Wilke Fleury has welcomed veteran litigator Donald A. Lounsbury to the firm where he will serve as Senior Trial Counsel. Mr. Lounsbury brings more than 30 years of legal experience to the law firm and will specialize in complex litigation defense of individual professionals, healthcare institutions and corporations.
Mr. Lounsbury received his undergraduate degree from California State University, Long Beach, where he was a member of the Blue Key National Honor Society. He then went on to obtain his Juris Doctorate from Western State University College of Law. Mr. Lounsbury has completed more than 200 civil and criminal jury trials, court trials, arbitrations and mediations. In addition, he was awarded the highest possible rating by Martindale-Hubbell based on extensive and confidential attorney peer review. Mr. Lounsbury joins the firm from Orange County’s Herzfeld & Rubin, LLP, where he served as Senior Trial Counsel and Managing Attorney.
A Sacramento jury deliberated less than three hours before returning a near-unanimous verdict in favor of Lodi Memorial Hospital in a medical negligence action. The two week trial in Sacramento County Superior Court pitted Joan Perry, the widow of Stanley Perry, against the hospital and its staff after her husband died suddenly of a ruptured aortic aneurysm during a routine treadmill test one day following admission for sudden onset of chest pain. Mrs. Perry claimed that the hospital and others mismanaged her husband’s care.
Retained by Optima Insurance, the insurance carrier for the hospital, Wilke Fleury partner, David A. Frenznick, successfully argued that the hospital had met and exceeded the standard of nursing care in all aspects of Mr. Perry’s care. Mr. Perry presented with classic signs of coronary artery disease and, prior to the treadmill test, his cardiologist was timely informed by the nursing staff of all pertinent changes in the patient’s condition.
Lodi Memorial Risk Manager, Daleen Murray, praised Wilke, Fleury attorneys after receiving the jury’s verdict. “Your devoted time, expertise and professionalism lead us to the desired outcome of a defense verdict,” she said. “We will most definitely call upon Wilke, Fleury and Mr. Frenznick for our future legal needs.”
After a nine week trial in the Federal District Court in Sacramento, a jury unanimously awarded our client, Pacific MDF Products, Inc., $6,670,185. Pacific MDF manufactures home improvement products, such as baseboards and crown moulding, out of fiberboard at its plant in Rocklin, California. The manufacturing process generates a significant amount of sawdust, which must be disposed of in environmentally sensitive ways. Pacific MDF decided to purchase from Defendants, Advanced Recycling, Inc., Bio-Mass Energy Concepts, LLC and Donald Kunkel, a system which would permit Pacific MDF to burn the sawdust to create both steam heat and electricity to run its plant.
When Defendants were unable to overcome both design and manufacturing defects in the cogeneration system, Thomas G. Redmon and Daniel L. Baxter of our office filed the lawsuit alleging 11 different causes of action, including breach of contract, breach of warranty, fraudulent and negligent misrepresentation, and making false promises. The jury deliberated for less than two days before finding in favor of our client on every cause of action.
Pacific MDF expressed praise for the quality of the representation it received based, not just on the end result, but on the fact that Mr. Redmon and Mr. Baxter exhausted every effort on its behalf to settle the matter in a cost effective manner prior to taking the matter to trial.
The International Journal of Occupational & Environmental Health recently published a letter to the editor authored by David A. Frenznick, who heads the firm’s construction law group. The letter, entitled Courtroom Impact of the ACOEM Statement on Mold, comments on a long-standing medical-legal debate.
Mr. Frenznick represents owners, developers and contractors in residential and commercial construction disputes.
The firm is pleased to announce that Megan Lewis and Trevor Stapleton, both formerly associates, have been made partners in the firm.
Ms. Lewis joined Wilke Fleury in 2002 after graduating from the University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law. Her practice areas include representing businesses in all aspects of bankruptcy proceedings and assisting businesses with corporate formation and litigation. She currently serves as Treasurer for Women Lawyers of Sacramento; Vice Chair of the Bankruptcy and Commercial Law Section of the Sacramento County Bar Association; Board Member of California Women Lawyers; and is a member of the Junior League of Sacramento. "
Mr. Stapleton, who joined the firm in 2005, is a transactional attorney advising businesses, professionals and entrepreneurs in all aspects of strategic planning including taxation, formation, sales and mergers, business transactions, asset protection and general business law. His practice also includes estate planning, probate and trust law, tax controversies and audits, as well as advising non-profit organizations. He received his Juris Doctorate and certificate in Dispute Resolution from Willamette University College of Law and his LL.M.in Taxation from the University of Washington School of Law. He is admitted to practice in both Washington and California. He also serves on the Board of Directors and is the Treasurer of the Down Syndrome Information Alliance, a Sacramento non-profit organization providing resources and support for individuals with Down syndrome and their families.
