. . . just isn't good enough
Like Jerry Shuford ("This criminal lawyer was turned down," August letters), I was also informed by Robert Reichman that I was unqualified for membership on the death penalty appeal panel.
At the time, I reluctantly accepted the fact that, considering the high stakes involved in these appeals, my 15 years of practice, including approximately 15 murder trials as a prosecutor, extensive additional trial experience in both civil and criminal matters, civil appellate experience (including one published opinion), and recent criminal appellate experience in the Third, Fifth and Sixth Districts might just not be good enough, as Mr. Reichman had told me over the telephone.
Given that background, I was appalled to learn, as Mr. Shuford maintains, that Mr. Reichman has apparently appointed an attorney to the panel who has a civil background and who has a criminal lawyer ghost-writing for him.
Add me to the list of folks who have shared Mr. Shuford's experience with Mr. Reichman, and see if you can find an answer to the following question: How many standards are operating in the selection process for appointment on these capital appeals which are being hawked as so crucially important to the Supreme Court and the State Bar?
James F. Wilson
. . . is needed to reverse the statistics
It is amazing for me to see in your August issue an attorney who claims to be well-qualified to handle the automatic appeal of death penalty review is denied the position. I am sure out of 155,000 plus or minus attorneys in the state that the Supreme Court can find attorneys to effectively handle the 137 inmates that don't have appellate attorneys appointed. If not, then it is a management problem.
Since 1978, the Supreme Court has heard 232 death penalty appeals, an average of 11.6 per year. We have sent an average of 28.25 there each year, and the backlog of cases to be heard is growing. Of the 565 that have been sent to death row, the Supreme Court has only affirmed 179, with 300 more to be heard. At the present rate, it will take this Supreme Court 25.86 years to hear all of the appeals now on death row. With the last five-year average of 35 sent to death row each year, after disposing of the present inmate's appeal, there will be an additional 905.1 appeals to go.
With executing just four, it has lowered the willful homicides from 4,095 to 3,530 per year from 1993 to 1995 -- this a saving of 961 people from a violent death.
With this information, I ask, have the Bird, Lucas and now the George courts failed to properly address this expanding problem, or have they displayed that all of the courts have been anti-death penalty? How many of your attorneys would stay in business if your financial accounting went in the same direction as these court appeals?
Last question: Is failure to certify the record of trial for seven years, six months a criminal offense by denying the accused due process of law by denying him the right to appeal, as written in penal codes 190.6 through 190.9? If so, is it reason enough to remove a judge from the bench when it is supposed to be accomplished in 90 days?
George H. Cullins
. . . takes a back seat to celebrity
Jerry Shuford's letter is one of those things that makes reading the California Bar Journal so enjoyable. He is not the first to point out that real lawyers with real experience and real track records of success in criminal law are rarely appointed to capital cases, while inexperienced lawyers from tony law firms get appointed and the high mucky-mucks (sic) decry the lack of volunteers to handle the ever-growing backlog.
It ain't Robert Reichman's fault. He is only following orders. Reichman, the automatic appeals monitor of the California Supreme Court, was appointed with a mandate from the then-chief justice to recruit lawyers from premier law firms to handle capital appeals.
The basis for this seems to have been the following syllogism: "It is important to appear to do justice in capital cases. Lawyers from big firms are believed to be better lawyers than sole practitioners and those from small firms. Since it is at least as important to appear to do justice as to actually do justice, it is better to appoint lawyers from big firms who are inexperienced than to appoint those from small firms or sole practitioners who have experience."
Shuford seems to think there is something basically wrong with an appointed lawyer from a tony law firm hiring an experienced counsel to do all the work while the tony-appointed lawyer gets all the credit.
He has his priorities all wrong. He thinks that competence and qualifications are a matter of experience and record.
This is America, Jerry, the land where celebrity is the most important thing.
Accept your lot in life, Jerry, as a hewer and drawer to help the celebrities get credit -- and TV time -- for valiantly defending the just-executed indigent capital defendants.
Get with the program!
