Presidential Awards of Merit

Sharon J. Arkin, CAOC President 2005

These are the people I’ve chosen to receive the Presidential Award of Merit. It is a purely personal choice, but the recipients all have in common the fact that they either made significant contributions to the organization in general, or and helped me make it through, personally. I want to acknowledge their efforts, honor their commitment and thank them for their help.

The Officers

All our officers were called upon to make efforts that were beyond extraordinary this year and I truly could not have done it without them. I thank them all for their, time, effort, money, help and unstinting support.

Frank Pitre, President Elect – Frank was almost a "Co-President" with me this year. Every issue, every controversy, every demand, Frank was right by my side. He not only "showed up" every time the organization needed him, he took a strong lead on getting our public image campaign started, getting it funded, and getting it up and running.

Don Ernst, Vice-President (North) – Don, too, was there when I needed him, opening his pocketbook and his heart to help us out at the toughest times and with the toughest stuff. He helped check on the staff and the state office while we were searching for an Executive Director, he kept in close touch with legislative leadership and made all our difficult transitions this year go much smoother. And, last – but not least – Don’s help with fundraising in the initiative fight was a key to our success in making the initiative go away.

John Montevideo, Vice-President (South) – John also did a remarkable job for us. He not only helped the effort to find us a new Executive Director, he was in Sacramento almost as often as I was, checking on the staff, testifying in the Legislature, responding to questions from the lobbying team, leading the fundraising campaign for Prop. 77, helping with other fundraising projects, and was a huge help in membership.

Don Galine, Vice-President (North) – Don has been a stalwart of this organization for years and was there for us, yet again. He not only did his part on the education and membership committees, he once again helped to make the Tahoe program and the Hawaii travel seminar great successes. And on top of all that, he helped with the initiative and in the Executive Director transition.

Ray Boucher, Vice-President (South) – Despite being president of the Consumer Attorneys Association of Los Angeles, and thereby being sucked into another black hole of meetings, obligations and commitments, Ray was with us when we needed him and worked behind the scenes to keep us strong.

Phil Ganong, Secretary – Phil helped us by taking a strong lead on making our public image campaign an early priority for us. He not only put in time and effort, he put in his own money to get us started and to make it happen. His commitment to the project set the stage for all the good things that are happening now.

David Rosen, Treasurer – David was instrumental in helping with personnel issues and in bringing a balanced perspective to all the decisions we faced this year. He also generously opened his pocketbook when the many calls for financial help came.

Christine Spagnoli – Financial Secretary – As always, Chris was passionately involved in every aspect of the organization and particularly important in helping us make the transition to a new Executive Director, and in getting the public image campaign moving forward. Her focus on doing what was right for the organization provided enormous guidance and served us all well. And, of course, her relentless fundraising to fight the fee initiative helped us show our strength and gave us the leverage we needed to make it go away – for now.

M. Lawrence Lallande, Sr. – Parliamentarian – Lory not only had to read and remember all 642 pages of the Roberts’ Rules of Order and be the "bad guy" when the rules needed to be invoked, he was always on the calls, always participating, always giving perspective and input when we needed it most. And he, too, helped financially when we needed to fund "just one more project."

The Staff

Every year, the out-going President of our organization talks about how important and wonderful our staff is. It all sounds like so much "blah, blah, blah." But I’m here to tell you that it’s not white noise. These are remarkable people and they are truly the heart of our organization. Every single one of them is an important part of what keeps us going and make us as good as we are. And their loyalty and hard work was especially important this year as we transitioned to a new Executive Director, fought off an initiative, and started the public image campaign. I personally owe them all a great debt of gratitude, and so does every member of this organization:

Michael Reyna – Executive Director – Although Mike has "only" been with us for five months, he has already had a remarkable impact on the culture of our organization. He loves the work we do, the positions we take, the issues we deal with, and he has brought a professional and business-like, but human, approach to the management of our staff and the business of our organization. We have been extraordinarily lucky to find such a strong and skilled leader at this time.

Nancy Drabble, Senior Legislative Counsel – As our chief in-house lobbyist, Nancy has been an important leader in monitoring, implementing and guiding our legislative program. She is not only a strong advocate for us (and, believe me, I’m so glad she’s not on the "other" side!), she’s tough, relentless and a key to our success in the Legislature. But she’s also a "mother hen" for others in the office and a guardian of our guiding principle: Do what is right.

