Congrats on being elected as next year’s co-chair for our real property section…can you explain why you ran as a co-chair?
Yeah. Nobody, including me, wanted to chair the Section alone. Now that has nothing to do with being committed to the Real Property Section. I think it is more a function of coping with the uncertainty surrounding CLA’s move next year to Sacramento. I, for one, anticipate that the potential disruption can distract from the business of efficiently coordinating our section’s activities. Having a co-chair share the responsibilities should enable us to devote needed attention to both the Section and to any extra necessary CLA needs. Oh, and also, I have enjoyed my time on the Executive Committee and think I can pay back some of what I have received by stepping up my level of involvement.
What plans do you have for our section this year?
Most importantly, continuing the momentum of the Section holding numerous educational opportunities of all kinds in all areas of the State. Secondarily, I want to try and get a better understanding, and transparency, of the finances for the Section and the CLA.
What do you think we can do to improve what our group does for real estate attorneys across California?
Inspire Executive Committee members and other RPLS members to become and remain engaged in Section activities.
Tell me about your work with C.A.R. (California Association of Realtors)…Where is your office?
Just outside of downtown L.A., in the mid-Wilshire district, sometimes referred to as Koreatown.
What are your primary duties at C.A.R.?
Give legal advice to the Standard Forms Committee, and help draft C.A.R. standard forms; Write amicus briefs; Make public presentations on recent developments in (mostly) residential real estate to local real estate associations, real estate firms, bar associations and others; Teach continuing education courses for real estate licensees and; Oversee the legal section of the company website to name a few things.
How long have you been with C.A.R.
I have been with C.A.R. for 31 years.
Where were you before C.A.R.? And how long?
Before C.A.R. I worked for two small law firms.
How can someone get a job working with C.A.R.?
There are two divisions to C.A.R.’s legal department. I work with Member Legal Services which provides counsel (including through a legal hotline) to individual member mostly on transactional issues. All attorneys with Member Legal Services start on the legal hotline. There is also a corporate legal division which advises C.A.R.’s for-profit subsidiaries, C.A.R. itself, including the many issues that come with running a trade association, coordinating Professional Standards hearings and training, and this division also advises local Associations and Multiple Listing Services. If there’s an opening for a lawyer, which there is not right now, one would send a resume to Human Resources department.
What is your specialty?
Understanding and explaining how real estate transactions work.
What’s your favorite thing about your job at C.A.R.?
Working with so many smart, enjoyable, people who can provide company and intellectual stimulation.
What is your favorite area of real property law?
No one area stands out. However, translating legal concepts into workable language that REALTORS® and their clients can understand and that minimizes the ability of lawyers to argue over gives me satisfaction.
Are there any parts of your expertise you are trying to grow.
I want to further my existing knowledge of commercial transactions.
A I’ve heard you speak at several CLE’s speaking about the RPA developed by C.A.R….is that part of your job, deciding and developing the C.A.R. forms?
Yes, a big part of my job is not only working with a committee to develop forms but explaining to real estate licensees and the legal community how and why forms are developed. Real estate forms lead to transactions and transactions are the lifeblood of every REALTOR® so this aspect of my job affects all C.A.R. members.
What been the most exciting part about working on C.A.R. forms?
Working on changes to the residential purchase agreement because that form is so essential to the livelihood of C.A.R. members.
What’s the most challenging part of working on the C.A.R. forms?
There are many constituencies; brokers, salespersons, lawyers, affiliates such as escrow and title companies, risk managers, reputation and business interests of C.A.R. itself, different practices in different parts of a vast and diverse State, and of course, principals in the transactions. Assembling something that satisfies the different interests can present challenges.
Tell me about your favorite case or legal controversy of all time and what happened that made it so interesting.
Of the cases I have been involved with, two come to mind. I wrote a brief in case addressing the issue of whether a real estate broker had a continuing duty to inform a holder of an unrecorded deed of trust that it should be recorded. In that case, the broker did so before the owner made an attempt to sell the property, but the unprotected lender ignored the advice. That sale failed so the unprotected lender was not harmed. The owner then successfully sold the property to a different buyer, still unencumbered by the lien. In my brief arguing that the broker satisfied its duty by giving notice before the first sale, I tried to make the point that it should not matter if the security was lost because of a sale to buyer number 1 or buyer number 2 – the unprotected lien holder was on notice of the danger. I made a reference to the Three Stooges. It should not matter to the person hit in the face by a pie if it were thrown by Moe, Larry or Curly, the risk was there all along regardless of the throw -er. In another case, involving the enforceability of the mediation first requirement affecting the attorney fees clause in the C.A.R. purchase agreement, I cited to Horton Hatches the Egg from Dr. Seuss, paraphrasing the sentence fragment, I meant what I said and I said what I meant …” The second case went C.A.R.’s way, not the first.
