Representation is the key issue


Gov. Wilson’s veto has created what some call a crisis, but what others see as an opportunity. As a political scientist, I cannot resist the temptation to compare the State Bar’s current predicament to the constitutional crisis of 1787.

Surely the comparison cannot be carried too far, and most assuredly, the magnitude of importance of the two events is beyond comparison. However, in both instances, representation is a major issue and significant changes and compromises are essential to a favorable resolution.

John Patton, president of the Beverly Hills Bar Association, recently charged the governor with “gambling the public’s protection and its best interests in order to seize the opportunity to impose his conservative agenda on a body in place to protect the public — the State Bar.” The fact is, imposing a conservative or any other agenda was neither the governor’s intent nor would it be the result if the bar were to be reconstructed along the lines intimated in his veto message. The governor simply wants the bar out of the advocacy business as long as it is funded by fees extracted from lawyers as a condition of practicing their profession in California. In short, there is a serious issue of representation — not, perhaps for advocates of the status quo, but certainly for those lawyers whose opinions to the contrary are often printed on the pages of the California Bar Journal and reflect the legions beyond who are so frustrated and alienated that even to pen a letter is considered a waste of time.

In public policy debates, there are majorities and minorities, winners and losers. But to be forced to subsidize the advocacy of a position in opposition to one’s own beliefs in order to practice one’s profession is contrary to the fundamental principles of representative government. Separating advocacy functions (beyond the narrow confines of Keller and into many of the activities of the Conference of Delegates, the sections and the committees) from regulatory functions of the bar would go a long way towards resolving what many correctly see as a representation issue.

In the meantime, as the debate rages, resolution may remain elusive for two reasons. The first is that too many questions remain unanswered, particularly as they pertain to budgetary issues and their ultimate impact on the amount of the fee to be assessed. Pie charts labeling expenditures by broad categories do not, unfortunately, reveal policy agendas and initiatives. Secondly, and perhaps most important, the serious division on the board of governors, in the legislature and among the members of the legal profession over the role of the mandatory bar simply has not been resolved — which brings me back to the convention of 1787.

At a critical juncture, when the convention nearly dissolved over the issue of representation, Benjamin Franklin, with his characteristic wit and wisdom, nudged his colleagues with this metaphorical advice:

“When a broad table is to be made, and the edges of the planks do not fit, the artist takes a little from both and makes a good joint. In like manner here, both sides must part with some of their demands, in order that they may join in some accommodating proposition.”

It is apparent that bar President Marc Adelman understands this. I hope his efforts succeed.

Jo Ellen Allen, director of public affairs for Southern California Edison Co., was appointed to the State Bar Board of Governors by Gov. Wilson.