The Risks of the ’90s
Like thrill-seeking vacationers on the Matterhorn at Disneyland, Orange County citizens rode the ups and downs of entrepreneurial ventures in the ’90s. The high-risk approach to business fueled the development of the local economy and created abundant job opportunities for all of those with the talent to meet the high-tech demands of Internet-related business. However, despite these substantial benefits to the community, this high-risk approach would also find its way into the very management of Orange County and ultimately end in financial disaster. On December 6, 1994, Orange County filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy after the 170-member municipal investment pool sustained 1.7 billion dollars in losses.
Entering the ’90s, Orange County was immediately faced with the challenge of facilitating the massive growth of local computer and Internet-related businesses. In less than 10 years, the Internet had become a hotbed of economic opportunity for entrepreneurs across the country. Orange County had emerged as a prime destination for these folks to turn their Internet inspired ideas into fast-paced “dot com” corporations. In addition to these new businesses, established industries such as the auto manufacturers, were expanding their nerve centers into Orange County in an effort to funnel their competitive energies into one of the largest markets in the world.
With this massive economic and business growth, came the challenge to the Orange County legal community to meet the specific needs of new high-risk Internet-based ventures and the traditional demands of the large established businesses. In response to the growth, many small boutique law firms were created to assist the aggressive and creative individuals seeking protection for their intellectual property, and guidance for their fast-growing businesses. Also, medium-sized and large firms began hiring more lawyers to meet the needs associated with the newly forming areas of law.
Hugh and Walt: “Protect Our Good Name”
Copyright and trademark protection, an essential survival tool for any business with a well-established identity in a given industry, became hot topics for OCBA members. Two controversies, involving very different companies but with similar interests, found their way into Orange County courtrooms in the ’90s. In Playboy Enterprises v. Netscape Communications, the plaintiff objected to the use of its name in the defendant’s search engine. In Walt Disney Productions v. Filmation Associates, the plaintiff objected to the defendants’ creation of similar animated characters. In both cases the plaintiff sought to protect its trademark, however, only Disney left the courthouse vindicated.
As is well known, Orange County has had a long history with the Walt Disney Company. In the ’50s, Walt Disney turned orange groves outside of Anaheim into his “magical little theme park,” Disneyland. Walt Disney Productions found itself in the Orange County Federal District Court defending its copyrighted “animated characters.” The defendant, Filmation Associates, argued that the characters used in its advertisements were not substantially similar to Disney’s and that Disney must demonstrate actual diversion of sales. The court disagreed with Filmation, ruling that Disney must merely demonstrate that the copyrighted work is permanently cast in some intelligible form, such as a movie reel. Although the decision did not forge new legal ground, it did, however, emphasize the vital importance of the courts in protecting the interests of well-established corporations such as Disney.
In Playboy v. Netscape, one legal parameter was established relating to new technology. One of the industries that benefited most by the Internet’s ease of mass communication and by the consumer’s sense of “privacy” associated with home Internet use, was the “adult content” industry. In the Playboy case, the Orange County Federal District Court found that Netscape’s use of the words “playboy” and “playmate” in their search engines did not equate to commercial exploitation of Playboy’s trademark. The court also decided that Netscape’s use of the words did not blur, tarnish or dilute Playboy’s trademark and that there was no evidence that consumers would confuse Playboy’s products with Netscape’s products. The victory for Netscape added a layer of detail to Internet trademark law, and demonstrated to attorneys and clients, alike, some of the dangers that exist within Internet commerce.
The More We Change the More We Stay the Same
Bar President Jennifer King, of 1990, heralded the decade in her first President’s Page with “Welcome to the Nineties Boys!” After 90 years, the OCBA finally had a female President. King stressed that “professional” should be a term that could be applied to every attorney practicing law.
Andy Guilford, 1991 President, called upon the OCBA and its members to “celebrate our diversity and differences while simultaneously working for our common goals.” He wrote in his first President’s Page that, to be a truly great bar association, “we must work for others as we work for ourselves.”
Each OCBA President who came before and after, reached out to our members with words and messages that reflect the OCBA Mission Statement, “to enhance the system of justice, to support the lawyers who serve it, and to assist the community served by it.”
In January 1991, OCBA members were encouraged to review the provisions of the Soldiers and Sailor’s Civil Relief Act of 1940, much as our members had done at the start of WWII. Thousands of active and reserve service members were preparing for duty in the seas and sands of the Persian Gulf. Many of the men and women had hurriedly boarded planes and ships leaving behind not only family and friends but also, a host of civil obligations.
The Act gives certain protections to these service members and their dependants and imposes some restrictions on their creditors as well. It seems that, once again, the legal community will need to be up to speed in this area so that we may best serve the service members of the Orange County community.
Always looking for ways to assist its members in their business of the practice of law, the OCBA was approved by the State Bar of California in 1991 as one of the very first qualified MCLE Providers under Section 9 of the MCLE Rules and Regulations. Participatory credit was to begin September 1, 1991. As of February 1, 1992, all active members of the State Bar would be divided into three different “Compliance Groups” designated by the first letter of the last name.
Years later, we witnessed the murky mingling of the branches of our government as the State Bar was forced to disassemble and claw its way back to relevance. Andy Guilford, as State Bar President, along with many of our OCBA members who were very active at the State Bar level, helped to find some sort of sanity in the myriad of issues that surfaced in the late ’90s.
The 1990s saw our large law firms continue to grow at extraordinary speed. However, the future for minority partners looked very dim, indeed. An article in California Law Business in 1991 listed the 20 largest Orange County law firms and broke down the number of minorities these firms had as associates, partners and “other.” Not a single firm had a minority as a partner and only 12 out of 20 had minority associates. Out of 881 attorneys in these firms, there were 24 minorities as associates.
We know that the Bar, law schools, lawyers and law firms have a great deal to gain as a result of actively pursuing an increased presence of minority attorneys here in Orange County, a county that is so very rich in diverse cultures and people. Firms gain the opportunity to expand their clientele and areas of practice. This, in turn, expands the firm’s sense of cultural sensitivity. Based on what demographers predict about the changing population of Orange County, and California, the law schools and firms need to ensure adequate preparation for this radical change in order that we, as attorneys, might better serve the Orange County community that sustains us.
The decade saw OCBA programs, committees and task forces doing extraordinary things for Orange County citizens. The OCBA was honored with many awards and acclamations for these efforts. Most important, the legal community closed out the decade and met the new millennium with the same dedication, spirit and leadership that it had way back in November 1901, when 10 attorneys met in the Orange County Courthouse and formed the OCBA.
A New Courthouse
The Ronald Reagan Federal Building and United States Courthouse, (which appears on the cover of the November issue of O.C. Lawyer,) dominates the Santa Ana skyline. The 11 story structure sits on a 3.9 acre block of land and is approximately 347,000 square feet. Each floor is twice the ceiling height of similar buildings, giving the courtrooms a unique look and feel and a stature befitting their role in the American justice system.
The groundbreaking celebration took place in 1994. Finally, in December of 1998, the Orange County Bar Association hosted a gala reception to celebrate the opening of the long awaited permanent home for the federal court in Orange County.
Danni Murphy is a senior attorney with the Orange County Public Defender.