Wilke Fleury Managing Partner, Michael Polis, said, "Megan and Trevor have been recognized for their outstanding service to our clients and to the community. We are delighted to welcome them as new partners and look forward to their long and successful affiliation with our firm."
Michael Polis has been named the firm’s managing partner. Mr. Polis, who has been with the firm since 1994, takes over the position from Jim Krtil. Mr. Polis received his law degree from the University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law and his undergraduate degree in economics from the University of California, Los Angeles.
Mr. Polis’ practice focuses on advising Knox-Keene health care service plans and health insurers with compliance-related issues. In addition, he advises insurance agencies and administrators with respect to compliance-related matters. He also advises dentists, physicians, chiropractors and optometrists with respect to corporate formation and tax-related matters. Mr. Polis has written numerous articles on health care, insurance and managed care compliance issues. He has also presented at the California Association of Dental Plans on Knox-Keene compliance-related issues.
Mr. Polis is a member and former chairman of the Health Care Law Section of the Sacramento County Bar Association. He is licensed in California as a Certified Public Accountant and is a member of the California Society of Certified Public Accountants. He is the Chairman of the Board of Fresh Producers, Inc. and former chair of Goodwill Industries of Sacramento Valley, Inc. In addition, he teaches cost accounting, business and corporate law at the University of California, Davis Extension Program.
Former legislator, Rick Keene, has joined the firm as Of Counsel. Keene served in the Assembly for three terms where he rose to assume several Republican leadership positions, including Republican Whip and Vice Chair of the Committee on Water, Parks and Wildlife. He also served as the lead Republican on the Assembly Budget Committee. Prior to being elected to the Assembly, Keene served as a councilman and mayor to the City of Chico, CA.
Keene, who obtained his B.A. from CSU Chico, received his Juris Doctorate degree from Cal Northern School of Law and practiced law in his Chico law firm for 15 years before his election to the Assembly. "Our firm is excited to continue to add colleagues with tremendous and varied backgrounds, such as Rick Keene,” said Michael G. Polis, Managing Partner. “Our clients and future clients will benefit from his local and state government experience, legal knowledge and counsel. "
Third year of law school is typically reserved for long weekends, fretting over the bar exam, finding a job, and rounding out a legal education that, for the first two years, is primarily confined to the classroom. Like many of my peers, I longed for a practical supplement to my legal education. Specifically, I wanted to get involved and make an impact in a legal forum where I would experience something new, different, and unexpected. The Katrina-Gideon Project, an immersion program guided by the Sacramento Public Defender’s Office and Pacific-McGeorge School of Law, would present this and much more to fifty law students who traveled to New Orleans, Louisiana in December 2006 to offer assistance to the New Orleans Public Defender’s Office in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Up until the fall of 2005, New Orleans was primarily known for the Bourbon street experience, a haven for conventions, and a place to indulge in southern delicacies, namely beignets, po’ boys, muffaletta sandwiches, and, of course, Pat O’Brien’s world famous hurricanes. While New Orleans still conjures up images of joyful French Quarter revelers, Hurricane Katrina and its disastrous effects presented the world with a new image of New Orleans—lack of preparedness and a legal, political, and social infrastructure in disarray. Like other governmental entities, the New Orleans Public Defender’s office was struggling—case demand was growing due to rising crime and arrest rates, attorneys were moving to other states, and defendants were facing extended waiting times, sometimes without knowing what charges faced them. As a result, the Public Defender’s office needed assistance with interviewing defendants, working up case files, identifying preliminary legal challenges and drafting pre-trial motions. The Katrina-Gideon Project would help to alleviate some of these problems, while at the same time offering students like me an opportunity to engage their legal knowledge, help a suffering city, and face several moral and legal issues at a very young point in their legal careers.
