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
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
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
"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
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.