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Granite Bay lawyer elected to state bar board

Joanna Mendoza will officially join board in October
By: Laura O'Brien Granite Bay View Correspondent
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The daughter of a truck driver and a secretary, Granite Bay lawyer Joanna Mendoza decided at the age of 5 that she wanted to become a professional when she grew up.

“Doctors had to remember too many body parts,” Mendoza said, during an interview at her office off Barton Road. “I just decided that a lawyer would be much easier.”

A solo practitioner specializing in intellectual property law and general and complex business litigation, Mendoza, 49, was recently elected to the California State Bar’s board of trustees. She will represent District 3, spanning 23 Northern California counties including Placer and Sacramento, upon her swearing in at the state bar’s annual meeting this month in San Jose.

“Just knowing I would be able to jump in and begin tackling issues much quicker because of my background made me even more confident that I should at least submit my candidacy for consideration,” Mendoza said.

As a trustee, she hopes to institutionalize recent reforms at the state bar, including streamlining the attorney discipline system, which support the bar’s role as a protector of the public.

Mendoza (née Delk) grew up in Citrus Heights and graduated from Mesa Verde High School as valedictorian in 1982. With the help of scholarships, financial aid and student loans, she completed law school at University of California, Berkeley, after double majoring in political science and economics at University of California, San Diego.

“A lot of the volunteer time I’ve committed I feel like is part of my obligation to give back,” said Mendoza, who has served 10 years in leadership positions among the bar’s sections, including intellectual property. 

An arm of the California Supreme Court, the state bar regulates admissions to legal practice and discipline of the more than 240,000 lawyers in California. The bar also ensures access to legal services.

“Its main goal is public protection for the citizens with regard to attorneys,” Mendoza said.

Disciplining lawyers accounts for 75 percent of the bar’s annual budget, mainly funded through membership fees. Part of the money goes to the Client Security Fund, which provides compensation to individuals defrauded by lawyers. Mendoza said the fund took a big hit during the loan modification fraud of the last decade. With the possibility of federal immigration reform, the board’s president-elect, Luis Rodriguez, the first Hispanic California bar president, has focused on preventing immigration fraud.  

“We want to make sure that the people are being treated right and they’re not being taken advantage of,” Mendoza said. 

Also currently on tap for the board of trustees are updates in the requirements for admitting lawyers to the bar. Proposed changes would require new attorneys to complete 50 hours of pro bono work and 15 hours of practical experience.

“What California does — because we have such a huge population of lawyers in the country — tends to be the standard that gets set for the rest of the country,” she said. 

Along with experience, Mendoza brings a personable yet effective style to her new role as a trustee, said her colleague Joel Baiocchi, who maintains a practice in Dutch Flat.

“I think it’s great that someone who’s so down to earth and has a good grasp of the realities of practice is there looking out for everyone,” said Baiocchi, who met Mendoza at a downtown Sacramento law firm in 1999. The two were co-counsel on a three-month trial regarding a vaccine dispute and have worked together servicing that client since then.

“Some people are a natural in a courtroom, and I think she’s one of them,” he said.

Their client is Hygieia Biological Laboratories, a Woodland-based manufacturer of animal biologics, including vaccines. The company manufactures a rattlesnake vaccine for dogs.

“Vaccines, unlike drugs, do not have protection,” said research veterinarian Dr. Dale Wallis, vice president and half owner of Hygieia. “We survive by trade secrets, which are novel ways of doing things.”

With Mendoza’s help, Wallis sued and won a trade secret lawsuit involving a vaccine for dairy cows, which spawned further litigation.

“People like Joanna, who know this law inside and out, they can defend a firm and protect this intellectual property from illegitimate attacks,” Wallis said. “They’re invaluable.”

For Mendoza, courtroom work is a dream come true.

“My ideal would (be) to someday be a judge. … That would be awesome, and someday that might happen,” Mendoza said. “But we shall see.”