Michael Lasich has been through the State Bar's discipline system, and he doesn't like it. Noting that discipline consumes $41 million of lawyer dues annually, he says, "The number is just plain too big."
A sole practitioner from Penn Valley specializing in real estate and probate law, Lasich has been arrested twice, both times intentionally, he says, to protest what he saw as civil rights violations.
A 1991 conviction for disorderly conduct/soliciting a prostitute resulted in a private reproval and remains in his bar records "until the day I die," he says.
Lasich, 52, complains that the records do not tell the full story -- how he was arrested on purpose during a highly publicized police clean-up of West Sacramento and went to trial, and lost, to test the constitutionality of the police sweep. "I stood up for people who were disenfranchised, and now I think lawyers have the same problem," he says.
Lasich believes attorneys who are convicted of offenses which are not related to the practice of law should not be disciplined. "Does drunk driving seven years ago have any relation to whether you're a good lawyer or a bad lawyer today? It's not fair to hold lawyers to this standard for convictions that don't have any relevant bearing on the performance of legal work."
Lasich favors a 25 percent dues reduction, figuring that "at least 25 percent of the bar's budget is fat, pure pork." He opposes the appeal of the MCLE ruling, mandatory pro bono and mandatory malpractice insurance.
Married to the secretary for a superior court judge and the father of two college-age daughters, Lasich belongs to the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and serves on the board of Volunteers in Victim Assistance.
Valerie Ann Miller sees the bar facing ongoing issues, some of them extremely thorny, in the coming year: dues, mandatory malpractice insurance, paralegals, MCLE and mandatory pro bono work.
As a bar activist throughout the 1990s, the Chico family law attorney is knowledgeable about these questions and is acutely aware of how attorneys in her northern California district feel about them. She thinks bar dues cannot be cut, with operations "pretty much at a no-frills level right now."
Mandatory malpractice insurance spells disaster for attorneys in rural and sparsely populated areas, Miller says, and that, in turn, means disaster for clients "because it will limit the number of attorneys available."
The role of paralegals, which has been the subject of numerous studies but remains undefined, is one of the most difficult for Miller, primarily because there are so many legal technicians working in District 1.
"The concept that people with low means need to have access to the justice system is obvious," Miller says, "but how do you do it? There has to be some way to pay for attorneys rather than have to rely on paralegals to provide the services" which are unaffordable if provided by a lawyer. That question leads directly to the issue of mandatory pro bono work, which Miller believes most attorneys in her district also oppose.
Pointing out that most professional organizations require continuing education, Miller says she is not opposed to MCLE, particularly when it is applied fairly and evenly. But when certain classes are exempt, or if attorneys find the requirements too onerous, opposition will persist.
A graduate of the University of Santa Clara law school, Miller, 41, practices with her husband, Bob Persons. She has been a member of the executive committee of the bar's Conference of Delegates since 1994, was president for two years of the Butte County Bar Association, has served on the board of California Women Lawyers, and is active in a variety of civic organizations. Miller skis and scuba dives in her spare time.