Nancy Peverini, Legislative Counsel – Nancy has a remarkable capacity for generating and maintaining relationships with the people in "the building" (as the Capitol is known) and with people outside the building – coalition partners, members of our organization and other consumer groups. She is calm, reasonable and always personable. Even with tough issues – like elder care and the ADA – she always brings people together, but maintains enough cynicism to protect us and our clients. She’s never afraid to work hard and will always do what it takes to get a bill through, get the right language we need or get a bill withdrawn when it’s bad public policy.

Lea-Ann Tratten, Legal Counsel – I hold Lea-Ann in a special place in my heart. Not only is she the most fair-minded person I’ve ever known (she even says nice things about the people who lobby against us – but she doesn’t let them get away with anything), she’s our resident worrier. She’s always wondering what "they" are up to. But she works hard to maintain relationships with everyone – light side, dark side and all. But more than her untiring efforts to get language "just right," to recruit our members to give her input and to testify on bills in the Legislature, and to get bills passed, she really gave me solace, comfort and direction when the initiative hit. She was always there for me with ideas, suggestions and advice. Then, when we transitioned from the initiative to the public image campaign she stayed right with me and Frank Pitre to keep the program on track. I truly would have lost my mind, if not for Lea-Ann.

Lori Sarracino, Education Director – Lori has done a remarkable job this year. She not only helped keep me on track during the period of time that we had no Executive Director, she monitored our insurance needs, helped coordinate advice on legal issues, ran the whole Executive Director search (which, given the fact that we had nearly 100 resumes, was not an easy task!). She also kept the Education Department running smoothly and then, in the worst of nightmares, had to do the convention planning all over again when we had to move the convention, not to just another hotel, but to another city! Lori’s dedication and effort are remarkable and I was very lucky to have her help this year.

Deborah Dudley, Development Director – Sadly, Deb is leaving us right after the convention. Given what we put her through this year, it’s no wonder! But she’s not leaving because of that – it’s just time for her to take care of herself. But she will never leave our hearts. Her focus has always been on making our organization strong. She not only "grew" President’s Club this year, she was up and running on the fundraising for the initiative before it even hit the press. She was relentless in getting people both committed and involved. When we transitioned to a public image campaign, she never missed a beat and immediately developed a new strategy for that fundraising. And all the while, she kept our political fundraising moving right along. She’s remarkable in her ability to get people to give us money without ever making them mad. Deb, you will be missed!

Sharon Scott, Forum Managing Editor, List Server Administrator, Website Coordinator – Sharon celebrates 25 years with the organization this year. How she has been able to deal with all of us lunatics for so long and still look like she’s a twenty-something boggles my mind. She not only handles all the work for the Forum (getting the Editorial Board to actually get articles to her, contracting with the advertisers, laying out the magazine, making sure we haven’t messed something up, and guarding our reputations), she is also the list server administrator, worked on the membership directory and coordinated a complete re-vamp of our website this year. Sharon has made our "public" face as good as it gets.

Darlene Golladay, Membership Director – Darlene has done a remarkable job keeping our membership numbers high and getting them higher. She has a tough job – especially when being a member of our organization brings with it the inevitable calls for funds. But she not only has great ideas for expanding our membership and our membership benefits, she also takes good care of our vendors and exhibitors at events and conventions. She has been the guiding force in getting our membership directory put together and delivered to our members, and has done it with grace, kindness and a wonderful attitude.

Megan Menth, Grassroots Coordinator – Megan had been our legislative department assistant and moved up to take over as grassroots coordinator – right before Lobby Day (a logistical nightmare). She spend an enormous amount of time, but she pulled it off and we had one of our most successful Lobby Days ever. Megan didn’t stop there, though, and has continued our efforts to get local members involved with their local legislators and to support our legislative efforts in a strong and meaningful way.

Steve Ingram, Legal Research and Amicus Coordinator – Steve not only provides research support for our legislative department, he prepares comments for administrative hearings, appears at administrative hearings for us, manages our amicus committee and amicus issues and actually drafts amicus letters and briefs for the organization. Throughout the year, whenever I needed help or needed answers, Steve was there for me and gave me all the support I could ever have hoped for. And he is both a true gentleman and a gentle man.

