sent to all California lawyers.
"The fundamentals of the current relationship
will basically be preserved," said Executive Director Judy Johnson,
explaining that the bar will continue to collect contributions to the
conference and the conference will hold its yearly meeting in
conjunction with the bar's annual convention. "We will have an
arm's length contractual relationship," she added.
The major change in that relationship, one the
conference has been seeking for several years, will be the ability to
lobby in Sacramento, unfettered by court rulings which prohibit the
State Bar from using member dues to advocate political positions.
"Our purview rules will be free of Keller,"
said Stephen L. Marsh, chair of the conference executive committee,
referring to the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling more than a decade ago
in Keller v. State Bar. Together with the more recent Brosterhous v.
State Bar decision, the rulings have fundamentally changed the way the
bar can spend mandatory member dues, limiting those expenditures to
activities within its core mission.
The limitations were codified when the
legislature required the conference to be funded voluntarily,
eliminating the guarantee of a member-provided budget. Despite being
self-funded, however, the conference has been subject to State Bar
purview rules which restrict positions it can take on legislation.
"A vote for this is a vote for free speech,"
said John Van de Kamp, a governor representing Los Angeles. A longtime
member of the conference, the former attorney general acknowledged the
group has "gone astray a few times and gotten the State Bar in
trouble," but he called the split a good compromise that reflects
"the realities of the day."
It was those very realities, however, that made
the move somewhat bittersweet for the many board members whose bar
activism includes participation in the conference.
San Diego governor Judy Copeland, a longtime
conference delegate, said she accepted the separation only
"I find this very sad," she said. "Whatever
judge decided the Keller case, I hate him. Whatever judge decided
Brosterhous, I hate him. I hate this mentality that we don't view
society as a whole."
The conference was created more than 70 years ago
as a means for the State Bar to obtain input from local, minority and
specialty bars about its legislative program. Attorneys with expertise
in particular areas of the law serve as delegates and provide analysis
and advice to the bar and the legislature as part of the law-making
process. Most conference input deals with mundane nuts-and-bolts
issues and hundreds of its resolutions have been enacted into law.
In recent years, however, its liberal positions
on controversial issues ranging from gun control to the death penalty
to apartheid have raised the hackles of some bar members and
lawmakers, and its occasional forays into the political arena
transformed it into a lightning rod for critics.
When Gov. Pete Wilson vetoed the bar's dues
bill in 1997 and singled out the conference's activities in his veto
message, bar leaders got the message and started down the road to
The resolution approved by the board authorizes
the conference "to pursue incorporation of a new nonprofit mutual or
public benefit corporation, entitled the Conference of Delegates of
California Bar Associations." It most likely will incorporate as a
nonprofit professional or trade association, which will enable it to
lobby without restriction.
The bar and the conference will enter into a
five-year contract whose details are yet to be ironed out, but it is
likely they will share revenues from the annual meetings (which are
planned five years in advance). The bar will seek legislative
authority to continue to collect voluntary contributions for the
conference, an arrangement Marsh said is non-negotiable. California
attorneys now can check off a box on the dues statement which provides
a voluntary $10 contribution to the conference.
Last year, 14,800 lawyers (9 percent of the
membership) contributed $148,418 to the group. So far this year,
Johnson said, 17,109 of the state's attorneys, an increase of 1
percent, have checked the box, providing donations of $186,498.
That arrangement brought an objection from Los
Angeles governor Pat Dixon, who questioned why the conference should
be on the bar's dues bill if it is going its own way. "I think if
they are separate and apart, they should collect their own dues," he
But Marsh said delegates are worried the
conference would go out of business if left to its own devices, and
several board members said the bar has a responsibility to help the
"We want a solution where the conference can be
independent yet survive," said President Karen Nobumoto, who has led
the drive for separation. "We're not trying to push them out there
so they'll sink."
Added public member Jan Green, "It's the
fiduciary responsibility of the bar to help you."