California Bar Journal
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Arizona attorney sues State Bar for right to vote and run in board of governors elections
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Staff Writer
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An Arizona attorney who belongs to the State Bar of California sued the bar last month, claiming it improperly denies him the opportunity to run for or vote in elections for the board of governors.

Phoenix intellectual property lawyer Louis Hoffman, 42, says bar rules restricting eligibility to run or vote for the board are unconstitutional and he asked that the bar create a special district for the nearly 10,000 members who practice out of state.

He also asked for a preliminary injunction to force the bar to allow him to vote in the current and future elections and to run for the board next year or any time after that. A hearing is scheduled April 9.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco by frequent bar critic Stephen Barnett, says that out-of-state bar members must pay dues, comply with continuing education requirements and obey the Rules of Professional Conduct - in short, meet the same requirements as their in-state counterparts. "Only the right to vote for the board of governors and to serve on that board differentiates out-of-state members from those within the state," the complaint says.

The case challenges two state statutes, Business & Professions Code 6018 and 6015, which make lawyers eligible to vote or run for the board if they maintain their principal office for the practice of law in an existing State Bar district. Those statutes, Hoffman claims, violate the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause and the Privileges and Immunities Clause.

The principal office requirement violates the Equal Protection Clause, according to the complaint, because the right to vote is fundamental, and it violates the First Amendment by discriminating against the views of out-of-state bar members.

In addition, Hoffman argues, residency requirements, such as the principal office requirement, have been struck down by the Supreme Court three times for violating the Privileges and Immunities Clause of the Constitution. According to the complaint, the statutes he challenges "deny political rights to otherwise qualified members of the California State Bar for a reason of geography."

"Voting in districts in your home state is basic to this country's constitutional system," said bar President Karen Nobumoto. "There is nothing unconstitutional about modeling the procedure for voting for the board of governors after that. And that is what the legislature has done. We told Mr. Hoffman's lawyers that changes to procedure need to be made through a democratic process, through the legislature, not by one member trying to dictate it through a lawsuit."

She criticized Hoffman and his attorneys for choosing to litigate the election issue, forcing the bar to spend member dues on a question which falls under the aegis of the legislature.

She said she has an open-door policy and is always accessible to bar members, yet "no one contacted me directly about this issue until I received a demand letter.

"The board has a committee that has been looking at election reform questions for more than a year. Plaintiff's counsel is aware of that fact, yet have chosen not to avail themselves of that option."

In addition to Barnett, Hoffman is represented by San Francisco attorneys Ephraim Margolin and Arthur Brunwasser.