My Heartfelt Letter to Judge Arnason and Ways You Can Volunteer

Dear Judge Arnason:
Although it was over 25 years ago, it seems like yesterday. You said to me:
“Sir, you’re still a young man. Don’t get discouraged. Come back with some vigor. Come back with some desire. You’ll learn from this. And in the long run, you’re going to be a better man because of this.”
You were right. You recognized something in me that I failed to recognize in myself. And because you did not give up on me, I did not give up on myself. You encouraged me. You mentored me. You emphasized how important it is for me to give back to the community. I listened. I am giving back. Since we last spoke, I have volunteered thousands of hours in the community and continue to do so. You would be proud of me.
You told me that I would have to work hard if I wanted to become an attorney and that the path would be difficult. You were right about that too. But I made it. My only regret, you were not here to swear me in. You warned me that you were on a time clock and that time might run out to swear me in if I did not work fast enough. Trust me, I tried. And even though time ran out, you were in my thoughts when I was finally sworn in; and you are in my thoughts with every day, every hour, every minute of the time I donate to the community and to the bar association.
I will never forget you. I became a better man because of you. I honor you and I thank you.
Ray Robinson

Fast forward to today

I am excited to be your guest editor in this edition of Contra Costa Lawyer. I dedicate this edition in honor of the late Judge Richard Arnason. Judge Arnason mentored me and reminded me of the importance of giving back to the community. As lawyers, giving back traditionally includes providing pro bono legal services. “It has been the tradition of those learned in the law and licensed to practice law in this state to provide voluntary pro bono legal services to those who cannot afford the help of a lawyer. Every lawyer authorized and privileged to practice law in California is expected to make a contribution.” Cal. Bus. Prof. Code § 6073.

There are ample opportunities to volunteer time. Here are some: volunteering to help improve the lives of our youth; volunteering with the annual high school mock trial competitions; volunteering in the law library; or participating in the Minor’s Counsel program. There are also volunteer opportunities with the court. As lawyers, I believe we have the ethical and moral obligation to give back to our community.

I Practice What I Preach

I am honored that I was named as the first recipient of the Justice James J. Marchiano Distinguished Service Award for my commitment to giving back to the community going back decades. I have donated thousands of hours, including volunteering for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation for over 20 years as a mentor to thousands of offenders re-entering society after serving a term of incarceration. I have volunteered for the CC Department of Education serving as a scorer/judge in high school mock trial competitions and as a mock trial team coach for John F. Kennedy High School in Richmond (my high school alma mater). I also volunteer by serving on various CCCBA committees, including the Board of Directors, Barrister’s Section, Charitable Contributions Committee, C3 Task Force, Contra Costa Lawyer Editorial Board, and Pro Bono Committee. Enough about me. I want this inside article to be more about you.

Query: How strong is your heart?

“There’s nothing stronger than the heart of a volunteer.”
–Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle

From time to time, we should perform a self-assessment test on our performance, whether it be as a judge, lawyer, parent, significant other, or the like. But what about our performance as a volunteer. If there’s nothing stronger than the heart of a volunteer, shouldn’t we self-assess the strength of our heart?

Query: What is the depth of your commitment to make a difference in the lives of others?

“The heart of a volunteer is not measured in size, but by the depth of the commitment to make a difference in the lives of others.”
–DeAnn Hollis

Let’s be honest. As lawyers, we strive to be the best at what we do. We spend a great deal of time, perhaps even an obsession, with preparation: whether we’re preparing to meet with a client, appearing at a deposition or hearing, or preparing for an upcoming trial. Using our best effort with preparation is key to winning. But is that enough? Shouldn’t we spend “a great deal of time” preparing to make a difference in the lives of others by giving back to our community?

The community needs you

The benefits of volunteer service to our community cannot be underestimated or overstated. While donations play a significant role in the success of non-profit organizations, without volunteers, many non-profits could not survive. There are also many benefits to volunteering in the community: it provides you with a sense of purpose (being a part of something bigger than you); and it provides a sense of community (feeling connected to those who need your help).

The CCCBA needs you

While many of our members volunteer in the community, we cannot forget that our bar association needs volunteers, too. There are numerous CCCBA committees, sub-committees, and sections that rely on member volunteers. Volunteering in the CCCBA is as easy as a point-and-click of your computer curser. On the CCCBA website homepage, point your computer curser to the first drop down on the top banner “Give Back.” Everything you need is right there: free legal workshops, pro bono pledge, pro bono recognition; special events & community service opportunities, temporary judge & discovery facilitator programs, and other pro bono opportunities.

The court needs you

With the retirement of several judges and elevation of commissioners, there is a need for temporary judges and discovery facilitators. For a moment, we were teased with the prospect of having a designated “discovery commissioner” (a reflection of the Commissioner Judith Sanders era) to alleviate the need for judges to hear discovery disputes. It was short-lived. The designated discovery commissioner was recently elevated to fill a judicial vacancy. With the expiration of the informal discovery conference prerequisite to filing a discovery motion, there is now a great need for volunteer temporary judges and discovery facilitators.

Finally, there is a strong need for court-appointed Minor’s Counsel. As the eyes and ears of the court, the judge relies on Minor’s Counsel when it determines what actions it should take. Although participating as court-appointed Minor’s Counsel is not necessarily pro bono work, Judge George recently described it as: “pro bono, plus a tip” since these attorneys devote countless hours to this court appointment, often for little or no compensation.

We hope that this edition sparks your interest to provide volunteer service to one of the many programs highlighted with the goal that your service will strenghen and expand your heart.