California Bar Journal
OFFICIAL PUBLICATION OF THE STATE BAR OF CALIFORNIA - APRIL 2000
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California Bar Journal

The State Bar of California


REGULARS

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Front Page - April 2000
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News Briefs
Election schedule set for board, CYLA vacancies
Bar court judge appointments process to be reviewed
Newest board member dies
Ventura County mobile legal center cited by ABA
ABA offers three CLE programs
Bar, Western State plan annual ethics symposium
Penalty for late bar dues moved to April 28
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Legal Tech - UM: The leading edge of convergence
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Opinion
From the President - Link starting salaries with service
Easy to destroy, hard to rebuild
2 trains on a collision course
Keep the judiciary independent
Letters to the Editor
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MCLE Self-Study
Viewing the Subdivision Map Act
Self-Assessment Test
MCLE Calendar of Events
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Public Comment
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Discipline
Ethics Byte - More on the written agreement
Charges of grand theft, sexual battery lead to bar hearing
Attorney Discipline
Conference
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Continued from Page 1
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need to do things . . . is not being really independent.”

A volunteer group of about 500 representatives from 245 local and specialty bar associations throughout California, the conference, now in its 38th year, offers a mechanism by which lawyers propose changes to the statutes that make up state law.

In the aftermath of Wilson’s 1997 veto of the bar’s funding bill, the legislature cut the conference loose from the general fund, requiring that it be self-supporting.

The conference set a goal of collecting $240,000 to fund a bare-bones budget this year but contributions have fallen far short of the target. The $3 check-off on the 2000 dues bill has brought in nearly $74,000, and contributions to the Foundation of the State Bar, earmarked for the conference, total about $16,000.

“Unless the numbers turn around,” Wasznicky said, “we won’t have enough for even a part-time lobbyist, and I’m not sure about a full-time staff person.”

Bar President Andrew J. Guilford, however, said he was encouraged by the number of lawyers — nearly 25,000 — who voluntarily contributed to the conference. “It is hard to have people give to good causes, and I think the numbers are encouraging,” Guilford said.

Wasznicky disputes critics’ suggestions that Wilson’s veto destroyed the conference. But, she said, the veto “further perpetuated a misconception that the conference is respon-sible for doing weird things, and it undermined or minimized the wonderful things the conference does do.”

Those efforts focus almost exclusively on fairly mundane, nuts-and-bolts practice issues — additions or changes to existing statute which are meant to improve the practice of law.

On average, Wasznicky said, the conference approves 25-30 resolutions a year, with between 60 and 75 percent being introduced and passed by the legislature. But the delegates have often veered into the controversial, debating hot-button issues.

Jim Otto, a member of the bar board of governors and a conference delegate for almost a decade, thinks the conference brought many of its problems on itself. It should have known that taking positions on controversial political issues would invite publicity, Otto said. “The conference should have been more perceptive about the role it played in the State Bar. I think it should have used better judgment in those early years.” Although the group became more disciplined in the last five years, he added, “its past sins caught up with it.”

Bowed by the criticism, the conference last year stuck with bread-and-butter practice questions such as attorney fees, unemployment insurance, discovery and arbitration. The board of governors included a few of the resolutions in its legislative program, but the rest went nowhere.

“It’s frustrating to go through all that effort and then have no possibility of having the proposal lobbied,” Wasznicky said.

If the conference cannot afford to hire its own lobbyist, it will try to persuade the bar board of governors to adopt some of its positions as part of the bar’s formal legislative effort.

“We do very positive, good work,” Wasznicky said, noting that she and her colleagues remain determined to keep the conference alive.

Said Guilford: “It’s important the lawyers of our state realize the importance of the conference’s work in reviewing California’s legislative scheme and attempting to make improvements to it.”