Tuesday, January 30, 2007
19th ‘Person of the Year’ Dinner Evokes Recollections, Praise
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Words of high praise flowed Friday night at the 19th annual Metropolitan News-Enterprise “Person of the Year” dinner for the three honorees: Court of Appeal Presiding Justice Paul Turner, U.S. District Court Judge George Schiavelli, and political consultant Joseph R. Cerrell.
The black-tie event, attended by about 260 persons, was marked by camaraderie and humor—and cheers from a contingency of the Italian American Lawyers Assn. each time their group drew a mention, as it did five times during the course of presentations to the honorees by public officials, bar leaders, and the co-publishers of the METNEWS.
The first to allude to the IALA was Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley who gently ribbed Cerrell.
“When I declared for DA back in 1999, I went to Italian American Lawyers Assn.,” Cooley said, triggering the first round revelry from the 20-or-so IALA members present. “Joe was there as he always is, and I thanked him for a recent comment he had made shortly after I declared to run for DA.
“And Joe’s comment was ‘Steve Cooley is the kind of candidate [then-incumbent] Gil Garcetti needs so Gil Garcetti can raise money so he can crushing people like Steve Cooley. Isn’t that right Joe?”
Cerrell affirmed: “You’re right.”
Cooley labeled that “one of his failings of political insight,” but termed Cerrell a “great guy, great guy,” adding: “I love the guy dearly.”
The district attorney termed Cerrell, who has handled judicial campaigns since 1978, “a judge-maker,” remarking:
“He’s made a lot of good judges through his efforts, his skills, and abilities.”
Los Angeles County Bar Assn. President-elect Gretchen Nelson, a partner in the downtown Los Angeles law firm of Kreindler & Kreindler LLP, made an apparent reference to the defeat last year in the June election of Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Dzintra Janavs by an owner of a bagel shop, Lynn Olson. Nelson said:
“We are now stuck with the proposition that elections are the key to surviving where we are in the judiciary in California. And I have to say to you we all need to say a great thanks to Joe Cerrell and to ask him to please continue working because it will only be through him that we will maintain the system that we have.”
Supervisor Mike Antonovich said that Cerrell is someone who “helps judges get elected.” He pointed out that the Democratic consultant “also helps a Republican supervisor from time to time in his election,” referring to Cerrell’s assistance to him, “and I appreciate that bi-partisanship, Joe.”
“I had the privilege of being with Joe Cerrell when we met his holiness Pope Benedict a few months ago in Rome.”
Los Angeles Superior Court Presiding Judge J. Stephen Czuleger hailed Cerrell as “truly the dean of politics in California,” adding:
“He is someone who has become a legend in California in terms of politics, but he has done it with incredible honor and distinction. And that is something wonderful to say about someone who has been involved in politics that long.”
METNEWS co-publisher Jo-Ann W. Grace, in presenting the 2006 “Person of the Year” award to Cerrell, noted that the honoree recently celebrated 40 years since the founding of his political consultancy firm. She termed him “the expert on running judicial campaigns,” and “the master” in the area.
“We don’t always endorse his candidates,” Grace said, “but we always endorse Joe.”
After accepting his own “Person of the Year” award, Schiavelli said of Cerrell:
“He is truly one of the most generous people I have ever known, and a veritable fountain of political information on both the national and state political scenes. I cannot imagine a having better evening than sitting with Joe over a good Italian meal and listening to his anecdotes and stories about politics.
“His generosity was displayed during my confirmation process. After I was nominated, I of course turned to Joe, the go-to guy for judicial races. He was unstinting in his help and advice and was invaluable in getting me though that process, and I thank him.”
Had it not been for Cerrell’s help, he speculated, “I wouldn’t be here.”
Of Turner, Schiavelli said:
“He is, in my view, one of the great intellects on our state appellate bench. He has a tremendous recall of cases, events and facts.”
Grace also made note of the Turner’s intellect. She said:
“Paul Arthur Turner has in common with George Schiavelli utter brilliance….
“He has in common with Supervisor Mike Antonovich a secret side. Both are outgoing and unpretentious. It is not generally appreciated that both are exceedingly well read and scholarly.”
She went on to observe:
“Paul has in common with Joe Cerrell impressive knowledge and insights relating to American politics. As a judge, Paul may not, of course, publicly express himself with respect to political issues. It’s a shame, in a way, that someone with so much astuteness in an area may not share his perceptions.”
Turner has, she recited, been presiding justice of Div. Five in this district for 15 years.
