Plebiscite letters

At last: The last word
For the plebiscite
The bar's bad record

Regarding the plebiscite, why doesn't our State Bar just run on its record of governance over the past decade? Let's examine it. California lawyers now pay more for their professional licenses than lawyers in any other state; they pay $180 more than doctors in California do for their medical licenses.

It was our State Bar which successfully lobbied the legislature to impose MCLE requirements upon us. And, thanks to the master plan created by our State Bar, California is the only state to require mandatory course work on elimination of bias and one of only two states to require lectures on substance abuse.

The State Bar attempts to scare lawyers by arguing that if it goes away, some less sympathetic entity will be enforcing rules of ethical attorney behavior. Yet it is our State Bar which takes the official position that it may still continue to prosecute lawyers for offensive personality under a Business & Professions Code provision that was declared unconstitutionally vague by the Ninth Circuit.

There was the Futures Commission, which spent a quarter of a million dollars examining such prospective mandates as required pro bono and mandatory malpractice insurance. And let us not forget the bar's recent decision to buy itself a 13-story downtown San Francisco office building for $22.5 million.

Richard L. Rubin

Sleazy journalism

The California Bar Journal has created a personal dilemma in deciding how to vote in the upcoming plebiscite. The articles over the last several months related to the question of retaining or abolishing the unified bar are so misleading and self-serving as to be counter-productive to its goals. What I mean by this is that I am undecided as to the relative merits of the two positions, but the Bar Journal's sleazy journalism has caused me to lean in the direction of supporting the abolishment of the unified bar. This is not the most intelligent basis for casting one's vote, but anger is a potent stimulus.

Examples of misleading articles are: the listing of fees for various professions without stating which fees are mandatory and which fees are not; the dishonestly worded survey that allegedly indicated the members of the bar supported a unified bar; and the conclusionary article stating that California's discipline system is the best in the country.

Instead of engaging in such unabashed politicking to convince the attorneys in this state to support their position, maybe the State Bar establishment (including the California Bar Journal) should have been concentrating on honestly informing their constituents. Better yet, their energies could be expended on making the practice of law in California better for attorneys and their clients.

Perry D. Ginsberg

Bar lost its purpose

I have been a member of the State Bar since December 1937. I had always enjoyed the practice of law and considered it a very honorable profession and felt that I was contributing to the system as an officer of the court. I enjoyed and respected my brothers. Over the recent years, however, my feelings have changed entirely. The practice of law has changed from an honorable profession to a somewhat unpleasant business.

The present volume of disciplinary matters is shocking but more shocking is the way the bar handles them. It appears that no matter how serious the offense, disbarment only comes after three or four incidents, all of which to me are serious. If an attorney steals from his client, in my opinion, suspension or slaps on the wrist is not the way it should be handled.

Dishonesty by an attorney should be automatic disbarment. This way we would avoid the constant repetition by offenders and maybe impress on others the seriousness of dishonesty. The suspension of attorneys by the State Bar has reached a point of absurdity.

The current philosophy of the State Bar seems to be that if you spend more money no matter what it is on, it must be beneficial to somebody. The current MCLE, in my opinion, is of little value to most members of the bar and the only ones who seem to benefit by it are the companies that have sprung up to teach the subjects which seem to go from the sublime to the ridiculous.

I think the problem is that the State Bar has forgotten its original purpose that was to protect the public and help its members. It is now a bureaucracy interested principally in perpetuating its own existence at the expense of those it was designed to help: the members and the public.

Thomas W. Clarke
North Hollywood

Outrageous fees

The April 1996 California Bar Journal includes a table which compares the mandatory $478 annual State Bar fee with fees to practice other professions in California. The total fee to practice engineering is listed as $222, broken down as follows: $40 state license fee and $182 "state professional association fee." The table fails to mention that the $182 is a fee to join an engineer's professional society, and that being a member of such society is not required to practice engineering in California, but is voluntary.

For those of us who are mainly concerned about the outrageous fee required to practice law in California, and who do not care about the "services" imposed upon us for our own good by the State Bar, the $478 annual State Bar fee should really be compared to a $40 annual engineer's license.

George K. Farra

Why maintain a bar?

I do not care what the cost of my bar dues is, I do not care how much of the budget is being used for discipline and I do not particularly care that you guys may squander my dues and gain frequent flyer miles with it.

What I care about is that you do not seem to care about me, my practice, my reputation and what I may be needing from my bar association.

