California Bar Journal
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Five vie for State Bar presidency
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Ronald E. AlbersJames R. GreinerThe candidates are: Ronald E. Albers, a deputy public defender from San Francisco; James R. “Jay” Greiner, a Sacramento criminal defense attorney; Karen S. Nobumoto, a Los Angeles deputy district attorney; James D. Otto, a civil litigator from a mid-sized Torrance firm; and David L. Roth, an Oakland general practitioner specializing in real estate law. Each now serves as a vice president of the bar board.

The winner will succeed Palmer Madden, an East Bay mediator and former partner with McCutchen, Doyle, Brown, & Enersen in Walnut Creek. Although the new president will not take office until September, the six-month interval is expected to provide an adequate orientation period — a goal past presidents have suggested is desirable. 

Karen S. NobumotoJames D. OttoThe candidates joined the board in 1998, shortly after former Gov. Pete Wilson nixed the bar’s fee bill, forcing the layoffs of about 500 employees. They watched the bar sink to its lowest point and begin a slow return to more solid footing.

Each has been involved in most of the organization’s major activities.

Albers, 51, chairs the board’s administration and finance committee and had a hand in helping to reduce bar dues by $50 this year and developing long-term financial planning “to keep the dues low,” he said.

David L. RothKey issues in the coming year will be better use of technology, improved access to justice, better services to members and continued refinement of the discipline system, particularly launching a diversion program for alcoholic and drug-abusing lawyers. He also wants to improve the bar’s educational efforts online by offering higher quality programs and adding a video component.

“Since the shutdown, we’ve done a lot to redirect the State Bar to improve the way we serve our members,” Albers said. “This is a year to solidify our gains.”

Greiner, 45, a Sacramento criminal defense attorney, says he would bring to the presidency a vision for improved communication with lawyers and lawmakers, responsibility in the fiscal and technological arenas, and innovation in finding alternative sources of funding.

The bar president always faces big issues, ranging from discipline to dues to improving technology, he said, and “has to have a broad, big vision picture, be mindful of all the interests of the bar and respond accordingly.”

His service on virtually every committee of the board, as well as the past presidency of the Sacramento bar association, provide a solid foundation of both familiarity with bar issues and a wide range of resources, Greiner said.

As a prosecutor in the career criminal unit of the Los Angeles DA’s target crimes division, Nobumoto has litigated cases involving unauthorized practice of law and has dealt with victims of ineffective counsel. She is therefore keenly aware of the bar’s public protection role and supports a strong and effective discipline system.

In the past three years, she has made increased diversity within the bar a priority, serving two years on the board’s appointments committee. If elected, Nobumoto, 48, would be the first African-American woman president of the California bar.

Like the other candidates, she stressed the importance of improved technology to provide better member services, and said she will work closely with the legislature to win a multi-year fee bill “to insure stability and continuity of the important services we provide.”

Otto, who practices commercial litigation and environmental law with John Hill & Associates, agrees that the board should continue to fine-tune the discipline operation, “taking care of the bad eggs rapidly and dealing swiftly with the complaints that are without merit.”

Elected on a pledge to make the bar more member-friendly, Otto, 51, says that pledge remains a goal and an area where the bar can make inroads. “The profession needs to become something that people don’t feel disaffected with,” he says.

He suggests the bar can do a better job of reaching out both to members and the public. “We can benefit if people see us as an important service provider,” he says.                 

Sole practitioner David Roth, 47, has focused in the last three years on creating a clear division between the board of governors, which he says should set policy, and the staff, which should implement that policy. The president, he said, should limit himself or herself to presiding over the board and acting as a spokesperson for the bar.

Differing priorities of past presidents, who serve for only one year, have created a lack of continuity, and meddling by previous boards has contributed to dysfunction within the bar, he said.

“I think the president of the State Bar should focus on being the bar’s representative to our three important constituencies — our attorney members, the public and the state legislature,” Roth said. “The president needs to take to the public the message of what a great job the lawyers of California are doing for them and the importance of lawyers in the justice system.

“The president needs to make our attorney members aware of what the bar is doing for them and needs to restore in the legislature confidence in the fiscal and organizational integrity of the bar so we can achieve a multi-year fee bill.”