need to do things . . . is not being really
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
In the aftermath of Wilsons 1997 veto of the bars funding
bill, the legislature cut the conference loose from the general fund, requiring that it be
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
wont have enough for even a part-time lobbyist, and Im 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 Wilsons 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.
Its 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 bars
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: Its important the lawyers of our state
realize the importance of the conferences work in reviewing Californias
legislative scheme and attempting to make improvements to it.