California Bar Journal
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California Bar Journal

The State Bar of California


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Front Page - July 2001
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News / News Briefs
Two-year fee bill goes to governor
Janet Reno, low-cost MCLE highlight Annual Meeting
Stanley Mosk dies at 88
State Bar wins ABA's Harrison Tweed Award for pro bono, legal access, IOLTA efforts
Foundation will accept grant applications beginning July 16
Winnebago of justice serves those on the road less traveled
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Trials Digest
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Legal Tech - Matter management is not just for litigators
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From the President - Public members bring fresh views
Holding judges accountable
Letters to the Editor
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MCLE Self-Study
Alcohol and the workplace
Self-Assessment Test
MCLE Calendar of Events
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Ethics update...
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You Need to Know
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Public Comment
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Ethics Byte - Level field or a judicial practical joke?
Former DA disbarred for drunken-driving coverup
Attorney Discipline


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In praise of our critics
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President, State Bar of California
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Palmer Madden, President, State Bar of CaliforniaOne 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 substantial experience.

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 this effort.

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 the years.

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.