Josephine DeShiell, Accounts Payable and Committee Coordinator – Jo is one of those quiet, unobtrusive people who seem to blend into the shadows. She comes in early and leaves late. She handles our money more carefully than she would her own. She’s had one of the most stressful jobs in the office – trying to decide which bills to pay each week! She’s done a remarkable job keeping the wolves from our door and has done it without glory or recognition – and it’s high time all her hard work is acknowledged!

Marina Ewald, Accounts Receivable – Marina, too, has worked tirelessly in our financial department, keeping the funds rolling in and helping wherever she can – at the convention, at the golf tournaments, anywhere we need her. She, too, is quiet and unassuming – but she protects our financial interests like a guardian warrior and does everything she can to make sure neither our organization nor its members goes astray.

Wendy Murphy, Education Coordinator – Wendy helps Lori coordinate all the education department work, but she is also our resident artist. All the beautiful brochures and flyers we produce for our convention, education programs, fundraising and everything else are the result of Wendy’s hard work. And she, too, helps out at convention, education programs and golf tournaments when we need administrative work done on-site.

Erin Havey, Legislative Administrator – Erin had a very tough year. She was in a very bad car accident, but came back to work long before she could even drive herself. And then, when she needed further surgery, she defied her own best interests to get back to work as soon as possible. Her dedication to our legislative department and its work was unparalleled and her calmness and great sense of organization served us well during a very hectic legislative year.

Christin Hamenn, Legislative Assistant – When Megan moved from the legislative department assistant, Christin moved into that slot and has filled it admirably. Christin, like Megan, is personable, friendly and committed to us and our organization. Christin has a great rapport with legislative staffers in the building and keeps our lobbyists on track and at the right place at the right time – and always with a smile.

Jerri DeMinico, Education Assistant/Executive Director Assistant – During the time we had no Executive Director, Jerri helped me enormously – keeping track of who was on the board, contacting them, setting up meetings and calls and working out the monthly board meeting notices and agendas. She is always calm and professional. No matter how frantic things were, when I called her for help, she gave it graciously and unstintingly. Now, in addition to helping in the education department, she also serves as the assistant to our Executive Director – and, again, provides generous help whenever called.

Alissa Ko, Development Coordinator – When Christin transferred out of the development department position and into the legislative department, we were in the middle of the initiative fight and the high-pressure fundraising needed to fight the initiative. Alissa came from outside our organization and stepped right in. She was handling phone banks within days of joining us and has served as Deborah Dudley’s right hand ever since. Alissa sets up phone conferences, gets out notices, circulates documents, gets database reports and – in every sense – makes it possible for the department to do its hardest work ever.

Becky Mendonsa, Membership Assistant – Becky is one of those people who just gets the job done – no flash, no glory, just good hard work. She helps coordinate our phone conferences, helps manage our membership database and does the administrative work for the membership department. Theoretically, anyone could do Becky’s job, but not everyone can do it as well as Becky does and we’re lucky to have someone in this job who is willing to do it right.

Stephanie Richardson, Receptionist – Stephanie always answers our phone with a smile in her voice, handles even the most obnoxious of our callers (who are often our members!), with professionalism and calm, and tries her best to get the answers to even the most obscure questions for the people who call the state office. She helps at whatever task is put in front of her and her bright smile and warm welcome makes everyone who comes to our office feel like one of the family.

In addition to our staff, we have three outside contractors who deserve special recognition this year:

Shelly Sullivan – Shelly is our interface with the media. In addition to providing me with media training, she also provided me with guidance and protection from being blindsided by media calls. She does a remarkable job at getting our best message out there, not only in responding to media calls, but it being proactive with issue briefs to the Legislature. Whenever a good article or study comes out that verifies our positions on issues, Shelly gets it to the Legislature and the media immediately. She’s been a key player in our public image campaign from its inception, even before the initiative struck. And, most important for me, she’s kept me from losing my mind this year! Whenever I’d start to crack, Shelly would take me to lunch, let me decompress, and set me back on the road again.

Mark Jones, MIS consultant – Our computer system is something less than "state-of-the-art" and Mark spent an inordinate amount of time rescuing and preserving our system and its contents. He was always on call and always responsive and, though we had disasters, they would have been worse were it not for his efforts.

Bianca Williams, Database Management – Bianca was with us before and came back when we desperately needed help with our database. Because so much was going on – the initiative, President’s Club, Advocates Club, the public image campaign – getting the right reports in a timely manner was critical to everything we were doing. And Bianca did that for us – for which we are immensely grateful!

