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Private PracticeShe once masqueraded as a somewhat...

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Private Practice

She once masqueraded as a somewhat subservient, totally accommodating, mild-mannered legal secretary, but Friday people saw Barbara Jean Penny for what she really is.

Superwoman.

Well, at least a super woman.

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When Penny left Illinois for the San Fernando Valley with her husband and son in 1970, she was a mother, wife and legal secretary, in that order.

Four years later, she was a 35-year-old divorcee with a 12-year-old son to support and was also a new enrollee in the now-defunct Mid Valley School of Law.

Her attorney boss and some friends thought she was crazy for trying to work 40 hours a week, study 30 hours a week and raise a son. And they were afraid the unaccredited school might not give her the training she would need to pass the bar.

Four years later, she was licensed to practice law in this state, had a steady flow of family law clients streaming into her Van Nuys office and was finding the time to do community service legal cases, or, as the law profession calls it, pro bono work.

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It’s a practice peculiar to attorneys to charge robust fees for most of their clients and represent others for nothing, and although she says her fees are on the modest side Penny is a good example of that fact.

Which is what got her called on the (red) carpet.

At the annual meeting of the California Bar Assn. on Friday in Anaheim, Penny, along with six other lawyers and two statewide legal organizations, were honored for their habit of giving away their time and expertise.

In Penny’s case, it was the 300-plus hours she donated last year to the Van Nuys-based Family Law Center of the San Fernando Valley Bar Assn.

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She not only represented, and still represents, clients who were unable to pay for legal services, she tutored and served as a mentor for less experienced attorneys facing difficult cases.

A typical case might involve a man with means to pay for legal services, and his wife, who does not have funds and who is trying to recover money from a pension plan during a divorce. Even more typical is a parent trying to establish custody rights during or after a divorce.

Penny remembers one such case. “The woman had been accused of drug use, and the court was initially very careful about allowing her access, as well it should have been,” she said. “However, the woman had straightened out her life, gotten into a rehabilitation program and wanted to see her children.” Penny took the case pro bono for the center.

She seems almost annoyed by the suggestion that her community service record and background are unusual, although she does say it was hard getting up at 3 a.m. weekdays to study for the bar before going to work.

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“And those 300 hours I put in at the center last year were a small part of the 4,500 hours dozens of other lawyers in the Valley contributed to the center,” she said.

If there is one thing she would like to have come from the award publicity, it’s that it is never too late to go for it.

“I used to do volunteer work at a shelter for battered women, and I will never forget some of them, 25 and younger, thinking their life was over and there was no chance for them to succeed. It was so frustrating.”

Special Education

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For 30 years the Sven Lokrantz School in Reseda has been serving the needs of the Valley’s young mentally and physically handicapped. So after very little deliberation, they decided to have a celebration.

Teacher Marilyn Palmer said they don’t need much of an excuse to throw a party at this Los Angeles Unified School District facility, which currently serves more than 220 youngsters.

“We are trying to locate all former students and staff so that we can get together on this occasion,” she said. They hope at least 100 alumni show up.

On Sept. 26, there will be a program in the auditorium, beginning at 1:15 p.m., with a reception afterward. The combination homecoming and family reunion should be an emotional one for returnees because the school fosters a unique family atmosphere, she said.

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Palmer laughs as she recalls the student body festivals where most of the adults, including the bus drivers and janitors, got dressed up to dance with the kids.

“We have invited all the current members of the Lokrantz community,” Palmer said, “but we are still looking for many of our alumni.”

Building Confidence

What would you do if you were trying to lease out a new office park in the middle of a suicidal economy?

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Turning the property to a higher use--like, maybe a temporary bankruptcy court--is one answer.

Prolonged wailing and sobbing is another.

What Cal Johnston did was conduct a company survey.

He’s president of the Johnston Group of Calabasas, which has built a 300,000-square-foot office park in Malibu Canyon in Calabasas.

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His informal survey points out that productivity in the workplace often is increased by certain favorable external and internal conditions, many of which ( quelle surprise! ) are included in his new development.

The survey said that close, convenient restaurants, free covered parking, an attractive work environment, nearby retail centers, good security, quality air-conditioning and heating control, natural lighting and health facilities near the office contribute to worker contentment and increase productivity.

Johnston said in a news release that dozens of interviews were conducted to come to these conclusions.

So how come no one mentioned those all-purpose motivators like avarice and greed?

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What’s That?

Charlotte Clarke is a wild food expert, but don’t get any ideas about her deportment.

Clarke is a twigs-and-berries kind of woman who will be teaching people how to make acorn meal and fry bread Sunday in Agoura.

Clarke will teach you about food that doesn’t come in a pouch or a box and that you don’t nuke. The $65 class is offered by the Wilderness Institute.

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Extraordinary.

Overheard

“When was it summer again?”

--Young boy to his mother in Sherman Oaks

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