The powers have decreed that you are not officer material, because if you handled these cases on your own, the public would become outraged at all the reversals and take it out on the politicians, whether legislative, executive or judicial in branch of service.
Spring Valley, Nev.
The tolerance of repeat offenders is appalling
I could not agree more with Martin Bloom's letter last month ("Bar's discipline is wimpy") regarding the apparent laxity in the State Bar's disciplining of attorneys.
As appalling as are the facts of case after case of lawyer misconduct reported in the Bar Journal, and they are truly appalling, the real shocker is the degree to which these cases involve repeat offenders. Mr. Bloom was right to focus his concern and empathy on clients injured by attorneys who already have amply demonstrated to the State Bar the most grievous ethical shortcomings but who have been permitted to continue practicing.
At the very minimum, the State Bar should readily make available to the public detailed information regarding an attorney's disciplinary record. This could most efficiently and effectively be accomplished by the use of both an 800 hotline and by making this information available at the State Bar's web site. It does seem odd that the State Bar maintains an 800 hotline for complaints against attorneys but no similar 800 number for inquiries into disciplinary records so that clients can avoid these attorneys to begin with.
This seems to put the State Bar in the company of the proverbial farmer investing in a lock for the barn door only after the horse is gone.
Gary L. Schwager
Heed the letters, or the vote may be different
Before last year's vote on the unified bar, bar leaders urged the membership to retain a mandatory bar on the ground that the pending resolution did not specify what would replace the bar in terms of discipline and regulation. The leaders repeatedly instilled the fear that regulation by the state government and nonlawyers was worse than being regulated by the bar.
The leadership also consistently stated that the bar had gotten the message, understood that things were awry, and that improvements would be made to make the bar more responsive, less intrusive and less expensive.
This message succeeded, and the bar was granted a new lease on life -- so that it could change.
However, after the vote, the bar touted the outcome as an endorsement of the mandatory bar and the bar's agenda -- as though the vote was a mandate, not merely the avoidance of a greater evil. The reaction of the bar has been a spirited retrenchment, with the unspoken assertion that the membership liked the bar and its agenda. Hence, the bar's position on MCLE, dues and the threat of mandatory pro bono.
To many of the members, however, the intended message of the vote seems to have been entirely missed. The bar remains unresponsive, intrusive and expensive. And these members are angry, as letters to the Bar Journal indicate.
The bar would do well to heed the letters. Next time, an alternative will be offered. Then the vote might be different.
Jeffrey M. Thompson
The bloodhounds are loose
I voted to abolish the State Bar and stand by that decision. While the bar has no problem spending millions harassing sole practitioners and small firms, it doesn't appear to spend a dime on helping them.
I've sent out more than 800 resumes and 3,800 e-mails in the past 36 months and have yet to establish a network for contract work.
The State Bar has done nothing to help feed my family. Instead, on the off chance I do get a job, my dues go to empowering the bar to strip me of it. The board should be sanctioned for failing to meet its members' most basic needs.
For my $458, I expect something more than the right to be disciplined, pay for useless classes, work pro bono and watch cronies spend my son's formula money on five-star restaurants. If they keep this up, the old boy network will be hunted to extinction. At this point, I'd be glad to supply the bloodhounds.
Provide MCLE free, or make it voluntary
I became an attorney under VCLE (volunteer continuing legal education). It was great. I took seminars in areas in which I had an interest, and it was relatively cheap.
Today, I cannot afford to take classes that interest me. I take classes that will deliver the most hours per dollar.
I fear that a day will come when I will no longer be able to afford to meet the minimum hour requirements and lose my license because of it.
Eventually, only the wealthy will be privileged to practice law. The license to practice law should not be tied to the size of one's purse. The prices of seminars keep going up, never down.
If the State Bar is really interested in providing attorneys with continuing education, it should provide it free of charge. If not, let's go back to voluntary CLE.
A new twist on MCLE
It appears to me that lifetime exemptions from MCLE are income to those receiving them. After all, MCLE expenditures are ordinary and necessary expenses deductible under the Internal Revenue code, so avoiding the expense is a form of compensation and income taxable by the state and federal governments.