The Arrival – Expect the Unexpected
I arrived in New Orleans without having any practical criminal experience. Sure, I had taken criminal law and criminal procedure, but the Katrina-Gideon Project was my first foray into interviewing, counseling, and applying the criminal foundations I had learned during law school. Upon landing in New Orleans, my mind raced, thinking about casebook lore… Who was I going to defend? Did the evidence still exist against my client? Did the officers give proper Miranda rights? Was my client innocent? Man… I was preparing to be (gasp!) a lawyer. Further, I had no idea what to expect. There were rumors of lack of preparedness and conflicts between the New Orleans Sheriff and New Orleans Public Defender’s Office. Put simply, I was scared, excited, frantic, and optimistic upon landing at Louis Armstrong International Airport.
Students involved with the Katrina-Gideon Project were placed into seven groups. Some of the groups would be going to the local parish prisons to interview prisoners and work up case files, while others would go to the outlying prisons to interview defendants who had been relocated during Hurricane Katrina. All would be expected to do their best and assist the public defender’s office in any capacity required. I was fortunate to be placed in the group led by Paulino Duran, the head Sacramento Public Defender. Paulino led my group to Angola State Prison to interview inmates who had been transferred there from New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina.
While I was thankful to be in the group headed to Angola State Prison, I was not excited about waking up at 4:30 a.m. to catch the train to Angola. What I didn’t know, and what Paulino explained on the way to Angola, was that Angola was one of the last plantation-style prisons in the U.S. Specifically, some of the inmates work in the fields during the day and earn two cents an hour for their efforts. Other inmates worked in the processing plant—Angola is a self-sufficient prison with a processing plant and cannery—while some were required to be in their prison wings for 23 hours a day. Paulino also explained that Angola was the largest prison in the U.S. in terms of inmate and acreage. Angola also provided the setting for many highly publicized inmate crimes, escape attempts, as well as being the location du jure for many Hollywood motion pictures, such as Dead Man Walking and Monster’s Ball.
As we approached Angola, the first thing we encountered was the security gate. It was a mammoth over-crossing, and the police detail was extensive. An employee of the prison was assigned to our group, and he led us to where our clients were being held. We approached our building, a seemingly normal prison building with a security checkpoint, an appeals chamber, and visiting rooms. We entered the security checkpoint and the employee led us to the room where the Orleans Parish Prisoners were being held. Upon entering the room, we were astonished to see about 15 prisoners sitting in rows to our immediately left. Many were our clients—but, much to our surprise, many were not.
My first client was a 40 year-old man arrested for cocaine possession. He was a gentle man with four children and a steady job. His case was baffling because he had been incarcerated for over two years for possession of .06 grams of cocaine. In addition, his bail had been continuously increased, with nary a justification. At the outset, I asked him the questions I had prepared the night before. I wanted to know everything about the alleged crime; where the police were, where he was standing, was it daytime, where any witnesses available? I also wanted to know about his background—did he have any business references, ties to the community, any prior convictions, was he on parole or probation, did he know how to read, was he taking any medication, was he a U.S. citizen, etc. My goal was to draft the best possible case memorandum so that the New Orleans P.D. would be prepared for the next court appearance.
My second client was not on my scheduled list, and I did not have a case file related to his alleged criminal charges. As such, I had not prepared any questions, and did not know anything about this individual. He posed a unique challenge because he was charged with homicide and, up until that point, I was under the impression that we would only be dealing with relatively minor felonies. I was a little startled when he told me what crime was charged with, but I just applied the same line of questioning as the first interview. I asked him about the crime, but because I didn’t have the case file, the questioning had a different tone. I wanted to know excruciating details. We wanted to know all of the parties involved, the facts of the underlying charge, was there any seized evidence, had he made any statements, and other questions relating to the basic nature of the charge.
Following the preliminary questions relating to my second client’s alleged crimes, my partner and I took some time to speak with him about everything from the Saints to world politics. This was by far the most engaging and important part of the trip for me. This simple dialogue—void of scripted questions—was what made me to relate to who my client was, and why in fact I wanted to help him. He was a person just like me. He had political views just like me. He was an avid football fan like me, and rooted on Sundays with same zealousness as I did.
