with Army matters and vice versa. Montgomery proceeds to cite various cases that are similar to Doss’s situation in which servicemen became conscientious objectors after enlisting for active duty.
Robert S. Rutherfurd’s “Cases of Conscience: The Supreme Court and Conscientious Objectors to Military Service During the Post World War II Era” (2015) elaborates on many of Montgomery, Jr.’s points. He makes a passing reference to Doss and, in similarity to Montgomery, Jr., highlights other cases about conscientious objectors from post-WWII. His analysis even includes insights into conscientious objectors during WWI and a chapter devoted to the pivotal Gara v. United States case. If you are curious about modern-day conscientious objection, the Selective Service System’s website mentions the alternative service options available.
I was in fifth grade. During a particularly stormy day, the entire classroom was stuck indoors during recess. I perused a dusty bookshelf in boredom, and saw “George Washington Carver” on one of the spines. Based on the first two names, I mistakenly assumed that it was going to be about the first president. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it was actually about the renowned African-American botanist and inventor. By the week’s end, I consumed biographies on Booker T. Washington, Eleanor Roosevelt, and other notable figures. Now, as an adult, I am still fascinated with biographical details.
In honor of Native American Heritage Month, this posting will focus on the first Native Americans to practice law in the United States. Depending upon which resource you consult, either James McDonald or John Rollin Ridge was the first Native American male attorney. According to Ricky (1999), the half-Choctaw McDonald was born in Hinds County, Mississippi in 1800. In 1813, the intellectually gifted McDonald was sent with Quakers to continue his studies in Baltimore. By 1818, McDonald relocated to Washington and began working as a clerk for Thomas L. McKenney, the first head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. McDonald would be sent to a preparatory school in Georgetown, Ohio to study Latin. In 1823, he passed the Ohio Bar exam after reading law in the office of Judge John McLean.
By 1825, McDonald returned to Washington and he negotiated a deal between the Choctaws and the United States government. As Ricky noted, McDonald’s efforts were fruitful in that the “Choctaws received approximately $216,000 in cash and benefits, more than three times [what] the government planned to spend” (pgs. 178-179). Unfortunately, McDonald’s other legal endeavors were not as successful. He would die tragically in 1830 before realizing his full potential.
Horace Greeley, founder and editor of the New York Tribute, once described Ridge as the “handsomest man I ever saw.” Yet, if you look closely at Ridge’s photo, there is a glare in his eyes that supplant the fashionable coif. Perhaps Rennard Strickland’s “Yellow Bird’s Song: The Message of America’s First Native American Attorney” (1993) can explain why. The half-Cherokee Ridge was born in 1827 in Georgia’s Cherokee Nation. By 1835, the Cherokee Nation could not maintain its united front against Andrew Jackson (who had signed into law the Indian Removal Act) and the state of Georgia. Ridge’s father John, Sr. and grandfather Major formed a party that signed the Treaty of New Echota to exchange “lands in Georgia for lands in the Indian Territory” (pg. 249). Chief John Ross, who was at the forefront of the Cherokee Nation’s National Party, opposed the treaty.
Soon afterwards, Ridge’s family relocated to Oklahoma with relative ease whereas Chief Ross and other Cherokees endured the grueling Trail of Tears. At the age of 12, Ridge witnessed the execution of John, Sr. and Major by members of the Ross party. This traumatic event shaped him into becoming a brooding, determined, and vengeful man. Later, an adult Ridge would end up killing a Ross party member sent to assassinate him. He would eventually move to California, where he would practice law and become a renowned Native American poet and writer.
You might recognize Conley’s name from my piece “Legacy of American Female Attorneys,” which included short biographical details about women pioneers in the legal profession. In her portrait, Conley’s benign demeanor underplays her ferocity—as she and her two sisters Helena and Ida formed a trio of women warriors who defended their ancestral lands at all costs. In her article “’Trespassers, Beware!’ Lyda Burton Conley and the Battle for Huron Place Cemetery,” Kim Dayton states that Conley was born in 1869 (decades after the Trail of Tears) and descended from Chief Tarhe of the Wyandot tribe. The headstrong Conley grew up in a time still rampant with anti-Indian sentiment. She attended the Kansas City College of Law, and was admitted to the Missouri Bar in 1902 (she would later be admitted to the Kansas Bar).
It was in 1906 that Conley began the case of her life: stopping the removal of the Wyandot burial grounds in Huron Cemetery. The fight hit close to home: Conley’s mother, father, and sister were buried there. The sisters waged a war on a legal (Lyda filed injunctions and appeared before the higher courts) and personal front (all three sisters warded off trespassers, and their tactics included using double-barrel shotguns). Read my piece on American female attorneys to learn what became of the burial ground. You will also find details about California’s first Native American female attorney Abby Abinanti.
As you fill up that candy dish for this All Hallows Eve, consider the terrifying reveal mentioned in Daniel B. Moar’s article “Case Law from the Crypt” (2011): the Halloween lawsuit.
Yes, you heard that right—a Halloween lawsuit! Moar regales us with cases that outdo any horror story. Some even sound like urban legends—“Seriously, my brother’s friend’s cousin lit himself on fire while wearing a sheep costume.” Certain “haunted houses” rivalled The Amityville Horror. Just ask the lady who tripped over a safety rope and broke her leg.
What about the act of egging somebody’s house? Better think twice. According to Moar, a minor was not only charged with felony vandalism, but also ordered to pay restitution. There are also the Halloween parties that echo Edgar Allan Poe’s “Masque of the Red Death.” While the merriment still died, rather than the cause being a macabre figure, it was because the festivity became a hostile work environment. For tips on how to safeguard oneself from a Halloween lawsuit, try reading Turley Law Firm’s article “How to Avoid a Halloween Lawsuit.”
In comparison to Moar and the Turley Law Firm, Snider (2013) begs the question—can a holiday be trademarked? He describes when Disney withdrew its request to trademark the phrase “Dia de los Muertos” in connection with the release of a Disney/Pixar film inspired by the Mexican holiday. Yet, Disney wouldn’t be the only trademark registrant—as a quick search on TESS (Trademark Electronic Search System) reveals the following: 15 records for “Dia de los Muertos.” In an even bigger scare, there were 430 records for “Halloween.”
For Solano County Law Library’s debut post, the focus will be on Monica Youn’s poetry book Blackacre.
If you were expecting a legal treatise, do not despair! Our monthly postings will focus on a variety of resources that address law in unexpected ways.
Before Youn authored three poetry books and started lecturing in creative writing at Princeton University, she spent over ten years working as an attorney. Youn attended Yale Law School after earning her A.B. at Princeton University and M.A. from Oxford University. Her legal career included working as the inaugural Brennan Constitutional Fellow at NYU School of Law with a focus on constitutional and election law. Her legal writing stints included working as an editor for the Yale Law Journal.
Given her background, how might law intertwine with poetry? In an interview with the Rhodes Project, Youn answers how: “My work as a poet informs my practice as a lawyer in that I think it makes transparent for me when people are employing rhetorical or verbal devices to make a particular point… [and I] notice when a first line of a judicial opinion or of a legal brief is in [a] regular rhythmic meter...”
The title Blackacre refers to a placeholder name used for a fictitious estate. As Rooney (2016) describes in her book review, Youn also uses other placeholder names in her poems—whiteacre, greenacre, etc.—as thematic devices for family, fertility, shame and desire. You can read Youn’s other works on the Poetry Foundation’s site and hear her read her poem “24” on NPR.
Hall of Justice, 600 Union Avenue
Fairfield, CA 94533
Follow the Law Library