The income is taxable in the year received, the year elected or appointed to the special status for which the exemption applies.
The amount of the income is more difficult but it is certainly greater than the typical cost of getting one year's credit for MCLE. Income would have to be imputed. Some people question the deterrent effect of a death penalty, but no one questions the efficacy of taxes on imputed income to deter conduct, in this case holding some special office.
Perhaps my argument proves too much. I doubt the State Bar had the public treasury in mind when it appealed the MCLE decision.
Let's stop running around chasing our tails
Are we not chasing our tails with MCLE, mandatory pro bono and compulsory malpractice insurance?
As a non-practicing attorney, having a psycho-therapy practice, I would have to change to an inactive status (something I would regret) should I have to carry both legal malpractice insurance (in addition to my therapist malpractice insurance) and also perform pro bono hours, for which I would neither be qualified nor equipped to perform.
How many others are, for various reasons, in a similar situation?
Let us take a serious look at what is really needed and how to accomplish those ends without running around in circles.
J. Earl Rogers
Credit should be given for teaching paralegals
I have taught courses in construction law, contract law and tort litigation year-round since 1990. Most of my students are paralegals in a certificate program.
All of my courses combined occupy more than 200 hours of my time annually. I have to keep abreast of new developments to put on a good program. The written materials are comprehensive and updated continually. The pay is low, but I enjoy the intellectual challenge.
My courses are comparable to the typical approved MCLE offerings in quality. Yet I have never received one iota of MCLE credit.
This strikes me as unfair. Limiting credit to courses given only to attorneys should not be an ironclad rule, since that limitation is a disincentive to members who want to teach the law to non-attorneys.
Kenneth E. Archambault
Solo feels bar is creating new class of indigents
It seems that the only goal the State Bar is pursuing is creating a new category of attorneys -- indigent attorneys. As a solo practitioner, I make it my business to offer consumers a lower cost alternative to the $300 per hour law firms. As a result, I am not a wealthy practitioner.
Unfortunately,I simply cannot afford the costs associated with being a lawyer in California. The bar assumes it has done me a favor by lowering the dues by $20. In reality, $100 total per year for dues would be more reasonable.
Moreover, I cannot afford the prohibitive cost of MCLE "courses," which I have no use for, nor do I learn from, nor do they provide any kind of service to the public. They only benefit the providers, who have found a new money-making scheme.
While I agree that pro bono work is necessary, it would be more appropriate for our profession to become more client-friendly and charge reasonable rates for services rendered. Many of my clients come to me because they cannot afford to continue being represented by the majority of attorneys out there. Too many times, individuals that have been wronged will never obtain justice because they cannot afford the costs associated with hiring a law firm.
The bar needs to pull its head out and realize that it will lose many valuable lawyers due to the prohibitive costs and inane requirements it insists on imposing on its members. What kind of public service is that?
Debra S. Tobias
As senior lawyers, we want to do our share
Bar President Thomas Stolpman in the June California Bar Journal urged attorneys to do their share to make sure that all people have access to legal assistance. I agree, especially with the alarming trend of recent cuts by the federal and state governments in legal services programs for the poor.
I am one of those inactive, retired attorneys not allowed to practice law in any form. Currently I am chair of the Board of Senior Legal Services for Santa Cruz and San Bonito counties. Our organization is a non-profit legal aid group serving low-income seniors.
I have been informed that I could become an emeritus attorney, with the catch that I have to participate in continuing legal education classes. I did not want to do that because, living in a small county, it is inconvenient. And my area of interest -- senior law -- is quite narrow.
We do depend on volunteers, but I have a problem recruiting volunteer senior attorneys because they are reluctant to go through the continuing education program in fields of law they don't practice, and in which they no longer have an interest.
The essence is that I would at least do the duties of a paralegal legal for my organization without continuing education courses. I promise not to draw up briefs or make court appearances and that any work I do will be reviewed by our competent staff attorneys.
