Whammo! The sky falls in on the Ďresponsiblesí
One of the too infrequent joys of reading the California Bar Journal is the occasional bombshell.
Everything was going along smoothly as far as the "responsible" people who had appointed themselves guardians of the lawyers of California could tell.
Everything is well left to their careful stewardship, they reported. Everything is in order, they say with superiority which has endeared them to their own.
Then, whammo! The sky falls in.
The governor vetoes the funding bill. No money for staff, no money for phones, no money for rent, no money for utilities ó unless and until the bar crawls on its knees licking the dust all the way to Sacramento, begging forgiveness of the potentates of the people whom they have mightily teed off all these years.
Who but the self-delusional would have entered into a $900,000 lobbying contract?
Who but the self-delusional would have done not just any one of the things listed by the governor in his veto message ó but all of them?
Who but the self-delusional would have done all this without the votes to override a veto committed and without making sure that the bill got out in time so that the veto could be overridden before the legislature adjourned? (So much for the $900,000 for lobbying, eh? Did good advice or effective lobbying cost extra?)
Of course, it will be the staff that suffers the most. The "responsibles" all have lucrative law practices to sustain them.
Wow! I canít wait until the next issue of the Bar Journal to find out what happens.
Spring Valley, Nev.
Outraged by the veto . . .
I feel outraged by the veto of the dues bill by Gov. Wilson.
May I suggest that the president and officers of the State Bar quietly explore with our new chief justice the possible action by the Supreme Court of taking over the operation of the State Bar by court rule, which has been done in a number of other states. Considering who appointed the current chief justice and several other members of the court, this would seem dubious.
It seems to me, however, that it is long overdue for the judiciary, as the third branch of government, to run its own house, rather than letting it be the creature of the executive and legislative arms of the government.
Please accept my thanks for the great job the board of governors is doing in the face of the governorís attacks.
. . . or letting three foxes and a hen vote on dinner
Three cheers to the governor for vetoing the State Barís fee bill.
The recent plebiscite shows that a substantial minority of California attorneys are fed up with the current situation. We are sick and tired of paying for programs we do not want.
I know that a majority of State Bar members voted to retain this unfair system. Thatís like having three foxes and a hen vote on what to have for dinner.
Arlene N. Heath
Wilsonís swipe of pen puts political agenda first
I would like to offer President Marc Adelman any help I can in dealing with the crisis the State Bar faces thanks to the swipe of Gov. Wilsonís pen. (I wonder if he was as quick a writer any of the several times he took the bar exam).
I do not have significant financial resources to offer. I am just starting to develop my own office, having graduated from UCLA law school in 1995.
However, if Adelman needs any help from a young energetic lawyer, please let me know. There are many of us in California who are sick of Pete Wilsonís antics of putting the best interests of his constituents after his own political agenda.
As my surprise at Gov. Wilsonís veto faded, I began to realize some of the serious problems our legal community faces. How will proper discipline be ensured? How will the bar run the bar exam and if its costs soar, what about poor, aspiring lawyers who are already sadly underrepresented? The prospects are not encouraging.
How good are the chances for a quick veto override? My brother is an Assembly staff member and he is concerned that some legislators might see this as an opportunity to appeal to popular bias and slam lawyers by choosing not to vote for the override.
In any case, our bar faces some serious challenges in the months to come. If Adelman and other board members need my services, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Jon M. Pettis
The governor is definitely accurate on this one
Pay State Bar dues voluntarily?
I had strong reservations about paying them even when they were mandatory!
Until someone can explain to me why California requires dues three times higher than other major states, I will be delighted, as I have in the past, to pay the minimum possible State Bar dues only when absolutely required to do so, and then on the last possible day.
I canít remember another issue on which I have agreed with Gov. Wilson, but he is absolutely accurate on this one!
Howard J. Berman
Governor is politically cute ó but misguided
To Gov. Wilson I recently wrote: Your veto of the State Bar dues bill is politically cute, but in reality is an example of childish and misguided partisan politics, and unworthy of the statesmanís image that you have been striving to develop.
A little over a year ago, the members of the State Bar decisively voted to support the concept of an integrated State Bar, which California has had since 1927.
While your veto message indicated that the vote indicated a lack of confidence in the State Bar, you must recall that it was the "nays" that had sought to abolish the bar, who insisted on calling the election and who were instrumental in propelling whatever "get-out-the-vote" drive existed.
