The idea for a "Half-Norwegian (on the Mother’s Side) American Bar Assn." was hatched one night in 1989 by lawyer/journalist Roger M. Grace while his wife was attending a meeting of the Italian American Lawyers Assn. Grace pounded out a column in which he bemoaned that half-Norskies such as he had no bar association of their own, and jokingly vowed to form one, to meet every 17th of May.
A friend of his, then-attorney Larry Crispo (later a Superior Court judge), clipped the column from the Metropolitan News-Enterprise and sent it to Grace, with the suggestion scribbled on it that such a group actually meet. It did, in late May of that year, convening at the Biltmore Hotel. Elected as the first president was then-Los Angeles Municipal Court Judge Robert Swasey (since deceased)—who was half-Norwegian on his mother’s side. Swasey noted he almost didn’t come, thinking the meeting announcement that he saw may have been a gag.
The president of the Los Angeles City Council, John Ferraro (since deceased), did understand that it was for real. He came with a congratulatory scroll from the city.
The question that loomed at what was billed as the "first annual meeting" was whether there would be a second annual meeting. It’s met every year since.
Among those who have served as president is Earl Johnson Jr., then a justice of the Court of Appeal (now retired).
Johnson, it must be confessed, is not half Norwegian on his mother’s side. He is, rather, half Norwegian on his father’s side. That does make him somewhat of a misfit in the organization. Those who are half-Norwegian on the father’s side really ought to form an organization of their own. The election of him in 1996 reflected just how egalitarian Norwegians are.
The election of Johnson was remarkable for another reason. It followed accusations against him of pilfering funds from the club treasury. That accusation was levelled by Fred Woods, then the club’s treasurer. He did know something of Johnson’s propensities, being a member of the same appeals court division.
Woods reported to the gathering that there was a $10,000 deficit in the treasury and pointed the finger at his predecessor in that office, Johnson, who, he noted, had taken a recent trip with his wife, Barbara, to Italy. After the organization rebuffed Woods’ call for formation of a blue-ribbon committee to look into possible malefaction by Johnson, it elected Johnson president.
Woods—who was reelected the treasurer—pledged to personally probe his fellow jurist’s conduct.
At the 1997 meeting, instead of rendering the anticipated Woods Report, the treasurer was missing, and no information on the current state of the treasury was submitted by him.
Presiding over that meeting, Vice President George Schiavelli, then a member of the Los Angeles Superior Court (later a federal judge, now a private judge), pointed out that Woods’ absence "might suggest that we still have improprieties in our organization."
Precedent should be followed, he proclaimed, with the suspected defalcator being granted the presidency.
Woods was elected with no opposition. And at the 1998 meeting, he presided. Woods reported, in his native Texan drawl, that he "didn’t realize the influence of the Vikings" until recently when he learned that a Viking ship was uncovered in the Canadian River in the panhandle of Texas. That, apparently, made the ol’ Texas boy mighty proud to hold his office.
Court of Appeal Justice Fred Woods, left, relinquishes the reins to the 1998-99 president, then-Los Angeles Municipal Court Presiding Judge Veronica McBeth (later a member of the Superior Court, now retired).
Woods was succeeded as president by then-Los Angeles Municipal Court Presiding Judge Veronica Simmons McBeth. She’s an African American. That is not to say that she necessarily lacks Nordic blood. The May 8, 2000 issue of Time Magazine notes that the Vikings "reached Rome, Baghdad, the Caspian Sea, probably Africa too." Africa is, after all, just south of Italy—and there is no doubt that the Vikings did reach The Boot.
The 1999 meeting featured a talk by then-Los Angeles Municipal Court Judge Michael Kellogg (elevated to the Superior Court in 2000 through unification) on football Hall-of-Famer Jan Stenerud, who was born in Norway. A stadium atmosphere was created with the serving of hot dogs—er, polser, that is. This was a first for the posh Bernard’s Restaurant at the Biltmore.
At that 1999 meeting, McBeth pointed out that among those elected at the first meeting, 10 years earlier, was Mike Smith, a non-lawyer businessman, chosen to be minute secretary. He remained at his post for 10 years, though he attended only one other meeting and never provided a set of minutes.
