2019 SCBA President Sean McCoy
by Andi Liebenbaum
Sean McCoy does not just volunteer to be on a committee. He serves on committees, often coming to lead them, likely becoming someone’s mentor, and always, it appears, demonstrating great skill, intellect, and dedication to whatever he has signed up for. All this as well as a sharp and subtle sense of humor are the qualities every member can expect from Sean McCoy as President of the Sacramento County Bar Association as it embarks on its second century of service to the Sacramento legal community.
He brings out the good in people, he encourages them by his actions. He appears simply to be dedicated to making his profession better.
McCoy recalls that, fresh out of law school, he joined everything; the San Diego County Bar Association after graduating from law school, the Mariposa Bar Association (which he described as some law and mostly lunches with the six or seven other attorneys in town) when he became a deputy district attorney there, and ultimately the SCBA when he was hired at the Attorney General’s office. At a point early on, friend and current AG-colleague Erika Hiramatsu persuaded McCoy to join the Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation (JNE Commission), where he served for a three-year term. She recommended McCoy because he was always open minded, always had a valuable opinion. She says that over the years, whenever she has had a legal question, McCoy is the first person she thinks of to ask, because he is extremely bright and non-judgmental. She adds that they have remained friends because they share the same “wicked but sometimes nerdy sense of humor.”
While it might be easy to say that McCoy’s childhood was the catalyst for becoming the focused and engaged bar leader he is today, the line was not that direct. McCoy tells this story from his youth: Despite receiving the Silver Star for his service in Korea, McCoy’s father had soured on the Vietnam War by the end of the 1960s. A good friend and fellow teacher encouraged him to join a protest; the two loaded the kids into the station wagon (“everyone had a station wagon at the time”) and drove up Interstate 5 to San Clemente to stand near President Nixon’s “Western White House” for an hour or so holding up anti-war signs. McCoy’s memories of that early civic engagement are clear: “They held the signs – we kids just played, stood around, and were bored, but hey, it was for a cause.” And he credits this moment – in both jest and seriousness – as the beginning of his turn toward advocacy. The next year, his dad “solicited my help (or was it dragged me along?)” when he and other members of the teachers’ union picketed the school district over a pay dispute.
Flash forward: When his term with the JNE Commission was up, McCoy remembers thinking that he needed another cause. Soon after, he applied and was appointed to the Committee of Bar Examiners (CBE), where he served a total of four years, including one as vice chair and one as chair. Larry Sheingold joined CBE after several decades as staff in the California Legislature and on political campaigns; as an experienced professional, he admits it never occurred to him that he needed a mentor (“I’m not a lawyer,” he quickly points out). So, when McCoy helped him understand the world of the State Bar – the exam, the basis for a moral character determination, who lawyers should be and how they should behave – Sheingold says it was eye opening. “Sean’s support made a world of difference to me. Without him, I would not have been vice chair and eventually chair. I don’t think I would have served for 10 years if not for Sean.”
What is it about Sean McCoy that has so many people saying, “the world would be a better place with more people like him in it?” McCoy’s mother was a teacher, and then she became an attorney later in life. Out of high school, McCoy was less focused. He attended several different universities in San Diego (and a short stint at Brigham Young in Idaho, which was the first time he’d ever been away from home). When he graduated, he worked for a savings and loan that was taken over, and he was laid off. He did not much like accounting and did not have a math or science background, so law school sounded like “a decent plan.” He graduated from Cal Western and was admitted to practice in 1996. At this point, McCoy still believed Northern California was anything north of Los Angeles.
From the beginning of his legal career, it appears that McCoy found his calling. “Sean was a pleasure to work with. He had a great work ethic, was always prepared, kept our calendars moving,” says Judge Dana Walton of the Mariposa Superior Court, who says of himself, “I was a new judge when Sean came to Mariposa. He probably helped me in my new role as much or more than I helped him in his new town. That’s just the kind of guy he is,” Judge Walton continues, “easy going, professional, missed a lot when he left for Sacramento. He would make an excellent judge.” McCoy’s supervisor in the AG’s office, Ward Campbell, says that McCoy brings a rare ability and dexterity in any range and stage of trial and appellate work, which Campbell describes as “valuable, and at times indispensable.” Noting McCoy’s quick intelligence and humor – a common theme among friends and colleagues – Campbell says that McCoy was the perennial winner of the office cartoon caption contest. And reflecting upon McCoy’s incumbency as the new president of the SCBA, Campbell is confident that McCoy’s commitment will be significant.
Many people say McCoy is a tremendous example of a true public servant. “He doesn’t have to do this,” referring to the fact that so few government attorneys join and become active in volunteer legal activities like JNE Commission, Bar Examiners, and, most significantly, local bar associations. “He doesn’t need it for CLE, he doesn’t need the status, he doesn’t need it for networking, he just does it,” says Larry Sheingold, “because that’s the kind of person he is. In his new county bar role, he’ll get to know people and remember them long after his service has ended. He brings out the good in people, he encourages them by his actions. He appears simply to be dedicated to making his profession better.” Ward Campbell agrees. “Sean is a talented attorney with an amiable personality. He is committed to the profession, very well-rounded, and very capable. There’s little he can’t do, and nothing he’s reluctant to do.” Erika Hiramatsu sums it up like this: “Sean is drawn to service because he’s an all-around good person; he wants to effect change, he wants to help.”
When asked what his priorities are as president of the SCBA, McCoy says that he would like to encourage more lawyers to join the association, to give back, to participate. By all accounts, this should be a tremendous year marked by McCoy’s hard work, his mentorship of new members, and likely success, colored by a fair bit of humor to keep us engaged.