Honoring Long-Standing Members of the CCCBA
The CCCBA is proud of the 33 members who have been practicing attorneys for 50 or more years.
We interviewed a few of the leaders who contributed to the history of the Contra Costa County Bar Association, which was first established in 1934.
Daniel Baker has been a member of the state bar longer than any other CCCBA member.
Before he became an attorney in 1950, he served in the Pacific theater in World War II. He won medals for dropping two bombs – one on a Japanese freighter and one on a fighter plane.
While he was in the service, he was thinking about what kind of work he would do when he got out. He thought about a lot of different careers and the many people he knew. Then he thought that he didn’t know any attorneys… so there must be a shortage.
Early in his career he represented some of the major transportation lines in the East Bay. He owned a practice with offices in San Francisco and in San Mateo with eight attorneys. Eventually he merged his firm with Hanson Bridgett. Now Hanson Bridgett has 150 attorneys.
“As an attorney, I was in a position to do a lot of things that other people and other attorneys never had the chance to do including reversing a bill in the U.S. Senate,” he said.
He learned about a bill that benefited the 12 or 14 major motor carriers in the country to the detriment of approximately 330,000 smaller carriers. The bill was introduced just before midnight when only two senators were present. Mr. Baker went to work. He raised some “seed money” and produced a brochure that was sent to his attorney friends and associates across the U.S. cities. By leveraging his influence, he was able to reverse the U.S. Senate and defeat the bill.
Daniel Baker lives in Lafayette and makes a point of regularly attending the CCCBA’s annual MCLE Spectacular. He is in the process of wrapping up his practice.
Past CCCBA President Steven Hallert produced CCCBA’s first newsletter between 1982 and 1985, including the year he served as president (1984). The newsletter started as a take-off on Herb Caen’s column. In those days CCCBA was small and most of the members knew one another. The newsletter was a mixture of what we know as Bar Soap with event announcements, classified ads and vendor ads. Zandonella Reporting Service (the only court reporting service in the county) printed it for free. The Women’s Section was one of the few sections already established. The Family Law Section came later.
“It was a time when attorneys were a collegial group,” Hallert explained.” It was easier to practice. If you had a matter scheduled for a Friday and wanted to take that Friday off, you could walk into the judge’s chambers with the opposing attorney and ask for a continuance. It was very likely to be approved on the spot without a motion. There were also occasions when the assigned judge asked for the Friday off. The bailiff would call and ask the indulgence of the attorneys.”
When he was President, the CCCBA was dealing with a few big issues, including the Yarborough decision (Yarbrough v. Superior Court, 1985). This decision made it possible to require attorneys work pro bono. “You might be sitting in the hallway of the courthouse with your client and the bailiff would tell you that the judge wanted to speak with you. That made you feel like you were pretty important! But when you went into his chambers, the judge told you that you would be appointed to serve on a criminal case without fees! It was a big problem for those of us who did not specialize in criminal law,” said Hallert who has specialized in family law for 45 of his 51 years as a practicing attorney.
Hallert was first admitted to the bar in 1966 He practiced with his brother Marc for many years prior to the close of their formal office in 2016. He is now doing consulting for other attorneys working from his home in Walnut Creek.
Kenneth Larson (pictured on the front cover) was admitted to the bar in 1960 and served as CCCBA president in 1967. “When I started to practice in Contra Costa County, there were three bar associations, Contra Costa, West Contra Costa and Mt. Diablo,” he wrote. “Although I practiced in Richmond and was a member of the West Contra Costa Bar Association, I was acutely aware of the growing prominence of the Mt. Diablo Bar which was providing new services such as the lawyer reference panel. In the 1960s I was in a leadership position with the Contra Costa County Bar. I offered to sell the Richmond (or West Contra Costa) Bar to the Mt. Diablo Bar for $1. The offer was refused, but shortly thereafter the (three) associations were merged into the Contra Costa County Bar.
