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Pro bono burden should be shared ...

Why pick on lawyers?

I agree with the chief justice's concerns about court accessibility for poor and low income people, but I question why lawyers should be the only ones who work free to provide those services.

Shouldn't it be the responsibility of all citizens to assure access to the judicial system? So far as I know, doctors who treat indigents in hospital emergency rooms are still paid.

Rather than implore lawyers to assume a burden all taxpayers should bear, I suggest that the State Bar enlist the aid of the chief justice and the governor who appointed him to lobby the Republican Congress to restore adequate funding to the Legal Services Corporation.

Peter M. Appleton
Los Angeles


Throwing the poor a bone

Chief Justice George should do his part to promote legal reform and simplify the system. For starters, perhaps the Supreme Court could stop issuing long-winded, rambling opinions that take 30 pages to say what could have been said in three.

And how about allowing licensed paralegals to assist in standard legal tasks, like probate, divorce and even simple litigation?

No, we should continue to monopolize legal services, have an inordinately complicated legal system, and charge outrageous fees that only the wealthiest can afford. But we'll throw the poor a bone every now and then in the form of pro bono services. There's a solution that will certainly maintain the public's high opinion of lawyers.

Edward C. Rybka


A thorn in the side

Let me tell you why accepting pro bono or reduced fee work has been a thorn in my side for years. A few years ago, some bright persons thought up the ideas of fast track, sanctions, increased professional scrutiny from the bar, and increased professional liability. While on paper these ideas sound great, in reality, when an attorney is contemplating a pro bono or reduced fee case, they stink.

Maybe you can tell me why an attorney would want to expose himself or herself to these things in return for nothing.

I did a reduced fee case (75 percent fee discount), won three out of five issues at trial, had the judge tell me I should appeal at least one of the issues I lost, and then was sued for malicious prosecution on the two issues I lost. They didn't win, but the defense cost me thousands of dollars and caused my insurance rates to skyrocket.

To make matters worse, these ideas, implemented on other areas of our caseloads, make it more difficult to accept reduced fee or pro bono work. They require a higher level of attention in our full fee cases, giving us less time. As a result, most of us accept fewer cases, even if they are full fee, and all clients must pay higher fees for their legal services.

If you really want people to stick out their necks, you need to implement reforms to make sure that the chances of their heads being cut off are very low. An attorney, or anyone else, should never be subject to liability for negligence when working on a true reduced fee or pro bono basis.

Michael G. Perdue


Barely surviving now

I personally would love to continue to be socially responsible and endeavor to continue to assist those less financially fortunate by providing pro bono services. I have served for more than a decade as a judge pro tem, State Bar probation referee, bar president and have volunteered hundreds and hundreds of hours without compensation.

However, because of the current state of the legal profession, I can barely survive as a practicing attorney. My legal malpractice is approaching $1,500 a month, my office rent is $1,555 per month, and related office overhead expenses are another $4,000 per month.

I suggest the chief justice direct his plea to the defense attorneys and institutional attorneys who derive both a direct and indirect benefit from the politicism aimed at taking the joy out of practicing law by helping someone injured or suffering. Solos and small partnerships have been burdened financially and have a multitude of restraints on their ability to earn an honest living in attempting to right a wrong. By practicing law under these circumstances, I am in essence doing pro bono work.

Gary M. Weinstein

Inmates seem to be running the asylum

In recent issues of the Bar Journal, I find two remarkable examples of the bar's conduct which prodded the plebiscite and will no doubt do so again.

1. An attorney is placed on interim suspension for a felony conviction for animal cruelty.

2. My funds are being used to pay for a sexual orientation discrimination committee.

Am I less of a lawyer if I don't choose to be tolerant of that which I find abhorrent? Does cruelty to animals give rise to a suspension without due process? Why are the inmates running the asylum?

Douglas A. Demaret
Simi Valley

Loved jury duty

I recently received a jury summons for superior court, Contra Costa County, and my experience was not the same as Gale Holland's.

My experience was excellent. The procedure was efficient. The process was explained each step of the way. The court and administration was very sensitive to the needs of the jurors. I'm not sure you can ask for much more.

Richard A. Frankel


By what authority has the peremptory challenge of Black's Law Dictionary become "pre-emptory?" Mr. Chief Justice Marshall must be weeping.

Cruger L. Bright
La Habra Heights


Last time I checked my dictionaries and my computer, we had peremptory challenges and pre-emptive rights, among other legal niceties. Is your reference to a "pre-emptory challenge" something very new? Or do we have yet another editorial oversight on your part?

