[1997 ELECTION] Peter Kaye

Itemizing a list to reduce bar costs

Some years ago, one of California's outstanding business leaders served briefly on the State Bar's Board of Governors. His term included a year as chair of the administration and finance committee. Upon his departure, he issued this immortal line:

"If this place were a business, it would be out of business by 5 p.m."

Despite an exhaustive budget review three years ago, a plebiscite last year and a $20 dues reduction this year, nothing has really changed. Except that the State Bar is an even bigger business with an annual budget of nearly $100 million and currently 735 employees.

Both the budget and payroll contain fat, which should be trimmed to give bar members a dues reduction of at least $25. Here's how:

Some of these suggestions are obvious. Some are subtle. Many are unpopular. All are overdue.

But believe me, the board of governors can cut your dues without jeopardizing the operation of the State Bar. If it has the will. And the leadership.

Another thing the board of governors must do is conduct your business openly. So far there is little inclination.

You'd think it would have learned from the fiasco of Lobbygate -- the secret and partly illegal deal to privatize the bar's lobbying operation in Sacramento.

But it hasn't. At its last meeting, the board took up two important topics -- MCLE and a new executive director. In secret. There were legal and personnel considerations. But most of the discussions involved policy, and those portions should have been in open session.

After being virtually settled in secret, the topics were revisited with little debate at a brief open session.

This is a pattern which must be broken if the board and the bar are to regain the confidence of its members and the public.

Again this would take leadership. From someone who sees the presidency as more than the pinnacle of bar junkydom. Or a plaque on the wall to impress colleagues and clients.

Peter Kaye is a San Diego journalist.