California Bar Journal
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Bar studies position of president-elect to achieve continuity
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The State Bar of California may join other state bars throughout the country and create a position for a president-elect. An informal poll of the board of governors last month indicated most lean toward the notion, which current president Andrew Guilford said would enhance continuity.

“One of the bar’s biggest difficulties is the transitory nature of the presidency,” Guilford said, explaining that a one-year term does not allow a president to accomplish his or her goals before the term expires.

On a scale of one to 10, the majority of board members gave the idea about an eight.

Executive director Judy Johnson also supported the idea, describing continuity as “a critical factor” for an effective presidency. She said legislators have expressed frustration with having to deal with a different bar leader every year and suggested the change would improve the bar’s relationship with Sacramento.

Most bar associations in the country have a president-elect; in fact, the ABA has a meeting every year focusing just on that group.

The new position would require legislative action since a one-year presidency currently is required by California statute (the State Bar Act, 6020).

The new position, if approved, would likely require a board member to serve five years, although Guilford said he was open to choosing a president-elect at the end of a governor’s second year. Each bar governor, except the young lawyers’ representative, serves a three- year term. Guilford scheduled the election of next year’s president for this month in order to give the winner more time to prepare for the job.

Despite the support for the idea, some board members expressed reservations.

Ronald Albers, a San Francisco public defender, gave the suggestion a five, saying he was concerned about the effect of a four- or five-year commitment on sole or lower-income practitioners, minorities and women. He said he thought the earlier election was an adequate response to the issue.

David Roth, a sole practitioner from Oakland, opposed the change but wanted any discussion to be deferred until the board better defines what it wants from a bar president.

“The president now has a dysfunctional role and has contributed to the problems of the State Bar,” Roth said. He believes the president now serves as a co-CEO of the bar when he should instead be the bar’s spokesperson to its constituents.

Los Angeles governor Karen Nobumoto also opposed the change, saying it would impose too great a burden on women and minority attorneys. “I’ve always hated the idea,” she said, “because diversity would be negatively affected. A five-year track would be overwhelming.”