“One of my fondest memories was the beginning of a tradition for welcoming new judges at their induction ceremonies,” he wrote. “ I sort of started it by welcoming new judges with an emphasis on humor rather than praise. After all, it’s the time you can make fun of a person before they put on the robe and suddenly become ‘Your Honor.’ It started when I was president of the bar and was asked to speak at Judge Conti’s induction. I did not know Sam Conti and introduced him by reading his blurb from the “bible” of the legal profession, the Martindale Hubble Lawyer Directory. I don’t think he liked it very much, but thereafter I was asked to speak at more inductions than anyone else with the possible exception of Bill Gagan. Beginning with Conti, I spoke at the inductions of Dolgin, Westover, Swagger, Fannin I and Fannin II.”
Larson continues to practice as a partner with Larson, Vandersloot & Rivers in San Pablo. He has a very impressive resume that includes continuous experience in private practice specializing in industrial accidents, and personal injury litigation since 1960.
Brian Thiessen was admitted to the bar in 1967 and served as CCCBA President in 1974.
Q: What are you most proud of accomplishing with the CCCBA?
- Blending the “West Contra Costa Bar Association” with the Mt. Diablo Bar Association and the Contra Costa County Bar Association.
- Serving on the East Bay Community Foundation Board representing the CCCBA
- Meeting individually (usually over lunch) with all Superior Court judges to enhance relationships between the bench and the bar
- Helping get the Family Law Section off the ground
- Legal education expansion
Q: Are there programs that the CCCBA used to provide that you would like to see come back?
CCCBA used to reach out into the community and participate much more widely. Its reputation now is for strength within the legal community but not connected with the greater community we serve.
Q: In your opinion, what is the CCCBA known for?
- Continuing legal education opportunities
- Affording networking for attorneys to know each other and share growth
- Serving the court system
Brian Thiessen practices general civil, real estate, is a Certified Family Law Specialist as well as “the full ADR gamut.” He operates a solo practice in Walnut Creek, after having been the senior partner in the largest firm in Contra Costa County.
Richard Breitwieser was admitted to the bar in 1966 and served as the last president of the Mt. Diablo Bar Association in 1978.
Q: What are you most proud of accomplishing with MDBA?
Consolidating the Mt. Diablo Bar Association, Richmond (or West County) Bar Association and the County Bar Association.
After World War II, the population was shifting from the river cities of Martinez, Pittsburg, and Antioch to the Diablo Valley and some of the attorneys in Walnut Creek, Danville, Lafayette, and Pleasant Hill felt that the County Bar Association did not represent them adequately and they formed the MDBA. The life blood of bar associations at that time was the income from the Attorney Reference Panel. Through the years the MDBA saw their income increasing whereas the Contra Costa County Bar Association experienced the opposite, to the extent that its very existence was threatened. Nevertheless most attorneys recognized that the existence of three bar associations was not in the best interests of the attorneys nor the public.
In the autumn of 1976, Ralph Capps, who was incoming president of the MDBA in 1977 and I, as his incoming VP, met and discussed the issues we would be confronting. Clearly, the merger of the three bar associations was significant and at that meeting he assigned me the duty to merge the three bar associations.
During 1977 there were innumerable meetings between the representatives of the three bar associations. The primary factor that caused all of the disagreement was representation on the board of directors. The MDBA insisted on “at large” representation. Richmond did not oppose this because it had sufficient members to ensure that it had representation whereas the county bar opposed it because it did not. Finally in the fall of 1977 a compromise was reached whereas the attorneys in the river cities of Martinez, Pittsburg, and Antioch would be guaranteed two seats on the board for one cycle of elections, one seat on the following cycle after which all directors would be elected at large.
It was determined to fold the MDBA and Richmond bars and provide that the county bar would be the continuing bar association because the county bar was incorporated and because of name recognition. Since the agreement was reached late in 1977, it was further agreed to continue the existence of the three associations through 1978 to provide for an orderly transition.
Dick Breitwieser continues to practice from his home in Diablo. His clients include the Diablo Community Service District (for the past 50 years), attorney consultations and individuals for whom he provides estate planning services.