Plebiscite played role
in bar dues' whittling
The January California Bar Journal contains a letter from the president of the Fresno County Bar Association declaiming that ex-State Bar President Jim Towery "deserves substantial recognition" for the $20 per year reduction in our bar dues.
You can be sure that the dues decrease wouldn't have occurred but for state Sen. Quentin Kopp's legislation which directed an audit of State Bar spending and a plebiscite as to whether mandatory State Bar membership should be required of all active California lawyers.
That bill forced the Board of Governors to cut dues for the first time in State Bar history.
Paul D. Scott
Dues should be based
on the number of clients
I have an ax to grind in regards to mandatory bar dues.
As a prosecutor in a small county, I am entitled to absolute immunity provided I break no laws in the performance of my duties. I do not deal with client funds and have little in common with my counterparts in private practice. I would be willing to bet that the vast majority of the attorneys disciplined by the bar are in private practice. Some barely make ends meet, while others make a fortune, either in civil or criminal practice.
I believe a system could be introduced whereby the attorney pays dues based on income and clientele. The more clients an attorney has, the better chance that one or more clients may have a beef with the attorney, with subsequent disciplinary action.
Of course, this system is not without flaws, because I know there are very good, very rich attorneys in this state who have never required intervention by the bar. But, since $29 million (73.9 percent of members' dues) was spent last year on discipline, this is one area where those who utilize the services should pay for the services -- resulting in lower dues for the rest of us.
Justice Broussard's water ruling remains good law
As a lecturer in water resources law at Boalt Hall, I would like to comment that your obituary of Justice Broussard rightly noted the passing of a great jurist, but erroneously reported the demise of one of his leading decisions.
His 1993 opinion in National Audubon Society v. Superior Court (Dept. of Water & Power), 33 Cal.3d 419, affirmed the power and duty of the state to reconsider past water allocations to protect public trust resources. But contrary to your assertion that "[t]he ruling also was reversed several years later despite his dissent," Audubon remains good law.
That circumstance arises because of Justice Broussard's careful and balanced reasoning, which respected the interests of water appropriators as well as those who use trust resources as environmental treasures.
Is bar discipline system guilty of poor judgment?
The height of arbitrary and irrational California State Bar punishments can be found in the December issue of the Bar Journal.
On the one hand, an Oregon attorney befriended a poor, sick, homeless man, providing shelter on more than one inclement night, and continued to help his new friend after his arrest. The man eventually died of a drug overdose after the attorney took him to his drug dealer in an attempt to calm and placate his agitated state.
I do not condone his actions. However, unlike almost all the other attorneys who are disciplined, his misdeed had nothing to do with greed or self-promotion; he simply chose the wrong way to help a friend. For his "poor judgment," he received a year's suspension.
Meanwhile, another attorney received a year of probation for impersonating a police officer. How is this less serious than "poor judgment?" Discipline decisions like this make me wonder whether it is the bar that is guilty of poor judgment.
The bias against prejudice should be more gooder
I completed my 1996 MCLE requirements by buying (and listening to!) a tape from the State Bar Fall San Diego Institute entitled A Primer for Eradicating Bias Against Women. I carefully concealed the tape from my wife, "She Who Must Be Obeyed," lest she fear that there was a revolution afoot and thus seek to assert her benevolent reign by random acts of terror.
I write only to point out another misuse of the English language in our profession. One is "biased in favor of" and "prejudiced against." The word "bias" connotes a positive feeling while the word "prejudice" connotes a negative feeling. Assuming, then, the point of the lecture was to eliminate prejudice, not bias, I am happy to report that my only remaining prejudice concerns semantic imprecision and other misuse of the English language, especially among attorneys who should learn to write more gooder.
Oh, that ultraliberal rag
Your front page blowup story about state Sen. Bill Lockyer was politically biased. Has the Bar Journal become just like all the rest of the media and newspapers in California, or am I just being unduly sensitive?
As a conservative, retired lawyer and retired deputy district attorney, I find less and less that the Bar Journal reflects people like me, and more and more reflects the ultraliberal elements in our society.
In any event, now that you have given Lockyer such big play, why not level the playing field and give an equitable spread to Attorney General Dan Lungren? As a matter of fact, it would be fair to give Gov. Pete Wilson equal time, to reply to the insults hurled at him in your newspaper by Lockyer.
To repeat -- your story was completely biased. Isn't that a misuse of what is supposed to be a journal dedicated to furthering the legal profession in California?
Gordon Philip Levy
Los Angeles County
Gov. Wilson was featured last year, and both the governor and attorney general have written for the Bar Journal on several occasions.
Bar discipline appears
to have no lasting effect
As a former client of a prominent attorney whom I am suing for excessive fees and violating the most important duties of an attorney, I share Daniel J. Kirk's concerns about the effects of the bar's discipline of a "wrongdoer who happens to be a lawyer."
While trial lawyers are vociferous advocates of punitive damages as a deterrent for everyone else, it would seem that the bar court does not share the same zeal for discouraging wrongdoing among its own. Or so it would seem from my experience.
The lawyer I am suing has been disciplined for the same wrongdoing at least twice before. In 1996, his license was suspended for six months. The review judge in that case saw it this way: "It is not just a question of excessive fees . . . but a prominent attorney taking advantage of an unsophisticated client." This attorney was publicly reproved for the same conduct in 1990. My hapless lot fell in between those dates, 1994.
Since the article quoting the review judges' opinion appeared in a previous issue of the Bar Journal, I find it ironic it was juxtaposed with the discipline column in the same issue, since bar discipline seems to have no lasting effect on professional misconduct.
