of the innovations of the Jerry Brown administration was the addition
of public members to various state boards, including the State Bar's
Board of Governors. I'll admit to having been skeptical about
whether public members would make any real contribution to the work of
the State Bar. But I am now a believer.
My first experience with a public member was with
John Morris. John was a supporter of the effort to strip from the bar
most of its trade association functions, such as the sections and
lobbying program. I was on the opposite side of this issue. As a
result, during the period of Gov. Wilson's veto, we found ourselves
on opposite sides of many votes.
But, while all of the political wrangling over
the veto was going on, the State Bar was facing a critical financial
decision that had to be made. The bar had to decide what to do about
our aged building in San Francisco. We had to decide whether to
rehabilitate the building, move everyone to Southern California, buy a
building or even possibly to build a new building. Once we decided to
move into new space, we had to acquire the space, find a buyer for our
old space and manage the move.
Now, one of the board members had substantial
real estate experience. John is in the real estate business. He
brought his years of experience to bear on this difficult and risky
decision by the State Bar. John's help made the difference. This was
the first experience I had with the substantial benefits of having
public members serve on state boards.
We have received similar help from Dr. Dorothy
Tucker, a psychologist with years of experience working with
dysfunctional people. Now, I doubt that the board of governors would
collectively have met the clinical criteria for schizophrenia, but
there is no doubt that the board was dysfunctional.
Dorothy brought good humor, vast experience and
her great affection for the bar family to the table, helping us work
through some tough times. She is quite a remarkable person.
We have been fortunate to have had her focus so much effort on
helping the State Bar.
Current public members are making similar
contributions. Julie Sommars has a levelheaded approach to life that
serves the board well as a reality check on some of its flights of
fancy. Joe Hicks brings his years of experience working for the Los
Angeles Human Rights Commission to our board meetings, helping us sort
through the difficult issues of inclusion and outreach. Joe keeps
reminding us that it is not our job to create proportional
representation, it is our job to be sure that all barriers to
opportunity are eliminated - an important distinction.
Two new public members are just getting started,
but we are already benefiting from their counsel. Janet Green is a
nurse who has worked for years in the area of public health. One of
the real challenges of the State Bar is finding ways of working with
members who are having difficulty with substance abuse. Our best
evidence is that close to 50 percent of the discipline problems of the
State Bar concern attorneys who are abusing alcohol and drugs. Once
again, the attorney members of our board have little experience
working with substance abusers. But, this is an area where Janet has
Working with Sen. John Burton, the State Bar is
about to embark on an effort to develop a diversion program in our
discipline system for members who have a substance abuse problem.
Janet's life experience will be of direct benefit as we undertake
Our newest public member, John Snetsinger, is a
college professor with years of practical experience working in a
large institution. When we recently wrestled with the issue of hiring
a consultant to help the board develop new governance policies, John
had practical thoughts to offer us based upon work he had done over
So I'm a convert. I originally viewed public
members as a vestige of the Feel Good years. My view was that public
members would find themselves wandering about during board meetings
dealing with the esoterica of the bar, strangers in a strange land.
But the reality has been that there is much that comes before the
board where the life experiences of our public members enable them to
make significant contribution to the bar. Many thanks to them on
behalf of all 135,000 practicing attorneys.