Since I was made aware of the plebiscite, I have been waiting for the bar to offer me a reason to want to maintain it. Instead I read that a "yes" vote may result in something worse befalling me. All I want to hear is the plebiscite has made the bar listen to my concerns like, to name a few, limiting the number of schools and applicants to the practice, requiring all lawyers to carry liability insurance, making it easier for lawyers to collect from clients unpaid bills without the chilling fear of being sued, and just generally trying to make the practice and society more lawyer friendly. I have not seen the bar react in the manner I would expect from an organization which is confronted by its own hostile membership trying to disband it.

Anahid Agemian

Marry a lawyer?

Would you like to have your daughter married to anyone connected to the California State Bar?

If your answer is yes, then vote no on the plebiscite.

R. Edward Brown
Van Nuys

It's simply taxation without representation

Two points on the plebiscite: first, I've been a full dues paying member of the State Bar for 24 years. Every time I've left California to practice law, I've been entirely disenfranchised by my State Bar. I'm not allowed to vote for a governor for my home district, to vote at large, or even to get a refund for the cost of an election from which I am barred, but which will determine the rules and dues which will govern my practice of law. The State Bar must like taxation without representation (since it has made no effort to correct this problem in the 24 years I have been raising it), but I don't. Thanks to Sen. Kopp, I finally have some vote on my State Bar.

Second, I've found California state agencies to be fair, and they are certainly less driven by overzealouness than our own State Bar. A far lower number and percentage of doctors and other professionals lose their licenses than California attorneys. The imaginary terrors of state disciplinary proceedings worry me less than the demonstrated record of our State Bar.

Harold J. Hughes
Alpine, Utah

Against the plebiscite
There's no alternative

The advocates to abolish the State Bar have two basic arguments. First, they argue that bar dues will be reduced. Second, they argue that the new organization will be more efficient than the current State Bar. Both arguments really start with the unstated preface, "trust me." I am unwilling to blindly trust them.

Our bar dues are too high. But do you really believe that the state of California, perennially facing a financial crisis, is going to reduce our dues? I do not. The level of our annual bar dues will never really drop very much because over 70 percent of the State Bar budget is used to finance the disciplinary system. The few, unethical attorneys cost the many, ethical attorneys over $300 annually per capita.

The State Bar, unlike any government agency, has systematically eliminated or reduced unneeded, costly positions and programs. The 1994-95 budget was reduced $2.5 million while the State Bar continues to provide efficient and effective service to California attorneys.

Because of these efficiencies, Jim Towery, current bar president, has promised a small reduction in fees in 1997. The State Bar, operated by attorneys for attorneys, will continue to be responsive to attorneys.

The plebiscite does not specify an alternative to the State Bar. The California Supreme Court or the Department of Consumer Affairs would seem to be the likely choices. However, Chief Justice Malcolm Lucas has publicly announced that the Supreme Court will not assume any further responsibilities. The Department of Consumer Affairs then appears to be the only remaining option. As a former employee of Consumer Affairs, I am certain this department lacks the bureaucratic and technical competence to administer the licensing and discipline of 150,000 California attorneys.

Paul S. Hohokian, President
Fresno County Bar Association

Sloppy and unlawyerly

The forthcoming plebiscite is disingenuous for several reasons.

1. The proposition is inartfully drawn, perhaps intentionally to confuse the underlying issues and induce a favorable response.

2. It falsely implies that a favorable vote will have some legal significance, whereas a constitutional amendment and implementing legislation are required to make any changes in State Bar structure.

3. It falsely implies that, if the unified bar is abolished, its functions will automatically be transferred to new entities, governmental and voluntary, which will spring into being. But there is no assurance that either of these entities would emerge, let alone what their structure and scope might be.

Opponents of the plebiscite point out that abolishing the unified bar won't save lawyers money and will probably cost them more, and there is no assurance whatever of what, if anything, might replace the present unified bar.

The most common response of the advocates of a yes vote is that a favorable vote is a way of expressing unhappiness with alleged shortcoming in the present bar structure. Assuming the shortcomings exist, the plebiscite is a sloppy and unlawyerlike way to get at them. It can achieve nothing definitively, but is causing the State Bar to spend hundreds of thousands of dues dollars, which could have been put to much better use elsewhere, on a meaningless vote and redundant audit.

