February 2016 - “But I Digress:” Orange County Lawyer Columnist Lauded as Gold Standard of Professionalism and Civility and Terrific Lawyer

by Stuart Jasper

Dick Millar is a modest man with a dry wit. When Wayne Gross notified Dick that the OCBA had selected him to receive the Franklin G. West Award, Dick posted the news on Facebook and said he had to pinch himself to determine “is it real or is it Memorex?” Later, when the OCBA formally announced Dick’s selection for the lifetime achievement award, Dick emailed: “I guess it is real after all.”

Dick has been a trial lawyer for over forty-eight years, doing business, real estate, and construction litigation. He has been practicing law in Orange County since 1971. At that time, the OCBA met at the Saddleback Inn in Santa Ana, there was no Westin Hotel (it opened in 1979), and lima beans grew where the performing arts center is now.

Dick’s career dovetails with the increase in size and sophistication of the OCBA and the county’s legal community. Dick has been a leader in the OCBA, in the American Bar Association as a representative of the OCBA, in Western State University College of Law, in the Peter M. Elliott Inn of Court, and as a temporary superior court judge. From 1999 to 2001, Dick ascended the OCBA ladder, culminating in his service as president in 2002. He served as the president of the Peter M. Elliott Inn of Court in 2012 to 2013.

Dick’s service to the OCBA has encompassed the entirety of his four decades of law practice in Orange County. He is as active now as when he began practicing here. At the outset of his career in Orange County, in the 1970s, Dick was a founding member of the Business Litigation Section and, in 1981, served as its chair. Thirty years later, in 2010, when the OCBA was looking for a new building, Dick was on the Facilities Task Force and helped lay the foundation for the Board of Directors to decide to purchase the Westerly Place headquarters building. In the 1980s, Dick chaired the prestigious Judiciary Committee for three consecutive terms. Two to three decades later, in 2010, Dick chaired the Judiciary Committee yet again.

Currently Dick sits on the Board of Directors of the OCBA Masters Division and chairs the Division’s PR/Website Committee. He is a member of Western State University College of Law’s Board of Advisors (and has so served since 2004). In 2008 Western State awarded Dick an honorary J.D. As recently as September 2015 Western State honored Dick for helping it secure a new location.

In the same month, Dick put together a program for the Masters Division on a lawyer’s attempt to reclaim from Austria on behalf of his client a painting stolen by the Nazis (Gustav Klimt’s portrait, “Woman in Gold”), wrote a related article for this publication, and still managed to write his monthly column, “Millar’s Jurisdiction.” Dick has contributed more than 150 articles to Orange County Lawyer.

As one might expect for the recipient of a lifetime achievement award, Dick’s service to the bar and the legal community spans decades. But the story is not in the numbers alone.

Both judges and lawyers submitted letters to the OCBA in support of his nomination. The letters, some of which are excerpted below, are replete with praise rarely dispensed while the recipient is alive. Two justices of the Court of Appeal, Presiding Justice Kathleen E. O’Leary and Justice Raymond J. Ikola, among others, discern a common thread of civility, ethics, and old-school professionalism in Dick’s performance as a lawyer. Justice O’Leary states: “Dick epitomizes the best of the legal profession.” She adds: “Dick’s involvement in the Orange County legal community is legendary.”

The PJ has personal knowledge of a little known fact about Dick. “On behalf of the American Bar Association, Dick joins this court twice a year when we swear in the new admittees to the California State Bar. His remarks always promote the highest ideals in our profession and are well received by all the new lawyers. It is very clear,” Justice O’Leary states, that “Dick cares deeply about the legal profession. I believe he is an outstanding attorney whose lifetime achievements have advanced justice and the law. ... Dick,” she concludes, would be “the perfect recipient for the Franklin G. West Award.”

