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Home Page Official Publication of the State Bar of California July2007
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Presumed guilty

As a California attorney, I have become increasingly embarrassed by our profession as I see how our California district attorneys, plaintiff’s attorneys and the media are facilitating an ever increasing erosion of our basic tenet in criminal law — presumed innocent until proved guilty — to a shocking new level. We have seen examples of this recently with the Duke lacrosse players and Guantanamo. This new irreversible level is assisted by the internet.

Once an individual becomes a suspect, his or her name becomes a permanent fixture on the Web and from that moment on, when seen in print, they have become guilty in the eyes of the public even if later exonerated. It appears that prosecutors have begun to use the media as a tool to build a case. In a recent San Francisco Chronicle article, the police chief thanked the media for helping to solve a crime. The individual presumed guilty had not even been charged, but in the meantime lost his job, community respect and his right to due process and a fair trial. This was exacerbated by attorneys who provided expunged records, private cell phone numbers, the address of his home, the name of the innocent wife.

What can be done to stop this ever-increasing trend and preserve the basic values and dignity of our legal profession?

Amy Meyer
Cranves-Sales, France

Too many lawyers

It is way past time for the California State Bar to recommend that all California law schools cut back on the number of law students admitted. There are too many graduates and too few law jobs in 2007.

The glamour of TV law programs and silly female TV talk lawyers have destroyed the legal profession.

Daniel Campbell
San Francisco

Absurd initiative

Re: “Guidelines for Lawyer Civility Move Forward” (May). In one word, “Absurd.”

Betty Rome
Culver City

Judges and violinists

The letters commenting on the April issue statistics on gender and race of California judges reminded me of all the rationalizations about why there were so few women and minority violinists in major symphony orchestras. The usual answers were that there were too few candidates, or too few with top notch ability, or too few interested in classical music and so on. Then came the “blind audition.” The performer played his/her audition behind a screen. The judging panel could not determine who was playing. The number of women and minorities given symphony chairs has gone way up as a result.

The job of judges is obviously different than violinists. The point is, where subjectivity enters into choices for jobs of any kind, white males continue to enjoy an unfair advantage. Highly qualified violinists — and lawyers — are perceived as less qualified and less attractive candidates because of gender and/or race.

A purely objective process for choosing judges may not be achievable or advisable. But in light of the dangers in the subjective approach, it behooves the governor and the JNE Commission to recognize and correct the state’s failure to appoint sufficient numbers of judges who are not white men.

Margaret Gannon
President
Women Lawyers of Alameda County

Maybe nobody wants the job

I find it amusing that nobody seems to have noticed the shaky assumption underlying the whole “diversity in the bar and bench” harangue. It does not seem to have occurred to anyone that the cultural diversity we are nurturing may include a diverse set of values, values that do not necessarily motivate people to seek careers where they spend 80 hours a week pushing papers around and arguing about other people’s money, while stewing in a vat of futility, tedium, public abuse and perpetual conflict. In other words, maybe not every culture thinks being a lawyer is such a hot deal.

And many lawyers would agree. For many years whenever anyone with a microphone faced a group of lawyers, it was fashionable to ask for a show of hands of those who wanted their children to become lawyers. Eventually the results became too predictable and too depressing to be entertaining. We all know that the Bluebook is the short handle hoe of the professional world. And yet the diversity drumbeaters seem to assume that, given a chance, everyone wants to be a lawyer. Perhaps they are underestimating the intelligence of the people they think they are helping. Or maybe they are driven by the same philosophy that motivates some supporters of gay marriage: “they should have to suffer like the rest of us.”

Blake Ashley
Tucson, Ariz.

Cultural perspective

Some of the May letters opposing the bar’s efforts to include more people of color in the jurist selection pool express the same opinion, namely, that they do not care about in-creasing minority representation on the bench but only care about having “quality” judges who “dispense justice” with “integrity and competence.” The common underlying presumption is that by increasing the minority pool of applicants and consequently the number of minority judges, you somehow reduce the quality of the bench. Since there has been no proposal for lowering the application standards in order to attract more minority applicants, there should be no rational fear that the applicant of color is somehow less qualified.

As an L.A. County Public Defender for over 11 years, I have worked inside the courtroom every day and appeared in front of hundreds of judges, some of whom are very good and some of whom are lousy. They come in all colors.

But, if what we are really talking about is appointing judges who dispense justice, increasing the number of judges of color will invariably bring different cultural experiences and perspectives to the bench, which in some cases may enable people of color to receive justice where it has been previously lacking.

For example, a black judge who has been stopped for DWB or asked out of the blue if they are on probation or parole may be more accepting that the practice really occurs than a white colleague who has never had those same cultural experiences.

Aaron A. Jansen
Los Angeles

What a joke

Is the headline “Changing the Color of the California Bench” (April) some kind of joke? The entire piece is anti-logic. What is clear by the data provided is that only 15.6 percent of California bar members are minorities, yet 30 percent of the bench are minorities. Seems California is doing a great job of promoting minority judicial appointments, since the numbers on the bench are double the percentage of the bar.

In a twist of logic, the article argues the opposite. The article has no credibility and ignores its own evidence. One must conclude it is entirely propaganda and not based on evidence. I expected more from the Bar Journal. Guess that was my mistake.

Jeff G. Harmeyer
San Diego

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