California Bar Journal
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California Bar Journal

The State Bar of California


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Front Page - March 2002
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News / News Briefs
Midyear meeting will focus on fairness
E-briefs offer bar updates
Three strikes supporter has a change of heart, now wants the law restricted
ABA seeks nominations for three awards
Rule change proposed to protect government whistleblowers
More pamphlets added, translated
Innovation garners awards for 11 courts
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Trials Digest
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Public Comment
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From the President - New era of bar-conference cooperation
Conference of Delegates: A valuable ally
PG&E's plan: A power play
Letters to the Editor
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You Need to Know
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Ethics Byte - Twilight zone cases can make practice tricky
Former deputy DA, convicted of grand theft, is suspended
Attorney Discipline
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MCLE Self-Study
At tax time, modify debt with caution
Self-Assessment Test
MCLE Calendar of Events


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New era of bar-conference cooperation
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President, State Bar of California
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Karen NobumotoBy talking to one another, and by looking at our shared goals in improving our profession, the leaders of the State Bar and its Conference of Delegates have taken a major step forward in resolving the differences that have marked the relationship at various times over the past two decades.

This is an historic moment. We have gone from a period where the bar and the conference could not see eye-to-eye to a point where we can leave finger-pointing and backbiting behind and concentrate solely on the important work before us.

Our first agreement was that something must change. The conference has a justifiable desire to continue its long tradition of helping shape and analyze legislation in our state. The bar has a justifiable desire not to be dragged continually into political hot water for positions the conference takes and which the bar does not to choose to endorse. We all recognized that we can talk forever about these distinctions and the merits of restrictions placed on the conference, but until we do something to alter the landscape, the relationship will be a source of contention.

Now we have before us a potential solution that will enable all of us to reach our goals without diminishing our ability to serve the legal needs of the people of this state.

The leaders of the conference are to come back to us in the near future with proposals that could set the conference up in a contractual relationship, with its own governance structure and its own funding means. The important relationship with the State Bar could continue through the contract, with the conference deciding whether to set up shop on its own or to rent space from the bar.

This type of relationship has worked extremely well over the past decade with the Foundation of the State Bar of California. The foundation has been in a contractual relationship with the bar, paying rent and utilities for its office space, meeting the salary of its executive director and staff out of its own funds, purchasing its own office supplies and equipment, and maintaining all of its own board and day-to-day business functions itself, even its own web site. At the same time, the contractual arrangement allows the foundation to use the bar's fee statement to seek voluntary donations.

A similar arrangement with the conference would allow that body to continue its legislative work without compromising the State Bar and its all-important public protection function, as was the case when the attorney discipline system was virtually shut down following the dues bill veto in 1997. A contractually independent conference could continue to provide local, specialty and minority bars throughout California the opportunity to have a say in the state's law-making process. At the same time, the conference could contract to use the bar's fee statement to seek voluntary donations and make its own decisions about where or if it wants to rent office space.

While we don't know what the outcome of our exploration will be, we are confident that some resolution is in sight. For the first time since the Supreme Court's Keller decision more than a decade ago, the leaders of the bar and the conference are determined to continue the dialogue until we reach a satisfactory resolution. It is vitally important for us all to get along and for the important work of the State Bar and its conference to continue without the distractions of the past 20 years.

Conference of Delegates: A valuable ally
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A vital component of the State Bar's mission is service to the people of California. The Conference of Delegates helps the State Bar to fulfill that worthy goal by working year in and year out to improve California laws for the benefit of all Californians. The conference succeeds because of the depth and breadth of experience and expertise of the attorneys who volunteer to participate as conference delegates.

Held each year in conjunction with the State Bar Annual Meeting, the conference provides an effective means for lawyers to work together to improve California law. Delegates debate and vote to approve or disapprove proposed changes to the law. Many of the proposals arise from problems that lawyers encounter in their day-to-day practice.

Some, for instance, may be simple adjustments to or clarifications of discovery or other procedural rules. Others may entail wholesale changes to, or even the creation of, entirely new substantive areas of law, such as resolutions that ultimately became law in the areas of elder abuse and minor's contracts (i.e., the Coogan law).

The unifying impetus is a common desire to improve the system of laws and justice for everyone in California.

After the conference closes, approved resolutions are categorized and prioritized by the governing body, the executive committee. The State Bar Board of Governors then adopts some of those resolutions and places them on the bar's legislative agenda. The executive committee lobbies a few. Others are lobbied directly by the sponsoring bar associations.

The success and importance to California of the conference program are perhaps best demonstrated by the fact that former Gov. Pete Wilson, who criticized the conference in his 1997 veto of the State Bar's dues bill, nevertheless signed into law no fewer than 150 bills that originated from conference resolutions.

The conference works exceptionally well because of the diverse experience, expertise, ethnicity, background and politics of the 600 or so lawyers from 50 local, minority and specialty bar associations from across the state who volunteer to participate as conference delegates. Prosecutors and defense attorneys, plaintiffs' and insurance defense lawyers, litigators and transactional attorneys, family lawyers, probate lawyers, legal services lawyers, big firm lawyers, solo practitioners and corporate counsel all bring their differing perspectives and work together to find solutions to problems.

Since each delegate also brings to the conference his or her own political point of view, it follows that the actions of the conference become the nonpartisan reflection of those diverse political interests.

These conference volunteers deserve many thanks for their hard work. They provide invaluable services to the bar by working to improve the laws of California and, thus, serving the people of this state.

Judy Copeland represents District 9 (Imperial and San Diego counties) on the board of governors.