At Our Last Meeting...
Honorary Consul General (and attorney) H. Michael Soroy is pictured
with group's new president, Deputy District Attorney Shannon Cooley
The organization held its meeting for the second consecutive year at the California Club.
The president, attorney H. Michael Soroy, honorary Norwegian consul general, spoke in connection with the Norwegian Constitution coming into being 200 years before (May 17, 1914).
Eleven candidates for the Los Angeles Superior Court offered brief remarks. It was clear that at least two of them would lose, given that two candidates in each of two races were speaking. As it happens, four lost.
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
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.
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
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 (now retired), 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
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
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
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
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.
on an appetizer platter were shrimp, crab, oysters, and fresh caviar. The
entrees were a half roasted duck and Norwegian sausage, served with red
chef prepared a pastry for dessert drenched in aquavit.
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
At the 2003 meeting, the guest speaker was Los Angeles County
Sheriff Lee Baca. (since retired). 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
2009: The cuisine was superb...which means that Hayes was
again brought in from Burbank for that one day.
The speaker was Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley who had been the subject of deprecation at the meeting seven years earlier by founder
Roger M. Grace in connection with a raid of newspaper offices. But, after
all, the Irish are too endearing to stay angry at. They are, as Cooley
acknowledged in his remarks, blessed by Norse blood in their veins. They are
beneficiaries of the visits to Norway by Vikings who, in interplay with Irish
lasses, benificently bestowed their genes on them. Well, that’s not quite how
Cooley put it.
Cooley was elected president.
Cooley assumes presidency of group.