Letís pay our dues voluntarily

by Eric T. Lodge

The applause from State Bar President Marc Adelmanís rousing acceptance speech had barely died down when his fellow San Diegan, Gov. Pete Wilson, vetoed the barís dues bill. The governor and the legislators who oppose the State Bar have focused on political positions taken by the board of governors and the Conference of Delegates.

The barís main purpose is to serve the public interest by regulating and improving our profession. The bulk of its budget is spent on discipline.

The Supreme Court, which governs the legal profession, has delegated much of its authority to the State Bar. However, legislation is required for the State Bar to collect the dues from lawyers it needs to operate.

Thus, the legislature and the governor, by controlling the purse strings, can control the lawyers who, as officers of the court, are the servants of a supposedly separate branch of government.

The governor was critical of actions the board had taken prior to Adelmanís ascension to the presidency, including its support of legislation that would lift the cap on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases. He also cited positions taken by the Conference of Delegates on controversial topics such as penalties for certain criminal offenses and affirmative action.

I think that the governorís criticism of the Conference of Delegates was misplaced. It has no regulatory authority. It is made up of several hundred representatives from local bar associations who meet annually and debate changes in the law.

His criticism of the board for its support of legislation raising medical malpractice limits has greater merit. Certainly there is division in the legal community on this issue.

In any event, the answer to these transgressions, if thatís what they are, is not to kill the State Bar. In fact, there is a certain irony in seeing a governor and legislators who espouse a philosophy of less government take a position that will, if carried to its logical conclusion, result in establishing a governmental agency to regulate lawyers.

At least with the State Bar, we elect our leaders and have some say over its operations ó qualities that would be lacking if we were governed by a state agency.

What can we do? Last year we voted overwhelmingly to retain the mandatory bar. When we receive our dues bills from the State Bar, we should pay them, recognizing that the funds will be needed for it to continue its operations. This will send a message to the governor that we support our State Bar.

Eric T. Lodge, a Carlsbad attorney, is president of the San Diego County Bar Association.