Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Monday, May 16, 2011


Page 7



At National Armenian Bar Gathering: Delightful People, Abysmal Chinese Food




There’s only one thing that can draw attention away from a horrible meal at a restaurant and render the occasion one to be remembered fondly: enjoyable company. My wife and I encountered both a horrible meal and enjoyable company recently at the national convention of the Armenian Bar Assn., meeting in San Francisco.

Of course, when one hobnobs with Armenians, good company is virtually assured. Actually, I’ve never met an Armenian I didn’t like. On the other hand, I’ve never met former Assemblyman Walter Karabian.

Warmth and joviality marked the dinner on April 30. There was joking, mutual well-wishing, and singing of Armenian drinking songs.

Armenians are a group that has encountered adversity in the extreme—the genocide—and clings together, treasuring family and a cause they have seen trammeled: justice.


My wife and I were at a table with the irrepressible and entertaining former California Supreme Court Justice Armand Arabian; his wife Nancy (who endeared herself to this half-Norwegian with her praise of Edvard Grieg, whose piano concerto she plays); the genial former executive director of the group, Betty Jamgotchian, a Glendale practitioner with an AV rating who is to be listed in the new Martindale-Hubbell Bar Register of Preeminent Women Lawyers; and Marina Del Rey attorney Lucille Boston who has been practicing law for 43 years and is author of a recent book, “Preventing Real Estate Theft: How to Protect Your Assets in the U.S. and Abroad.”

The event took place at Brandy Ho, a Chinese eatery located in Little Italy. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered Chinese food that bad.

In contrast to the pleasing feasts at the Empress Pavilion in Los Angeles each year when the Southern California Chinese Lawyers Assn. installs officers, there was course after course of barely edible slop. The vegetarian egg rolls were meaningless, the dumplings were wrapped in near-raw dough, the soup was cold, the shrimp were over-cooked, the fried rice tasted as if it were days old and warmed up.

Departing, we hailed a cab. The driver, who appeared to be a Chinese American, queried why we had gone to that restaurant. We told him. He would never suggest Brandy Ho to passengers, he volunteered, and, upon being queried, said his own recommendation would be the House of Nanking.

We’ve never been there. If you happen to go to the place, please let me know if the cab driver was right.


A lunch meeting the previous day was held at the HQ of the Administrative Office of the Courts.

(Cold sandwiches were served.)

Sherman Oaks attorney Armen K. Hovannisian, a past president of the group, officiated, remarking, at the outset:

“The Armenian people, unfortunately, are a wounded people. And it’s because we were wounded so deeply and so severely that we take very seriously the celebration of life....And we celebrate life like no others, we party like no others.”

What followed was much reminiscing.


California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye mentioned the significant role played in her life by “great Armenian Americans.”

She recounted—as she did at the groundbreaking ceremony last month for the Governor George Deukmejian Courthouse in Long Beach—that when she was 14, the future governor’s wife, Gloria, “hired me to babysit the kids.” Deukmejian was, at the time, a state senator, and “lived down the street” from her family’s abode, she told the assemblage.

Cantil-Sakauye recalled that years later, she “had the tremendous privilege of joining Gov. George Deukmejian’s administration in his second term as governor, in the ’80s.”

She mentioned working not only with the governor (whom she served as deputy legal affairs secretary and deputy legislative secretary) but with Marvin Baxter, an Armenian American who is now her colleague on the California Supreme Court, as well as Charles Poochigian, now a member of the Fifth District Court of Appeal.

Baxter was Deukmejian’s appointments secretary when Cantil-Sakauye arrived in 1988, though he was soon to be named to the Fifth District post which Poochigian now holds. Also in 1998, Poochigian came on board as chief deputy appointments secretary (becoming appointments secretary under Gov. Pete Wilson).

Those working on judicial appointments, Cantil-Sakauye said, were “a small group, we were in a horseshoe, we saw each other, we were probably no more than a handful of 10…we were a family.”

Her judicial career began in 1990 with an appointment by Deukmejian to the Sacramento Municipal Court. She related that she “chose a mentor judge,” Gail Ohanesian, saying: “She has been my mentor for 20 years.”

 Ohanesian, later appointed to the Sacramento Superior Court and now retired, was among those testifying on Jan, 5, 2005, before the Commission on Judicial Appointments in support of Cantil-Sakauye’s confirmation as a justice of the Third District Court of Appeal.


Baxter was present at the lunch (and at other events during the convention).

Among his reminiscences was that his father “invented a shish-kabob machine” and that, “in the 1940s, it sold for $100.” He vouched for the soundness of the “all chrome” contraption, and drew attention to a longtime friend, San Francisco attorney David Balabanian of Bingham McCutchen, saying: “David’s father bought one.”



He continued:

“I’ll always treasure my relationship with Armand Arabian. I refer to Armand as ‘Hertz’ and I’m ‘Avis.’ He was No. One and I was No. Two.”