Following our interviews, I wrote memoranda to the New Orleans Public Defender’s office summarizing my client interactions and identifying the constellation of legal issues presented in my meetings. I also made several recommendations regarding case posture and preliminary motions that should be filed. It took me many days to complete the case summaries and recommendations, but I believe I prepared the public defender while advocating for my clients. I also learned valuable lessons relating to litigation and the collaborative process. For instance, I worked with some amazing lawyers, and was able to produce a written document that helped my clients during the disposition of their cases. In addition, while interviewing my clients and drafting my case memorandum I learned about the basics of litigation and how the “system” actually worked. I like to say I went to “litigation bootcamp” as it was necessary to get up to speed regarding statutory filing and hearing requirements, supporting paperwork, and making sure my client’s rights were preserved (or if they were violated). Although couched in criminal pre-trial litigation, the awareness and exposure to filing deadlines, required documentation, and general pre-trial positioning continues to lend itself to my civil practice on a daily basis.
I arrived in New Orleans with lots of book knowledge, but no practical criminal experience. I hoped for a challenging (morally, emotionally, intellectually), eye-opening, influential experience, and I think I received just what I expected—and maybe even more. As a member of this unique project, I was able to view a ravaged area, participate in the interviews of two men accused of crimes, and have spirited conversations with my peers centering around capital punishment, the criminal justice system, and southern hospitality. Although all of the aforementioned objectives and experiences were important to me as a member of Katrina-Gideon Project, I think the most important aspect is that I was given an opportunity to help rebuild a historic city and aid individuals at a time when all appeared lost. For that, I think I am a better person, and lawyer.
The award selection process of the Sacramento County Bar Association typically follows one of three courses. The first involves consideration of many proposed nominees, rigorous evaluation and discussion, and ultimate selection. The second is precisely the opposite: no candidate comes to mind and the nominating committee must search actively for potential recipients. The final route, which presents itself much less frequently that the first two, is where one person is recommended by a multitude of distinct parties, the accomplishments of that individual stand out, and the choice is made by acclamation.
This year’s recipient of the Lawyer of the Year Award, Richard Hoffelt, falls clearly within the third category. His name was mentioned repeatedly both within and without the SCBA as the most deserving recipient of this Award, and his selection by a unanimous Bar Council followed effortlessly.
The Lawyer of the Year Award honors an SCBA member who, through the practice of law, has made Sacramento a better place to live and work. Past recipients include Virginia Mueller, Forrest Plant, Sr., and Joseph Coomes, Jr. The award is given for achievements during a single year or over the course of a lifetime.
Hoffelt’s selection is justified on both grounds. Hoffelt, the 1990 SCBA President, has served as a guiding force to the SCBA and legal community during his 42 years of association with the Sacramento law firm of Wilke, Fleury, Hoffelt, Gould & Birney. During his presidency, he conceived the idea of, and made possible, the creation of the successful Minority Hiring and Retention Program, by which minority law students and graduates are recruited by some of the leading law firms in Sacramento and trained to be successful lawyers and leaders in the community. This program continues to be a tangible source of inspiration for law students and a testament to the vision of Dick Hoffelt and the SCBA.
Hoffelt has been active in numerous other professional activities, having served as a founding member and early president of the Barristers Club, on the Executive Committee of the California Association of Local Bar Associations, and as delegate to numerous conventions of the State Bar. He is a member of the ABA’s Forum on Health Law, the ABA’s Construction Law Section and ADR Section, the National Health Lawyers Association, the California Society for Health Care Attorneys, and the SCBA’s Healthcare Law Section. Dick also served as the SCBA’s first representative and delegate to the American Bar Association’s House of Delegates, its policy-making body.
In addition to his lifetime of service to the SCBA and other professional organizations, Hoffelt’s efforts on behalf of charities and arts groups is legendary. 1997 marks the culmination of Dick’s charitable work as Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Shriners Hospitals of Northern California. In June, the Shriners dedicated the Sacramento Shriners Hospital, which provides free treatment for children throughout Northern California and the Western United States who are suffering from spinal cord injuries, acute burns, and orthopedic disabilities. The only conditions on admission are that the child must be under 18, the condition must be treatable, and the child’s family must be without means to pay for the child’s treatment.
The $79 million, 300,000 square foot state-of-the art hospital is located on the corner of Stockton Boulevard and X Street, across from UC Davis Medical Center. The Hospital is unique among Shriners Hospitals because it combines the three separate specialties of other Shriners hospitals in one setting which, together with its advanced facilities, makes it the nationwide leader in the Shriners hospital system.
