By Tom Adams
After a process nearly as long and contentious as negotiating the federal debt ceiling increase, Barristers of Ventura County has concluded its bar-wide logo contest. As announced in last month’s “Exec’s Dot… Dot… Dot…” the winner by a clear majority was the Bar Association’s own administrative assistant, Celene Valenzuela. I had a chance to sit down with Celene and discuss what she does when she’s not fixing our logos.
At the same desk she’s been at for the last five years, Celene is our go-to for all things related to the Bar — many of us know her work without knowing her. Perhaps we have received emails from her as email@example.com; or seen the photos, CITATIONS articles, and announcements she posts on the Bar website. She also acts as the reservation desk, membership coordinator, MCLE coordinator, and CITATIONS advertising contact. On top of all of this, she handles all other forms of event coordination for committee meetings, MCLE events, and our Bar’s annual events, such as the Law Day 5K and the annual VCBA dinner. The public knows her as the first contact for the bar’s pro bono program and Lawyer Referral Information Service.
Each of these programs is dear to her heart, and she loves the interaction both with the public and with our membership. But she is especially proud of the pro bono program.
Celene spends the better part of each day (after helping Steve practice his Spanish) reviewing e-mail requests from the public for help with their legal problems. “It’s sad because we don’t have enough resources to help them all,” she says. Clients seeking help also sometimes just walk right in to the bar office, although calls or emails are preferred. “Alex [client relations manager Alejandra Varela-Guerra] and I do what we can to determine their legal situation. If they can go to a legal clinic for help, we send them there.” Otherwise, they do an intake to determine whether the potential client meets the state poverty requirements, or otherwise qualifies for government assistance. Unfortunately, even if they qualify, there is no guarantee that they will get free assistance. “We have a huge load of clients who need assistance but not a lot of attorneys who volunteer.”
Even if no active attorney is available, the pro bono Department will have the clients speak with one of the retired attorneys. And, if there is a hearing coming up, the retired attorneys can help by instructing them how to get a continuance while they seek further counsel. The pro bono program does not service criminal cases, plaintiff cases, support issues, or cases for clients who otherwise do not qualify. Those cases are referred out through the LRIS program.
Although the pro bono program has many retired attorney volunteers, there is a real need for more volunteer active attorneys. Celene encourages everyone to sign up for either LRIS or the Bar’s pro bono program (or both) by calling her directly, but she has also provided the information and sign-up forms on the Bar’s website at www.vcba.org.
You also may contact Celene if you are interested in doing an MCLE program. The Bar sections do these regularly; you probably have attended one from the Probate and Estate Planning, Business Litigation, VCTLA, or IP sections. But law firms often set up their own programs for MCLE credit. If you are interested in doing a program, simply contact her and send in the materials you intend to use. Celene will help with registration and reservations. Bar members who wish to put on programs at the Bar office may use the Ventura College of Law classrooms for free. Similarly, if you attended an MCLE through the Bar, but forgot to sign up for credit or lost your certificate, Celene can make sure you get credit.
You also may have seen Celene’s recent work as the designer of the fundraising postcard for the pro-bono program. Celene is assisting Jonathan Light and Joe Strohman to coordinate the fundraiser. Members who pledge to make a tax-deductable donation will get their name in an ad in CITATIONS and a lovely thank you letter from the Bar.
As the content administrator for the Bar’s website/blog, Celene makes sure that all of the information is up to date. She uploads the slideshows (check it out this month for pictures from the Barristers’ Bowling Night), uploads articles from CITATIONS, and she even set up an RSS feed. “People can register by clicking on the homesite, entering their e-mail address and clicking ‘Go.’” Then, whenever there is a blog update, members can get information right in their email.
Celene grew up in Oxnard after moving here from Mexico with her family when she was just three years old. Understandably, she doesn’t remember much of her life before Oxnard, but her love for her new hometown is almost palpable. Celene regularly attends City Council meetings, works with non profits, and has canvassed and organized campaigns for local politicians. She helped two current City Council members win their current seats and, at just 24, was one of the principal administrators and organizers of a mayoral electoral campaign.
Now 27, with a B.A. in Business Administration, the University of LaVerne graduate is active beyond the political forum as well. She plans to return to school for a Masters in Public Policy at CLU next year. In the meantime, like all of us, she takes time to enjoy life outside of work. Living with her parents and her three dogs (Bubbles, Mercedes, and Katherine), she often cooks when the whole family comes over on weekends. Although already bilingual, she’s working on learning French and Chinese. And she and her fiancé are studying dance — having learned the Tango, they are moving on to the Rhumba and the Cha Cha. When asked about her wedding coming up on December 10th, she said “there will be dancing at the reception for sure.”
Tom Adams practices consumer law and business litigation in Ventura.