40+ Years Practicing Law in East Contra Costa County
With the advent of on-line communications and legal research, computers have destroyed the geographical barriers of practicing law in East Contra Costa County (“East County”).
Since 1977, East County has morphed from small towns into cities extending from Bay Point to Discovery Bay. Now from my Antioch office, I handle cases throughout the Bay Area and California and have recently worked with international clients from England, Iraq, Iran, Israel, Palestine, Turkey, Russia, Croatia, China, and New Zealand. From 1996 to 2006, the firm consisted of three partners, two contract attorneys, appellate attorney and a staff of approximately ten paralegals/secretaries. From 2007 to current, I have worked in the areas of real estate, business, probate/trust, personal injury and general civil litigation.
Our office, Hobin & Hobin LLP, is ten blocks from the San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta. My home is four doors from my office. East County was a good fit for my law practice. I grew up in the Central Valley, attended college and participated in the Navy NROTC Program, served in Vietnam, graduated from UC Hastings in 1977 and opened my law practice the same year. My son, Taylor, graduated from UC Hastings and completed his LLM in the Taxation Program at Golden Gate University. He works in both Central and East Contra Costa County with the Sehr Law Firm specializing in tax law, estate planning and business law.
Starting the Law Practice:
In 1977, I worked in Danville waiting the bar results. The prior summer I had worked in the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office. I had signed up with the Contra Costa County Criminal Conflicts Panel and was assigned my first criminal case a short time after the State Bar swearing-in ceremony in November. The case was an assault/battery and my first court appearance was in Brentwood. The court was in a storefront with Municipal Court Judge Manuel Rose presiding. The case was resolved. I stayed in contact with my first client for years and represented him in a variety of other criminal matters. I have always liked handling a case from the beginning to the end and being hands-on working with people in crisis. Unfortunately, my first client continued to make bad choices and was convicted twice for drug-related killings.
In those years, attorneys practicing criminal law in East County came from all over. There was lots of fast- paced work and the lawyers on both sides of the table were passionate/hard working. I worked several dozen cases with public defenders as co-counsel. It was my “residency” for the practice of law. I spent time in court watching some great local trial lawyers. I recall being particularly impressed with Richard Sanders and Bill Glass for their distinctive styles. Attorney Sanders took over the court room. In contrast, attorney Glass worked seamlessly between the court, the prosecuting attorney and the jury. Both attorneys were unflappable when the chips were down.
Other distinctive memories while working criminal cases were my appearances in Judge Richard Arnason’s court. Judge Arnason’s door was always open to give guidance and to informally assist in resolving cases. When working a tough case, I would drive to Martinez and arrive around 7 am. The door to Arnason’s department was unlocked, there were no bailiffs, no metal detectors, and no clerks. I would knock on the door; Judge Arnason would interrupt his work; listen to hypothetical fact patterns; and he took the time to discuss options to resolve them.
In one case, I represented a young woman from Oakland charged with shooting and killing her ex-boyfriend. The woman had come to Pittsburg to hide from the ex-boyfriend’s physical abuse. The shooting took place when the ex-boyfriend tried to break into her residence. There was forensic evidence offered to dispute her claim of self defense. I met my client in the Contra Costa jail. She had a limited formal education but she was intelligent, well read and, I felt, had unlimited potential. She did not have bail money and remained in the Contra Costa jail for approximately one year. After a work up of the case, Judge Arnason sentenced her to time served and probation. The sentence was handed down at the time judges were first being challenged for failure to jail criminals. Judge Arnason courageously disbursed justice.
East County Attorneys and Judges:
In 1963, Jerome Waldie, who served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1966-1975, recruited Judge Arnason to co-found the oldest law firm in East County. The firm of Hamm, Arnason and Waldie was located in Antioch. By 1966 Judge Arnason went on the bench and attorney Waldie was elected to Congress. The firm became Rockwell, Rogers, and McGrath and both attorneys Walt Rogers and Robert McGrath became judges. In my years in East County, I have had the privilege of practicing before other local judges, including Martin E. Rothenberg, Manuel Rose, Gerald Bellechi, John Allen and Susanne Fenstermacher.
Another marquis East County civil law firm was Sanders, Dodson & Hinton. Attorney Peter Hinton was the president of the California Trial Lawyers Association in 1986. Attorney Hinton moved his practice from Pittsburg to Antioch. My office was across the hall from his. I was able to participate in cases with his office and attend several of his trials. He was an exceptional trial attorney and a mentor to young attorneys.
Pluses and Minuses of a Small Law Practice in Any Location:
Before the advent of readily available on-line communications, legal research, and simplified word processing, small firms were at a disadvantage when dealing with larger civil and insurance defense firms.
However, the freedom of owning and working in a small firm overrides the long hours of managing an office, marketing the business, interviewing/selecting clients, litigating cases and researching the law. I now carry my entire law library and access case files on my Apple iPad. I update my legal research with review of the LA Daily Journal and memberships in the California State Bar real estate, trusts/estates, and litigation sections and the Contra Costa County Bar Association. There is a bit of isolation from the Central County legal community because of the demands of the practice. I am grateful that the CCCBA provides good updates on the county activities.
View from 40 Plus Years of Legal Practice:
I do get frustrated with the quarrelsome aspect of the law practice. In 1969, I studied and lived with attorneys in London and Paris. The English system of Barristers and Solicitors now makes sense. While I was impressed by the Barrister’s wigs and their distinctive garb, the Solicitors informally solved problems. It now seems to me that attorneys need to put a stop to the unpleasantries and resolve cases by mediation before filing suit.
Attorneys need to research and know the law and then apply the law to the facts at hand. The egos need to be and should be left at the door. Attorneys need to mutually agree that their clients’ best interest is to resolve the dispute as quickly/ economically as possible. Most paying clients, including corporations, can not endlessly afford the uncertainties of litigation. For the client, going to trial is like getting a call from a doctor advising them of a serious illness and having to suffer the physical/emotional pain of an operation. Cases need to be mediated at the first opportunity.
 Not sure what is on the horizon but all I know is I’m up for all of it.
 Memorial for Richard Rockwell published in East Bay Times on November 14, 2018.