According to Margaret Bryan-Williams, Administrator of the Sacramento Shriners Hospital, the decision to locate the hospital here has worked out “wonderfully,” based on the proximity of the “outstanding medical center” of UC Davis and the presence of the “pre-eminent orthopedic and burn surgeons to whom health care providers in the area can turn for advice and counsel for the care of complex cases in their specialties. Clearly, when you can deliver pediatric specialty services at no charge, it’s a wonderful addition to the region’s health care system.”
Hoffelt’s charitable work is balanced by his attention to his active law practice and service as an arbitrator/mediator. Hoffelt has served at various times over the last 20 years as judge pro tempore and arbitrator for the Superior Courts of Sacramento, El Dorado, Solano, Yuba, Amador and Calaveras counties. Dick also serves as an arbitrator for diverse organizations too numerous to recount here.
Hoffelt is a third generation Sacramentan. He and his wife of 42 years, Elie, have four children and eight grandchildren. Hoffelt received a bachelor of science degree in business administration at the U.C. Berkeley’s School of Business in 1952, and was awarded his juris doctorate from Boalt Hall School of Law at U.C. Berkeley in 1955.
After passing the bar examination that year, Hoffelt began his long and distinguished practice at the well-respected firm now known as Wilke, Fleury, Hoffelt, Gould & Birney, which is celebrating its 75th Anniversary this year. The firm was founded in January 1922 by Jay L. Henry and Grover Bedeau. Initially known, not suprisingly, as Henry & Bedeau, its first offices were located in the historic Capital National Bank Building at Capital and I. In 1949, Governor Earl Warren appointed Bedeau to the Sacramento County Superior Court, and Henry was appointed to the same court soon thereafter.
Sherman Wilke and the late Gordon Fleury became partners and renamed the firm Wilke & Fleury rather than trade on the name of the former partners. The firm continued its emphasis on general practice until 1970, when the partners decided that the firm should increase its focus on health care law and complex litigation, with an emphasis on medical malpractice defense. The firm has continued to expand its areas of specialization and its corps of lawyers to its present status as one of the ten largest firms in the city.
Although he has focused on healthcare law, Hoffelt has established expertise in all areas of the general practice of law, including corporate, business and business entities; commercial; real estate and leasing; employment and construction law transactional matters and litigation; administrative law; and probate; estate and trust planning, administration and litigation.
He has participated in several significant appellate decisions, including Morris v. Williams (1967) 67 Cal.2d 733 and California Association of Nursing Homes v. Williams (1970) 4 Cal.App.3d 800. In the first case, the Supreme Court relied on Hoffelt’s arguments to invalidate an administrative regulation which had cut Medi-Cal benefits by ten percent. In the second, the Third District Court of Appeal upheld Hoffelt’s due process challenge to administrative regulations regarding reimbursement to providers of Medi-Cal services.
Hoffelt is justifiably proud of his appellate work, of which he says: “My greatest personal accomplishment is one which can be proclaimed by any practicing attorney: ‘To be an attorney engaged in a system of justice which bestows upon the legal profession a major role in saying what the law is.’ From the lawyer’s point of view, this is the essence of Marbury v. Madison. During the early years of the MediCal Program in California, I represented many clients in a number of significant cases in which my arguments were persuasive to the courts in interpretations of the law in new and innovative ways. Being an advocate in the formulation of the ratio decidendi in this way truly is a lawyer’s greatest reward, as well as accomplishment.”
The cases cited above establish that Hoffelt is held in high esteem by the courts. This fact is confirmed by the knowledge that he is often asked to speak on behalf of newly-nominated or appointed judges.
One such judge is William Shubb, who asked Hoffelt to speak at his investiture. Upon learning of the Award, Judge Shubb remarked: “Dick is an old-fashioned kind of lawyer whose accomplishments include not only what he’s done as a lawyer but also what he’s done for the community. He has blended the highest professionalism with his charitable efforts. Excellent choice.”
George Nicholson, an associate justice with the Third District Court of Appeal, asked Hoffelt to speak at his confirmation hearing. He echoes the views of Judge Shubb: “Dick Hoffelt is very deserving of this award because he is a fine lawyer. He’s also a true gentleman who has a smile for everyone. The Sacramento Bar Association is known for its outstanding presidents. Dick is among the best of them.”