Czuleger said that Turner—a member of the Los Angeles Superior Court from 1985 until he joined the appellate bench in 1991 as an associate justice—“has amassed an incredible body of recognition for his time on our court, and…then on the Court of Appeal.”
Cooley said he met Turner during George Deukmejian’s first campaign for attorney general, in 1970, and jested: “I think that George Deukmejian would have won by five or 10 more points if he didn’t have Paul Turner behind him.”
He referred to Turner as “one of the great characters of the justice system, and a good, good person.”
John P. McNicholas, a partner in McNicholas & McNicholas, LLP, represented the State Bar in his capacity as a member of the Board of Governors. He told those assembled in a dining room of private club downtown:
“I tried a case in Judge Turner’s court a long time ago and I left that court being very impressed by his professionalism. He ran not a tight court, but a proper court. It had dignity, it had some formality, he was polite, and set the tone for the court.
“And I’ve never forgotten that, and was pleased when he was elevated to the Court of Appeal because I know that he brings the same dignity and collegiality to that court.”
Schiavelli Termed Approachable
McNicholas related that he first met Schiavelli at an Italian American Bar Assn. meeting—one of the references prompting enthusiastic clapping and “yeas” from the group’s delegation. The bar governor recounted:
“I was struck by his friendliness, how easy he was to talk to.”
Schiavelli was on the Superior Court from 1994-2000, resigned in order to boost his income by returning to law practice in light of the medical needs of his mother, and, following her death, was confirmed as a judge of the U.S. District Court of the Central District of California in 2004.
Grace, who also sits on the State Bar Board of Governors, said of Schiavelli:
“His judicial demeanor is exemplary. It was so when he was on the Superior Court. It is now even though, as a federal judge, with life tenure, he could get by with being ornery. And his even-temper these days is super-human given that he hears matters while in severe pain, as the result of a personal injury, and declines to take pain killers that could affect his mental capacity.
“George’s judicial service during 2006 was a ‘profile in courage.’ ”
Sheriff Lee Baca said that Schiavelli is “very, very blessed because he married one of my junior high school students that I taught in 1969, and that’s his wife, Holli, sitting right there next to him.”
He asked his ex-student to stand, and reflected, “I’m just so proud of her.”
Other instances emerged where persons on the podium had previously interacted.
“This is unique,” Antonovich said, “because Steve [Cooley], Lee [Baca] and I were all classmates…at Cal State Los Angeles many years ago. I often wonder where the time went.”
Cooley joked that he would “not say anything bad” about Schiavelli “because his wife, Holli, and my wife, Jana, who’s here tonight, were involved in charity work many, many years ago, doing good things, good causes.”
Cerrell drew attention to Lisa Grace-Kellogg, daughter of the METNEWS co-publishers, saying: “Lisa and my younger son went to school together.”
(Grace-Kellogg was also a student of Cerrell when she was a student at USC and he taught a political science course there.)
McNicholas commented that he was “feeling a little left out because my wife didn’t go to school with anybody else’s wife” and he didn’t attend Cal State Los Angeles. He then disclosed his own link with another person on the program: he and Gretchen Nelson “practiced law for a little while” together “and then she left me.”
METNEWS editor/co-publisher Roger M. Grace expressed thanks to former Los Angeles District Attorney Robert H. Philibosian, now a partner in Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton, LLP, for emceeing the event for the 12th year in a row, and to the Rev. Michael J. Carcerano of St. Rose of Lima Parish in Simi Valley, for providing the invocation for 14 consecutive years.
Following the invocation, the singing of “God Bless America” was led by retired Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Lawrence W. Crispo, Father Carcerano, and Elizabeth Turner, wife of honoree Paul Turner.
Dinner Draws Plaudits
The dinner drew praise from some of the speakers. Antonovich said:
“Of all the political dinners you go to, be it Washington, in Sacramento or Los Angeles County, this is the most elegant formal, informal affair where everybody can be relaxed.”
Cooley characterized it as a “truly elegant, Class ‘A’ event.”
Nelson expressed the view that “[t]his is probably the best gig in town.”
The event featured strolling violinists who played requested tunes during the cocktail reception and dinner. Close-up magic tricks were performed for guests by Brian Gillis, a “peripatetic prestidigitator” who has made appearances on the “Tonight Show.”
Schiavelli appeared the following night at the California Club, where fellow federal judges honored him, and took leaver from that event briefly when he went a block away to the Jonathan Club, where he installed arbitrator Michael DiLiberto as president of the Italian American Lawyers Assn. Schiavelli is a former president of that organization.
The IALA’s board of directors was installed by Court of Appeal Justice Robert Mallano.
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company