2003 Public Lawyer of the Year: Ariel Pierre Calonne

In 2003, the Public Lawyer of the Year Award was presented to Ariel Pierre Calonne, City Attorney of Palo Alto.

Chief Justice Ronald George presented the award to Calonne on Friday, September 5, at a hosted reception during 2003 State Bar of California Annual Meeting.

Ariel CalonneAs Palo Alto’s City Attorney over the past 13 years, Mr. Calonne has served a full-service chartered city of 60,000, supervised its attorney office, and advised its Mayor and City Council. He is general counsel to the city’s gas, electric, dark fiber, storm drainage, sewage treatment, and water utilities.

He represented Palo Alto in major development negotiations with Stanford University, and advised the city on the development of the 2010 Comprehensive Plan. Calonne personally litigated major public records, environmental and land use cases. He filed a friend-of-the-court brief in Roberts v. City of Palmdale (1993) 5 Cal. 4th 363, the California Supreme Court’s landmark case upholding attorney-client privilege in the public sector. On September 7, 2003, Calonne will take his 20-year public law experience to become City Attorney of Boulder, Colorado.

Prior to his current position, Calonne was an associate attorney with Richards Watson & Gershon, where he represented many municipalities on various legal affairs, including CEQA, land use, zoning, environmental, water rights, strategic planning and other matters. Calonne was also an associate with Best Best & Kreiger, where he focused on municipalities’ water rights and environmental issues. In addition to Palo Alto, Calonne has represented the cities of Rancho Palos Verdes, Palmdale, Westlake Village, Ventura, Corona, Redlands, Banning, Desert Hot Springs and Perris.

A leading expert on the Brown Act and Public Records Act, Calonne has served on the Advisory Committee to the Joint Senate-Assembly Task Force on Personal Information and Privacy, as well as the Electronic Access to Public Records Task Force of a Senate Committee. Active on the League of California Cities, Calonne served as president of the group’s City Attorneys Department, chaired its Public Records Act where he initiated an electronic discussion group among city attorneys statewide, and participated on its Legal Advocacy Committee. A particularly notable accomplishment has been his contribution in the development and monitoring of the 457-member City Attorneys' Department Web site, a valuable resource accessible akin to that of a large municipal law firm, which is accessible to every California city attorney. Calonne has also held leadership positions in the Los Angeles County Bar Association on land use planning issues and on the City of Riverside’s Environmental Protection Commission. He has further published and presented papers on a variety of local government topics.

On Calonne’s selection as Public Lawyer of the Year, the Bar’s Public Law Section Chairperson Stephen Millich commented that “it is an award richly deserved!”

Ariel Pierre Calonne's Acceptance Speech  Upon Being Named 2003 Public Lawyer of the Year

September 5, 2003, Anaheim, California

Chief Justice George, thank you for your kind remarks. And thank you for your service leading our Supreme Court, your long service in the judiciary, and your leadership earlier in your career in the Attorney General’s Office.

I’d also like to thank the Public Law Section Executive Committee for recognizing me as California’s Public Lawyer of the Year for 2003.

Finally, and most importantly, I’d like to thank my client, the City of Palo Alto, for providing me the opportunity to achieve. Every scientist needs a laboratory, and I have had a great one.

As you all know, I am in the unusual position of accepting this prestigious award just 10 days before I become the City Attorney (designate) of Boulder, Colorado. I have taken residence in Boulder after 13 years of service to the City of Palo Alto. I find myself in the enviable position of leaving a richly endowed community to join a community endowed with environmental and human riches. Boulder, like Palo Alto and all California cities, has engaged the good fight to protect the constitutional home rule powers the electorate reserved to them. The challenges will be great.

Yet I leave California grudgingly. I realized the other day that I have never been outside California for longer 2 weeks or so. I love this state from corner to corner. I am sure that is a common bond among public lawyers. My career has been dedicated to creating common bonds between public lawyers.

Today I am being honored in large part because of my work creating and moderating a dedicated e-mail listserv that connects nearly 500 California city attorneys. I developed the group (which is dubbed “CCA**” for California City Attorneys) in 1998 while I was president of the City Attorney’s Department of the League of California Cities. I was flattered the other day when Mike Martello, the City Attorney of Mountain View, described CCA as a transformative resource for the practice of municipal law, perhaps having an even greater impact than the California Municipal Law Handbook which JoAnne Speers described when she received this award in 1999.

CCA was achieved through leadership to prove that technology is both powerful and openhearted. Email is a cold medium; a medium that doesn’t allow the face-to-face interaction, the voir dire upon which we depend to assess credibility. Yet CCA flourishes because we have added the human dimension back into the communication by moderating the list. Moderating is reviewing,  editing, or rejecting, each and every message and response. CCA has become somewhat of an annotated discussion, much like the annotated codes and case head notes that define traditional legal information retrieval systems. And it is the process of making everyone show his or her editorial and annotational skills that makes the list work. We actually get to evaluate each other daily in that most important legal medium – the written word. Thus we have transformed a cold medium into another way to communicate that which makes us real and human.

CCA was also an adaptive concession to changing times. I am pleased to join Andy Gustafson, JoAnne Speers and Jayne Williams as local government recipients of this award. I got to know Andy when I worked for the City of Ventura, and JoAnne and Jayne are great leaders in my own field of municipal practice. I have also been appreciative of Mr. Elkins’ consumer protection work.

But our practice as public lawyers has changed. Municipal law has become one of the most sophisticated and challenging practice areas. CCA lets us work with our collective brainpower to overcome the economic and political constraints that can impact the effectiveness of public lawyers. Just as in Roberts v. Palmdale we public lawyers were fighting for our clients’ right to have effective representation through appropriate confidential advice, CCA is letting us assure quality-controlled communication and education for 500 city attorneys. The result is that we reach decisions faster, with more thorough research and with more consistency around the state.

I am proud to announce that after 5 years of development, I have made a gift of CCA to the League of California Cities. I’d like to close with a few comments about the ethical challenges we are facing. They are real and they are daunting. Last year the Governor vetoed legislation that would have allowed each of us to whistle blow against our clients in certain circumstances. I would respectfully submit that so dramatic a change in the core, confidential trusting relationship between lawyer and client ought to be given very careful scrutiny, and accepted if at all with great skepticism. First and foremost, our clients must trust us as lawyers, public lawyers or not. Second, the same pressure to work faster, to use e-mail, to skip traditional research channels, raises some concerns about the standards of care we must exercise. CCA, for example, fills what Professor Riesenfeld use to call our desire to make “mashed potatoes” of the law. But “the law comes in little lumps” he would say, meaning that answers can be elusive and disintegrated from their parts. And so we find ourselves less often able to rely safely upon the traditional legal system of storing and retrieving precedent. Head notes are being replaced by full text electronic searches.

CCA is the first step of a major new tradition in the practice of public law, and I am proud to have been the instrument of its creation.


Public Law Reception

Ariel Calonne (left
with Chief Justice
Ronald George


2002 Public Lawye of the Year
Herschel Elkins (left)
with Ariel Calonne


Chief Justice George (left)
with incoming 2003-2004
Public Law Section Chair
Fazle Rab Quadri


Outoing 2002-2003
Public Law Section Chair
Stephen Millich (left)
with Chief Justice George