South Napa Earthquake Photos (Remediation – “Crisis Suite” Established)

Within one business day of the quake, the office’s basic functionality has been restored. An aftershock-resistant “Crisis Suite” has been established, and all files, data, etc. remain secured and solid.

The Law Office Mascot (“Ramboar”) which I made in middle school – circa 1990 – not only survived: he maintained his defensive position without falling back.

Pics of the Earthquake Remediation efforts, and securing of the Crisis Suite, are available here:

South Napa Earthquake Update (Originally Posted August 24, 2014)


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08/25/2014 UPDATE: As you may know (and many also felt), Napa was struck with a substantial earthquake (M6.0) early Sunday morning (Aug. 24, 2014). Since then, the aftershocks have remained in the ≤ 50% range of the initial quake.

On our end, we’re pleased to report that everyone is okay. There’s been some significant (and ongoing) clean-up work, but nothing life-threatening. And life – of all things – is the most important part of the entire picture (even if that picture’s frame may get somewhat shattered or battered here and there). There is a great sense of community going on now, and I think we’ve all gained some perspective (to say the least).

Moving to the new office location has been delayed pending further details. All is well (structurally).

More detailed updates (and photos) will follow shortly…


For those of us in Litigation Land, this is actually hilarious.

It’s a perfect example of what lawyers have to deal with. The crew from Upright Citizen’s Brigade took an actual certified transcript from a deposition and re-enacted it.

Without getting into the details, the witness is doing his best to avoid defining the term “photo-copier.” Bemused amusement ensues…


Legal Self Help 101: Finding the Precedent – California Cases (Originally Posted May 7, 2014)

So you took the research tips stated in the previous blog. Then you think: “I’ve got this in the bag!” But be careful. After all, the exceptions can become the rule in litigation land. And statutes may not always apply to your case. That’s why you always make sure your position is backed up by case authorities. How do you do this? By finding, researching, and citing the applicable cases.

Breakdown: How a Case Becomes Law

California’s Judicial Branch is broken down into three categories: (1) Superior Courts; (2) Courts of Appeal, and; (3) Supreme Court.

The Superior Court is the trial court. Under most all circumstances, your case is litigated in Superior Court. If the trial court did not find in your favor, you may appeal it in the appropriate Court of Appeal. If the Court of Appeal did not find in your favor, you may seek review from the Supreme Court. Except for certain matters, such as death-penalty convictions, the Supreme Court is not required to review your case. But I digress.

Superior Court (aka trial) judges follow the case-decisions published by the higher courts (Courts of Appeal and Supreme Court). Except under limited circumstances, a trial judge’s decision cannot be cited as authority. But a published Court of Appeal or Supreme Court decision can be cited as authority so long as it remains valid. This principle of adherence is known as “stare decisis.” If you want to sound fancy at a cocktail party, feel free to use this term. Just make sure to pronounce it right. Otherwise, you may get some funny looks. Phonetically, it rhymes with “scary devices.” (

Just make sure you say “stare decisis” and not “scary devices.” Otherwise, you may get looks of confusion – or intrigue – depending on the company you keep. So how do you find the appropriate scary devices? I mean, stare decisis? Once again, the internet is your friend.

Public (Free) California Case Search

Cases that have been published by the California Courts of Appeal and the Supreme Court can be found at the following website:

Just check the box stating you agree and click on “Begin Searching Options.” Hit the “CA Published Cases, Combined” radio button and search using applicable key terms. To get really fancy, you can click the “Advanced” hyperlink which is the last term below “SEARCH” in the website’s left-hand frame.

Going back to our shared-fence hypothetical from the prior post, which involved Civil Code section 841, insert the following phrase: “841 /p fenc!”

Voila! Nine cases pop up, of which five appear on-point.

