Climbing to the Top with Sil Reggiardo, 2018 SCBA President

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Brian Van Camp served as a judge on the Sacramento xuntil 2012. He is now engaged at Van Camp ADR Arbitration •Mediation and can be contacted at brvc@vancampadr.com.

by Brian R. Van Camp

They say a good way to get to know someone is to “get high” with him.  I don’t know about such in the more common usage of that term, but on my hike up the east side of Mt. Whitney in 2002 with Sil Reggiardo, my former partner (I had left for the Superior Court bench a few years earlier), some other friends from Downey Brand, and someone’s dog to an elevation of 14,505 feet, I did indeed get to know more about him. I learned then, as our bar association activists now also know, that Sil’s easy-going style belies a steely determination, especially viewed up close on the grueling switchbacks at 13,000 feet.

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Sill Reggiardo, 2018 SCBA President

Sil Reggiardo is a third-generation San Franciscan, and his parents, Sil and Dorothy (“Boots”), raised him in Santa Clara. The oldest of five children, Sil had three brothers before his mom turned age 27 – little sister Mary arrived a bit later. Boots was outnumbered, but, to keep some sense of order, she used her “Irish-Catholic mother” guilt, including those most feared words: “You know it would hurt me if you did ….” It mostly worked, and Boots learned to shrug off her sons’ vocabulary. She even laughed when she recently learned that, among the plants she faithfully watered in the garden, was one that only recently became legal (Sil insists it was not his).

Sil says in his youth, he had little use for academics, but enjoyed sports. He was the starting quarterback his senior year at Buchser High School, although he says he has found no other job as difficult to get or keep. It did help him learn the importance of being persistent and working with others. His mom was his biggest supporter, insisting to everyone that he looked “just like Roger Staubach.” On the field, Sil had an impressive record of throwing the long ball – made more impressive when he was later diagnosed as having a congenital eye problem. His doctor explained to him that “[t]hings are not where you think they are.” That result confirmed the suspicions of many and largely explains why Sil decided to switch his focus from athletics to academics.

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At the line and taking a break (with childhood friend Frank Fetter), 1979.

At home, dinner table discussions seldom involved college. Sil’s young parents did not have college degrees (both do now; in fact, Boots has a master’s degree in nursing). If Sil wanted to go to college, he would need to start at West Valley College, then transfer to San Jose State. Eager to get through college, Sil loaded up on classes and took summer school. He also worked so many hours in a supermarket that one year, he made as much money as the newly-hired college graduates were making.

A “commuter” at both West Valley and SJS, Sil made frequent trips to San Luis Obispo to visit his girlfriend, Joy, who attended Cal Poly. Joy’s mother and Boots had met in an anatomy class and played match maker. Sil and Joy got married shortly after Joy graduated, during Sil’s second year at Hastings.

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At a Cal Poly SLO sorority dance, circa 1983

Sil found himself at Hastings in a very competitive class. In fact, when his class took the California Bar Exam, Hastings led all other schools’ passage-rate. A full-time student at Hastings, he liked the competition. He entered Hastings with plans of working for a “Big Eight” accounting firm and becoming a CPA. After graduating (Order of the Coif) in 1987, he did just that, working for three years in San Francisco in the tax department of Ernst & Whinney/Ernst & Young.

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Joy and the Mustang, circa 1983

In a very busy July of 1990, Sil and Joy became parents, moved to Cameron Park, and changed careers. Joy left technical sales to become a mother, and Sil became a tax and estate planning associate with Downey Brand (at 92 years young, the largest law firm based in the Central Valley).

Sil and Joy are the proud parents of three grown children: oldest daughter, Kaitlin, with an M.S. in speech pathology, works with disabled kids in Reno; second daughter, Megan, lives in Wisconsin, is applying to occupational therapy graduate programs, and is married to Jim Brennan, the oldest son of Boutin Jones partner Stacy Brennan; and Patrick is a junior, studying Mechanical Engineering at UNR.

Even with a mostly empty nest, Sil and Joy have little downtime. Joy loves horses and did vaulting (acrobatics on horseback) in international competition. She now works part-time as an accountant, but rides nearly every day. Sil joins her on most weekends. Joy also often sings as a cantor at Mass (Sil thinks there is way too much singing in church!).

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A recent family Christmas photo

Sil’s practice as a Downey Brand partner involves estate planning, taxation, and (generally) related transactions. He is a State Bar certified specialist in both the estate planning and tax areas, was on the State Bar Trusts and Estates Section Executive Committee, is a Fellow with the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel, and has a graduate tax law degree from New York University. He has served on the planned giving committees of the El Dorado Community Foundation, Mercy Foundation, and Catholic Foundation, along with a couple of charitable foundation boards.

Starting last year, Sil has taught the estate planning course at UC Davis, King Hall School of Law, and this spring will teach taxation of estate planning. Sil is most fortunate to have as a secretary (and sometimes “Director”) Dawn Willis, who also serves on the SCBA board as the liaison to the Sacramento Legal Secretaries Association, an SCBA affiliate.

Sil’s involvement with SCBA leadership started when he served as its Tax Law Section Chair. Much later, he served as the SCBA’s first Pro Bono Committee Chair, having started it when serving as the Pro Bono Coordinator of his law firm. This year, the Pro Bono Committee is gaining strength under the leadership of Downey Brand partner Jeff Galvin.

Sil can be predictable. For example, he still has his first car, a 1964-½ Mustang that he got while a senior in high school in 1980. And Joy complains that he still wears the same Pendleton shirts he had in college. But he can also surprise people. Two years ago he went to Burning Man, when he was invited as part of a client matter, and he went again this past year.

Even though he’s a Republican, he voted for Jerry Brown, based on merit.  And while a gun owner, he voted for ammunition restrictions, for their potential to save lives. He says he keeps an open mind and welcomes new ideas.

Sil’s partners at Downey attest to the reasons that he’s rated AV by Martindale, a NorCal Super Lawyer, and a Best Lawyer in America©. Managing Partner Scott Shapiro’s description of him includes “unsung hero,” dedicated, humble, brilliant, and creative, pitching in on tough legal or firm issues effectively, and mostly out of the spotlight. Shapiro appreciates Sil’s devotion to the younger lawyers in the firm, helping to develop not only sound lawyering, but high moral and ethical standards.

“A stellar DB lawyer,” says the firm’s Executive Partner, Bill Warne, about Sil. “If you have a tax question or a trust and estates issue, he’s your go-to lawyer.  Complexity is never a problem; he thrives on it. Also, if you’re heading to the top of Mt. Whitney, he’s your go-to-climbing mate!”

UC Davis Law Dean Kevin Johnson appreciates Sil’s teaching skills. “Sil has been an excellent teacher of an estate seminar. We appreciate that, as a busy, hard-working lawyer, he is committed to training the next generation of lawyers. We’re lucky to have him as part of the UC Davis Law faculty.”

Most important, Sil’s got a solid supporter at home. According to his wife, Joy, “Sil is a wonderful husband and father, is very generous, works ridiculously hard at his job, and loves to spoil me. Who else would clean up after my horses, and get up at 4:00 am to stand in line to buy a home? He’s a great guy who will work hard to be the best bar president so far.” Could it be said any better?

When asked about his “Life’s Lessons Learned So Far,” Sil’s answer is not surprising: “Many of the things I’ve done have mostly been done through persistence and hard work – and often because no one told me I couldn’t do them. Do the right thing and keep a positive attitude when trying to accomplish something” – Sounds like a formula for getting to the top, whether it is in your chosen field, in your volunteer association, or to the highest summit in the continental U.S.

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