Tuesday, February 1, 2005
Van de Kamp, Collins Draw Praise, Gather Scrolls
By a MetNews Staff Writer
State Bar President John Van de Kamp and Los Angeles County Bar Assn. President John J. Collins were feted as Metropolitan News-Enterprise “persons of the year” Friday at a dinner marked by lofty accolades from county officials and others, light-hearted patter, and off-handed allusions to controversies.
County officials making presentations to the honorees were Supervisor Mike Antonovich, Sheriff Lee Baca, District Attorney Steve Cooley, and Public Defender Michael Judge.
Van de Kamp presented a scroll to Collins on behalf of the State Bar, and Collins, in turn, bestowed an award on Van de Kamp from LACBA.
Although these presentations were made at different points in the program, the emcee, former District Attorney Robert H. Philibosian, said he was reminded of a cartoon in the New Yorker, back in the time of the Cold War, depicting “two Russian generals on the parade ground pinning medals on each other.”
Van de Kamp said of his co-honoree:
“He’s one of the most highly regarded lawyers, frankly, in the business....He’s just a model, in my view, of what lawyers should do, in terms not only of being a wonderfully ethical, tough advocate for his clients but fair in all ways and also contributing to the betterment of the profession.”
Edith Matthai, president-elect of LACBA, noted that Collins, “as a brand new lawyer, was a clerk for the L.A. Superior Court.” She observed that it would little have been imagined then that Collins would someday be the person with “the courage to stand up” and focus attention on the court’s failings, though also spotlighting what it was doing right.
In presenting the “Person of the Year” award to Collins, MetNews editor/co-publisher Roger M. Grace remarked:
“What stands out about John, of course, is his constant adherence to ethics....He fights hard, but he fights fair and square.”
Praise for Van de Kamp
Collins said that he was “very proud to share the stage with a person of character, talent, and the accomplishments of John Van de Kamp.” He credited Van de Kamp with bringing “huge stature to the office of president of the State Bar.”
The LACBA chief added:
“I’m here to publicly state that John is one of the few Democrats for whom I ever voted—and I’d vote for him again.”
Van de Kamp was a two-term California attorney general, serving from 1983-91; he was previously district attorney of Los Angeles County.
It was an act as attorney general which MetNews co-publisher Jo-Ann W. Grace pointed to as exemplifying Van de Kamp’s “integrity.” Without mentioning by name Third District Court of Appeal Justice George Nicholson, she recounted that Van de Kamp, as a member of the three-person Commission on Judicial Appointments, was called upon to pass on the nomination of a man who had run against him for attorney general.
Nicholson, the Republican candidate for the post in 1982, was a Sacramento Superior Court judge by the time he was nominated for the appeals court in 1990 by Gov. George Deukmejian.
Jo-Ann Grace, who presented the “Person of the Year” award to Van de Kamp, commented:
“Any political advisor would have told John: ‘Don’t say a thing, vote to confirm—otherwise, you’ll look like a jerk.’ The problem was that John truly did not believe the nominee was qualified. He took his responsibility too seriously to do what was politically wise. Eschewing expediency, he had his staff assemble a dossier which he publicly released, and he cast the sole negative vote.
“A willingness to risk your reputation to do what is dictated by your conscience is truly the mark of a statesman.”
Former LACBA president Sheldon Sloan, now a member of the State Bar Board of Governors, told the gathering of about 215 persons:
“I think that we’re on the right track in electing a person like John to lead us—ably, and thoughfully, and calmly.”
Joking About Age
On the lighter side, Collins and Van de Kamp, both born in 1936, kidded each other about their ages.
Van de Kamp made reference to Collins assuming leadership of LACBA “in his old age.” At a later point, he said:
“I am actually older than John Collins. You’d never believe that, I’m sure.”
“I’ve known John for more years than I’d care to admit, and frankly, I thought he was a hell of a lot older than he really is.”
Public Defender’s Offering
Humor attended the public defender’s presentation. Judge handed a small wrapped box to each honoree, saying it contained an item crafted by an ex-client of his for whom he did not win acquittal and who was still in state prison.