Consider further that the affirmative votes for the State Bar were a greater percentage of the total vote than the percentage of the affirmative vote that many of your nominees to the appellate courts received in the last election.
The only proper argument in your veto message was to criticize the board of governors for hiring a lobbyist, for what appears to be a very substantial fee, to lobby the legislature on the dues bill itself.
While the bar should have been more sensitive to the political fallout of that move, it understandably has been frustrated for many years in the attempt to obtain a stable dues bill so that it could put its finances on a regular foundation.
Paul N. Crane
Stuck on $900,000 contract for bar lobbyist
I read an article by Dan Walters recently in the Sacramento Bee indicating the State Bar paid a lobbyist around $900,000 to try to get the latest bar budget passed.
Is this true? If this is true, I hope my bar dues were not part of that $900,000. Also, why were members not informed of such an expenditure?
Also, I think Pete Wilsonís message regarding the barís budget clearly reflects the thinking of a great many lawyers in this state, myself included.
Richard J. Burton
Cancel lobbyist contract and get back to basics
I commend Marc Adelman for his efforts to explore a compromise acceptable to the board, the governor and the legislature. Added to that group should be members of the State Bar. Like Gov. Wilson and many of the members of the bar, I believe the State Bar has gone beyond its boundaries.
Regarding the barís request for voluntary dues, I would suggest that you first give due consideration to canceling lobbyist Mel Assagaiís $450,000 per year contract. This act by the bar would demonstrate to the membership a good faith effort to change course and get back to basics.
The elimination of the $450,000 per year expense would also enhance the barís financial position.
If the State Barís legal department is having a problem finding grounds for terminating the contract, I would suggest exploring the following: bad faith, self-dealing and, probably the best grounds, "no meeting of the minds."
Craig F. Andersen
No dues for barís lobbyist
The barís purpose is to regulate lawyers in the state. I believe the responsibilities of the bar include disciplinary action, maintaining an ethics hotline and inducting new members.
There is absolutely no reason mandatory dues should go toward paying for a lobbyist.
Many members of the state legislature and staff are practicing attorneys. They do not need a lobbyist to explain to them how legislation will affect lawyers.
In fact, this is already the responsibility of staff and committee consultants; to explain how legislation will affect different segments of a memberís constituency.
Raising the bar fees also presents another problem. What will the bar do with the extra money? Will it decide to spend money to promote abortion and defeat the death penalty, as the ABA has done? It is not the purpose of the bar to use these mandatory fees for activities which have not at least been approved yearly by a majority of the membership.
The idea of a voluntary supplement beyond the legislatively mandated $77 bar fees is a good idea. Large law firms can afford to pay $458 per lawyer and probably want the bar to be active in lobbying the legislature.
I personally want nothing to do with it.
To deduct the $381, or not to deduct . . .
Is the $381 which most attorneys are being asked to contribute tax-deductible?
It does not appear to be an ordinary and necessary business expense since it is voluntary, nor does the State Bar appear to be a charitable organization.
I would be interested in any legal opinion upon which a contributing attorney might reply.
On behalf of working stiff solos: ĎThanks, Peteí
Your report of Pillsbury Madison & Sutroís and McCutchen Doyle Brown & Enersenís intentions to pay $458 per attorney in bar fees voluntarily (November issue) further supports my feeling that, as currently constituted, the State Bar mainly serves the interests of and is controlled by the stateís mega-firms, whose senior partners are millionaires and political kingmakers.
It was only via your publication of the governorís instructive veto message that I learned, to my surprise, that I had, through "my" association, resolved, e.g., to reduce penalties for repeat child molesters and to support affirmative action.
Last year I voted to disband the bar, not because we donít need one, but to express my disapproval of an expensive, extensive bureaucracy which does little beyond taking positions I must disavow in order to maintain any sort of credibility with my clients.
On behalf of working stiff sole practitioners throughout the state, I say to the governor: "Thanks, Pete"; and to the bar leaders and wealthy lawyers getting rich on contingent fees, I say: "This may be your last chance to clean up this mess by giving us an association of which we can be proud and to which we will be loyal."
Jerome E. Eggers
$458 is not chump change to a solo practitioner
Iíve practiced law for 12 years and am regarded in my community as one of the better trial lawyers. But I probably couldnít even get an interview with State Bar President Marc Adelmanís firm because I donít know the right people, didnít go to the right school or donít belong to the right clubs.