Tom Cecil, Presiding Judge of the Sacramento Superior and Municipal Courts, could not recall whether he asked Dick to speak on his behalf, “but many years ago, at a party at Dick’s home, where my infant son was a bit loud, I did permit him to demonstrate the proper technique for feeding a baby with a bottle. Seriously, though, it was leaders like Dick who set an example for me while I was in law school at McGeorge, and he inspired me to stick with it. The Award is well-deserved, and on behalf of the Sacramento trial judges, it is my pleasure to extend my heartfelt congratulations.” So says one, so say they all.
Accumulated wisdom is perhaps our greatest but least used treasure. We can find it in the senior members of our profession, who posses a wealth of knowledge. In a fast-paced, present-oriented society, the profession as a whole loses when we fail to take advantage of their insight and guidance. This lesson takes on added meaning when one sits down to talk to Sherman C. Wilke, one this area’s most seasoned veterans.
Wilke began practice in Sacramento in 1937 after graduating from Hastings. He was one of five attorneys admitted to practice in Sacramento that year. Others included Frank Bottaro, Albert Mundt and William White. Bottaro is still in Sacramento and both Mundt and White later served with distinction as Superior Court judges. Wilke was one of several Sacramentan’s who were beneficiaries of a scholarship fund administered by Judge Shields. After graduation he returned to Sacramento and worked for Judge Shields as an unpaid law clerk while looking for a job.
Finding a job was difficult at that time. The Depression was still on and, recalls Wilke, “there were no relatives in my family who were lawyers…I didn’t even know any lawyers and I was concerned about how I could get a job.” Upon Judge Shields’ recommendation, he entered into an association with Sacramento attorney Ralph Lewis, father of noted family lawyer, Jerome Lewis of Lewis & Zilaff. His salary was $75 per month plus whatever he earned from his own business, which was nothing. Lewis was an excellent teacher. “He was a sharp lawyer and I think that I was very, very lucky to have him hire me,” Wilke said.
Lewis was a meticulous pleader and insisted that Wilke also become one as well. At the end of the first year, Lewis gave him a raise to $100 per month. Their relationship continued until World War II when Wilke “saw the handwriting on the wall” and was drafted under the Volunteer Officers Candidate Program.
After the completion of the training he was sent to Noumea, New Caledonia, a French colony, in the South Pacific. One or two months later, at the tail end of the Munda campaign in the central Solomon Islands he was stationed in the G-2 unit of the Headquarters Company on the Munda Island. After 18 months in the South Pacific, Wilke entered a JAG officer-training program at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. During his four months there he was only able to see his wife, Betty, for two weekends. He still found it to be marked improvement upon the Solomons.
Graduating first in his class, he was commissioned as a first lieutenant and was assigned to Ft. Douglas in Utah, where he remained until the end of the war. Upon the arrival, he was delighted to learn that the commanding officer was Sacramento attorney Albert Sheets, whom he had known well in Sacramento. While at Ft. Douglas, Wilke was joined by his wife and son, Jim. Upon his return to Sacramento, Wilke resumed his association with Ralph Lewis. After several years Grover Bedeau, a frequent opponent, offered him an association with the firm of Henry & Bedeau.
Wilke began with Henry & Bedeau by occupying a chair in the library at their office in the Capitol National Bank building at 7th & J streets. He received one-third of the fees collected from any of the cases in which he worked and could keep all the fees from any of his own clients. Unfortunately, few of Wilke’s clients paid. He recalls that both Henry or Bedeau would call him into their offices and tell him that they were giving him one of their clients, whom he could count as his own. Wilke also was told not to tell the other partner that the client had come from the referring partner. This largess allowed Wilke to survive financially in the early years. In the late 1940’s, Bedeau was appointed as a judge and Henry bought out his practice. Soon after, Henry was also appointed to the bench and offered to sell his practice to Wilke if he could find a suitable partner. Henry told him that he needed a personable partner who would balance the personalities and abilities of the two members of the new partnership. Upon Henry’s recommendation, Wilke approached Gordon A. Fleury, who was two years younger and who had worked in the District Attorney’s office and in Nelson French’s law office. They then founded the law firm Wilke & Fleury.