Thomas M. Rees
Stop picking on Silverton
Shame on Stanley K. Jacobs for writing a letter denigrating a lawyer he doesn't know, Ronald R. Silverton.
I have known Ron for more than 30 years and appreciate why he was commended by the California state legislature in 1971 for his many helpful, charitable endeavors and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors in 1970 for his good work as commissioner on the L.A. County Crime Com-mission (in charge of the sheriff's department and jails).
His problem occurred when he announced his candidacy for district attorney in 1972. His subsequent prosecution and conviction of subornation of perjury was overturned on appeal, and his subsequent retrial resulted in an acquittal.
I could go on for pages about how Ronald R. Silverton's achievements bettered society.
When he writes his book, Mr. Jacobs, I'll send you a copy.
Ronald R. Silverton, disbarred in 1975 and readmitted in 1992, lost the District 7 election for the board of governors in 1995, '96 and '97.
Shame on Dan Lungren
After Dan Lungren's latest tirade against judges of the Ninth Circuit, it has become readily apparent that the chief law enforcement officer of California has no regard for the rule of law. Further, Mr. Lungren has no regard for his oath of office by which he is sworn to uphold the constitutions of the United States and California.
President Eisenhower, who was not a lawyer, respected his oath of office when he stated the Constitu-tion must be interpreted by the Supreme Court, not by individuals, lest we have anarchy.
Mr. Lungren, a lawyer, will have none of that. When judges make decisions he does not care for, he issues personal "soundbite" attacks. Fur-ther, when the Supreme Court issues a decision Mr. Lungren does not care for, he urges voters to vote for an initiative that would mandate disobedience of that Supreme Court decision (Proposition 187).
It appears to me that every lawyer who believes the practice of law is a profession as opposed to a business should be critical of Mr. Lungren on this real character issue.
Let's revisit reciprocity
Years ago, California rejected the idea of reciprocity of state bar admissions because of the fear that droves of attorneys from other states would flood California.
Today that fear is groundless. If California adopted reciprocity with every other state, we would likely see an exodus of attorneys. For many attorneys in California, the only thing which keeps them here is the fear of taking another bar exam.
Certainly, if an attorney has five years experience in California, he or she could practice in any other jurisdiction with little additional training or education.
The same is true for any attorney who has practiced outside California. He or she could easily adjust to California law without the burden or relearning subjects which he will never see in practice.
Has the State Bar ever polled its membership on the issue of reciprocity? My hunch is the vast majority favor it.
Michael M. McKone
Don't jeopardize our summer vacations
Given that the legal specialization exam is offered only once every two years, doesn't it strike anyone else in the bar as somewhat absurd to schedule it at the end of the summer vacation season and then fail to publish the date of the exam in the official publication of the State Bar until only two months before the scheduled date (after many practitioners will already have made other commitments)?
Perhaps, in 1999, six months notice could be provided.
Thomas Paine Dunlap
The date of the 1997 exam appeared every month in the Bar Journal, beginning in April.
A cure for the system
After 50 years in the bail bond business, I have come to a conclusion, the criminals' 10 commandments, that could abolish crime:
1. Thou shall not steal.
2. Thou shall not kill.
3. Thou shall not abuse children.
4. Thou shall not drink and drive.
5. Thou shall not use narcotics.
6. Thou shall not sell narcotics.
7. Thou shall not smuggle aliens.
8. Thou shall not illegally carry a weapon.
9. Thou shall not write bad checks.
10. Thou shall not physically abuse your mate.
If every citizen abided by these 10 commandments or would listen to their mom, you would not need judges, lawyers, police or sheriffs, court clerks, probation or parole officers, courthouses, jails or prisons, and I wouldn't be writing bail bonds, and we would all be out digging ditches . . .
Waive seniors' dues
Thank you for the wonderful articles on emeritus attorneys earlier this year. The Orange County Bar Association recently waived dues ($150 a year) for emeritus attorneys and also offers continuing education free to emeritus attorneys.
I challenge all local bars to do the same.
Mary Pat Toups
Letters to the Editor
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: calbarj@ix. netcom.com.