Tell me about your experiences on the C.A.R. legal hotline. Do you actually pick up the phones yourself?
I am very busy with my responsibilities at C.A.R. but still from time to time answer the legal hotline. Less than I would like though. Sometimes only a few hours a week or two.
What are typical questions you will get on the C.A.R. legal hotline?
The most common question is a variation of the same theme for many years; Do I have to disclose …? Of course, the response is almost always, if you or the seller do not want to disclose because the information will likely affect the price the buyer would offer, then the answer is, “Yes.”
What are some of the common misunderstandings C.A.R. members have?
C.A.R. members who call the legal hotline are often surprised to hear that as attorneys we must abide by conflict of interest rules. If another member already called on the same transaction, we would have to refer the caller to a Referral Attorney list that C.A.R. maintains. I invite any of you real property law practitioners that would like to be added to that list, to contact me.
Tell me about your time as an arbitrator and judge pro tem. What kinds of cases have you received?
Maybe surprisingly to those reading this interview, almost all my arbitration cases involve commercial transactions. Because of my employment with C.A.R., I may be more knowledgeable about a residential transaction, and licensee activity, than most but, possibly ironically, because of that same employment, there is almost always an actual or perceived conflict of interest preventing me from serving as an arbitrator on residential cases.
Are there any arbitratrations were particularly satisfying to complete or resolve?
No one arbitration stands out but when I was a judge pro tem, which I have not been for many years, I remember one case where I tried to do the “right” thing to achieve some equity for the parties. That case came back to bite me as it resulted in an appeal and complaint to the presiding judge.
Does that type of work make you appreciate attorney civility?
Attorneys have always been civil when appearing before me as an arbitrator. What I have gained an appreciation for is the ability to question witnesses in a direct manner to elicit relevant testimony rather than taking three hours to accomplish what should have been done in one, at most. If my experience is anything like what judges have to put up with in court day after day, I don’t know how they do it.
Illinois or UCLA, which is better?
I attended University of Illinois as an undergrad and UCLA for law school. Is one better? Not sure. U of I is a great college in a sort of sheltered environment in a real college town. Nice place to go for a first time really being away from home. UCLA is just one attraction in the great, big city of Los Angeles. Same big school environment but a whole lot more to do. I think I got the best of both. Not yet ready for total independence or the big city during my undergrad years, but more open, and ready for that experience as a graduate student. I do have to say, though, I am a lifetime alumni member of UCLA but not U of I.
What do you do to help balance your life with work?
I’ll go to movies, exercise a little, watch tv. Used to ski and play tennis but a back injury put an end to that.
What CLE’s would you like to see in the future?
There have been some good landlord-tenant courses offered this year, but I have not been able to attend. As California moves toward a tenant-majority state, I think more of that kind of programming will be needed.
Having the real property retreat, is that a good idea?
I am on the fence about the Retreat. As far as the quality goes, I have never been disappointed, and the last few years it has been better than ever. Whether the Retreat gives RPLS members the best “bang for their buck” is an open question in my mind.
What was your favorite CLE in the 2018 retreat?
I will name two. The plenary session on technology in real estate was both informative and entertaining. And, the session on in-house counsel (much more traditional than my role at C.A.R.) had panelists with great stories to tell.
What was your overall impression of the retreat?
The 2018 Retreat was both impressive in both its scope and quality. In some years, I wondered which presentation I would attend on a given day. This year, I had difficulty figuring out which presentation I wanted to attend on a given time-period. There was almost never a time slot where I did not have to make a hard choice about which program to see.
Have you ever given or attended a webinar?
I give webinars all the time. For C.A.R. I am responsible for giving or coordinating a webinar every month. When I don’t speak, I often moderate. It is so important to maintain enthusiasm throughout the presentation. Not only does that engage the audience but it keeps the speaker alert as well. When I can, I like to poll the audience on their thoughts about an issue. It provides a nice break in the presentation and lets the audience know their opinions are important. The key is to be flexible enough to incorporate the feedback into the presentation without simply resorting to prepared remarks.