Capitol Alert

Lobbyist Jay Dee Michael dies at 82

Lobbyist Jay Dee Michael
Lobbyist Jay Dee Michael Courtesy of the Michael family

Jay Dee Michael, one of the Capitol’s top lobbyists for more than four decades, died at his Carmichael home Saturday of an inoperable stomach tumor. He was 82.

Michael’s lobbying career included stints with the League of California Cities, the University of California, the California Medical Association and Patients Allied for Patient Protection (CAPP), which was formed to battle trial lawyers over medical malpractice issues.

Those employers and clients put Michael at the center of some of the mid- to late 20th century’s most contentious political issues, such as the angst over unrest at the University of California in the 1960s. As a UC vice president, it was his job, he said later, to protect the autonomous institution from efforts in the Capitol to impose more control on its operations and policies.

As UC’s man in Sacramento, Michael was later to write, he also had to fend off efforts by powerful politicians to get special treatment for relatives and friends who wanted to enroll in the university, or to tap into university funds for their pet projects.

Previously, during his time with the League of California Cities, Michael shepherded legislation creating the Southern California Association of Governments and the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority.

Michael joined the California Medical Association in 1976, a year after Jerry Brown, then in his first governorship, had signed the state’s landmark $250,000 cap on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases. He would spend most of his remaining lobbying career, both as the medical association’s head lobbyist and later with CAPP, defending its provisions against efforts by plaintiffs’ attorneys to repeal or modify it.

It’s a conflict that continues to this day. A ballot measure to change it, Proposition 46, was rejected by voters last year.

The issue also includes one of the most storied incidents in Capitol lore. Michael was among a small gathering of lobbyists for various interest groups, plus some politicians, who met in Frank Fat’s restaurant late one night as the 1987 legislative session was nearing adjournment. The principals, including Michael, had been negotiating in the Capitol with Assembly Speaker Willie Brown’s oversight but moved to Frank Fat’s for some food.

As they hopped from table to table at the popular political watering hole, what came to be known as the “napkin deal” was forged. The deal, written on a tablecloth and later transferred to a napkin for portability, was a truce in several long-running conflicts over tort liability. The next day, after a perfunctory hearing, the deal was enacted.

Michael was to write the only detailed insider account of how the deal came together in a book that he and Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters co-authored, “The Third House: Lobbyists, Money and Power in Sacramento,” which was published in 2002, two years after Michael’s retirement from lobbying.

Michael was born in Pawnee Rock, Kan., graduated from UC Berkeley and later received a master’s degree from UCLA.

He was married for 60 years to his wife, Claire. The couple had two sons, Jay Dee Jr. and Matthew, one daughter, Melinda Eppler, and four grandsons.

Michael’s family is planning a memorial service at the Scottish Rite Temple, 6151 H St., Sacramento, on Aug. 26 at 3 p.m.