Van de Kamp interjected:
“I would just like to say, though, that when I was the federal public defender, I used to buy my ties at the Sybil Brand Institution for $1.50 a head.”
As the honorees fumbled to open the packages, Judge remarked:
“This is a dexterity test. I want to see whether you’re fit to drive or not.”
“Dexterity means finger to nose with a gift in your hand. While we’re opening this, I’d like Judge Carl West to stand please. And I’d like Michael Judge to step forward.”
West, like Judge, sports a long beard. With attention drawn to the two, Collins said:
“And I present to you the Smith Brothers.”
The boxes were opened and ornate cubes were drawn from the boxes.
“This is very pretty, thank you,” Collins said. “You can keep sending them up the river if they do work like this.”
“They are beautifully crafted. Inside each one you will find a hacksaw.”
Framed, Unframed Certificates
Following the presentations to Collins and Van de Kamp by Antonovich, Philibosian noted that the proclamations were framed, and said:
“So I guess the county budget is not as bad off as they say it is, because they can at least afford to frame them.”
Baca made his presentations of commendations—noting that such certificates “are harder to get than a concealed weapons permit”—and Philisosian then interjected:
“Sheriff, I notice that your scrolls are not framed. And obviously you don’t have a budget available for that. So I think that you need to come over here and perhaps have private conversation with our supervisor to see if you can get a little more money so you can at least frame your scrolls.”
Cooley also presented unframed scrolls. Alluding vaguely to litigation against him by the Metropolitan News Company, which publishes the MetNews, based on his office’s May 2, 2002 armed raid of the company’s premises in pursuit of a business record, the district attorney said:
“I’ve got scrolls here, and I will note that these are not framed....And the reason they are not framed, Roger, is because we’re saving money for our litigation fund. Never know what might happen.”
The business record related to legal advertisements placed in the MetNews in connection with a recall election in South Gate.
Removal of Cross
Another controvery touched upon was the recent removal of the Christian cross from the county’s seal.
Antonovich drew loud applause in presenting a proclamation to the honorees and announcing:
“Each of these proclamations have the cross on the seal.”
The cross was removed, in response to the threat of litigation by the American Civil Liberties Union, over the vehement protest of Antonovich, with whom Supervisor Don Knabe sided.
In making his own presentations to Collins and Van de Kamp, Baca said:
“The interesting thing about what Mike was saying with the Board of Supervisors and the cross, you know, if the board would really get its act together, since Christianity emanated from Judiasm, they’d just put the star of David on there, and end the whole problem. They’d have three votes....Zev [Yaroslavsky] too, if you didn’t figure that one out.”
Yaroslavsky, a supervisor who favored removal of the cross, is Jewish.
Legal Profession Hailed
The program also included plaudits for members of the legal profession. Baca told the attendees at the black-tie dinner:
“This nation will always be, in my opinion, a free nation because lawyers will make sure it is free. Freedom is not merely something that comes forth from law enforcement and arresting criminals. It comes from a sense of justice.
“And those of you who are in this profession have my highest respect. ”
Van de Kamp, in accepting his “Person of the Year” award, said:
“I’d like the public to know the good things that lawyers do every day. We are really a service industry, we are part of the life blood of America, and not enough is said about the kinds of contributrions that lawyers make every day to their communities and to the public at large.
“One of the goals that I have this year is to make sure that the public at least starts to get a glimmer of that, because as professionals we deserve a lot better than we’ve been getting.”
Van de Kamp noted there was “sort of a mini-reunion here tonight,” explaining that Barbara Johnson, a former political advisor, had assembled at her table persons who had worked with him in the Attorney General’s Office.
The event was the 17th annual “Person of the Year” dinner. The first honoree at a dinner, in 1988, was Frank Zolin, then the Los Angeles Superior Court’s executive officer, later director of the Department of Motor Vehicles, and now retired.
A “person of the year” was designated each year prior to the dinners, starting in 1983 with Court of Appeal Presiding Justice Mildred L. Lillie, since deceased.
Philibosian emceed the dinner Friday for the tenth consecutive year. Previous emcees were Zolin, five times, and retired Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Joseph Wapner and the late Los Angeles City Council President John Ferraro, one time each.
Copyright 2005, Metropolitan News Company