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Tom Monson Focuses on Giving Back to San Diego through Golf & Expert Trust, Probate, and ERISA Counsel

“ESTATE AND TRUST LITIGATION INVOLVES many personal issues and is like getting a divorce, only worse. Sometimes you’re getting a divorce from your entire family,” says Tom Monson, Senior Partner at Miller, Monson, Peshel, Polacek & Hoshaw. Yet for Monson, who has been with the firm since 1974, the decision to pick a specific practice area and become an expert in it has led to an impressive and award winning 38 year career in trust, probate and ERISA law…with a whole lot of fun and fundraising along the way.

“My father was a naval aviator for 32 years, flying off of aircraft carriers. He went into the Navy in 1941 during WWII and stayed in until he retired as a Captain in 1973. My mother, after raising four boys, started a career in real estate. Although I wasn’t much of a high school student, my parents always encouraged me and told me I could become anything I wanted.”
Monson headed off to college, but wryly recalls that he was “invited into the Army in 1968 after I had dropped out of college to go surfing in Hawaii.” But within 18 months, Monson rose to rank of Sergeant E-5 and was discharged three months early in order to attend college on the G.I. Bill. Once back, he found he had new motivation to study hard in his chosen major of Political Science. “I didn’t like the physical sciences such as biology or chemistry, but I had a firm belief that the rule of law was an honorable way to resolve disputes. I was fortunate enough to go to law school at California Western School of Law on the G.I. Bill as well.”
Going into law school, Monson admits he had no idea what area he wanted to practice in. Fortunately, fate intervened. Like most law students, Monson picked up a clerkship during his second year of law school at what was then Miller & Kearny. It was 1974 when Monson says he “snuck in the back. Another law clerk was ill and they needed a fill-in for one project. I have been with the firm ever since.”
That firm had been founded by Ralph Gano Miller, who was one of the first attorneys in California to become a certified tax specialist. “Miller was always known for his rather advanced estate planning techniques for dealing with estate tax issues,” Monson says about his mentor. “We were originally in the San Diego Trust and Savings Bank building, from 1959-1990, then moved to 501 West Broadway and were one of the first tenants in the building,” Monson says.
Early in his career, Monson also began building expertise in ERISA law as it evolved. “When it comes to ERISA litigation, many attorneys realize that it is an area of law in which they have no expertise, and it certainly is an area of law in which expertise is required. ERISA was passed in 1974, and I have been involved in ERISA litigation not only as a law clerk in 1974, but as an attorney ever since I began practicing in 1976,” Monson says. “In 1992, I started up and was chairman of the ERISA/Employee Benefits Group for the Association of Trial Lawyers of America. My partner Susan Horner and I have handled numerous ERISA litigation cases, obtaining very favorable benefits for our clients. Several have been published.
Susan now does more of the ERISA litigation than I do, but I still keep up to date and consult on numerous ERISA litigation issues.”

Concurrent with building his trust, probate, estate and ERISA practice, Monson was determined to build a reputation that reflected the favorable results he was delivering to clients. “The best advice any attorney can take is to protect your reputation at all costs. I try to develop a close relationship with clients and recognize that the area of law that they are dealing with is something new to them. I make sure that I explain the various nuances of the legal system that they are dealing with right up front,” Monson says. “I listen to the clients and let them know I care,” he adds.
“Unfortunately, when a loved one passes, problems frequently arise concerning their assets. Questions may be raised regarding the validity of their estate plans due to suspicion of undue influence, incapacity, fraud or duress. When it comes to handling will and trust contests and related probate and trust litigation, our firm is dedicated to restoring the client’s peace of mind that their loved one’s true intentions are being preserved,” Monson adds.


Moreover, Monson has worked hard to earn a solid reputation amongst his fellow attorneys. “I have always kept my word. I figure others will also keep their word. I don’t send letters confirming that I’m going to do something. I just do what I say I’m going to do,” he says. To that end, Monson’s firm is steadfast about letting other firms and attorneys know that if they refer their client to Miller, Monson, Peshel, Polacek & Hoshaw for estate planning, “We won’t try to get them as our business client. We will never try to steal another firm’s client.”
A great deal of the trust that Monson has earned both personally and professionally can be directly attributed to his time spent on the golf course. “Ralph Miller’s way of marketing was fishing trips. He had been the owner of H & M Landing and he would organize yearly fishing trips, inviting bank trust officers, title companies, private fiduciaries, CPAs and other potential referral sources to go out on half-day fishing trips,” Monson says.
Taking a cue from Miller’s playbook, Monson decided that instead of fishing, he would combine his passion for giving back to the community with his love for golf and use his time to network and fundraise. He found the perfect opportunity to blend these passions through the Century Club of San Diego. “Golf raises more money for charity than football, basketball and baseball combined,” Monson says. “The PGA Tour is nearing $2 billion raised for charity.”
“The Century Club of San Diego is comprised of 60 to 70 businesses and community leaders. It is a non-profit corporation organized for the main purpose of administering and promoting San Diego’s annual PGA Tour event, the Farmers Insurance Open. The net earnings of the Century Club are used solely for charitable and philanthropic purposes,” Monson explains. “I have been a member since 1995. Being involved with the Century Club has given me continued opportunities to meet and associate with people in San Diego who want to make sure this city truly is America’s Finest City.”