Although Wilke is now 79, he keeps a busy schedule. He still sees clients and works almost every day on a reduced schedule. He remains a zealous golfer and fisherman. Wilke also continues a routine of two annual month long vacations and annual fishing trips to Sierra City and the Klamath River. He also enjoys activities with the families of his son, Jim, and daughters Chris and Jean. Over the course of his career, Wilke has known many well-known Sacramento attorneys. He was a childhood friend of Jack Downey and they learned to play tennis together from their fifth grade teacher at David Lubin School. Judge William White was the best man in his wedding. Grover Bedeau and Wilke occasionally fished with Otto Rohwer at South Lake Tahoe for Mackinaw trout. Wilke met Paul Peek, former Speaker of the Assembly, Secretary of State, Justice of the Third District Court of Appeal and Associate Justice of the California Supreme Court, when both had sons in the Boy Scouts. Upon Peek’s retirement from the court, he practiced with Wilke at Wilke & Fleury. In the later years Wilke did battle with legendary Sacramento trial attorney, David Rust.
Wilke has seen many significant changes in the practice of law in Sacramento since he started in 1937. The experience of starting as a new attorney is much different now. Not only are there many more attorneys in town, but employment arrangements have changed dramatically. The size of the firms was much smaller. “Downey, Brand & Seymour was probably the biggest law firm, along with Deipenbrock. Those were the two big firms that were here when I started practicing.” “They each had about five lawyers,” Wilke recalls. Salaried associates were not common. Most attorneys started practice with office-sharing arrangements with one or two more experienced attorneys. The nature of the practice was also quite different, Wilke said. Offices were routinely open to the public and fully staffed from 8 a.m. to 6:30 or 7 p.m., and were fully staffed on Saturdays until 3 or 4 p.m. There was also no established public defender program. Instead, all of the new attorneys served on a panel for two or three years and handled indigent criminal defense cases. Payments were to be obtained by taking promissory notes from the clients, but few ever collected on them.
The system did have some benefit for new lawyers. According to Wilke, “You learned how to try a jury case. I would be assigned four or five of these a month. I would probably try a half dozen cases a year. It was good experience, but you didn’t make any money.”
Relations between attorneys have also changed, according to Wilke, He does not pretend that personal relationships among attorneys were always idyllic, but believes that there has been an erosion of trust. Until the last 20 or 30 years there was very little formal discovery in most cases. Instead attorneys would call or visit each other about a week or so before trial to discuss the insurance limit and the nature of each other’s cases. Most attorneys were candid in this exchange and, until about 20 years ago, most attorneys concluded their agreements by handshake rather than by confirming letter, said Wilke.
Wilke notes that he has also seen a significant change in client relations. Clients were generally much less adapt to switch attorneys until the mid-to-late 1960’s. Wilke observes: “I don’t feel that it is not as much fun to be a lawyer as it was 25 years ago. Today you have to watch over your shoulder because some of your clients think, in the back of their minds, about the possibility of suing you for malpractice if you don’t please them. We don’t worry about people that we have known for 25 or 30 years-it’s the new ones. You don’t have to treat them differently than you used to. You have to think about your own rear end. That makes lawyering today not as satisfying as it used to be. I’m sure the doctors feel the same way.”
The attorney-client trust was also reflected in billing practices. The common format was a simple statement with the notation “For Services Rendered” and a dollar amount. Hourly billings were the exception. Lawyers billed most files by reference to the value of the result to the client. In short, if you don’t do much to help the client, you didn’t bill very much. If your result was very beneficial you would build in a bonus.
Wilke believes that the change in billing practices has further eroded attorney-client relations. “I think the clients now feel, and I think with some justice, that all lawyers care about is to keep track of their hours and they don’t give a damn whether they win or lose,” Wilke said.
Wilke is pleased to see a trend beginning towards a return to the value-based system. “I feel that the clients don’t like the time billing anymore. I think there is a trend in the other direction. (S)ome of the insurance companies who thought that system of time slips was great have learned that it is not all that great,” Wilke said.
Despite these changes, Wilke still sees many universals that apply as well today as they did 56 years ago when he began practice. Mr. Lewis’ lesson of precision in pleading, and consequently knowing your case well when you begin, still applies. Wilke also believes that when you get a new case, you should generate client confidence by doing something tangible right away. “Don’t sit around and do nothing,” Wilke said. “Do something even if it’s wrong.” That’s a little bit of philosophy I learned from Ralph Lewis.”
Finally, Wilke believes that you should nurture that confidence by regularly communicating with the client. “Keep them aware by copying them with letters and things that you send out,” suggests Wilke. “It keeps them abreast and they can see exactly what you are doing. Don’t wait for six months to tell your client the status.”
These lessons are timeless. Many more are available to us if we only take advantage of our resources and continue to learn from the senior members of our profession.
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