The plebiscite deserves a resounding no vote, followed by an honest and constructive effort by those who have problems with aspects of the State Bar operation to effect meaningful change.

Edward E. Kallgren
San Francisco

Smarter than doctors

The current system of lawyer discipline doubtless is better than any system that might be administered by a politicized board operating under the Department of Consumer Affairs. For nearly two years I have been handling a case that has provided plenty of insight into the operations of another profession's disciplinary body, the Medical Board of California. The Medical Board operates under the auspices of the Department of Consumer Affairs. What we have discovered is a system of discipline for physicians that has been incredibly politicized.

Moreover, effective Jan. 1, 1995, the Medical Board eliminated its chief medical consultant, a physician, and reduced the remainder of the Medical Board's physician staff to part-time status. The result is that the Medical Board's daily operations are now run exclusively by administrators and cops. Imagine a system of lawyer discipline administered without any participation by members of our profession.

California's physicians have let things get out of hand. We should be smarter than that.

Mark G. Henderson

Improve this bar

I am very concerned about voting for something unknown. Until I have some idea of what will replace the current bar, I cannot willingly give up the current system. It also seems that the cost of researching, organizing, creating and setting up something new will have a great cost factor, and I need to know who will pay for the set-up of the new system. Like the empty new jail in Los Angeles, which stands empty because of the lack of funds to run the jail, I suggest that until we know the cost of setting up and running the new bar, we are being asked to vote for the basic pig in a poke.

I suggest that we take the money it would cost to set up the new bar and use it to improve and reorganize the current bar, if that is what is needed. However, as a former State Bar Court presiding referee, I do not see that the bar is such an awful entity, or that our dues are so excessive. Also, I want to know who will set up the new system: will we as lawyers have any say in the matter?

J. Earl Rogers
Los Angeles

The devil we know

It amazes me that a large number of California lawyers advocate or support the abolition of the State Bar as we know it, apparently with great (or blind) faith that whatever the legislature replaces it with will be better. How many of these lawyers would advise their clients to repudiate a tolerable, even if somewhat distasteful or inconvenient, settlement agreement contract, or other relationship, without first negotiating a better agreement to replace it?

How many of us would dare advise a client to accept the proposition "on faith" that whatever comes next will be better, without first knowing what that will be? What if it isn't better? What if it's worse? In the attorney-client context, that would be a helluva legal malpractice claim: it's get out your checkbooks and call your carrier time. Whatever happened to the reliable old maxim, stick to the devil you know?

If a majority of the bar votes to abolish the State Bar as we know it without first negotiating and defining whatever the alternative will be, I don't know if they should all be disbarred for prima facie incompetence, or if they'll just deserve whatever it is they get in the end.

Raymond S. Kraft

Respected colleagues

As an obscure sole practitioner and dean of a small evening law school, Pacific Coast University School of Law in Long Beach, I seldom feel I have much control of the State Bar, especially when our leaders take actions with which I disagree. Yet when I think of how it would be if some bureau of state government were making the decisions, I am glad to be disagreeing with my own elected colleagues.

For example, when in 1978 the Board of Governors approved a resolution sunsetting such schools as ours, the testimony at hearings in Los Angeles and San Francisco overwhelmingly opposed the action, and enabling bills in 1982 and 1984 were defeated.

Again in 1994, a Futures Commission was formed to consider, among other measures, a recommendation to allow only graduates of ABA- and California-accredited schools to sit for the general bar examination.

After receiving communications from many schools, alumni, and other interested attorneys, the commission on a second vote changed from a consensus for the measure to a vote of 11-8, with the rest of the 30 members absenting themselves or abstaining, thus demonstrating a considerable shrinking of support.

This measure is still under consideration, and I anticipate pressing my case for the continuing role of the smaller schools in California's legal education system.

When I approach the members of the board with a plea for our continued usefulness in keeping open opportunities for legal education to hard-working, self-supporting students, I am given respectful attention as a colleague and fellow member of the profession. Would this be the case if I had to address my views to a government agency whose staff can exercise little judgment of their own, but must check a rule book to make a determination?

Our bar association provides us certain essential services. If these were to come instead from an unelected state agency, can any of us believe that the cost would not rise? A license fee, assessed on a percentage of the gross income of our law firm, could be twice or three times what we now pay in bar dues. We would find that we each had taken an uninvited partner into the firm who gets part of the profit but over whom we have no influence.

Irv Schleimer
Long Beach