But Monson has given much more to the nonprofit than just his membership. In 2012, he served as the President of the Century Club and General Chairman of the Farmers Insurance Open during its 50th anniversary. To date, the Century Club, which was founded in 1961, has raised more than $25 million for local San Diego charities. Monson, with his wife Pam as his caddie, has also played in the Farmers Insurance Open Pro Am each year, giving him the opportunity to play with some of the top golf professionals, including Tiger Woods, Fred Couples, John Daly, Justin Rose, Peter Jacobsen, Tom Lehman and Dustin Johnson. As far as business he’s earned from golf? “Miller said it’s the best thing I ever did,” Monson says. “After 18 holes of golf, you get a good read on a person’s personality. You can see right away if someone is truthful since golf requires that you enforce the rules on yourself. It teaches you a great deal about integrity. Joining the Century Club has allowed me to meet numerous people in San Diego and develop personal relationships of trust. Everyone sooner or later is going to need the help of an attorney regarding estate planning, and unfortunately often, estate litigation issues.”
In addition to his work with the Century Club, Monson has also served on various fundraising committees which benefit organizations such as the Ronald McDonald House, Pro Kids | The First Tee of San Diego, the Boys and Girls Club of Greater San Diego, the Boy Scouts of America and the Palomar College Foundation. Furthermore, “I was a Committee Chairman during the 2008 USGA US Open at Torrey Pines. I worked every day from 4:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. for eight days. It was worth it because it was one of the greatest US Opens ever and it put San Diego in the world-wide spotlight as a place to be,” Monson says.



Over the course of a career spanning decades, Monson has had no shortage of interesting cases, particularly as a trust and estates litigator. But to hear him tell it, “When you do estate planning and clients come in, it often turns out that they have other business or personal issues. You become something of the ‘family attorney.’” To that end, he’s found himself in some highly publicized cases, pertaining not only to his areas of specialization, but also to those other areas of civil litigation that he never intentionally sought out.
One such example occurred in 1989. “In Ertel v. Dr. Gerald Kersenbock, I had convinced a jury to award my client, Mr. Ertel, $3.4 million against Kersenbrock, the former President of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, for seducing Mr. Ertel’s wife while she was Kersenbrock’s patient. The case made national news as it was one of the largest judgments ever obtained against a therapist for having an affair with a patient where the judgment was in favor of the patient’s spouse,” Monson explains. “It was a unique situation,” he adds. After the program A Current Affair, which was hosted by Maury Povich, covered the story, Monson immediately found himself on the receiving end of dozens of calls seeking his counsel on therapy abuse cases.
One of those watching A Current Affair was Stan Love (brother of the Beach Boys’ Mike Love, and former L.A. Laker). “He contacted me after hearing about the Ertel case. I represented Stan Love on behalf of the Beach Boys in filing a petition in Los Angeles Superior Court to have a conservator appointed for Love’s cousin, Beach Boy Brian Wilson. We were successful in that petition in having a conservator appointed and ultimately removed psychologist Dr. Eugene Landy from his control over Brian Wilson. We announced the lawsuit at the Los Angeles Press Club, which was coordinated by the Beach Boys’ publicists. When Brian Wilson and his handlers showed up, I grabbed a copy of the conservatorship papers and personally served Brian. MTV had a video of Brian being served on MTV News that night,” Monson recalls.

19Indeed Monson’s career has been a full one, with no shortage of entertainment, awards, recognitions and service to the community. As such, Monson has the sort of unflappable personality that can only be the earmarks of a career laden with expertise. With 38 years of experience under his belt, there’s not much that he doesn’t take in stride.

Yet, he is as passionate about his practice of law and about fundraising through golf as ever. “Our firm is small by design. We generally have 8 or 9 attorneys. We’ve been here since 1959, and I don’t think it is likely that we’re going to go anywhere. I expect our firm to continue right here in this building for many years to come,” he says. “I work hard, and I play hard. I’ve practiced here a long time and I’m proud to say that many attorneys that I have gone against in the past have contacted me to represent them or their clients years later. I enjoy the practice of law, and I know I have another five to ten years left in me,” he adds.

Tom Monson
Miller, Monson, Peshel, Polacek, & Hoshaw
501 West Broadway, Suite 700
San Diego, CA 92101

Jennifer Hadley

Jennifer Hadley is a Staff Writer for Attorney Journal

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