California Bar Journal
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California Bar Journal

The State Bar of California


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Front Page - February 2000
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News Briefs
Appeal court denies bar's petition to reverse Brosterhous
Fee bill introduced
Bar fee arb program gears up
David Bryson, Loren Miller recipient, dies at 58
Board to name one to Judicial Council
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You Need to Know
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From the President - For our system to work, we need to be involved
Let's let public lawyers take a seat at the table
The illusion of a cosmetic fix
Letters to the Editor
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MCLE Self-Study
The Supreme Court and the ADA
Self-Assessment Test
MCLE Calendar of Events
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Access commission seeks members for 2 positions
Apply to serve on a bar committee
Bar seeks applicants for ABA delegates
Judge evaluation positions open
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Ethics Byte - 'Rampant' conflicts in a new economy
Attorney suspected of soliciting murder of bar prosecutor
Attorney Discipline
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Legal Tech - If the hype is right, ASPs are H-O-T
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Public Comment


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For our system to work, we need to be involved
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President, State Bar of California
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Andrew J. GuilfordIn my first president’s column, I wrote that our judicial system was under attack and that the State Bar of California and its members should be principal players supporting and improving our judicial system. This is part of our professional duties, and in a speech at our last Annual Meeting, Chief Justice Ronald George cited the following ABA Model Rule:

“As a public citizen, a lawyer should seek improvement of the law, the administration of justice and the quality of service rendered by the legal profession.”

What are the attacks on our judicial system and our courts, and how can we help?

In our system of government, courts, and only courts, have the important but uncomfortable duty of protecting constitutional freedoms from majority rule. Further, courts and lawyers operate in an adversary system of justice whose systemic and philosophical underpinnings often seem too subtle for many to understand. This often leads to unfair attacks on courts and our judicial system. It is constitutionally absurd to attack court decisions against school prayer simply because the majority wants such prayer. Yet such arguments are regularly made in attacks on the courts by citizens and even lawyers who should know better.

Courts can continue to protect our freedoms only as long as we honor and support our courts. As my Constitutional Law Professor Reginald Alleyne noted, the courthouse guards at the United States Supreme Court would not do very well against any state militia opposed to Brown v. Board of Education. Courts are effective only through the informed respect of citizens. Lawyers and bar associations must keep aware of threats to our courts and be prepared to stand up for our courts. We must also seek to inform citizens about our system, maybe even by writing articles like this!

 The judicial system is also tarnished by unfair attacks in plays, movies, television shows, and other media. Too often, journalists incorrectly charge that this negative trend started with the Shakespeare quote from King Henry VI, Part 2:  “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” In fact, these words are spoken by a riotous, anarchistic demagogue. People need to be informed that Shakespeare is here complimenting lawyers as protectors of the social order. Other inaccurate portrayals of the legal system abound. The system does not operate as depicted in The Insider and Ally McBeal. And judges do a far better job of courteously and professionally dispensing justice than depicted on Judge Judy. Again, lawyers and bar associations must respond by educating citizens about how our system operates.

For our judicial system to work, we need highly qualified judges. Some have argued that court unification might discourage good lawyers from seeking judgeships, and private judging lures good judges away from the bench. It does seem that the only way for a judge to protest poor pay is to vote with judicial footsteps walking to the nearest private judging company!  In response, we must work to uphold the honor and importance of judicial service. Our judges and the system they serve deserve our respect. Unfortunately, there is an alarming trend in our profession to view participants as players in the pursuit of profits, and the more you make, the better you are. It has been noted that this destructively diminishes and dismisses lawyers pursuing public service over profits. Even more so, it also denies judges the respect they deserve. We must fight this trend by recognizing the importance and honor of serving as a judge.

A more direct response to the dilemma of underpaid judges is to pay them more! Salary increases are particularly timely now that unification has been imposed with its promised savings. Moreover, recent headlines herald a brave new world where first year associates are making close to $150,000! We cannot let judicial salaries fall too far behind, and judges should not be paid less than public lawyers appearing before them! We should follow the example of lawyers like Don Gray who are working to improve our justice system by increasing judicial salaries. It is particularly important for lawyers and bar associations to do this since it is difficult for judges to do so.

Other shortfalls tarnish the image and effectiveness of our judicial system. We need more judges and a sufficient number of court personnel and research clerks. We also need courthouses that are safe, accessible, and suitable for the important role of our judicial system. Those believing our societal values are reflected in the structures we erect would have to conclude that sports and shopping and stadiums and malls are far more important to us that justice in our courtrooms.

Another factor tarnishing the image of our courts is that citizens dislike their experience with the court institution that impacts them most frequently: jury service. The solution here is jury reform, such as simplifying jury instructions and increasing juror pay in California, which is the lowest in the country. Lawyers and bar associations should take advantage of opportunities to help with juror reform.

Clearly there is a constant need to support and improve our justice system. The State Bar and its more than 168,000 lawyers, one out of every eight in the United States, should play a key role in this important professional obligation. The Conference of Delegates, the sections and State Bar committees all provide great opportunities to help. So turn off Judge Judy, tune in to bar activities, and don’t drop out!