Bar's president-elect, Tom Stolpman, looks to post-plebiscite reform

Staff Writer

Now that California's lawyers have voted to keep the State Bar intact, President-elect Thomas G. Stolpman says he is ready to put the disruption of the plebis-cite behind him and continue the momentum of the bar's recent law-yer outreach efforts.

As for Sen. Quentin Kopp's draft of a bill that would abolish the bar, Stolpman says, "Like the plebiscite, it's dead on arrival."

Kopp, author of the bill which called for the plebiscite, has said he does not plan to introduce the new measure but wrote it to dispel the "untruths of (President James) Towery and his confederates."

Stolpman, 47, is a Long Beach trial attorney who was elected by the Board of Governors to succeed Towery for the 1996-97 term. He will be sworn in at the Annual Meeting in October in Long Beach.

Stolpman said the plebiscite vote was significant in that only one out of six eligible lawyers voted to abolish the State Bar.

"My belief is that many of those lawyers were trying to call for a more responsive bar rather than no bar," he said. "Our mission now is to find ways to be more responsive to lawyers, whether it be discipline problems or other issues facing the profession."

Even before the plebiscite, Stolpman said that casual conversations with his colleagues across the state indicated to him "there was clearly no sentiment to subject our profession to a complete overhaul by abolishing the bar and starting all over again.

"But equally clear is that most lawyers don't understand what the bar is or what it does."

Dues decrease

Stolpman said he still projects a dues decrease of $20 for next year, despite the fact that "we spent $2-$3 per member for the plebiscite and audit, and probably more than that."

The bar is becoming more cost-effective, he says, and he isn't leaning toward any deeper dues cuts at this time.

Commenting on the audit of the bar, mandated by Kopp's bill (SB 60), Stolpman said he felt the auditor's recommendation to do a better job in recovering costs from disciplined lawyers was "solid." The system has become a model since it was overhauled in 1989, he said, and internal changes made since last year's review by the Discipline Evaluation Commission (DEC) have fine-tuned it even further.

"Now we need to focus on making it cost-effective," he said. "We've been working on it, but we've never had unlimited resources."

Stolpman is a partner at the Long Beach firm of Stolpman, Krissman, Elber, Mandel & Katzman.

Stolpman, John McGuckin Jr. of San Francisco and Michael Case of Ventura all ran for the president's seat, hoping to succeed Towery, who is from San Jose.

A tight race

At the April Board of Governors meeting, Case was eliminated following the first round of balloting with the remaining three ballots ending in a tie between Stolpman and McGuckin.

Towery could have broken the tie, but he made it clear he did not relish that task and delayed a fifth ballot until the June board meeting in San Francisco.

The election was the first item on the agenda and Stolpman was announced the winner after one round of balloting.

Malissa McKeith of Los Angeles was the only board member absent, leading some observers to speculate whether the election would have taken a different turn with her presence.

Stolpman has been on the 23-member board since 1993. He currently chairs the courts and legislation committee and was instrumental in setting up roundtable discussions with attorneys throughout the state, soliciting views on proposed jury reforms.

His committee also has addressed the issue of cameras in the courtroom.

Both of these projects resulted in reports and recommendations which have been forwarded to the California Judicial Council and the state legislature.

Longtime bar activist

A graduate of the University of Southern California Law Center, Stolpman has long been involved in bar activities.

As a member of the board of governors, he also served on committees dealing with client relations and assistance, attorney discipline, lawyer referral services certification, bar relations and communications, and legal services.

A resident of Rancho Palos Verdes, he is currently involved with the Legal Aid Foundation of Long Beach and is a former president of the Los Angeles Trial Lawyers Association (now known as the Consumer Attorneys Association of Los Angeles).

Stolpman also owns and operates a 225-acre ranch and vineyard in Santa Barbara County, Stolpman Vineyards.