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Welcome to the final issue of the Contra Costa Lawyer for 2019.  Although it may feel like another year has flown by, the goal of this issue is to take you back in time to the good old days of law school.

Perhaps it has been months, years, or even decades since you took a law school or bar exam, but this time of year always triggers my anxiety of taking final exams.   It is the time of year when friends or family are pestering about holiday plans, gifts and schedules, while law students could care less because they are frantically trying to memorize the elements of adverse possession or decipher and explain the rule of perpetuities.  So, for this issue of the Contra Costa Lawyer, we want to take the pressure of being graded off the table and provide you with a law school exam where only you will know how much you should re-familiarize yourself with the rules of evidence.

The introduction to the fact pattern is below and the following articles are interviews with the suspects and witnesses, where you should determine the admissibility of evidence based on the California evidence code. The final article provides an overview of how some of the evidence was decided during the trial.  It is possible that an appeal will be filed. If so, the decision will be published in a future issue.

I want to thank the authors for their time and creativity in writing this story. I also want to thank Communications Director Carole Lucido who is such an important part of our amazing Contra Costa Lawyer team.  She works tirelessly in making this magazine an award winning one. Thank you, Carole, for all of your hard work and patience in supporting every person on the team!

We hope you enjoy the story and the holidays.


It was a cold Thanksgiving night. Edna was rocking in her rocking chair that she had since her daughter Denise was a baby.  It had been several years since Denise agreed to visit Edna for Thanksgiving.  In fact, she had not seen Denise in years and rarely talked with her on the phone.  Denise had always been a difficult child growing up. Being a single mom who worked several jobs to make ends meet, Edna did not have a lot of time to invest in raising Denise, her only child.  Edna always suspected that Denise resented her for that.  They never really had a close relationship and did not talk often.

Once Denise graduated high school and left for college, Edna finally met a man who was good to her.  After several years of being in a relationship, Edna finally agreed to marry Earl.  They were in their 50s and this was the second marriage for both of them. Earl had one son who predeceased him and Denise was not often involved with her mom, so the holidays were usually lonely for Earl and Edna.  Although they had warm and welcoming friends to visit, Earl and Edna missed having their own family gatherings.

After 30 years of marriage, approximately two years ago, Earl passed away peacefully in his sleep. Earl was a wealthy man who supported Edna, allowing her to retire in her 60s.  After inheriting Earl’s whole estate, Edna began reaching out to Denise more frequently with the hope that she could convince Denise and her daughter Daisy to visit her more often. Since Earl’s passing, the only person Edna had regular contact with was Carla, her caregiver.

Carla was one of the warmest and friendliest people Edna had ever met.  She was very nurturing and caring. Edna, now in her 80s, found some daily tasks difficult to handle on her own. Carla was a great help to Edna; she would take her to the grocery store, doctor appointments, and to run errands.  Carla ensured that Edna took her medication on time, ate healthy meals regularly, and kept her clean and comfortable. Edna relied on Carla quite a bit.

Carla was a woman in her early 40s.  Carla often talked to Edna about Ivan, the man she was dating. Carla met Ivan on an international dating website.  After several years of long-distance dating, Ivan was accepted as a graduate student at a local university.  Ivan moved to the United States with a student visa that was valid for four years. However, Ivan eventually dropped out of school and instead began working at a local restaurant. Carla and Ivan did not have children and seemed to have a volatile relationship. Often Carla would become jealous of the women who flirted with Ivan and they argued frequently.  Nevertheless, they were determined to stay together.

Since Edna was finally able to convince Denise and Daisy to come visit her with Thanksgiving, Edna wanted to make sure it was the best Thanksgiving dinner they have ever had. Denise and Daisy flew out to see Edna the week of Thanksgiving and planned to stay through the weekend. While there, Edna and Denise were able to talk about their past strained relationship and agreed to communicate more often.  Denise showed Edna numerous pictures of Daisy as a baby.  Although she was diagnosed with a learning disability, Daisy was doing remarkably well in school and was polite and courteous when speaking to adults. Edna was proud of her granddaughter.

Thanksgiving dinner was a great night. Edna was able to have a fulfilling dinner with Denise and Daisy.  Carla and Ivan also stopped by for dessert making it the first time Edna had family and friends at her home for the holiday. While at the table, Edna thanked everyone for making it such a great evening.  Eventually, Ivan left to visit with some family friends.  Edna took this opportunity to thank Denise, Daisy and Carla for a wonderful Thanksgiving and told them that they would all be beneficiaries of her estate plan.

The next morning, Edna was found unresponsive and pronounced dead.  Her estate plan was found torn up near her body. Her death was ruled a homicide. The police arrived at the scene and began their interviews of Carla, who spent the night at Edna’s home, Denise, and Daisy.  Eventually, Edna’s estate planning attorney, Mel Practiss, was also interviewed.

Read the interview with Denise, Edna’s daughter.