Board of Governors News

Board backs '96 budget, appoints new JNE chair

With one governor dissenting and another abstaining, the Board of Governors last month approved a 1996 operating budget of $66,621,727 in the general fund and $94,635,512 overall.

Included in next years's budget are technological updates in computer equipment and putting the bar online, renovating the bar's new building in San Francisco to accommodate the staff, conducting the legislatively mandated plebiscite of all California attorneys and increasing communication with members.

The latter sparked the only controversy at the Dec. 9 board meeting when public member Peter Kaye said he could not support $137,000 in new expenses targeted for developing and printing "fact sheets, brochures and other communication vehicles describing the bar's key services and how to access them."

Kaye, a retired editor of the San Diego Union-Tribune and member of the bar's communication committee, said he felt the board was being asked to rubber-stamp a budget which it had received only a few days earlier. He added that when he questioned the $137,000 expenditure earlier in the week, no one could explain adequately what the new project would be.

"A big issue in this plebiscite is going to be credibility," Kaye said. "Do members believe that we spend their money wisely and well?"

Noting his role as chair of the bar's Internet committee, Kaye also questioned if developing pamphlets and brochures is the way the bar wants to spend its money communicating with members in the 1990s.

Eileen Kurahashi, chair of the board's communications committee, said the money will be spent "on the first assault on the first thing people have said we don't do well---namely communicate with members and the public." She added that, as with all the money in the general fund, "if we don't spend it, we have to give it back."

Bar President James Towery and finance committee Chair John McGuckin also assured Kaye that in the future, the board's committees would be more involved in the budget development process.

The abstention was cast by first-year board member Sam Jackson of Sacramento, who agreed with Kaye that members weren't given enough information or enough time to consider the budget.

District attorneys neutral

The California District Attorneys Association, which backed Sen. Quentin Kopp's legislation to abolish the mandatory State Bar, has changed its mind.

After meeting with several bar board members, the CDAA leaders decided against taking a position on the plebiscite, the bar governors were told.

Bar opponents organize

Peter Keane, a longtime opponent of a mandatory State Bar and a former member of the bar's Board of Governors, will chair the group backing the plebiscite on the bar's future.

The anti-bar group changed its name last month to Lawyers Committee for a Yes Vote and appointed a 10-member steering committee.

"I am glad Peter will be leading the charge on the other side," said bar President Jim Towery. "He is articulate and he knows the bar well. He will be a formidable opponent."

Bar supporters have organized as the Committee to Save the Unified Bar (CSUB). Three chairs have been appointed to run the organization's efforts in northern, southern and central California.

The plebiscite, which will ask all active bar members whether the bar should continue to exist as a mandatory organization, is expected to be held in May.

New JNE chair

Rita Gunasekaran, an appellate attorney from Santa Monica, is the new chair of the bar's Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation.

She was chosen last month by the Board of Governors to head the 27-member commission, which reviews and evaluates the governor's nominees for judgeships.

Gunasekaran has been on JNE for three years and was vice-chair in 1995. She is a partner in the Santa Monica firm of Haight, Brown and Bonesteel.

A native of India, she earned her law degree at the University of Madras, where she finished at the top of her class. She also has given more than 100 recitals around the world as a classical Indian dancer.

The board also named Arturo Vargas, a public member from Los Angeles, as vice chair. Vargas is executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.

Public agencies and dues

Public agencies which pay their employees' annual State Bar membership fees may now deduct a portion of those fees for "nonchargeable" activities and receive a refund if the deduction is later determined to be too low.

The bar Board of Governors took steps last month to minimize the potential threat to public agencies of being sued for using public funds to pay employees' bar dues.

The board approved emergency rule changes to allow the agencies to receive a refund if an arbitrator rules later that the bar underestimated the deduction.

An appellate court ruled in June that such agencies could be sued by taxpayers for "waste of public funds" if they pay the voluntary portion of the fees.

Client relations

Returning telephone calls and answering letters is the most important way to establish good client relations. At least, that was the number one answer given by 27 percent of the attorneys who entered a contest sponsored by the State Bar's Office of Client Relations.

Asked to share their most useful client relations tip, some even suggested all calls should be returned personally and within four hours.

Another 17 percent cited the importance of providing documents and status reports and 10 percent said clear communication is key. Among the suggestions are telephoning clients at home on the weekend because they'll be pleased you're putting in extra time for them and deducting from you fee the amount of time you keep a client waiting for an appointment.