She suggested the important task be rotated to some other person, and recommended one of the newest members, Daniel Anderson, who then sat on the Wisconsin Court of Appeals, and is half-Norwegian (on his mother’s side). He was elected to the customary 10-year term. He did not attend a single meeting and thus did not bore the attendees with a reading of minutes.
Then came Schiavelli’s turn as president. He had practiced for the post by previously serving as president of the Italian American Lawyers Assn. It was fitting that someone of Italian heritage be president. After all, Italians are born followers of Norwegians. Leif Ericson discovered America, around the year 1002, and Chrisopher Columbus followed in his footsteps a half millenium later, utilizing Norse maps.
Court of Appeal Presiding Justice Paul Arthur Turner is among the regulars at these annual meetings. In 2000, he was absent. Unanimously, he was elected president.
In 2001, another regular—though many describe him as "irregular"—Larry Crispo was among the missing. Maybe his absence was a ploy to get elected president. If so, it worked.
The point was raised that Crispo had served as president previously (while an attorney). However, Turner, who was presiding, joined with Johnson in proclaiming term limits to be unconstitutional. This was probably the first time the arch conservative Turner and the arch liberal Johnson have ever been in agreement on anything.
The event, long held at the Biltmore, was in a new venue: McCormick & Schmick’s seafood restaurant. The chef was Ray Hayes, who is half-Norwegian...and on his mother’s side! The feast was fantastic, highlighted by lefse fresh from the griddle, served with headcheese, and gravlax which had been marinated by Hayes in aquavit.
Included on an appetizer platter were shrimp, crab, oysters, and fresh caviar. The entrees were a half roasted duck and Norwegian sausage, served with red cabbage.
The chef prepared a pastry for dessert drenched in aquavit.
Hayes came out to join the group at the end of the meeting for its traditional aquavit toast to the king of Norway.
As might have been predicted, the event was again held at that restaurant on May 17, 2002, as it was for seven years after that.
And once again in 2002, the club showed its egalitarianism by electing as president a lawyer who is half Norwegian on his father’s side. Charles Morgan (son of actor Harry Morgan, since deceased) came to the meeting for the first time and, naturally, was welcomed into the group by his being unanimously elected president.
At the 2003 meeting, the guest speaker was Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca. His scheduled topic was: "That Great American Lawman, Eliot Ness." Perhaps the sheriff had a gulp of aquavit prior to his talk; he never mentioned Ness. Instead, he lauched into a stirring talk from the heart about the need for integrity in law enforcement—prompting those present to elect him president by unanimous acclamation.
Given that he’s not a lawyer or a judge, his election was contrary to the bylaws. However, one prominent lawyer later suggested that the election of Baca constituted an implied amendment of the bylaws.
In 2004, Crispo once again presided. That’s because President Baca didn’t show up and nobody remembered who had been elected vice president the previous year. The minute secretary had not attended the meeting. These Wisconsin Court of Appeals justices are simply unreliable!
Attorney Sarah Gorman was there for the second time. She delivered a Norwegian table prayer—in Norwegian. That endeared her to the group which elected her president.
In 2005, an evening buffet reception was held in celebration of 100 years of Norway’s full independence. Those attending indicated a preference for holding the annual meeting at night henceforth. (Of course, only those present, who found it convenient to come in the evening, voted; those who couldn’t make it at that time didn’t vote.) Cheryl Johnson, who says she is "a lot Norwegian" on her mother’s side and some Norwegian on her father’s side, was chosen president.
At the 2006 meeting Tamila Jensen was elected to lead the organization. She is part Danish and part Swedish. The membership no doubt took pity on her. Denmark and Sweden...so near to Norway, and yet so far. It cannot be easy going through life as an almost-Norwegian.
Ninth U.S. Circuit Court Chief Judge Alex Kozinski
The 2007 guest speaker was Ninth U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Alex Kozinski. He talked about his favorite topic, himself. He did not share any of the off-color jokes or cartoons that were then on his personal website. Andy Lundberg (whose mother was a Norwegian spy during World War II) ascended to the presidency.
