Board deadlocks over choice to lead post-plebiscite bar

Staff Writer

Despite four ballots, a flurry of mini-caucuses and numerous pleas from their president, members of the Board of Governors failed to elect a new leader last month and will be forced to make a decision at their next meeting June 1 in San Francisco.

Vying for the 1996-97 State Bar president's seat were Michael Case, 49, of Ventura; John McGuckin, 49, of San Francisco; and Thomas Stolpman, 47, of Long Beach.

Case was knocked out after the first round of balloting, but neither McGuckin nor Stolpman received a majority in the next two rounds.

According to board rules, the president, who does not vote, may cast the tie-breaking vote after three ballots, or set aside a special meeting to decide the matter.

"I have no desire to be the tie-breaker," Jim Towery, current bar president, told his colleagues after the unsuccessful third ballot.

The election took place at the beginning of the morning meeting and Towery held off on a fourth round of voting until lunchtime. "My hope is for people to be reflective, resolve and settle the issue today," he said.

Before the board broke for lunch, Towery said he was "persuaded it would be a mistake for me to intercede today" and called for the election to be postponed for a month.

At that time, Towery said he would ask for one more ballot, refusing to allow the winner to be determined by a toss of the coin, as the rules provide. "This puts me in an impossible situation," he said, reluctantly agreeing to break a tie if necessary. "But I will do it with no joy whatsoever."

In 1989, the board deadlocked on half a dozen ballots between Alan Rothenberg of Los Angeles and Kevin Culhane of Sacramento. They reconvened the next morning and elected Rothenberg on the first ballot.

The 1980-81 president's seat was shared by Robert Raven of San Francisco and William Wenke of Newport Beach when board members reached a stalemate. Both attorneys served six months each with one concentrating on internal business and the other on external matters.

In his campaign speech, McGuckin, who is the executive vice president and general counsel for Bank of California said he had been asked by several people how he would be able to manage the bar presidency with his new position, the result of a merger with Union Bank.

McGuckin said he is no different from any other lawyer faced with time commitments. "I have to change, because simply, I can't do it the way it's been done in the past. He said he had made a commitment to re-engineer the way the bar makes decisions and stressed that the post-plebiscite president must be willing to work on ways to help the bar evolve.

McGuckin pointed out that the State Bar came into existence on July 29, 1927, and he wants to lead the bar's 70th birthday celebration. "Let me plan the party," he said. "Let me manage the process."

Stolpman, a trial lawyer with Stolpman, Krissman, Elber, Mandel and Katzman, focused on his concerns with the bar's problem of communication.

Communicating with members and the public is of primary importance, he said, and the bar must work on sending the message, "What we do, we do well."

Stolpman, who chairs both the courts and legislation and client relations and assistance committees, said he wants to take the bar into the next millenium and to develop a consensus to implement an overall plan.