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MCLE Self-Assessment Test

Inspired by mentors, Jon Streeter forges
his legal legacy and becomes a mentor himself

By Diane Curtis
Staff Writer

It’s no accident that the two Andy Warhol-style oil paintings that grace Jon Streeter’s sunny, high-ceilinged Jackson Square office feature Muhammad Ali and Albert Einstein.

“I’ve got two geniuses who I greatly admire on my wall, both of them masters of their different fields,” says the partner at Keker & Van Nest in San Francisco and next president of The State Bar of California. “Both had a huge impact on their generations and beyond.”

Jon Streeter

A painting of Muhammad Ali, who Streeter says is one of the geniuses
who inspire him, hangs on his office wall.
                                                                         Darryl Bush photo

Intelligent, thoughtful people to look up to are a recurrent theme in conversations with Streeter, who will be sworn in as the bar’s 87th president at this month’s annual meeting in Long Beach. He speaks admiringly of two of his earliest legal mentors — U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson, whom Streeter describes as an “institution,” and Judge Harry Edwards, former chief of the U.S. Court of Appeal for the District of Columbia circuit. Three decades after he clerked for them, he still considers them friends and mentors and feels he can call them when the situation warrants to ask for advice, “to lay out professional challenges” and get their learned perspective. Such relationships, he says, “really are the key to achieving success.”

Streeter, 54, has reached the stage where he is forging his own legal legacy and is mentor to young lawyers, a role he greatly enjoys.

“He is somebody who has looked out for me, somebody I can go to for advice,” says Khari Tillery, an associate at Keker who has worked with Streeter. “He seems to be someone who wants to help people.”

Fourteen years ago, Streeter moved to the litigation firm of Keker & Van Nest after 15 years at Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP. “I wanted to practice with lawyers who are thinking — all day, everyday — about trials,” Streeter says, adding that he loves and found he was good at such litigation elements as research, storytelling and sometimes even a little acting. Tillery calls him “an amazing trial lawyer” with an ability to “work on the fly and adjust a case,” all the while telling a compelling story to the judge or jury. “He’s incredibly savvy and smart and able to pick apart nuances of a case.”

John Keker says that besides being smart and a good partner, Streeter is a person who is sensitive to other people’s concerns and knows how to build consensus, qualities that will make him “a wonderful bar president.”

Consensus by the Board of Governors was not in evidence last year during debate on a new governance structure mandated by the legislature that pitted Streeter and a majority of the governance task force who favor maintaining a structure close to the current one against another group who wanted more public members and a smaller board.

Streeter concedes there has been “factionalization — almost cliqueishness” on the board, but he says that can be overcome. He thinks he was elected in part to mend fences. “I want to try to build bridges.”

Jon Streeter

A serious tennis player, Streeter starts the day
at the Berkeley Tennis Club.
                                                             Darryl Bush photo

He also notes that disagreement in the past does not mean the board can’t work together. To illustrate, he jumps up from his chair at his glass desk and picks up a 1958 Life magazine with Willie Mays on the cover: “Willie Mays Leads Giants Into San Francisco” says the headline. The vintage magazine, in perfect condition and wrapped in plastic, was a gift from George Davis, one of the public board members who, Streeter adds, most likely voted for someone other than him for president. The good will between the two men, symbolized by the gift, “meant more than any vote,” Streeter says. And it shows that people who disagree can talk to each other, he adds.

The coming year will produce a board committed to the same goals, Streeter predicts: reducing the discipline backlog and promoting access to justice. “The legislature has certainly communicated to us that they want us to get our house in order in the area of discipline and also they want to see the fair administration of justice,” which means promoting access to justice for everyone, says Streeter.

When he “passes the gavel” to the 88th president next year, he wants to be able to report that the backlog of discipline cases is zero. Divisiveness among the board will only make it more difficult to reach that goal. “We have to feel a shared sense of mission.”

Outgoing board member Joseph Chairez thinks if anybody can bring the board together and accomplish the discipline goals, it’s Streeter. “I’m a big Streeter fan,” says Chairez. “I think that Jon is going to be a great asset to the bar as the president. He’s not only very intelligent, but he’s thoughtful and easy to work with and is the type of person who seeks to get consensus.”

He also, adds Chairez, “speaks from a position of knowledge. He takes the time to learn and read and understand something rather than just talk off the top of his head.”

Jon Streeter family

Jon Streeter is flanked by his daughter, Hillary, 19 (left) wife Dorine (right)
and daughter Lindsey, 21 (far right) .

Streeter says that besides improving the discipline system, finding money for legal services and building a more united board, he will regularly work with Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye “on solving the funding crisis in the court system.” He’ll be regularly speaking on that issue, “getting the word out” that divorces are going to take two or three years, adoptions are going to take a very long time, child support orders and domestic violence restraining orders will not necessarily be easily enforced. It’s the “have-nots” who are going to be most hurt, Streeter says. The large firms will hire their own judges and courtrooms.

Streeter grew up in Seattle, the second of four sons to a black father and a white mother. His father was an architect, his mother a homemaker. One brother followed in their father’s footsteps and is an architect, another is a reporter for the Los Angeles Times and the third is a freelance writer.

The family lived in the Scandinavian section of the city, and while Streeter “didn’t know what race was” when he was very young, the slights and discrimination “hit you in the face in lots of different ways” as he grew up, from not being invited to birthday parties to being rejected for prom dates because parents wouldn’t allow their daughters to be with him. “It was very painful.”

But, he adds, “We didn’t spend a lot of time being bitter.”

Instead, Streeter approached racism much as he seems to approach many subjects: almost as an anthropologist. “I was always really interested in how people looked at things.” That curiosity extends to almost everything he does. He loves that litigation allows him to delve into a variety of subjects – patents, construction, computers, cutting-edge science, civil rights, biotech. When the U.S. Supreme Court makes a decision, he carries the ruling around in his briefcase until he gets a chance to read it; he doesn’t rely on a media filter. He also stood out as a board member who carefully studied the proposed changes in the Rules of Professional Conduct and demanded a rationale for those changes.

A high school tennis and basketball player, Streeter originally dreamed of being a professional athlete. But he got a Martin Luther King scholarship to Stanford, and he found that he wasn’t going to be good enough to be a professional athlete and that he also needed to work a lot harder than he had at his public schools to do well academically. It was at Stanford that he decided he wanted to become a lawyer and went on to Boalt Hall School of Law.

“I love the practice of law. I love the law. I’ve been living in the world of the law for three decades now. It’s something I’m committed to.”

That commitment includes wanting to take the next step to the bench. He has confirmed that he has applied to become a federal judge, not least because of what he has witnessed in the performance of his friends and mentors, Judges Henderson and Edwards.

The soon-to-be State Bar president says he will have to cut down on his cases, which average about six at a time with two or three trials a year. He says past presidents have told him they spend about 40 percent of their time on State Bar business. Streeter will continue to do fundraising for President Obama “a small fraction” of my time. “One of my closest friends from college is Valerie Jarrett,” he says. “Suddenly she’s sitting next to the president helping run the world. I believe in what they’re doing.”

Streeter and his wife, Dorine Holsey Streeter, executive vice president at the commercial real estate firm of James Campbell Co., have two daughters, Hillary, 19, a student at Stanford, and Lindsey, 21, a student at Occidental College. “We’re very proud,” he says.