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Thursday, April 1, 2010

Review of the Los Angeles County Bar Association Thirtieth Annual Employment Law Symposium

The Los Angeles County Bar Association (LACBA) Labor and Employment Law Section put on its Thirtieth Annual Labor and Employment Law Sympoisum yesterday at the Biltmore Hotel, one of LA's real treasures.

I did not speak at this year's Symposium, so I had the opportunity to relax and watch other people do the hard work. I also had a great opportunity to meet new people and catch up with others I have not seen in a while. This symposium draws a top notch group of plaintiffs' and defense counsel, professional neutrals, and judges. It's really a Who's Who of the Southern California employment law community.

The day started with recent developments, moderated by Michael Robbins, with Gina Browne and Tracey Kennedy. I follow the new cases very closely and was familiar with the material, but I enjoyed the presentation - it was fun to hear Gina talking about all of the good new cases for plaintiffs - and I was particularly interested in Tracey Kennedy's comments on Martinez v. Combs, a case that we've been watching for several years. Tracey commented that if the plaintiffs lose Martinez [more on this below from the man I believe will author the Supreme Court's decision] she anticipates legislation to clarify California's definition of "employer." She also commented that defense attorneys should start counseling their clients on these issues sooner, rather than later. I appreciated Tracey's candor.

Daphne Aneet moderated a panel on employee privacy with Brenda Sutton-Wills and Irma Rodriguez Moisa. This is not a big area of interest for me, but I had the opportunity to have dinner after the seminar with Daphne and Irma, among others, and we had a great discussion of employment law, mediation, etc.

The next panel featured two A-list trial lawyers, Linda Miller Savitt and Dan Stormer, along with moderator Melanie Poturica and trial consultant Dan Gallipeau, Ph.D. They started with voir dire of a mock jury panel, then discussed the issues that arose. I am very engaged in trial practice, and Linda, Melanie, and The Two Dans offered a ton of useful insight. I just wish they had been given more time to do a more full voir dire. Linda and Dan will be demonstrating and discussing opening statements at the section's April retreat, and I would recommend their program to anyone who tries cases or wants to try cases.

The lunch keynote speaker was California Supreme Court Justice Carlos R. Moreno. Justice Moreno discussed a number of recent and pending cases, including Martinez v. Combs, which I blogged
here. Justice Moreno said that Martinez will clarify issues left open by Reynolds v. Bement. This is no small thing. Many have argued that Reynolds settled the issues raised in Martinez. The Court itself questioned whether it should retain Martinez after Reynolds, and plaintiffs' counsel fought what seemed like an uphill battle to get the Court to retain it. I don't like to read too much into tea leaves, but this seems to me to be a positive comment for the plaintiffs in Martinez. Justice Moreno also said he anticipates the decision being issued before the 90-day deadline on June 3.

The next panel was on writs and appeals. Andrew Friedman moderated, with Court of Appeal Justice Laurence D. Rubin and attorneys Marc Poster and Stuart Esner. The program was well done, but they focused largely on preserving the record on appeal, and I have to say that they would have engaged the audience more with greater focus on writs, since most attorneys do not try their cases, let alone file appeals.

Marcus McDaniel moderated a panel on pre-certification communications with putative class members. Aashsish Desai and Arthur Silbergeld argued hypothetical issues under California and federal law, and Judge William Highberger from LA's complex panel issued rulings. The panel did a good job covering the material in an engaging format.

At the same time, another panel discussed the use of neutrals. Julie Yanow moderated, and Will Harris, Kim Deck, and my law school classmate and friend Apalla Chopra spoke. Another good panel, although I found it a little odd that they included expert witnesses and workplace investigators in their definition of neutrals.

The last panel of the day was on e-discovery. Angela Robledo moderated, with Hon. Carl West, Heather Morgan, and Scott Leviant. Another good panel on an important topic. Heather seemed so earnest that I almost felt sorry for her, having to deal with all the unreasonable discovery requests from plaintiffs' counsel. [I must have been tired.]

JAMS hosted a cocktail reception after the symposium, which gave us all a great opportunity to mix and mingle with people from the other side of the employment bar, as well as judges and neutrals. After that, there was a dinner for speakers, moderators, and members of the Section's executive committee, including yours truly.

All in all, this was just a great event. Congratulations to everyone who worked so hard to make it a success. I am looking forward to the Section's retreat in Ojai in March.

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