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Chief Justice urges lawyers to offer pro bono help

Equal access to justice is a fundamental element of our legal system. Throughout our history, Californians have presented their most difficult, divisive disputes to the courts. And our courts have resolved those disputes peacefully, fairly and by rule of law. Indeed, a judiciary performing this duty effectively has been one of the hallmarks of our American democracy.

To perform their judicial function, our courts must be accessible to all of our citizens. However, equal access to justice is clearly at risk if poor and low-income Californians are unable to obtain the legal representation they need but cannot afford.

Currently, the California programs that provide legal services to the indigent are adjusting to a significant reduction in federal funding. As a result, according to a recently released State Bar report, And Justice For All: Fulfilling the Promise of Access to Civil Justice in Califor-nia, since 1980 there are 130 fewer attorneys providing legal services to the poor, while the number of poor people in the state has increased by more than 2 million.

This situation demands immediate attention and concerted action from the bench and the bar. I urge all lawyers from all practice settings and levels of experience to offer legal services to the indigent on a pro bono basis. There are many fine pro bono programs across the state that provide training, serve as a liaison to needy clients and offer other necessary, ongoing support for volunteer lawyers. To obtain information about pro bono opportunities in your community, please contact the State Bar Office of Legal Services at 1-800/628-4858.

All of us should seek ways to respond to the legal services crisis. The Judicial Council of California recently adopted a resolution committing the council to work with the State Bar to address this issue. I urge lawyers and judges across the state to join with members of the council and the State Bar in this important effort to improve access to the judicial system for all Californians.

Ronald M. George
Chief Justice, California Supreme Court

Board vote turns bar
into 'Animal House'

For the State Bar's Board of Governors to decide and announce with great pride and fanfare that "for the first time in history errant . . . attorneys face the possibility of permanent disbarment" is comical.

With five or six types of discipline already in the bar's quiver, ranging from disbarment to public censure, what else was disbarment supposed to mean other than permanent disbarment? To consider allowing a disbarred attorney to be readmitted is a waste of the bar's time and resources.

I think that proponents of the right to readmit a disbarred attorney should instead consider the example of lamebrain Dean Vernon Wermer in the motion picture, "Animal House," and authorize the option to sentence these mountebanks to "double secret disbarment." That will get the point across.

Andrew Zucker
Beverly Hills

Web site needs improving

I have just spent about an hour on the "Calbar" web pages trying to get some useful information on State Bar member services, e.g. how to electronically communicate with the State Bar, what is my address and phone number according to the State Bar, what are other members' addresses and phone numbers.

The web pages do not really offer interactive means of communication between the bar and its members. I found the Bar Journal's e-mail address and that of the president, but no e-mail addresses for the State Bar or any of its major divisions.

Alan Knox
Newport Beach

Bar should restrict itself to essential services

I read with interest and dismay the piece "Board OKs $102.8 million budget" in the October issue. No wonder a large percentage of bar members voted to abolish the mandatory bar. It does appear that board members Case, Kaye and McKeith are justifiably concerned that a $100 million budget was submitted to them days before they were required to vote on it. I do not blame them for "grumbling" about the apparent "smoke-filled room" mechanism by which this huge sum of money is allocated.

One is led to ask, "What could they possibly spend $100 million dollars on?" Then one turns the page and sees the answer: "Gay, lesbian lawyers win bar support." While the bar certainly performs essential services to its members and the public, it obviously continues to devote substantial resources (which are involuntarily extracted from lawyers' pockets) to advancing political agendas which are undoubtedly not shared by the majority of members.

I submit that California lawyers and the society they serve would be better off if bar dues were cut in half, and a leaner, more efficient bar focused on self-regulation, discipline and promoting the quality and image of the profession and the legal system it is a foundation of.

As for the finding by Mr. Braverman of the (dues-supported) sexual orientation discrimination committee that our profession suffers from a pattern of pervasive sexual orientation bias, it may relate to the fact that our profession is a reflection of the society of which it is part. For better or worse, and despite attempts to legislate morality and beliefs, the vast majority of Americans, lawyers and otherwise, continue to view homosexuality as abnormal. The article did not specify what support the bar plans to provide to eradicate this scourge. Perhaps before dues are spent to do so, another plebiscite would be in order to see if the majority of those putting up the money want it spent that way.

David L. Bonar
Los Angeles

Bar should support, not resent, paralegals

I have just read Jim Towery's column explaining the bar's effort to put a sharper edge on the laws prohibiting the unauthorized practice of law (UPL).

Sorry, I don't buy it.

Let's look at the real world. Most average people who want non-personal injury legal counsel cannot afford it. Since economy, like nature, abhors a vacuum, a category of provider has sprung up to supply that demand, but these non-members have to dodge the bar's goon squad to serve their customers. The members of the club resent the competition.

The bar's stance can be seen as antagonistic to the less well-off people in our society. If our profession really cared about those people, it would help the independent paralegals put their profession in order and encourage good standards of practice.

So come off it, Mr. Towery, and spare us the sanctimonious nonsense.

John Covell
San Francisco