Tuesday, January 29, 2008
‘Person of the Year’ Awardees Draw Praise, Ribbing
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Both plaudits and playful gibes were directed at the three awardees—former Los Angeles County District Attorney Robert Philibosian, Los Angeles County Bar Association President Gretchen Nelson, and private practitioner Lee Kanon Alpert—at the 20th annual Metropolitan News-Enterprise “Person of the Year” awards dinner on Friday.
Los Angeles Superior Court Presiding Judge J. Stephen Czuleger provided much of the praise, and Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley supplied the lion’s share of the teasing, with other public officials also participating in the ceremonies.
The black-tie dinner, held at a private club downtown, was attended by about 240 persons.
Czuleger—who noted that he “personally, knows all three of the honorees here tonight”—said that Nelson is “an excellent lawyer, she is an expert in complex litigation, and she’s a really, really nice person.”
Crediting Nelson with strengthening the bond between his court and LACBA, he remarked that she has “worked hard to support all of the courts of Los Angeles County and is interested in the entire justice needs of all of Southern California.”
The presiding judge added:
“If I have one accomplishment—and I’ll probably only have one—is that working with Gretchen Nelson in a positive fashion has expanded the L.A. Superior Court’s already excellent relationship with the L.A. County Bar. The L.A. Superior Court has no greater ally than Gretchen Nelson. On behalf of the L.A. Superior Court, let me give you a scroll in small remembrance of that.”
After handing Nelson the scroll, he received a peck on the cheek from her, prompting the waggish jurist to ad lib:
“I love to have pictures of women kissing me. [In forlorn tones:] I’m so lonely. [Laughter.] My wife is getting ready to walk out. You did that two years ago, I can’t believe you’re doing it again.”
(His wife writes novels under the name of Rebecca Forster.)
In his serious mode, Czuleger told Alpert:
“You are clearly a community leader, clearly a member of the bar that is most respected.”
Of Philibosian, the presiding judge said:
“Some of us know of his abiding interest that good candidates for appointment to our bench make it to the governor’s desk for consideration. One of those governors is here tonight.”
Gov. George Deukmejian, who was California’s chief executive from 1983-91—was at the head table with his wife, Gloria.
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Czuleger went on to say about Philibosian:
“For his entire career, he has offered wisdom, and sage counsel, to all those who have sought it, including from me. Those who have followed his advice have found wonderful success, whether it has been career moves. Many who sit on the bench today owe Bob for the opportunity and encouragement to seek a judgeship.
“Over 20 years ago, one of the names he vetted was mine.”
At the outset of his presentation, Czuleger ribbed retired Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Lawrence W. Crispo, who acted as emcee that night in place of Philibosian, who had filled the role for the previous 12 years. He said:
“I have to say I have reservations about one of the honorees, Bob Philibosian. I do that because when [MetNews Editor/Co-Publisher] Roger [M. Grace] called me and told me that Bob was going to be one of the honorees, and then he followed with that Larry Crispo was going to be the emcee, I said, ‘how ’bout if we make Larry the honoree and then Bob could continue as the emcee.’ And I had to write that down because Roger stopped, and he thought about it, and he said, ‘We have standards at the MetNews.’ ”
(Later, in presenting the “Person of the Year” Award to Philibosian, Grace noted that Czuleger had “made up that conversation,” adding that he was “the most fun presiding judge ever.”)
Crispo also drew a joking barb from Cooley, who remarked:
“I’ve been to many of these events and they’re always great, but between you and me, I miss our old emcee, Bob Philibosian.”
Crispo protested: “Aw, come on,” but Cooley continued that Crispo “gave it a shot, but….”
Cooley then jokingly recited, with reference to Alpert:
“Lee and I became friends in a nanosecond after I beat [then-District Attorney] Gil Garcetti in the primary, 2000. He was a strong supporter of Gil, and then he became a strong supporter of mine. He’s a very smart guy.”
(Actually, Cooley defeated Garcetti in the November run-off election, rather than the primary.)
The county’s chief prosecutor continued:
“I don’t know Gretchen. Where is Gretchen? Gretchen, raise your hand.”
Seated at the head table, she obliged, and Nelson drew a hearty round of applause, to which the district attorney responded:
“Well, obviously, if I’m to be elected next June, I should get to know Gretchen.”
He then kidded:
“You know, Gretchen, I don’t know you. I read about you in the MetNews which I read once every three or four weeks. But I will tell you, I know Lee Kanon Alpert and Bob Philibosian enough to know that among the three persons of the year, you are the best.”
Cooley noted that he had became acquainted with Philibosian in 1974, the year after he joined the District Attorney’s Office. Philibosian was, at that time, a more senior deputy in the office.
He said he and Philibosian have been friends ever since then and that he knows Philibosian “not intimately, but very, very well.”
Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich also presented scrolls to the honorees, uttering only brief remarks. He explained:
“The one thing I learned in politics was KISS—Keep It Short, Stupid.”
Los Angeles County Public Defender Michael P. Judge said that he was “astounded by the three awardees” in reviewing their credentials, terming them “extraordinary people.”
“Lawyers get a bad rap, but we shouldn’t. These three—we should put them out there and the public would see what we really stand for.”
With respect to Philibosian, the public defender said:
“If you want to accomplish something in the State of California, you’d better go to Bob. But not only that—if you want to stop somebody else from doing something, you’d better go to Bob.”
