Efforts continue to restore funding

by Kathleen O. Beitiks
Staff Writer



At the same time, a politically diverse committee of board members, informally known as PAG (Presidential Advisory Group), has been meeting to come up with a revised fee bill package that the board can present to the legislature.

Committee member Andrew Guilford of Orange County stressed the importance of board consensus and said that PAG’s goal is to find a compromise acceptable to all parties.

Meanwhile, annual dues statements were sent out in November. The new statements reflect mandated fees of $77 for active attorneys, with a request that bar members make voluntary payments, bringing total dues to $458 for most of the state’s lawyers.

Adelman announced that several of the state’s largest law firms and corporations have committed to paying voluntary dues for their members and numerous bar associations are calling for their members to do likewise.

Sam Jackson, a board member and city attorney of Sacramento, telephoned during the meeting to excitedly report that his city agreed to pay voluntary dues, perhaps making Sacramento "the first public agency confirming it will pay dues."

Adelman appeared optimistic that bar officials would reach a compromise with the governor and several bar critics in the legislature, saying that his timetable was to move "toward resolution the first available moment in January."

Because the state legislature adjourned just before Wilson refused to sign the bill that was approved by the Assembly and the Senate, no emergency legislative recourse is available until the new session in January.

Bar officials hope to have a package ready for action at that time, but Mel Assagai, the State Bar lobbyist, cautioned board members that two-thirds of the legislature must approve an emergency measure if it is to go into effect immediately.

All it takes is 10-12 people to stop a bill, said Assagai, "but the governor’s office intends to work with us and help us with legislation."

Assagai told the board several weeks ago that Wilson felt an additional $25 should have been cut from lawyers’ annual dues. Several of Wilson’s public-member appointees to the board supported the cut during legislative hearings, which added to the discord and acrimony that characterized last year’s board of governors under former president Tom Stolpman.

In addition to spending his first week on the job lobbying for restored funding, executive director Nissen was placed in the uncomfortable position of rescinding raises for the bar’s executive and confidential staff, some of which went into effect after the veto.

Although the merit raises may have been well-deserved, said Nissen, the timing was most inappropriate.

At board member Dorothy Tucker’s suggestion, a resolution was unanimously approved to thank bar staff for their "assistance, cooperation and good will during these critical times."

Bar officials say that without authorization to collect dues, the organization will run out of funds by April and employees must be notified of possible layoffs by February.

The bar’s tenuous financial situation has put the sale of its San Francisco headquarters in limbo, with T. William Melis, the organization’s chief financial officer, warning board members that a preliminary decision regarding the consolidation of the northern California offices must be made by the board’s December 13 meeting.

The bar purchased the office building at 180 Howard Street in 1996 and the sale of its Franklin Street headquarters is in escrow.

Because the sale of the Franklin Street building resulted in a larger profit than previously anticipated, bar officials included a $10 rebate in the fee bill vetoed by Gov. Wilson.

In his Oct. 11 harshly-worded veto, Wilson said that bar dues were too high and that the bar has strayed too far into the political arena.

He specifically mentioned resolutions passed by the 1,000-member Conference of Delegates, which consists of representatives from 136 volunteer and local bars throughout the state.

Among other things, conference delegates voted to oppose castration for repeat child molesters, support affirmative action at state law schools and prohibit discrimination against transvestites and transsexuals.

In addition, Wilson took issue with a vote by the bar’s board of governors last spring to support an Assembly bill increasing certain medical malpractice awards.

The Judicial Nominees Evaluation Commission (JNE) also has been affected by the governor’s veto, with board members approving a motion to suspend interviews for JNE appointments this year.

However, at the board’s committee on communications, bar and public policy, chair Ray Marshall acknowledged that the bar’s current funding crisis "has put things in abeyance for a while," but did not preclude the group from making future plans.

Although no commitments could be made, said Marshall, he urged members to continue discussions and "do something of substance while we’re waiting."

Committee members then discussed the possibility of co-sponsoring forums on the independence of the judiciary and race relations.

In keeping with President Adelman’s plea for the state’s attorneys to devote pro bono hours to programs aiding children at risk, ideas and suggestions to carry out that theme during the annual bar leaders conference in Napa, Feb.20-22, also were bounced around by committee members.