2008: Los Angeles Superior Court Presiding Judge J. Stephen Czuleger delivered humorous remarks, and retired Superior Court Judge Ken Chotiner was elected president. Executive chef Ray Hayes, who at that point worked at McCormick & Schmick’s Burbank location, made a special appearance to prepare the food for the event. For the first time, the event was audio-recorded. To hear what went on, CLICK HERE
Another significant election took place: that of minute secretary. Yes, the 10-year term of Daniel Anderson—by then presiding judge of the Wisconsin Court of Appeals (now retired)—had come to an end. There were three nominees, but the one who prevailed, nominated by former Los Angeles County District Attorney Robert H. Philibosian, was David Souter, former justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Souter does not engage in e-mail communication, so the association had no up-to-date method of communicating with him to apprise him of the honor that has been bestowed upon him. It was hoped that this website’s announcement would serve as notice. All persons in contact with Souter were urged to apprise him of the honor that had been bestowed upon him and advise that he contact us at once to ascertain the duties he is to perform.
With Ray Hayes no longer in the employ of McComick & Schmick, the club had no reason to continue convening its annual sessions at that eatery, and for the next three years, gathered in the offices of the Metropolitan News Compqany. In 2010, a debate took place between Cooley and Jack Denove, then-president of the Italian American Lawyers Association, on who discovered America. Cooley, advocate for the position that Leif Ericson established a settlement on the North American Continent 500 years before Columbus came to an island near the continent (never setting foot on it), was hands-down winner. Just ask any Norwegian American who was present.
Retired Deputy District Attorney Robert Schirn in 2011 presented a talk, accompanied by Power Point visuals, on 1970s terrorist Sara Jane Olson, a Norwegian American of ill repute.
The Norwegian honorary consul general in Los Angeles, H. Michael Soroy, provided greetings in 2012 from Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and King Harald.
Gary Nelson, a Norwegian American attorney who is normally present at the meetings, explained why he was absent the previous year, presenting a video depicting his ascent to the top of Mt. Everest on May 19, 2011.
Three candidates for election to the Los Angeles Superior Court spoke. One of them--Andrea Thompson, who is half-Norwegian (and admitted to being half-Swedish)--stirred emotions by reading portions of a moving 1933 Syttende Mai address by her great uncle, Carl G. O. Hanson. He had been for 50 years editor of a Norwegian American newspaper in Minnesota.
Our outgoing district attorney, Steve Cooley, who is largely of Irish heritage, acknowledged Norse influence on the genes, hence accomplishments, of the Irish. He summarized attainments of his administration over the past 12 years, naming the particular "hero" in his office responsible for each success he enumerated.
Norwegian American attorney Robert Kern led the annual aquavit toast to the king of Norway and the president of the United States.
While it was then unknown what Thompson's fate at the polls would be in her judicial race, she did win election that night to an office, being unanimously chosen president of the Half Norwegian (on the Mother's Side) American Bar Assn.
As it happened, all three candidates who spoke won in the June primary.
Attorneys, now Los Angeles Superior
This is consistent with tradition. At the meeting in 2000, it was announced that any candidate for district attorney in attendance could come up to the podium and speak. Cooley, lone among the contestants, addressed the group, and won the election. In 2011, two candidates for DA spoke; one of them, Jackie Lacey, won the election in 2012.
The HNOTMSABA offers the path to political victory.
2013 marked the group’s
The meeting was held at the California Club on May 14. It took place three days early so the event would dovetail with the weekly seafood buffet at the California Club. Added to the buffet that week were gravlax and pickled herring.
Judge Andrea Thompson presided; Judges Eric Harmon and Sean Coen were were among those attending.
Thompson told of the life of her great uncle, of whose Syttende Mai speech she had read portions the year before, and shared a few excepts from that moving talk.
Soroy, who was born in Norway, again extended greetings on behalf of King Harald V.
Entertaining and informative remarks were presented by a deputy district attorney, who is also a political commentator. David Berger, who was born in England and maintains his British accent, spoke on "An Englishman Looks at Norwegian Americans."
Soroy was elected president by acclamation, and he donned the ceremonial presidential helmet.
The California Club’s wine steward, Eric Moe (who is half Norwegian on his father's side), told of the history of Linea aquavit.
Soroy offered the traditional aquavit toast to the president of the United States and the king of Norway.
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