Eugene Treaster passed away in Sacramento in late October.
Treaster was one of California ‘s leading applicant attorneys for decades, representing injured workers in Sacramento and Stockton for about 50 years.
Gene Treaster was also my mentor and friend. It was a great pleasure to have known him, and I offer this remembrance to others in the comp community.
Gene became a member of the California Bar in 1963 and became a California Applicants Attorneys Association member in 1966. He served as CAAA president from 1970 to 1971. After graduating from Stanford with a degree in chemical engineering and serving in an army unit in Germany, he attended both USC and UCLA Law Schools.
In 1964 he set up his own shop representing injured workers. In the 1960s and 1970s there were fewer applicant attorneys, but they included some of the giants of the profession. People like Eugene Marias, Merv Glow and Barry Satzman in Los Angeles, Larry Blunt, Victor Beauzay and Mike Rucka in San Jose, Lowell Airola in San Francisco, Maurice (Yank) Marcus in Contra Costa County, and Eugene Leviton in Orange County. Gene was part of that cohort.
Over the years Gene handled many significant appellate cases.
And his perch in Sacramento allowed him the opportunity to know many of the important legislators who set California workers’ comp policy. That was in the day when legislators gathered at Sacramento watering holes such as Frank Fat’s Restaurant or David’s Brass Rail Bar. Legislators such as Jesse Unruh, James Mills, Willie Brown, Leo McCarthy and David Roberti ruled the roost.
A short, quirky man with “Coke-bottle” thick glasses, Gene had the look we now refer to as “nerdy”. He thought fast, sometimes talked fast, was constantly in motion, and had a amazing ability to recall information. Gene could be cantankerous, but never malicious. He had a big heart. And always, concern for the well-being of the working man and woman.
He was alway interested in his clients. If he had a schedule for office meetings with existing or new clients, he’s always fall behind. Why? He’d become absorbed with finding out about them as individuals, learning about where they came from, what made his clients tick.
It sometimes seemed he knew almost everyone in Sacramento County.
I’d moved from North Carolina to Davis, and answered his ad seeking an associate. Prominent attorney David Mastagni had left Gene’s office to set up his own practice, and Gene needed some help. I had no idea what workers’ comp was about, but agreed to come in and tail him around for a few days to check it out. His office at the time was in the California Fruit Exchange Building off of J Street, not far from the current Sacramento Kings arena.
Across the street was Green and Azevedo, the firm piloted by longtime CAAA lobbyist Don Green.
On my first day Gene sat me in the front seat of his blue Cadillac and put a wire basket containing a large stack of files in my lap. His legs were short and mine long. With the seat pulled forward, I was scrunched in the seat of his Caddy, and so off we went to the Stockton WCAB. He had about 8 cases set on the conference calendar, and I saw classic Gene in action that day. He was a little cyclone, trailed around by a small army of defense attorneys as he weaved between several hearing rooms at the Stockton WCAB. Periodically, the Stockton presiding WCJ, Judge Hollingshead, invited us into his chambers, stopping chain smoking and reading the newspaper long enough to take case dispositions.
Times were different then. At lunch some of the Stockton board practitioners would indulge a martini or two and then return to the board to wrap things up quickly. But Gene wasn’t a drinker, and we hurried back to Sacramento where he had a full waiting room of new client intakes. Gene often seemed impervious to time, and he’d see clients until well in the evening.
His dictated memos to file were often chock full of little tidbits about the stories each client had related. Comp was Gene’s life, not just a job.
I wasn’t convinced I wanted to get into workers’ comp law, but hung around Gene long enough to get it in my blood.
The Sacramento WCAB district office was in our building back then. In those days Sacramento board had its own medical examiner. If the judge wasn’t satisfied with the medical evidence they could ask the board medical examiner to do an exam.
Gene was particularly fond of handling workers’ comp cardiac claims. It was back in the day when attorneys could develop the medical record with examiners of their choice rather than striking names from a list of panel doctors. Dr. Meyer Friedman of San Francisco, a pioneer in theories about the relationship between “Type A” behavior and heart disease, frequently served as an expert for Gene.
Another particular interest of Gene’s were Subsequent Injuries Fund cases, claims where severely injured workers can be compensated for a combination of preexisting disability and subsequent work disability. Gene had a superior analytical mind, and derived great pleasure from teasing out the facts to establish the SIF claims. Along with San Jose attorney Art Johnson, Gene was recognized as one of the masters of those claims.
Gene wasn’t a techie, but Ed Carroll, John Anton, Mitch Burns, Arthur Zancai, and a few others working for him convinced him that we should try early version computers for the office. And so we experimented with TeleVideo and Commodore computer systems. It seems very quaint now, but a new age was dawning.
Eventually I moved on to the Bay Area to practice with Stewart Boxer, Mike Gerson and crew.
Up in Sacramento, Gene kept practicing, ably assisted by Melissa Brown and then for many years by Dan and Gina Lee, and by his colleague and friend Michael LaRoche.
Gene was a character, but in a good way. Those who worked with him, and those he served, appreciated him greatly. He was 88 when he died.