He noted that he met Alpert when they were both on the county’s Commission for Judicial Procedures, labeling him a “very accomplished person.”
Alpert served on that body from 1989-2006.
Los Angeles County Bar Assn. President-Elect Danette Meyers presented a plaque to Nelson on behalf of LACBA, followed by Nelson handing wrapped gifts to Philibosian and Alpert.
Meyers related that Nelson’s chief goals this year are promoting diversity in the legal profession, keeping women lawyers active in the profession, assuring the continued presence of both civil and criminal courthouses in the downtown Los Angeles area, and development of mental health courts.
“She is a fabulous leader,” Meyers said of the person she will succeed.
In assessing Philibosian, Nelson said:
“There is no one finer in this county. There is no one who is more committed to this county. There is no one who is more committed to everything that is just than Bob Philibosian.”
Sizing up Alpert, the bar chief declared:
“I am incredibly impressed by him. He really is a true and honorable member of this whole county.”
Los Angeles attorney John P. McNicholas of McNicholas & McNicholas, LLP, bestowed scrolls on the honorees on behalf of the State Bar Board of Governors, of which he is a vice president. He said the three “have attained much, and reflect exceedingly well on our profession,” going on to say:
“All three are revered by colleagues for their industriousness, ability, and integrity.”
He recited that Nelson had worked at one point for his former firm (Morgan, Wenzel & McNicholas) starting in 1984, and said she was “one of those unusual individuals that had it all, and did it all for us in our old firm.”
MetNews co-publishers Jo-Ann and Roger Grace presented the “Person of the Year” awards.
Roger Grace noted that he first met Philibosian in 1972 while covering a trial as a reporter for the Herald-Examiner (since defunct). Philibosian successfully prosecuted a medical doctor in the case for the murder of his live-in girlfriend.
The editor said he found the deputy district attorney “accessible, helpful, and straight-talking,” reflecting that Philibosian “hasn’t changed.” He pointed to the time Philibosian freely gives to young associates in his firm, to neophyte political candidates, and others in need of guidance.
The journalist reported:
“One judge, during the cocktail reception, said that [Philibosian] was instrumental in getting her appointed, and referred to him as a ‘young, handsome godfather.’ He’s sort of a Republican version of Joe Cerrell.”
Cerrell, who was honored last year and was present, is a professional political consultant.
Jo-Ann Grace gave the newspaper’s award to Nelson. She hailed the honoree as “an attorney known for her skill, her integrity, but more important, for her commitment to the community—the legal community and much, much more beyond that.”
Nelson, she said, was not the first cowboy—“or cowperson”—to head the county bar, its first president, in 1878, Andrew Glassell, having saddled up to review on horseback his vast land holdings. Grace noted that Nelson also wasn’t the first cowperson to receive the “Person of the Year” Award, that distinction going to Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Victor Chavez (feted in 1997, and unable to attend because of complications from broken ribs.)
The co-publisher said:
“Gretchen is the first LACBA president—and our first honoree—with a particularly high distinction. Not only does she serve as L.A. County Bar’s president, but she has also served as president of one of my favorite bar groups: the Cowboy Lawyers Association.”
Attendees at the three Cowboy Lawyers tables burst into loud manifestations of support for Nelson, as they had on previous occasions through the evening, including utterances of “Yippie!”
In coming to the microphone after the award was handed to her, Nelson pointed out that the Cowboy Lawyers assign a buckle number to members as they enroll, and that Grace was an early “Buckle No. 19.”
Roger Grace conferred the award on Alpert, describing him as “caring,” and elaborating:
“He cares about civic affairs, about groups that do good….He cares about the court system and he cares about how law is practiced. And most of all, he cares about people.”
Grace reflected that Alpert acted as “a volunteer mediator in an action that this newspaper brought against one of the presenters at the head table tonight,” resulting in settlement.
This had reference to a lawsuit brought against Cooley based on the execution by armed officers in 2002 of a search warrant at the newspaper’s premises, aimed at securing information relating to a third party which the newspaper had earlier agreed to turn over upon presentation of a mere formal request.
“As a youth, Lee was a street fighter in Detroit—and, as an adult, he’s a peace-maker. He’s possessed of a knack for turning acrimony into harmony.”
In accepting the awards, the honorees introduced family members and associates.
Nelson proclaimed that the award “doesn’t belong to me,” emulating those to whom it truly belongs including LACBA’s past presidents, current officers, and “all of the men and women of the L.A. County Bar who have turned that institution, really, into the powerhouse that it is.”
Visitor From Afar
Nelson made note of the presence of a partner in Kreindler & Kreindler who had flown in from the New York office, and Alpert introduced a son, Brett, a student at the University of Michigan.
Drawing attention through the evening was Deukmejian. Antonovich remarked:
“It’s a pleasure to be here and to see our governor who remains young and strong.”
(Deukmejian is 79.)
Roger Grace, in making the presentation to Philibosian remarked:
“Bob was chief deputy attorney general under a first-rate AG, who went on to become, truly, one of California’s greatest governors, and we’re honored to have him here tonight, Gov. George Deukmejian.”
A standing ovation for the former governor took place.
Philibosian termed Deukmejian his “mentor…who taught me a tremendous amount about public service and about serving the people, a person who really, I think, is the greatest public servant that California has ever had.”
Also drawing warm words from participants in the program were McNicholas and Cerrell.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company
PROFILES ON THE HONOREES: