Letters to the editor

Balancing the judges' debate . . .

Shamelessly partisan

I have always suspected the Wilson administration's judicial appointments were based largely on partisan considerations. My surmise was founded on its shameless partisan behavior in other areas. Now John G. Davies, judicial appointments secretary, in response to the charge that Wilson is overly political in his judicial selections, states, "You have to keep in mind it isn't easy to find qualified Democrats." My suspicions are confirmed.

David S. Krueger

Good appointments

Sen. Lockyer's comments about apparent trends in judicial appointments were well taken. Attorney General Lungren's response was an accurate and insightful balancing response.

As a former ex-officio member of the Alameda County Republican Central Committee, native American and criminal defense attorney, Gov. Wilson's appointments of Ming Chin, James Lambden, Ken Kingsbury and Joe Hurley have met all my expectations.

I was astonished to read John Davies' disingenuous and shortsighted comment about finding qualified Democrats. It reflects merely his bias and not reality. 

Barbara M. Thomas

Political affiliation

Mr. Davies says that Gov. Wilson has appointed judges from both the Republican and Democratic parties. That supposedly means that the governor appoints on the basis of qualifications. That's pretty funny, but also somewhat sad to think that a being a member of one of the rotating parties in power is equated with being qualified for a judicial appointment.

Mr. Lungren is outraged to think that a legislator would consider that the JNE commission acts as a check on Wilson's appointments. He's right to be outraged. Why, to think that there would be some control over the business-as-usual approach to political appointments. Why, it's downright shocking.

The lack of interest in appointing people on the basis of qualification as opposed to political connections is not just a Republican phenomenon. I think that Democrats would be hard-pressed to point out many Democratic California governors who gave a damn about appropriate appointments.

Alex Easterbrook
Redwood City

Cheap shots

. . . Davies is a Republican politico who would have us believe that politics isn't part of the judicial selection process. Has he been smoking some of that medical marijuana that his co-columnist Dan Lungren rails against so much?

Davies' own letter states that in Alameda County, Wilson appointed 24 Republicans as judges and only nine Democrats. Was this just a chance result? Also, his cheap-shot remark about a lack of qualified Democrats reveals the partisan nature of the judicial appointment process.

Jeff C. Andersen
St. Helena

Naughty lawyers mean more profit to be made

Even if that wonderful appellate court decision nixing the current mandatory MCLE program is overturned, I still see marvelous money-making possibilities for both the State Bar bureaucracy and for the private bar. This vision is inspired by Ann Ravel's pet project of accepting referrals against alleged naughty lawyers. Formal "Good Taste Courts" ought to be sanctioned by the legislature in order to afford a whole passel of due process to those alleged errant esqs.

Incivility law is clearly at the vanguard of progress toward a more courtly lawyer culture. I envision computer data bases galore, full of categories such as telephone manners, gum chewing, cussing, whoopie cushion abuse and the wearing of plaid pants. The accused can hire Miss Manners to provide expert testimony; conceivably, improper use of the salad fork could fall within the purview of Ms. Ravel and her minions.

Gerald B. Leib
Mountain View

Lockyer says Lungren distorts his views

Because one sentence from my lengthy interview in the January edition of the Bar Journal has been taken out of context and distorted for political reasons, I would appreciate this opportunity to repeat and clarify my comments.

Recently, Attorney General Dan Lungren's press secretary distributed to reporters a memo falsely claiming that I said "there is no empirical evidence that (stiffer sentences) increase public safety," and juxtaposed it with a newspaper headline about vicious criminal Lawrence Singleton. His purpose, obviously, was to try to trick the press into thinking that I believe Singleton didn't deserve a long sentence for his heinous attack on a young girl in 1978. Fortunately, reporters around the Capitol are pretty smart, and they're not buying it. The dishonest memo, however, continues to circulate.

The quote Lungren's spokesman lifted from the Bar Journal interview is actually part of this much longer, and completely different, sentence: "In a wide ranging interview with the California Bar Journal, the president pro tempore of the state Senate made the following observations about the coming legislative session: . . . Changes in criminal law, whether jury reform or increased sentencing requirements, must be viewed in a fiscal context: the state's higher education system should not be gutted to pay for heavier criminal penalties, particularly with ?no empirical evidence that (stiffer sentences) increase public safety.'"

I have made this point consistently in every policy arena throughout my career: decisions should be based on rigorous analysis of the evidence to determine what works and what is cost-effective. So when we consider laws which will require taxpayers to foot the bill for the building and operational costs of new prisons, let's make sure our decision is justified by empirical evidence.

We'll all agree that it's worth the price to lock up a monster like Singleton forever (which, because of changes we've already made, would be the case if he committed his 1978 crime under today's laws). But taxpayers deserve more than anecdotes and slogans when they're asked to spend billions on concrete and steel fortresses to give life sentences to non-violent small-time losers. They deserve empirical evidence that public safety will be enhanced.

That's what I said, what I meant, and the way it was reported. It's regrettable that a press secretary -- who should be serving members of the press -- sees fit instead to deliberately and dishonestly distort and exploit their work.

Bill Lockyer
President Pro Tempore, California Senate

No more mandates

Mandatory insurance, combined with mandatory fixed dues, mandatory MCLE, and proposed mandatory pro bono work, would eat up a huge chunk of the hours I would like to devote to serving clients. The only remaining choices are to spend even more time away from my family to pay for this latest proposed mandate or to give up my profession. 

I thought seven years of college, nearly 10 years of practice without any significant complaints, and having my reputation and personal assets on the line would be enough to give reasonable assurance that my clients will get decent legal representation.

Jeanette Taggart-Sanchez
San Jose

Enough, already

I believe it is reasonable to require disclosure of malpractice insurance, or lack of, in fee agreements, but to have the bar dictate insurance coverage is going too far.

How can the insurance needs of one attorney be compared to those of another? Will the bar decide what policy limits must be based upon the type of practice? The dollar value of the practice? The experience or skill of the attorney? Enough, already!

Michael J. Symons

It protects the public

I do not quite understand the opposition to forging ahead with mandatory malpractice insurance. This is a consumer protection issue. By not requiring such protection, we are sending the wrong kind of message. The mere appearance of impropriety or the mere appearance that we are not policing ourselves is the issue here. We must set a strict standard and we must enforce a code of ethics which is above any other practice.

Louis J. Vigorita

Not a swell idea

As a sole practitioner, I do not have malpractice insurance because I can't afford to feed, clothe and house my family, in addition to paying taxes, operating costs and now possibly malpractice insurance. Even in a so-called soft insurance market, a few thousand dollars would be a burden I probably could not afford. Then what? I get disciplined by the bar for being a struggling sole practitioner.

What arrogance to consider placing another burden on us. An organization that I must belong to in order to practice is trying to ruin my chances of supporting myself and my family.

Thomas L. Watkins

A pointless increase

We are already required to pay ridiculously high bar dues, the majority of which go to a discipline system initiated to protect the public. We are already required to spend ridiculous amounts of money on MCLE, a program initiated to protect the public. Now the bar is revisiting the issue of mandatory malpractice insurance, again with the goal of somehow protecting the public. Taken together, the three will require lawyers to spend approximately $3,000 each year just for the privilege of remaining in good standing with the bar.

The Board of Governors should follow the recommendation of the committee that studied this matter and drop the issue once and for all. Spend the money on affordable legal services instead, and take some of the load off of us who have always done what Justice George is urging.

Alan Siraco

Bar should scale back

The (mandatory malpractice insurance) proposal is unnecessary and ill conceived. It will place creative and small practices in greater financial peril. It will raise the costs of legal services, especially for consumers with small or unusual problems. It will create yet another bar bureaucracy and yet another ground for disciplining members. It will increase the number of lawsuits against members and establish a whole new specialty of frivolous claims.

It is high time for a real change of leadership in our State Bar. It is time to kick out the big bar bureaucrats and put in some folks who will get the bar back under control.

Duncan Palmatier
Moscow, Idaho

Centrex is solid

The January article by Dan Bodner, "The Right Phone System," was factually incorrect and misleading.

Contrary to his information, Centrex does not cost $270 per line to install. The actual Centrex line charge is $70 per line and the system establishment charge is $200-$400. After installation, the basic per line monthly rate is $15.65, which makes the system cost-effective for businesses with two to 10,000 (or more) employees. In addition, because Centrex is a "virtual" phone system, with all the features of the system managed by Pacific Bell, customers don't have to make large investments in their own equipment. Customers also don't have to absorb the costs of frequent equipment upgrades, pay for ongoing maintenance or secure additional office space to house the equipment. 

Jim Murphy
Director, Business Systems, Pacific Bell

Out of their minds

I see where the powers that be have hired a lobbyist to represent the State Bar for $450,000 per year. Are they out of their minds? That's more than Webster Hubbell got, and he's being investigated by a special counsel.

We find out that those yo-yos originally intended to enter into a contingent fee contract. I can't fault Stolpman on this because he sounds awfully naive about the whole legislative process, but Mr. Assagai, as a "respected and talented lobbyist," should know those things have been a no-no since the memory of man runneth not to the contrary.

With all that money, your guy will have no problem getting you enough votes. Hell, he'll have enough left over to cruise the Caribbean for six months, rent the Lincoln bedroom from our friendly innkeeper in Washington, and still show a profit.

Irvin Taplin

Angry about contract

I read with tremendous disgust and disdain the fact that the State Bar signed a $900,000 contract with Mel Assagai for a two-year lobbying contract. Since I am not aware that the State Bar has ever done anything which is of assistance to me (other than allow me to earn the license I need for access to the courts), I believe that Mr. Assagai will never espouse any views which I hold or agree with.

I think that Mr. Assagai's contract should be immediately terminated, and each and every person at the State Bar who approved or voted for Mel's sweetheart deal should be fired from the State Bar. 

Richard H. French Jr.
Berea, Ohio

Was it a typo? . . .

How can the bar justify hiring a lobbyist for two years at $450,000 a year -- or was that a typo?

Bernard A. Meany
Arlington, Va.

. . . Or a travesty

I side with the opponents of this travesty.

Kathleen U. Poling

An aroma of corruption

At a time when the very appearance of impropriety ought to be of grave concern to the bar, it seems to this lawyer that paying almost a million dollars to anyone to be a Sacramento lobbyist is, at best, amazing.

If any group was ever composed of members who are supposed to be competent to assert their own political agenda and persuade others accordingly, without any help from anybody, it is the bar.

The hiring of Mr. Assagai might be seen as, at best, a bit of ill-advised, bad policy. The thing is highly suspect, having a very unpleasant aroma of corruption and malfeasance.

William Case