Former Presidents

Once your presidential year is over, it is so tempting to disappear. But we have remarkable former presidents who have not gone gently into that good night and who have continued to provide us with help, guidance, money and effort.

Wylie Aitken – Wylie stepped back into the ring in a big way this year. He jumped in immediately to help with the initiative fight and he has stayed in to help with the public image campaign – not only financially, but with his time, effort and advice. Much of the credit for that campaign belongs to him because of his persistence and support.

Mary Alexander – After leading us through the last fee initiative and serving as ATLA’s president, Mary has been a constant support to the organization. She served on the initial "War Council" when the initiative was still active and has been tireless in putting together the convention education programs. As a practitioner in her own small office, it would have been so easy for her to walk away and leave us to our own devices, but she didn’t and her continued service is a boon to us all.

Tom Brandi – Tom is another attorney with his own small firm that has more important things to do but help us. Yet help us he does. He was very active in helping to fundraise on the initiative and has continued to actively work on the public image campaign. In fact, before the initiative was even filed, Tom was one of the leaders on the public image committee, committed to fighting back against the years of negative media attacking us and our profession. In addition, Tom worked behind the scenes for me on issues that could have created problems for our organization and resolved disputes in a "win-win" way for all of us.

Bruce Brusavich – Bruce was another "Co-President" this year – he was everywhere, doing everything and, most importantly, always giving me encouragement and support, no matter how tough things got. Our legislative program was successful this year (getting both the Medi-Cal lien bill and the jury service bill out of the Legislature) mostly because Bruce wouldn’t allow anything else. He’s been instrumental in every fundraising campaign and in the initiative fight. He jump-started the Republican Lawyers’ Caucus again. And he’s been my #1 fan (really, he said so!) – which meant a lot to me.

David Casey, Jr. – David sacrificed an enormous amount of family time to travel with me to Washington, DC, Sacramento, and San Francisco to negotiate with PhRMA to take the fee cap initiative down. David used his Washington contacts from his days as ATLA President to work behind the scenes to get that job done. He gave me advice, direction and comfort. And, most importantly, he let me vent with him so that when I was in the meetings, I could be calm and rational. I couldn’t have done it without him.

Browne Greene – Browne was one of the first of many former presidents who sat down with me to talk about the experience, what to look for, what to look out for and how to handle it. He was also the first on my "call list" when I had a problem – and he always took my call, always took me seriously and always took definitive action to help me. He was a champion. And beyond all that, he took a lead in developing our public image campaign and making everyone understand that the time was now.

Mark P. Robinson, Jr. – Mark has always been one of my heroes, and more this year than ever. Not only did Mark allow me to do this work this year (meaning I was away from the office, unavailable for a lot of the work he needed me for and he got to pay for me to travel all over the state), he was a huge supporter of the organization itself. Every time we needed help – to fight the initiative, to start the public image campaign – he was there for us. He not only contributed money, he raised it from others. He gave me the luxury of knowing that I could do what I needed to do and I will be forever grateful.


Board Members


We have had a remarkably active and strong board this year – and we’ve needed them to be strong for us. But a few people stand out and their extra efforts contributed to our successes this year:

Donna Bader – for taking over the time-consuming and thankless task of heading up the Forum’s editorial board;

Philip Bourdette – for getting our Republican Lawyers Caucus up and running again, and making it meaningful and effective;

Steven Brady – for working so hard to make our convention successful and for his fundraising efforts on the initiative;

Stuart Chandler – for all his help on the grassroots efforts and for making our Fresno meeting the best this year!

Brian Chase – in addition to his contributions to the Forum, both as an editorial board member and an author, for his fundraising during the initiative;

Walter Clark – for always being there for me, for coming through whenever I needed to fundraise, for helping us build our membership and for volunteering to do some of the tough work in our public image campaign;

Michael Cohen – for helping us all see the importance of fighting back on the dark side’s effort to make us the bad guys and for culling the Internet for the good and the bad to help us in the fight;

John Demas – for helping us raise the money to fight the fee initiative;

Chris Dolan – for coming to Sacramento to testify so brilliantly, for always taking my calls and for always opening his checkbook when we need help;

John Feder – for working so hard to raise money to fight the fee initiative;

Stephen Garcia – for being there for me whenever I needed help and for staying on top of the elder abuse issues in the Legislature;

Steven Glickman – for being such a strong leader and getting out ahead of the pack on the public image issues; for working on the Hawaii travel seminar and making it a success; and for all the help in the initiative fundraising;

Larry Hall – for tireless efforts in putting together our education programs, especially for the convention, and for being an unofficial liaison with our vendors and exhibitors and doing his best to protect their interests and the organization’s finances.