And after 12 years of practice, I probably donít make what he pays a rookie associate. On top of that, my skinflint employer makes me pay my own bar dues.
To Mr. Adelman, $458 is probably chump change. To me, itís a burden I have to meet every year just to keep working.
So Iím glad the governor kicked him in the rump with his dues veto. If he doesnít remember really fast that my ceiling is his floor, I hope he does it again.
Iíll send $77 and not a dime more. If Mr. Adelman wants more, he can start by selling the barís posh office building in San Francisco and moving the bar office to a cheaper city (try Stockton or Fresno); cut employeesí salaries (they wonít need as much to live in Stockton or Fresno); stop lining the pockets of fat cat consultants; get out of politics; and trim the size of this publication.
Richard P. Cotta Jr.
[Bar President Marc Adelman is a sole practitioner from San Diego].
Keep the Ethics Hotline
Earlier today I had to call the barís Ethics Hotline for about the fifth time this year. After I hung up, it occurred to me that someone should be told how much the Ethics Hotline is needed, valued and appreciated by those members of the bar who utilize its services, particularly in a time where the State Bar is so criticized by the membership.
My calls to the hotline have always been returned promptly and every analyst I have encountered was knowledgeable, pleasant and professional. The cases they referred to me were exactly on point, and, when the analysts said they were sending out documents, they arrived expeditiously. What else could one ask for?
As with other sole practitioners, many ethical situations of first impression confront each of us every day. I donít have the resources to research every issue that presents itself during the day.
Lawyers like myself need to have a sounding board that is impartial, intelligent and confidential. The Ethics Hotline fulfills these and other similar functions in a very competent manner.
I donít want to sound like an advertisement. But I do want to strongly recommend to those individuals who make the economic choices for the State Bar that the Ethics Hotline is one program which should be financially and administratively supported so that its future is secure.
Bar should get better insurance deals for solos
First, I wish to compliment your paper for its extensive coverage and willingness to print letters from disgruntled readers. Your efforts exemplify what the rest of the bar organization ought to be.
In the October Bar Journal, Richard E. King Jr. wrote of the failure of the bar to offer its members a competitive health care plan. I was appalled by Robert K. Scottís (the barís chairman for group insurance) quoted response, "we certainly encourage members to acquire other insurance . . ." This response epitomizes the reasons why our governor found the bar to be a "bloated, arrogant, oblivious and unresponsive" organization.
Paraphrasing Mr. Scott, I read him to say, "Screw you, if you donít like it, go get your own insurance!" I, for one, have done just that. And it is a down-right shame that I, as a solo practitioner in my 50s, can independently purchase the exact policy offered by the bar for less money than the bar charges its membership.
The governor was too kind.
Jerry W. Hart
Young lawyer hopes bar finally gets the message
I must admit that I got a chuckle out of the governorís veto of the bar dues bill and the responses the veto generated from the self-important bar bureaucracy and the limosine liberals who act as its officers.
But on to important matters ó Shape up!
I, for one, hope the bar gets the message ó a message it did not get after the vote on the integrated bar or after Keller, and, judging from the comments that I have read to date, it has still not gotten.
The activists of the bar have for too long usurped the appearance of authority and made statements not shared by many members of the mandatory bar ó almost all political or so socially and class-inspired as to be political ó and spent money on programs that have nothing whatever to do with the discipline and admission of bar members.
I long ago withdrew from the ABA in response to the same misconduct by the activist fringe. I cannot, however, withdraw from the mandatory bar. Which is exactly why the bar should not engage itself in anything other than the basics ó admissions, discipline and educational standards, as the governor noted.
If the activists want to spend money and spout words to, in their view, save the world, there are other organizations so designed (like the ABA). Or they can start a separate voluntary bar that can do so (as has Minnesota).
The core of the barís functions should remain with the mandatory bar. The rest should be left for a voluntary association of like-thinking, wealthy liberals (or conservatives, should that ever prove to be an issue).
And our dues will fall wonderfully.
Jeffrey M. Thompson
California Bar Journal invites its readers to send letters on any topic. All letters must be signed with a daytime telephone number and complete address (only the city or town will be used in print). All letters are subject to editing, and no anonymous letters will be printed. Send letters to Editor, California Bar Journal, 555 Franklin St., San Francisco, CA 94102-4498; fax to 415/561-8247; or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.