by Richard W. Millar, Jr.
Flower Power: A Profile of Joseph Dunn
Former Senator Joe Dunn hails (a word that is climatologically apt in this instance) from St. Paul, Minnesota. He grew up as the youngest of five boys in an Irish Catholic, union, family. His father was a stereotyper for the Union Advocate which is the official publication of the St. Paul Regional Labor Federation, AFL-CIO which, according to its website, has been published continually since 1897. Joe was the first in his family to go to college and graduated from St. Thomas College now known as the University of St. Thomas. After St. Thomas, he graduated from the University of Minnesota law with honors. He started practice with the firm of Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi in Minneapolis. One day a partner came to him and said that they needed a young associate for their office in Newport Beach, California, and asked if he would consider it. That day, Joe recalls, the temperature was –30 degrees in Minneapolis and +75 degrees in Newport Beach. He quickly accepted.
At Robins, Kaplan’s Newport Beach office, he worked with, among others, the Honorable Geoffrey T. Glass who currently holds forth in Department C33 of our Superior Court. At Robins, Kaplan, he became involved in mass tort litigation and served as plaintiffs’ liaison counsel, in charge of some 350 plaintiffs’ law firms in the breast implant litigation which lasted about eight years and which he said was one of the largest mass tort cases ever. In 1996, he moved to the firm of Robinson, Calcagnie & Robinson continuing to work on product liability and complex litigation.
In addition to the breast implant litigation, he has been involved in the tobacco litigation, the UCI fertility cases, the Fen Phen lawsuits and the Shiley heart valve litigation, to mention some.
In 1998, he decided to run for State Senate which, as a democrat in Orange County, was a daunting task. He and his advisors felt that he had to do something unusual if he was going to overcome the odds against him and so the now famous “flower drop of 1998” was whelped. On the last weekend before the election, his campaign delivered some 2,500 mums to all women over 60 years old in his district. I asked him whether the recipients were aware that they had been age targeted, and he said they were not, but the only complaints the campaign received were from an assortment of husbands who were reminded, in a way only wives can remind, that they had never given them flowers. Post election results showed that this group gave Joe overwhelming support, contributing significantly to his victory.
Joe served in the State Senate until 2006, when he was termed out. He served on the Senate Judiciary Committee and was Chair of the Senate Investigation Committee of the Energy Crisis where he was dubbed by the California Lawyer Magazine as “The Man Who Cracked Enron.”
In late 2006, he became the Chief Executive Officer of the California Medical Association which represents some 35,000 doctors throughout the state.
After leaving the Medical Association, he was one of the founders of The Senators (Ret.) Firm LLP with former State Senator Martha Escutia. I can see why they put the (Ret.) for Retired after the word “Senators.” Somehow the name, the “Retired Senator’s Firm” does not have the same, shall we say, vibrancy, but I digress. The firm does not only deal in legislative and regulatory matters, as you might guess, but also complex litigation. Joe has been on leave since he took the position of Executive Director of our State Bar last December.
Joe’s oldest brother died at age 41 of a heart attack but, of his other brothers, one is in the medical device business, one is a pilot for corporate jets and one is in music support equipment business.
Joe lives with his wife, Diane, in Floral Park (maybe that is where the idea of flowers came from). He has a son, John, who is a Junior at Foothill High School High School, and a daughter, Sarah, who is a Freshman at NYU. Looking back, and I have the sense that he is not truly a retrospective fellow, Joe, is particularly proud of his efforts along with Tom Malcolm, Gary Singer, Mark Robinson, and Andy Guilford in helping to establish the new law school at U.C. Irvine.
At this point, Joe has only been on the job a few months, but trying to get a prospective peek on what may be in store under his tutelage, he has essentially demurred saying that he was, at this point, still just trying to learn the job. So I guess you could say that in as far as divulging his thoughts or agendas, he is falling back on his floral history, because it seems that,
Mum’s the word.
Judge David A. Thompson
Judge Thompson, like my late father, belongs to the “Keep Your Desk Clean Club.” As a youngster, I remember visiting my father’s office on occasion, and he had virtually nothing on his desk other than a pen and pencil set and, the earlier days, a rotary phone. Because of this, and because of my own less neat predilections, I long harbored the suspicion that he was an impostor, doing nothing more than leaving home in the morning and returning in the evening. Years later, when he and I were both much older, and he was Chairman of the Board of Northrop Corporation and his desk was just as clean, it finally occurred to me that maybe he was on to something.