Audrey E. Flanagan
Of pro bono slavery . . .
In the January issue of the Bar Journal, George Kraw asks, "Should California lawyers have an ethical obligation to donate 50 hours a year to pro bono activities or donate the cash equivalent of 50 times their usual hourly fee?" This is like asking if slavery should be legalized -- starting with attorneys.
What's next? Is the bar going to "draft" all attorneys into service and choose our clients? Is the bar then going to pay us a salary for such services?
Or is the bar going to support efforts to create laws that force supermarkets to provide housing to us indentured servant attorneys?
Jerry S. Berk, a retiring Los Angeles attorney, writes that he would do more pro bono work if only he was not required to take MCLE. He should be applauded; the proponents of "pro bono slavery" on the other hand, should be kept out of all positions of power within the bar.
Scott D. Myer
. . . and brilliant ideas
of the bar's elite
My experience with the type of client the bar would propose for pro bono benefits is that the vast majority do not need a lawyer. All they need is someone with common sense and an unbiased approach to the so-called "legal problem."
I have been a sole practitioner for nearly 30 years and have been "not paid" far more than the bar would require of me in its draconian proposal of the cash equivalent of 50 hours per year. In my opinion, it is the elite segment of the bar which keeps pushing the pro bono issue.
Let that elite segment take care of what they consider to be the bar's pro bono obligation. The small firms and sole practitioners whose fees are geared to what small clients can afford have a tough enough time in maintaining a practice without being taxed by some do-gooders' lofty notions of charity.
Furthermore, 50 hours per year for each member of the bar would easily amount to a cash equivalent of one billion dollars a year. That is an outrageous sum to be gifted to any single group.
Henry M. Bissell
Metaphorical humbug won't solve metaphysics
In the January issue of the Bar Journal, Allan W. Wallace of Glendale complains about proposed pro bono obligations, berating judicial personnel for failing to do their share. He also says he "looks forward to hearing of the first such volunteer."
Here in Santa Maria, Jim Llamas is a deputy clerk with the Santa Barbara County Superior Court who has volunteered for the past five years with the Legal Aid Foundation's dissolution clinic. Many of our other court clerks support the foundation by assisting low-income residents and senior citizens. A metaphorical "humbug" does nothing to solve the metaphysical problem of "no room at the inn" for the "poor" baby Jesus, past and present.
On another matter in the same issue, Daniel J. Kirk is concerned that bar dues are being spent on programs such as the committee on sexual orientation. Not all white males are unconcerned about discrimination, whether it be based on race, gender or sexual orientation. Our courts are at the very heart of the entire system of justice and there is no place for arbitrary discrimination against anyone -- witness, advocate or judicial officer. I can think of no better expenditure of our bar dues than for the elimination of attitudinal bias and institutionalized discrimination. As long as it exists, a fair trial is fundamentallly impossible.
Ray Lewis Fuller
More to contract law
than meets the eye
As someone who has worked as a contract lawyer since 1989, I must comment that Hindi Greenberg's superficial discussion of lawyers who work on a contract basis overlooks the greatest "drawback" to such work: the absolute necessity that the lawyer who undertakes such work be able to immediately distinguish an ethical, knowledgeable lawyer from one who is not.
Unfortunately, California has a substantial number of lawyers who have neither the legal education nor experience practicing law to provide them with the ability to do quality legal work. A lawyer who enters into a contract to do legal work for such lawyers is in serious peril.
The contract lawyer must never take work unless he/she is absolutely certain that the employing lawyer's malpractice insurance covers the work done by the contract lawyer. And, in my opinion, it is good practice to never have your name appear under any circumstances.
Contract lawyers are ghost lawyers, but it is also imperative that the client is informed that a contract lawyer has been retained.
Kathleen H. Casey
Rich seniors on assistance: It's really just a myth
While I appreciate the excellent article in the January issue of the Bar Journal, "Law Carries Criminal Charges for Medicaid Related Transfers," I would like to correct a widely held misperception. The article claimed that "transferring assets, usually to trusts or family members, in order to become eligible [for Medi-Cal] has become a relatively common practice for some senior citizens."
For generations prior to the creation of Medi-Cal, seniors have (effectively or not) transferred assets to their children for many reasons. However, a 1993 U.S. General Accounting Office study indicated that even in a state with an active elder law bar where transfers were believed to be common -- Massachu-setts -- only 12 percent of applicants had made any transfers for any purpose at all. And of that group, only 5 percent of the total applicants studied obtained Medicaid coverage after having made transfers.
There are permissible transfers, notably those transfers between spouses or to disabled children. There is no report of exactly how much, when, to whom and for what purpose the successful Medicaid applicants transferred.
The myth that rich seniors burden the system by seeking government assistance when they could pay for it themselves is perpetuated in order to focus attention on scattered anecdotes instead of addressing the real problem of access and affordability of long-term care.
Just what is truth?
After reading Mr. Riga's comments in the December issue and Mr. Stolpman's column in the November issue, I have two questions: What is "truth," and what criteria differentiates "right from wrong?"
Basic education in law teaches that one who cannot distinguish right from wrong is exempt from traditional penalties for committing the most egregious of wrongful acts, murder. Nothing justifies manipulation of evidence to cloud the rational correlation of experience.
Is it possible, however, that the objectives of our judicial system have become so clouded by self-serving interests through ill-conceived legislation that any rational correlation of experience has been subjugated to the defending of our very existence?
Gene E. Smith
Letters to the Editor
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