California Lawyer


February 2014

The Write Stuff
My thanks to Laura Wytsma for her excellent article on legal writing ["First Impressions Matter," Legal Ease, November 2013]. Having read thousands of briefs and motions during my tenure on the bench and as a private mediator and arbitrator, I can attest to the wisdom of direct, short, and well-crafted briefs. Oh, and the term brief should be understood to mean just that! Alan Buckner, a former Los Angeles Superior Court judge, used to have a sign on his desk in chambers that read "Be brief, be direct, be gone." Good advice for both oral and written presentations. Most judges actually do read what is submitted to them, so help yourself by helping the judge both enjoy and understand your argument - and respect his or her time and effort.
Joe Hilberman, Los Angeles

Laura Wytsma has identified a number of points that are keen and insightful. I seldom remembered any brief submitted with a case if it did not break with the norm. I do not suggest that they write a page-turner novel, but an innovative presentation does win points and stays with the reader longer. It does not have to be another dull and boring document.
Gilbert T. Gembacz, La Canada

Bad Energy
I read with interest the November 2013 cover story on hydraulic fracturing ["All Fracked Up"], and the Roundtable on Energy. I was dismayed, however, by how quickly we seem to have forgotten (or have chosen to recast) the most important lesson of the California energy crisis: It is always contrary to the public interest to leave a handful of corporations in control of unregulated markets for essential public goods and services.

During the energy crisis, I was the chief investigator for the state Senate select committee to investigate price manipulation of the wholesale energy market, which was chaired by state Senator Joe Dunn, who now serves as the executive director of the State Bar. Through the auspices of the Legislature's rarely used investigatory powers, the committee uncovered evidence of widespread market manipulation and abuse, including the infamous Enron "Death Star" memo.

It is more than mere "popular perception" that California consumers were taken advantage of by scheming marketeers. It is a fact. Yes, there were regulatory, political, and market failures that gave rise to the possibility of an energy crisis. But these failings resulted in a crisis only because there were actors willing - eager, even - to exploit such problems. Because corporate profit trumped the public good, California was ultimately saddled with billions of dollars in overpriced, long-term energy contracts. The cost to California extends beyond the contracts; energy market starts and stops are expensive, as are the governmental investigations and private litigation that have endured for more than a decade. And the market manipulation continues. This past July, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) fined JPMorgan Chase $410 million for manipulating power markets in California from 2010 to 2012. According to FERC, JPMorgan deployed a dozen bidding "strategies" designed to increase the price of electricity.

These experiences should be seared in the collective memory of the state. And they should be guiding our energy policy today.
Christian Schreiber, Oakland

Correction: In "Dysfunction in Dependency Courts" [December 2013], the position of Sacramento County Juvenile Court Judge Jerilyn L. Borack was given incorrectly; she is not the presiding judge. California Lawyer regrets the error.

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