During my inaugural address at last September's annual meeting, I asked our membership to take on issues involving the representation of our children in need.
There are more than 2.3 million children in the state of California living at or below the poverty level. There is no better group suited to advocate on their behalf than the attorneys of the State Bar of California.
Representing their interests in special education matters, the presentation of claims for insurance, health, SSI benefits and homeless issues can make a major difference in that child and their family's lives.
Past State Bar president John Seitman warned me shortly after my address that something always seems to get in the way of an agenda set by the State Bar president. I remember wondering what could get in the way or be more important than representing the needs of our children.
Countless attorneys, bar associations and other professionals immediately responded to the challenge involving children at risk. Unfortunately, I quickly learned what John was talking about and how our goals could promptly be sidetracked.
Three weeks into my term, the bar's fee bill (SB 1145) was vetoed, creating the greatest crisis ever to face the State Bar in its 71-year history.
Responding to this challenge has been the focus of every moment of my time, as well as that of the hard-working, dedicated members of the Board of Governors and our new executive director, Steve Nissen.
By the time this column gets to print, our emergency fee bill will have come to a vote on the floor of the Assembly.
In addition, my wife Erin and I will have completed another difficult undertaking, finishing the Los Angeles marathon.
Running the Los Angeles marathon with Erin afforded me an opportunity to spend time with her (which we rarely get these days) while training, contribute to a cause near and dear to our family, and revisit my agenda of helping children.
We ran the race to raise funds and promote awareness of the "Cure Autism Now" Foundation (C.A.N.), an official charity of the Los Angeles marathon that advances research seeking a cure for autism. Autism affects some 400,000 individuals in this country, including, as many of you know, our son Ben.
Our efforts prompted more than 3,000 letters soliciting support for our run on behalf of C.A.N.
American Bar Association President Jerome Shestack, a member of the Board of Directors of C.A.N., has a 5-year-old grandson with autism and has joined in the effort, sending out letters urging his colleagues to contribute to our cause. He even hosted a send-off party for us.
This summer we will be running in two other races the American Heart Association's Third Annual "Lawyers Have Heart" 5K Run in San Diego on June 18 and then in Sacramento on July 11 to help increase the public's awareness of the risks of heart disease and stroke.There is always one more challenge and room for improvement. We can always do more and be more efficient, more focused, more productive.
It occurs to me that running a marathon is an apt metaphor for the endurance contest currently in progress at the State Bar.
Many of us at the State Bar have been locked in an unrelenting race against time since Oct. 11, when Gov. Wilson vetoed the fee bill. The starting gun went off that very day. Since that time, the Board of Governors has shown tremendous courage and determination in closing the gap between the issues addressed in the veto message and Assemblyman Robert Hertzberg's emergency bill.
Just consider how far we have come.
We have listened to the views and concerns of the governor, legislators and our membership.
We have endorsed a new fee bill AB 1669. With the help of local bars and many individual bar supporters, the Hertzberg bill cleared the Assembly Judiciary Committee.We cannot afford to come to a standstill; we must move forward while continuing to seek the best solution possible. Without emergency legislation in the very near future, our 71-year-old State Bar could be forced to shut its doors as early as June.
As I write this column, the full Assembly has yet to vote on the bill.
In the meantime, my colleagues and I are continuing to talk to attorneys and legislators across the state to illustrate why we cannot afford to hobble California's State Bar and to show our willingness to address concerns and rebuild.
With the bar's current crisis reaching a critical stage, it is time to pick up our pace.
The lawyers of this state need to hear from California's legislature and governor soon.
We need to finalize a fee bill so that we can respond to the public and our membership and rebuild a State Bar that regardless of its future structure will meet the needs of attorneys and consumers into the next millennium.