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Board of governors creates Access & Fairness Council

By a vote of 16-2 last month, the State Bar Board of Governors agreed to create an Access & Fairness Council devoted to increasing diversity in the legal profession. The 25-member group will replace five existing access committees that are neither well-funded nor well-staffed.

The council is an outgrowth of the bar's so-called "Pipeline Project," designed to reach out to students from pre-school through college to introduce them to the possibility of becoming lawyers. According to Ruthe Ashley, a board vice president from Sacramento, the new group will "focus on policy and strategic planning."

The five access committees, which focus on the concerns of women, ethnic minority, gay and lesbian, disabled and senior lawyers, objected to the elimination of their groups, saying they had not been consulted about the change. Their representatives said, however, that they favor the pipeline effort.

As a result of a 1999 court decision, member dues cannot be used to support the access committees' work. "We're limited in both dollars and staffing," said deputy executive director Robert Hawley, who oversees compliance with the court's ruling in Brosterhous v. State Bar. He said the committees, each dedicated to a single diversity issue, had been "stripped of their purpose" by Brosterhous.

The board agreed to allow the committees to complete any ongoing projects by March and to submit a list of priorities to the new council.

"We can find a home for the issues," said executive director Judy Johnson. "We just don't need to preserve the structure."

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