“Oh my gosh, what are you going to write about every month?!” Those were the words my sister chose to congratulate me when I announced to her that I had accepted the nomination to serve as Secretary/Treasurer of the Ventura County Bar Association and would, a couple of years after that, serve as President. I must admit, that wasn’t the first thing that occurred to me when I was approached about being President, but as I thought about, I discovered that the prospect didn’t panic me near as much as the tone of my sister’s voice suggested.
The way I see it, when it comes to this monthly column, there are some automatics. The first (nice to meet you, how are you doing, here’s all about me), the last (thanks to everyone for making my job as President so effortless, couldn’t have done it without you), the milestone events that should be properly recognized (Law Day 5K, the Annual Dinner, my birthday), and the occasional month, bound to happen over the summer, where I will ask someone who, much like me, can’t easily say no (“Hey, I’ve had this great idea for my column next month, and thought you might like to be the guest columnist!!)
Not to mention the wealth of examples I have to follow – a plethora of columns from former Bar presidents. The topics of monthly columns are as diverse as the people who have held this office over the years. Over my memory, our past presidents have delighted and informed us with stories
of their travels, their love for cars and wine, their well-deserved and hard-fought legal victories, news and topics of the day, and a varied assortment of tidbits, cheerleading and musings, along with an occasional soapbox moment or two. This column is also one of the best venues to highlight the many volunteer opportunities available to us to serve our community, and those who have selflessly donated their time and talents to countless non-profit organizations.
Your immediate past president has set the bar very high, and has produced columns that have been among some of the most varied, entertaining and well-written I have seen over the years. Readers, I feel an obligation to tell you right up front, in my very first column, that if you expect my columns to read like those of Tony Strauss, you will be sorely disappointed. On the upside, you shouldn’t need to keep a thesaurus next to you when you read mine.
So, my first column–one of the automatics.
I am virtually a Ventura County native, having moved to Camarillo when I was 7 years old. Many of you who have practiced law in the county for a long time will remember my parents, Phil and Grace Cohen, who practiced law together in Camarillo. Law wasn’t the immediate career choice for either of my parents. My father, born in England, was a musician. After serving in the Royal Air Force in World War II, he played clarinet and saxophone for big bands, and traveled the country. My mother met him in post-war London, where she was working for the American embassy. When they met, my father was the owner of a nightclub, playing host to a variety of friends, family and musicians. Playing host was a talent both my parents had in spades, and which they enjoyed throughout their lives – those among you of a particular age will remember their annual Christmas parties at our house, at which they welcomed a large variety of friends – lawyers, judges and other professionals, along with loads of
friends, not only of theirs, but also of my sister and me. Those parties are no doubt remembered fondly by many.
After my parents married and moved to Southern California, my father worked during the day and attended law school in the evening. My mother worked as a legal secretary, and by the mid-1960s they had two children, my older sister, Melissa, and me. My father began practicing law in Ventura County in the early 1960s as part of the County Counsel’s office which, at the time, was newly formed, having been spun-off from the District Attorney’s office. Shortly after we moved to the county, my dad opened his own practice in Camarillo, and my mom was his secreta – er, well, OK, she ran the office. After many years of working next to attorneys in what was a hugely male-dominated profession, my mother decided to go to law school herself. She would tell us that she decided to become a lawyer because she thought she “could do as good a job as any of the men.” She was right. She worked with my dad during the day, attended Ventura College of Law at night, and after she got admitted to practice, “Cohen and Cohen, A Law Corporation” was born.
My parents built up a successful law practice together in Camarillo. My mother specialized in family law, but also did a fair amount of estate planning and probate; my father had a general civil practice, and in later years did work in the federal courts. As kids, my sister and I would hang out in the office, and my first job was emptying the trash cans after school and before whatever activity I was on my way to. In addition to their busy law practice, my parents were always involved in any number of civic organizations – the Rotary Club, the Boys & Girls Club, Casa Pacifica – as well as bar activities.
My mother served as one of the first (if not the very first) Presidents of the Family
Law Bar Association, and my father made at least one well-intentioned, although ultimately unsuccessful, effort to launch a Camarillo Bar Association in the 1980s. The fulfillment they got out of practicing law, and out of their many community and bar activities, no doubt has inspired me to also get involved, though I did not realize it as I was growing up. I suspect that you will hear more about Grace and Phil from me during this year.
My parents practiced together until my father’s death in 1989, but Cohen and Cohen carried on in the family tradition. Shortly after my father’s death, my sister and brother-in-law decided to re-locate back to Ventura County, and my brother- in-law, Tom Milhaupt, joined my mom in her practice. After I graduated from law school, I became the third attorney with the firm. We all worked together for a few years until Tom decided to open his own practice, and my mother began to ease into retirement and grandma duties. Tom and Melissa each practiced with different firms in the county until 2004, when they formed Milhaupt & Cohen in Camarillo. (You can call it childish, but I can’t ever resist an opportunity to remind my sister that, in practicing law with her husband, she has now fulfilled one of life’s most terrifying yet apparently unavoidable realities – she has become her mother!) My sister will likely enter my column from time to time over the year, as well.
When Grace completely retired in 1998, I took over the practice, and was a sole practitioner for about 5 years, until Bart Bleuel approached me and asked if I would be interested in joining up with Arnold Bleuel LaRochelle Mathews & Zirbel, or A-Z. I was wary at first, since my only experience in practicing law had been as a sole practitioner, and I had no real idea what joining “the firm” would be like. Needless to say, none of my fears were realized, and I have the great joy of being partners and practicing law with some of the finest people, and most skilled lawyers, that I have ever known. It’s a safe bet that you might hear a bit about my firm and my partners during my year as president, too.
In my early years of practice, I did what was given to me – estate planning, probate and some family law. I soon realized I didn’t have the constitution for a domestic practice, and over the years have become solidly specialized in all disciplines of estate planning and elder law: estate planning, probate and trust administration, Medi-Cal planning and, my ‘super’ specialty, conservatorships. If you’ve never been in the probate department before, there’s a good chance you don’t know me, since it’s just about the only courtroom I have entered over the last 12 years or so.
I thoroughly enjoy the practice of law, and working with my colleagues in the probate bar, as well as those I have had the pleasure to meet in various bar activities. We are so fortunate to be able to practice in Ventura County, and to have so many dedicated people who devote their spare time to make our Bar vibrant and productive. You will absolutely hear more about some of those people during the year.
So, that’s who I am. Why am I here and what do I hope to accomplish? Hey, I have 11 more of these things to write, you’ll have to just wait and see.