Susan Howie Burriss
Mountain View

The editor will pre-empt the field by peremptorily ending this debate and pleading nolo contendere.

Well, exc-u-u-u-se me

After reading the responses to my letter in the September issue, I suppose I should apologize to those members of the bar whose integrity is at the same level as the three who wrote last issue.

I understand that I cannot change the opinions of so many attorneys who have spent their careers entrenching themselves in a system which encourages the pointing of fingers and finding of blame directed to the deepest pocket. It has made them rich and they have learned to justify their actions. But while I do not wish to lower myself to that level, I must still share in the societal backlash which they have created. The solution does not and cannot lie in defending the indefensible.

Michael Schulte

Lighten up

The October Bar Journal contained an apology from a BMW vice president for having included a lawyer joke in a recent advertisement. He need not have apologized. The joke was humorous, and all it suggested was that an entertaining thing to do sometime in life would be to hang up on a lawyer. He didn't suggest hanging one as is sometimes taken out of context from one of Shakespeare's plays.

I have been a member of the bar for 38 years and have heard just about every lawyer joke that has made the rounds. All of them, without exception, have been well deserved.

Only those lawyers who genuinely are concerned about reversing the image of the bar as a bottomless reservoir for well-deserved lawyer jokes will turn around the public's perception of the bench and bar. In the meanwhile, no apologies need be made for lawyer jokes, not even to sell BMWs.

Michael Patrick Murray
Fairfax, Va.

MCLE test was a joke

The MCLE self-study article in November was surely the least helpful (to most practitioners) and most self-serving (to insurance defense) that you have previously published. The article isn't helpful, it isn't educational, it's not enlightening. It's the simplest recounting of one simplistic, medical malpractice defense case. How broad can this sweep for California lawyers? Especially when most of us understand how easy insurance defense can be with all that money available to work up a case. Sheesh!

Linda P. Hughes
San Diego

Legal publishers charge more for CD-ROMs

As far as I can tell, all publishers routinely charge lawyers more for material on diskette or CD-ROM than they do for the same material in book form. On the other hand, you can get an encyclopedia far more cheaply on CD-ROM than you can for the hardbound volumes.

Your November issue indicated a total membership of the State Bar of 151,000, of whom more than 120,000 are active members. This is a large group of people. Yet we are systematically ripped off by every legal publisher. When will it end? Only if we as a group do something about it.

If lawyers are going to get into the 21st century using all the time-saving methods computers can provide for us, I believe we're going to have to insist that the publishers of these materials pass on to their customers the savings of producing those materials on diskette and CD-ROM. Failing that, I believe we should simply stop buying the product until the price comes in line with its cost.

John Michael O'Connor
San Jose

She doesn't like us

I see nothing in your publication that remotely touches on my legal career. I am a sole practitioner, a Latina, with a social consciousness. I do pro bono work for the Spanish-speaking community. I have been a member of the board of directors of Centro Legal de la Raza in Oakland for over 10 years. Many attorneys of color (we are not minorities) contribute time to small legal service providers throughout the bay area and the state. Yet in your publication you have never written anything on the contributions of attorneys like us nor of the work of legal service providers like Centro Legal.

Not all attorneys want to read in your publication, month after month, the same dribble about corporate law firms, how much money they make, how many hours they contribute to nice, prestigious, safe causes and the awards and credit they get for this safe work.

Reading your publication is like reading a publication from a foreign country.

Erlinda G. Castro

Justice and the profession

I was astounded (in the best sense) at the view of justice of the new State Bar president, Thomas Stolpman. I have to pinch myself that a lawyer of such high standing could even make the distinction between substantive justice and true justice. I am so discouraged in trying to make that very simple distinction that after 18 years of teaching and practicing law, I am ready to leave it.

The heart and soul of the justice system resides in this: seeking the truth with one's whole being and to follow that truth wherever it may lead.

Our values have been metamorphosized into bottom line, weak and no-existent defenses, obfuscation, absurd rationales for responsibility, to win even when we should lose. People are not mocked when they see this.

We have traded our heritage for a mess of pottage and we are reaping what we have sown.

I wish Mr. Stolpman God's speed. Only his simple message, if followed, will restore the legal profession to dignity in the eyes of the people.

Peter J. Riga

Letters to the Editor

California Bar Journal invites its readers to send letters on any topic. All letters must be signed with a daytime telephone number and complete address (only the city or town will be used in print). All letters are subject to editing, and no anonymous letters will be printed. Send letters to Editor, California Bar Journal, 555 Franklin St., San Francisco, CA 94102-4498; fax to 415/561-8247; or e-mail: calbarj@ix.netcom. com.