Justice Raymond Ikola has known Dick “for well over thirty-five years (I’d prefer not having to count the actual number) as a one-time adversary in the trial court, as a colleague on bar association committees and sections, and as a lawyer appearing before me in both the Superior and Appellate Courts.” Justice Ikola states: “Dick is, and always has been, the gold standard model of professionalism and civility, and a terrific lawyer.”

Calling Dick’s work “tireless,” Justice Ikola writes: “I would be hard pressed to identify anyone who has given persistently greater service to the bar for so many years.”

Using a variety of figures of speech, lawyers and judges alike champion his selection for the Award. Judge Kim R. Hubbard calls him “an attorney of the old school. A consummate professional he is able to advocate vigorously for his client while remaining respectful and courteous of both the court and opposing counsel.” Judge Kirk H. Nakamura calls Dick “a highly competent trial attorney with the highest ethics.” Judge Franz E. Miller comments: “he is an excellent lawyer and a paragon of civility. He should be Exhibit A in every professional responsibility class in our law schools.” John R. Schilling writes: “He is honest and good to his word. He has great knowledge of the law and works tirelessly on behalf of his clients. He is kindhearted and good natured. I frankly cannot think of a better choice for this prestigious award.”

Edmond M. Connor states that Dick “is one of the ‘old school’ lawyers who handles all of his cases in a very professional, courteous, and honorable fashion, without the need for any bombast or bluster. I can’t imagine that Dick has any enemies or detractors in the bar, only friends and admirers.” Judge James A. Stotler calls him “a very talented lawyer and a man of impeccable ethics.” Judge Robert J. Polis (Ret.), John A. Bergen, and Michael J. Fitzgerald make similar comments.

For more than twenty-five years Dick has served with distinction as our delegate to the American Bar Association House of Delegates. Don W. Martens writes that in his capacity as chair of the ABA’s Intellectual Property Law Section, he has “attended many meetings of the HOD, and observed how well Dick represents the OCBA. He is well respected by the other delegates and deservedly so ... He stands for all of the good things that the West Award is designed to recognize.”

Robert A. Merring cuts to the chase: “If I were to encapsulate Dick in a single word, it would be a ‘gentleman.’ He is a most accomplished advocate but unfailingly courteous to opposing counsel and the court. He always greets fellow lawyers with a smile on his face.” He adds: “Dick truly cares about the legal community in general but also about individual lawyers whom he perceives as being clueless as to a point of law or otherwise appear to be troubled. He never ‘doesn’t have the time’ to offer his learned advice or a sympathetic ear.”

There is a chorus of praise for Dick’s column, which usually is about anomalies in the administration of justice. Thomas R. Malcolm writes: “I love his sense of humor.” Ted Wallace and Cliff Frieden join in the praise.

One lawyer estimates that Dick has donated hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of service as a temporary judge of the Superior Court. In this capacity Dick has settled innumerable cases over the years, helping to cut the court’s inventory of cases set for trial.

John Hurlbut has known Dick for more than forty years. John calls Dick an excellent lawyer who is of “high character, professional, community oriented, collaborative, and a pillar of the bar who has given a lifetime of service to the profession and to the community.”

Justice Ikola sums up his feelings as follows: “For many years I have wondered to myself, ‘Why didn’t Dick Millar get the West Award this year?’ I don’t know the answer. But I do know it is long overdue.”

Dick and Nancy, married almost fifty-seven years, have three children and six grandchildren (ages fourteen to twenty-seven).

Stuart Jasper, who received the Scoville Award in 2004, is Of Counsel to KBY and can be reached at sjasper@kbylaw.com.

Persons mentioned in this article who won the West Award are Presiding Justice O’Leary (2005), Don Martens (1987), Tom Malcolm (2001), and John Hurlbut (2013). Former OCBA presidents mentioned in this article are Don Martens (1975), Tom Malcolm (1992), Judge Miller (1997), Ed Connor (1998), and Judge Hubbard (2004). John Hurlbut also won the Harmon G. Scoville Award in 2003.