The advanced search is basically a Boolean search, which can be an excellent tool. The term “841” was the statute, “/p” means “within a paragraph of” and “fenc!” means any word where the first letters are f-e-n-c. So I essentially asked the database:

“Find me all cases where the terms 841 and fence (or fencing, or fences) show up within a paragraph of one another.” If only Google had such an option…

By the way, you can also do a standard language search. Standard language search programs continue improving each year. So you don’t need to learn the advanced-search language (unless, of course, you want superior research skills).

While the California Court’s website is a bit limited (i.e. it doesn’t allow you to directly click on related cases or other reference materials), it’s an awesome tool for the price. As stated before, things are rarely free in litigation land. So leverage what you can get for free.

Paid Subscription Sites (Westlaw and Lexis)

Lawyers use pay-subscription websites, such as WestlawNext (“Westlaw”) and LexisNexis (“Lexis”). In fact, Lexis runs the above-referenced free website. But the subscription sites provide more comprehensive, and often critical, features. So if you want to spend thousands of dollars annually under a multiyear contract, feel free. But I wouldn’t recommend it. If are serious about researching your case, you may want to see if your local court offers access to Lexis or Westlaw, or look into a short-term subscription.

Incidentally, Westlaw and Lexis give law students free carte-blanche access to their databases. And as one sage law professor of mine said: “It’s for the same reason that the smack dealer always gives the first hit away for free.” While there is some truth to this, on a less cynical note, having a Westlaw or Lexis account is essential to the practice of law. And the cost is fairly reasonable given their necessity. So, if you are considering engaging a lawyer, be sure to confirm that they have this resource.


Now that you have researched the merits of your case using the research techniques described above and in the previous post, your next question is: “Should I pursue this case? And if so, should I get an attorney?” That’s for next time.

Stay tuned for the next topic: The Attorney-Client Relationship: What Kind of Lawyer Do I Need?

Legal Self Help 101: Finding the Statute – California (Initially Posted 2/11/14)


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So you have an issue. But attorneys are expensive. So you want to know: is it worth the investment? To help answer that question, you need to first research the law. And the best authority is a statute (or code) that directly relates to your matter.

But – unfortunately – even when facts are similar to prior cases, there is no “one size fits all” code section. That’s why legal research is so critical.

Below are resources that will help you better understand which laws apply to a legal dispute. Plus, they’re free! Considering how rare it is to find something free in litigation land, you should take what you can get.

Using Google and California’s Public Legislative Website

Statues are laws that the legislative members (politicians) come up with, amend, and vote on, in Sacramento. If you know which statute applies (i.e. your neighbor has his buddy fix the shared fence without telling you, and then demands $2,000.00 payment for half the repairs under ‘Civil Code section 841’) then this site is useful:

Simply check the appropriate box (here, Civil Code) and click the Search button. Scroll down until you find the numeric range where the section falls (here, 840-848). Click the appropriate link (again, 840-848), and scroll down until you find the statute.

Voila! Now you can tell your neighbor that he failed to comply with the 30-day notice provisions set forth in subdivision (b)(2) of Civil Code section 841! So, good luck on collecting that $2,000.00!

By the way, is your neighbor’s buddy a licensed contractor? If not, he can’t collect. (Bus. Prof. Code § 7031(a)). How do we know this? Google +

Even when you don’t know the exact statute, a google search can lead you to the right code section. Then you can look it up on as instructed above.

For example: google “California contractor illegal work statute” (don’t quote it in the search).

Find a link that looks like it will give you the statute (government websites usually bury their statutes for some reason). In this case, there is an article from Scroll down, and it says unlicensed contractors can’t sue under Business & Professions Code section 7031. Double-check the statute on to make sure it is still good law. Now you have an additional defense!

Leginfo – Code Search

Another way to search the leginfo website is through the following link:

Just be advised that a lot of hits may look like they apply, but they don’t. That’s why the google + combined search tends to yield better results.

Final Tips

Because laws vary in state to state, always use “California” as one of your google search terms. And always look up the code sections on leginfo to make sure the law is still current.

Next Lesson: Finding the Precedent (Cases That Help and/or Hurt)

Stay tuned!

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