Visiting Judge Thompson in his chambers recently brought those memories flooding back. There was no pen and pencil set and the phone was on the credenza, but the desk, was barren except for a computer monitor and two or three pieces of paper that he had prepared for our interview. The contrast between his desk and my own was such that I could not help but remark about it to which he replied, “A clean desk is a sign of a sick mind.” He also explained that when he was in private practice and would arrive in the morning to what I would call a “working desk,” he would feel like he was starting the day behind, so he took to cleaning his desk at night before he left to start each day fresh. (His chambers also contrast sharply with the office of one of my partners who, since he as many boxes as a Costco warehouse, we are thinking of investing in a small forklift, but I digress.)
Judge Thompson is our new Assistant Presiding Judge.
I have never been entirely clear what an Assistant Presiding Judge does, since even those of us who judge pro tem occasionally don’t even get a glimpse of that role, so I asked him. The short answer is a lot. Behind his desk are a couple of shelves of binders, lined up like three-ringed sentries, relating to the various committees with which he has to deal. There are meetings and more meetings. And, while he is still new at the job, he already possesses a mind numbing array of statistics. Did you know, for example, the Orange County Superior Court is the third largest in the state, slightly behind San Diego and the fifth largest in the country? Did you know that it has an annual budget of 225 million dollars, some 1,600 employees and 144 bench officers? Did you know that because of budget constraints, it is down some 300 employees as those lost by retirement, attrition, and otherwise have not been replaced?
Judge Thompson was born in Pasadena, but does not count as a true Pasadenian since he moved to Corona del Mar when he was six months old. At least that is what he was told; he was quick to say he didn’t remember it. His father was a doctor with an OBGYN practice in Newport Beach and Hoag Hospital, who has since retired and moved to Montana and recently celebrated his 84th birthday. Judge Thompson’s mother died a couple of years ago. He is one of seven children with two brothers and four sisters. Only one, a sister, is a lawyer.
Judge Thompson went through the Newport-Mesa school system graduating from Newport Harbor High School in 1974. “Go Sailors!”
Washington D.C. excited him and his sister was a lawyer there with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, so he applied to, and was accepted by, Georgetown from which he graduated summa cum laude in 1980. From there, he headed back west and graduated from UCLA School of Law as Order of the Coif in 1983.
He got in at the creation, so to speak, for the start of Division 3 of the Court of Appeal and clerked for then newly minted Justice Wallin. He then went to work for Rutan & Tucker in the litigation department. Although I am not sure we met at that time, it turns out the both of us were involved with different pieces of litigation related to the FDIC’s closure of Heritage Bank.
In 1988, he moved to Morrison & Foerster with a real estate and transactional practice.
In 1991, with what he refers to as a “nudge from law enforcement,” (a DUI arrest), he realized that he was hanging on by a thread to a job, career, and marriage until with anonymous help he received the “gift of sobriety.” He has not had a drink since.
He was appointed to the municipal court in 1997 and was elevated about a year later through unification. In addition to a three year stint in West Court, he was on the Drug Court for about a year, on the civil panel for about six years and the felony panel for about three years. He estimates that he has tried between 65–75 civil trials and 75–80 criminal trials.
As Assistant Presiding Judge, there is no time for trials, and the most pressing problem facing the court is money. In an effort to deal with this era of shrinking budgets, we can expect an increasing emphasis on technology such as expanded e-filing. He is hoping to avoid the chaotic effect of furloughs which impacted the court far more than just the one day of closure.
While we were reminiscing about various court experiences, he mentioned that while a relatively new lawyer, a judge had floated a particular idea and asked counsel to respond. He started with, “Only an idiot would . . .” when the judge interrupted him saying, “Mr. Thompson, there are a number of ways to address the court, but that is not one of them.” He was later called into chambers for what he was sure was going to be a “spanking,” but the judge simply said that each had said what they had to say and it was now over.
Judge Thompson and his wife, Pamela, have two children, a son, Royce, age 7 and a daughter, Patricia, age 10. I hope that neither of them say to their father, “Dad, only an idiot would. . . .”
Mr. Millar is a member of the firm of Millar, Hodges & Bemis in Newport Beach. He can be reached at email@example.com.