Joseph Harbison, III – for unstinting help in running the state office, for help finding our new Executive Director, and for his long years of service in managing, protecting and growing our employees’ pension plan;

Brian Kabateck – for taking on the overwhelming task of being the chair of the State Office Committee, for the extraordinary effort to lead the search for our new Executive Director and for helping to answer questions and provide testimony for our legislative staff;

Brian Kemnitzer – for his repeated help and advice to the legislative staff, and attending drafting meetings on the Car Buyer Bill of Rights issues;

Micha Star Liberty – for taking a lead in organizing our New Lawyers program and making it meaningful and effective, and for helping with our grassroots program;

Gerry Mannion – for providing us with so much time and effort in reviewing our insurance policies and contracts, and for being there when we needed advice;

Niall McCarthy – for giving our legislative staff so much help and input on the elder abuse issues we’ve been dealing with;

Kevin Meenan – for helping revive and effectuate our Republican Lawyers’ Caucus and for contributions to the grassroots program;

Michael Moore – for help in fundraising to fight the fee initiative;

Brian Panish – for unceasing time and effort in making our education program and our convention the best ever;

Tim Ryan – for always taking my calls, for always coming up with the dough and for going out and getting it from everyone else, in addition to his editorial help on the Forum;

Rosa Elena Sahagun – for helping in getting the New Lawyers program up and running;

Todd Schneider – for all his help, work and time in assisting us deal with the ADA issues;

Karl Schoth – for his enthusiastic support of the public image campaign, for being our one-man Speaker’s Bureau, and for showing us all how it can be done (and even be fun!);

Craig Sheffer – for always being there and for being a voice of reason and calm, for all the hard work on the Tahoe program, and for helping to raise money for the fee initiative;

Al Stoll – for all his help in raising money to fight the fee initiative;

Larry Strick – for not just being willing to help, but wanting to help, for always being there, for his efforts in the grassroots program, and for fundraising for the initiative;

Scott Sumner – for always being there to help on the lien bills, in addition to his help on the Forum editorial board;

Rodger Talbott – for his extraordinary time and effort in the Executive Director search and for helping to keep me sane and alive;

Holli Thier – for not only bringing a new liberal into the world, but for all her time and effort in helping to raise money to fight the initiative.


Committee Members


We are blessed with having people in our organization who are willing to work on our committees even though they are not board members. They deserve a special thanks for their great work:

Albert Abkarian – for making the Republican Lawyers’ Caucus become a reality;

J. Jude Basile – for his extraordinary efforts on the education committee and the convention committee, and for getting one of our icons, Gerry Spence, to spend some time with us;

Carl Douglas – for his tireless work in putting this convention together;

Jerome Fishkin – for his constant and consistent efforts in making this convention the best;

Adam Shea – for his great work in putting together the convention;

Stewart Tabak – for his extra efforts in putting together the Vehicle Dynamics seminar.




And last, but not least, I want to acknowledge some of our members who, though not on the board and not on any committees, answered our calls when we needed extra help and who went above and beyond for us:

Mark Anderson – for helping our legislative team deal with the Car Buyers’ Bill of Rights issues;

C. Brooks Cutter – for helping us with the Legislative Analysts’ Office on the initiative and for his help with the Governor’s "Inner Circle" on the Medi-Cal lien bill;

Roger Dreyer – for stepping up to the plate and helping to make our public image campaign a reality;

Josh Gruenberg – for helping year after year and especially, for this year, for giving and raising so much in our initiative campaign;

Mark Milstein – for his extraordinary work on the construction defects issues and for his generosity in responding to our fundraising;

Allan Owen – for always being "on call" when we need legislative testimony and for being one of the best presenters I’ve ever seen in the Legislature;

Michael Pines – for being my eyes and ears on the listservs and for keeping pace with the political winds blowing around us;

Stuart Zanville – for doing such a great job in the public image campaign work, including the law school symposia, and for setting up the Speaker’s Bureau in the L.A. area.