September 15, 2021

President’s Address:

ABPLA President

It has been a considerable time since I last addressed to you. I must confess that I have experienced one of the strangest years – ever!

First, I watched in absolute horror as an angry mob scaled the walls of the U.S. Capital. I could never have imagined that the U.S. Capital, a building so central to our democracy, would be the scene of an insurrection. While central to our Constitution is the freedom of expression and the right to peacefully protest, what we all witnessed at our Capital was far from peaceful protest.

Then, in February, seeming relief. I received my first Pfizer vaccine on February 13, 2021. My second dose received in early March. I was freed! I began venturing out. Nothing was immediate. I continued visiting restaurants that had outdoor seating, and I still avoided large crowds. However, I was becoming more adventurous. It was as if a huge weight had been lifted. I attended social gatherings with other vaccinated people. It was great just to socialize again!

By early June I felt adventuresome enough to board a plane to Maui. As I discussed with you in my last President’s Address, the Western Trial Lawyers Association was the first “live” Conference I had attended in over a year. I felt the tide had finally turned. However, I was very wrong.

By July, I was reluctant to fly over to Las Vegas for the American Association for Justice’s Annual Convention.  Even though I had been vaccinated, the Delta variant was wrecking havoc everywhere. Ultimately, I did fly to Las Vegas for two days of meetings.  Part of my time was spent with Adam Malone putting together a TBI Conference for AAJ. The program was to take place “live” in Atlanta in September. Only about a week after I returned from Las Vegas, the American Association for Justice canceled the Atlanta conference due to the Delta variant’s spread.

And so, it was back to isolation again. Masks had to be worn in all restaurants, in all supermarkets, in all office places, virtually everywhere indoors. Unlike many areas of the country, San Francisco has a highly vaccinated population. For those above 12 years of age, the vaccination rate is close to 80%. That having been said, office space in downtown San Francisco is empty.

Since the onset of COVID, I have maintained a skeleton staff at my office on a daily basis. Receptionists, administrative clerks, filing personnel, and one paralegal staff my office daily. Lawyers and paralegals have continued to work remotely, only working “live” in the office approximately 1 to 2 days per week. Everyone has become “experts” on Zoom and other virtual platforms.  Depositions, hearings, mediations are all conducted via Zoom on a daily basis. 

I have attended Arbitration since COVID.  Masks, gloves, separate exhibits, socially distanced……….etc., etc., etc.  Fortunately, I have been able to successfully resolve client cases, through both mediation and arbitration.  Unfortunately, in many of the Bay Area Counties, our Courts can only accommodate “preference cases” given the backlog caused by COVID.  It is hard to tell when we will return to some degree of normalcy.

A very close friend of mine began a trial in mid-August in North Carolina. As I understand it, approximately nine days into the admitted liability trial a juror fell ill, testing positive. Shortly thereafter three other jurors fell ill, likewise testing positive. The judge declared a mistrial. My friend and his wife are fully vaccinated. Despite this, both came down with breakthrough cases. For over 12 days both remained very sick, even though neither had to be hospitalized.  I called them virtually every day. You could hear the heaviness in their chests. Without the vaccines, I have to question whether they would’ve made it.

Worse yet, a friend and unvaccinated lawyer from Georgia fell ill with COVID. He struggled for three weeks before leaving us and leaving behind a wife and two teenagers. Absolutely heart wrenching. And now, with something like 700,000 souls lost, absolutely real.

25 years ago, I started the TBI Med/Legal Conference on behalf of the Brain Injury Association of California along with neuropsychologist Dr. Claude Munday. The conference has grown exponentially since I took emeritus status on the Board. The program was canceled last year due to COVID, but not before approximately 1500 people had signed up for the event.

Erica Chavez with BIAC was kind enough to ask me to put together a Stalwarts Track for the event which is to be held in San Diego later this month. I had several physicians on my program. The physicians were the first to cancel. Next were most of the lawyers. Despite this, the program is moving forward with some 2000 people having already signed up. Everyone has a different comfort level. I will wait until Erica puts the event on next year before putting my Stalwarts track together again.  And to her credit, Erica is already talking about an additional program in April of next year following the program this month.

And so it is against this backdrop that I will say I believe we at ABPLA did the right thing. We did not attempt to put on our Medical Negligence/Legal Negligence program. Through Reeve’s prescience, we canceled early this year, opting to do our Seminar next year after everyone has their booster.

And so it goes, at next year’s seminar, my term as your President ends. All I can say is… “Wow!” What a very strange two years at the helm of this very special organization which is so dear to all of us. I hope you agree that we made the right move in not attempting a “live” conference, and I hope you agree that we have seen enough “virtual” programs. While it has deprived us of the opportunity to get together, I believe we are safer for it, and that when we do get together, it will be even more special.

We will be working steadily between now and next year putting the Conference together. If you have a topic in mind that you would like to see addressed during our conference, please don’t hesitate to drop me a line.

You know during my first Board Meeting as President of ABPLA I recognized clearly that I was in rarefied air. I hope to finish out my time serving you with a great conference next year and with the growth and success that our organization deserves.

Stay safe!

Randall H. Scarlett
Scarlett Law Group
536 Pacific Avenue
Barbary Coast Building
San Francisco, CA  94133