Arabian was appointed to the California Supreme Court in 1990 and Baxter was named to the high court the following year.

“As is the custom on the California Supreme Court, the chief justice occupies the center seat, the most senior justice is to her right, the next senior justice is to her left, and it goes like that,” Baxter explained. “So, when I came on the court, I was to the far left, as the rookie on the bench, and since I followed Armand, he was the next junior, he was to the far right.

“It was Nancy, his wife, who came up with the observation: ‘Uh huh—the Armenian bookends.’ ”


Baxter spoke of Deukmejian, a hero, of course, to Armenian Americans…as well as to a good many Californians of both major parties who recognize him as being the last great governor the state has had.

In 1974, Baxter recited, then-Attorney General Evelle Younger (since deceased) set sail for the Republican nomination for governor, and Deukmejian decided to vie for the GOP nod for the AG’s post.

“Fundraisers were held throughout the state” for Deukmejian’s campaign effort, Baxter noted.

“Kind of as a result of Watergate, Evelle Younger got cold feet and he decided no, it was not the right time,” he continued.

Deukmejian “gave all the money back to all the people who had contributed,” Baxter said. He  observed that Arabian, in the audience, was nodding in agreement. That prompted Arabian to interject that the sum was about $100,000.

Baxter noted:

“Later, when [Deukmejian] became governor, people would come up to me and say, ‘You know, it’s the only time in my lifetime that I’ve ever gotten money from a politician.’ ”

Deukmejian was elected attorney general in 1978 and governor in 1982.

Baxter recognized Poochigian, who was present, as “one of those who stepped forward to assist in the campaign, not only for attorney general but also for governor, along with his wife, Debbie who, as you know, is now a member of the Fresno County Board of Supervisors—and a highly respected member, at that.”

The jurist, reflecting on the naming of the new Long Beach courthouse, said:

“Usually when there’s a courthouse naming, it’s a very controversial issue….In this case, it was absolutely a no brainer.”

He pointed to the bipartisan support for the honoring of Deukmejian, saying that among “the people in Long Beach, from the mayor to the two legislators from the Long Beach area—all three members of the Democratic Party—to the member representing Long Beach on the Board of Supervisors, to the local bench and bar….there was absolute consensus that that courthouse should be named after Gov. George Deukmejian.”


Arabian announced that he has completed a book which he expects to be published this year. It tells of the 1915 genocide and goes up to the present, he disclosed.

“When the  Turks took over 8,000 of our young people, 4,000 of them...were put on building roadways in Turkey, 4,000 of them were put to finishing up the unfinished parts of the railway between Baghdad and Berlin,” Arabian said, noting that “those people who were helping on the railway system were given hammers and boulders, breaking the big boulders into smaller pieces” to shore up railway ties.

The name of his book, he advised, will be: “From Gravel to Gavel: a Story of Justice.”

By the way, Arabian will receive the “Lifetime Achievement Award” of the San Fernando Valley Bar Association’s Community Legal Foundation at its dinner June 11 at the CBS Studios in Studio City.


At the evening reception, there was a buffet. It was not elaborate. I had a mortadella sandwich.

This is not to say that if you attend a meeting of the Armenian Bar Assn. (or “ArmenBar”…the letters “ABA” being otherwise in use), you have to resign yourself to enduring lousy food. To the contrary, when the group holds meetings at the Phoenecia Restaurant in Glendale, the cuisine, which is Lebanese, is fantastic.

What really counts, though, is the consistent warmth of the members, not only toward each other but those of us who aren’t Armenian Americans. In fact, it was the chair of the group, Edvin Minassian (in the company of Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Zaven V. Sinanian), who at the last Chinese Lawyers installation urged that my wife and I attend the convention.

Vice Chair Garo Ghazarian, an Encino criminal defense lawyer, exudes cordiality.

So enjoyable are the Armenian Bar meetings that my Italian wife has become a member.


There must be a link between Armenia and Italy. Italian does, after all, end in “ian.”

Well, for that matter, so does “Norwegian.”

No wonder former Los Angeles County District Attorney Robert H. Philibosian regularly attends the annual meetings of the Half-Norwegian (on the Mother’s Side) American Bar Assn. We’re expecting him at tomorrow’s gathering.

Last year, there was a debate on whether Leif Ericson or Christopher Columbus discovered America. Philibosian remarked in an e-mail:

“Actually the Armenians discovered America. The Grand Canyon was dug by Vater Erosian and the wells were drilled by Harout Artesian.”

Philibosian, who is of counsel to Sheppard Mullin, couldn’t attend the ArmenBar convention. He had to go back east on business.


If you want to find out about the ArmenBar, you might take a look at its website at

Announcements of its meetings can be found in the MetNews.

The  “20 Best Armenian Lawyers Under 40” will be feted on June at the Pandora on Green in Old Pasadena, starting at 6:30 p.m. There will be Mediterranean cuisine, not Chinese.


Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company


MetNews Main Page     Perspectives Columns