Bill inches to lawmakers
Urgency requirement stripped in effort to move Hertzberg bill out of the Assembly and into the Senate

Staff Writer


At press time, a vote in the Assembly on the full bill was scheduled for March 30.

The move gives the bar more time to negotiate with its opponents and to try to garner support for its activities.

State Bar President Marc Adelman said he was moderately confident the bill would receive the needed 41 votes in the Assembly.

Hertzberg said he would reinstate the measure's urgency nature in the Senate. The urgency status is required for the bill to go into effect immediately, enabling the bar to collect dues this year and remain in operation.

By the time the bill returns to the Assembly for concurrence, probably before the end of April, Hertzberg said he hopes he will be able to forge an agreement to move the legislation to Gov. Wilson's desk.

Sending a signal

"I need to send a signal this bill is moving," he said. "This is an extraordinarily difficult task. Any time I can jump over a hurdle, I'll take the hurdle."

Hertzberg said the odds of getting a two-thirds vote in the Senate — at least 27 votes — means he needs to convince only four Republicans to vote for his bill. In the Assembly, 54 votes are needed for two-thirds passage.

The bar has said it will run out of money by late June or early July if it cannot collect annual dues from its 160,000-plus members.

New executive director Steve Nissen eliminated 45 positions in February to begin a promised downsizing and save $3 million. Nearly all remaining employees will receive 60-day layoff notices by late April or early May in the event of legislative impasse.

In addition to the 45 positions eliminated, another 82 positions currently are vacant. Those positions remain unfilled in the ongoing fiscal crisis.

Gov. Wilson vetoed the original fee bill, which would have set dues at $458, last October.

The bar's efforts have bogged down with tort reform advocates over the term "administration of justice" and opposition by the Republican caucus.

AB 1669 sets dues this year at $419 and $399 in 1999 and divides the bar into mandatory and voluntary components. Funding from mandatory dues for the Conference of Delegates and the bar's 17 education sections will end under the bill, which also requires competitive bids for contracts in excess of $50,000.

The move to delete AB 1669's urgency status came after Assemblyman William Morrow, R-Oceanside, introduced four sets of amendments, each of which was tabled on a motion by Assemblyman Kevin Shelley, D-San Francisco.

Hertzberg objected to the Morrow amendments on a procedural basis, noting they are contained in a bill Morrow has introduced to slash bar dues and eliminate virtually all its non-core functions.

Failed amendments

Morrow, an attorney who has a suit pending against the State Bar over its lobbying activities, tried to amend the bill to remove the Interest on Lawyer Trust Accounts (IOLTA) program, dump MCLE and the Client Security Fund, reduce dues significantly and restrict the bar's activities to what he calls its core functions.

He accused the bar of using the term "administration of justice" as "magical language" to permit it to lobby on issues as diverse as three-strikes and smog inspections.

"My amendment would plug a giant loophole that allows the State Bar to lobby," Morrow said.

He said the Client Security Fund, which reimburses clients who have been swindled by their attorneys, has established a "whole new class of victims by penalizing all good lawyers." He called the bar's continuing legal education program a "joke that should be done away with."

When he discussed the question of bar dues, which he wants to reduce to $316 this year and $272 next year, he reminded lawmakers that he had sought lower dues last year.

"How the bar howled," Morrow charged loudly to hoots and howls from his fellow lawmakers in the chamber. "They would be destroyed, the bar was howling like the boy who cried wolf."

An aide to Morrow, Dan Chick, complimented Hertzberg on his tactics. The March 26 move to delete the urgency measure was a "good procedural way to get around our opposition," Chick said.

Hertzberg repeated, as he has said many times throughout the five-month effort to win a dues bill, that he is ready and willing to negotiate with Morrow, other Republicans, the governor and tort reformers.

However, he reiterated he will not permit the IOLTA program to die.

A compromise

An attorney and moderate Democrat who works both sides of the aisle comfortably, Hertzberg suggested that by the time the bill returns to the Assembly, State Bar employees will have received layoff notices and public attention to the bar's crisis will be higher.

"The only reason they (the bar's Republican opponents) are able to hold us hostage is a six-month window" before the bar runs out of money.

Negotiations between the bar and the Association for California Tort Reform (ACTR) had focused on language to deal with the question of bar lobbying on issues related to the "administration of justice."

Several times last month, Hertzberg and the bar thought they had reached an agreement with ACTR, but they never did.

"We gave them what they wanted," said Hertzberg, "but they overlawyered it. What they wanted was far too much."

Pumping up the adrenaline

Bar President Adelman, who described the entire legislative process as a "solid adrenaline rush," suggested that he and other bar leaders may now take a different approach in an effort to work out compromise language in the bill, with greater involvement of members of the Republican caucus.

Adelman said Morrow's bill and other efforts to reduce the bar dues will place a burden on the public, which will have nowhere to turn but to the courts if the bar cannot handle consumer complaints against attorneys.

"Taking advantage of the political climate falls back on the public," Adelman said. "When you take money away, it's the taxpayer who pays."