Letters to the Editor

Hit the wake-up button

I agree with the many letters you have published concerning the “wake-up” call delivered by the governor.

I am shocked, however, that the only response has been to exhort bar members to send in their full $458 anyway. I guess the wake-up call got turned off.

Over the years, as a practicing lawyer and judicial officer, I have had occasion to refer a number of matters for possible discipline. Some were matters involving other attorneys and others, as required by law, as a judge. These involved, inter alia, abandoning a client, unethical representation of a party, and practice by a suspended attorney. In no case was any action ever taken by the bar.

I have faithfully paid my dues now for 40 years — for what? I can not think of a single benefit I have gained from the integrated bar.

I have now fully retired from practice, but I have decided to keep my active license, at least until my current MCLE expires next year.

I truly believe that the bar should now wake up. Let’s base dues on income received from the practice of law. The current “reduction” based on income is based on overall income, not that which is derived from the practice of law.

Although I intend to go on inactive status next year, I do not understand why I should pay the “full monty” this year, as do the partners in the big firms who earn large six-figure salaries and whose bar dues are merely pocket change.

Ronald Ross
Rolling Hills Estates

Bar needs some advice on setting license fees

Would the State Bar like to know how to survive on a $77 license? Ask the California Department of Consumer Affairs how their Board of Registration for Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors does it on $40 a license.

George K. Farra

Bar members will vote with their wallets

The governor’s veto of the dues bill created the true plebiscite on the State Bar. Those members who feel the State Bar is doing a good job will heed the board’s request and voluntarily pay $458 by Feb. 1. Those who don’t, won’t. The results of that vote should tell us all something.

David E. Perrine
San Diego

Not impressed by numbers

So 77 law firms and corporate legal departments have agreed to pay “full” dues voluntarily. Damned impressive in our small state.

Peter F. McAndrews
Santa Monica

Bar’s use of outside legal help questioned

I note with interest the State Bar is claiming that it cannot be financially self-supporting without the dues it requests.

I also note that the State Bar has hired Lawrence Ashe Jr., an Atlanta attorney, to handle a case filed by a disability advocate seeking double time for a dyslexic law student to take the bar exam.

I note also that the bar has hired James Wagstaffe of Cooper, White & Cooper to represent it in the litigation regarding MCLE.

Would the State Bar reveal to its members the following:

  1. How many matters in litigation are being handled by counsel outside the ranks of the State Bar?
  2. For each of those cases, what is the hourly rate of the attorneys assigned?
  3. For each of those cases, how much has been paid on those cases through the end of December 1997?
  4. What percentage of bar dues goes toward the payment of outside counsel for handling litigation for the State Bar?

Ben Williams
Westlake Village

Bar president deserves kudos, not cheap shots

Richard Cotta, who calls himself “one of the better trial lawyers in Modesto” (December issue) should have done at least a little bit of research before condemning one of the finest gentlemen in our profession, Marc Adelman.

Then, rather than engaging in an unsubstantiated diatribe and attacking our State Bar president, he could have saved himself some embarrassment by offering constructive solutions to the bar’s problems instead of indulging himself in unfounded and inappropriate charges of “elitism.”

Marc Adelman is the person we should all strive to be.

After obtaining his law license, he opened his own office and worked incredibly hard to learn his craft.

That he was successful in that effort is demonstrated by the verdicts and trial lawyer awards he has earned.

He did so while practicing with the highest degree of integrity and ethics, and as one who has had the privilege of litigating against him, I have never met an adversary for whom I have greater respect.

Marc worked untold hours on various bar and civic projects, and somehow kept his practice going while raising two young children, one of whom has special needs. With all that he remains a sole practitioner, now devoting huge amounts of time to better our profession.

He deserves our thanks and accolades, not cheap shots from the likes of Mr. Cotta.

Andrew A. Kurz

Be careful of an unknown bureaucracy

It was surprising to learn from the January issue that only 77 law firms and corporate legal departments had pledged to pay full dues for 1998.

Our firm is a small, four-attorney partnership and there was no question we would pay full dues rather than risk the alternative of having a bureaucratic agency similar to the California Medical Board handling the regulation of our profession.

While I do not always agree with the State Bar’s financial decisions and the manner in which it operates, it seems more sensible to improve what we have than to turn the reins over to others with possible ulterior motives and less knowledge and concern for the profession than what we have now.

While I have a hard time accepting that the State Bar fee (approximately $38 per month on an annual basis), is so exorbitant that it causes severe financial hardship to practicing attorneys, perhaps the bar should offer an option for payment of bar dues on a monthly installment basis or permit attorneys with income from the practice of law below a certain threshold amount to pay a discounted bar fee.

Rather than complaining about the amount of fees, how money is spent and the inadequacies of our present organization, perhaps the focus can be shifted toward improvement in services, efficiency and performance instead of junking the bar for an unknown quantity.

Joshua West
Santa Rosa

List attorneys who withhold voluntary dues

Funny your list of law firms that have “committed” to payment of voluntary dues reads like a list of big firms of this state when you consider that the big firms are virtually exempt from bar discipline based upon the fact that the bar only investigates individual attorneys and not law firms.

Seems this is more akin to the Mafia collecting extortion money so they don’t burn your business down, i.e. big firms pay the bar their “voluntary” extortion bribes so that the bar continues to not go after the big firm attorneys or publicize their misdeeds.

Since you published the names of the law firms that have committed to pay voluntary dues, in the name of fair and equal journalistic integrity, I request that you publish the names of all attorneys that have already committed to withhold voluntary dues.

Feel free to include my name on such a list. You may wish to title the article “Salute to integrity.”

Scott D. Myer
Los Angeles

Stop the slanted spin

As an inactive member of the California bar, I withhold my judgment of the need for the $458 dues to fund the State Bar. However, I would expect that those dues should provide plenty of money for the State Bar office of communications to hire competent staff who will report “The Basic Facts” rather than “The Slanted Spin.”

“Fact” number 10 in the December issue states that “in the District of Columbia, fees jumped from $83 to $355 from 1992 to 1996.”

This implies that the D.C. bar raised its dues a whopping 482 percent in that period.

In fact, D.C. bar dues have only gone up by $27 to $110, but D.C. licensed attorneys (along with physicians, interior designers and acupuncturists) have been required since 1992 to pay an additional $250 “professional license” tax to the notoriously inefficient and corrupt D.C. government — not the D.C. bar.

F. Ford Drummond
Washington, D.C.

Make the public pay for disciplining lawyers

If the State Bar considers its primary function the protection of the public from the big bad lawyers, shouldn’t the public be paying for it rather than the lawyers?

Lawyers’ dues should go to an association which comes to their aid when they get in a jam.

I am puzzled by the bar’s often-expressed pride in the fact that they are using our money to discipline us.

Donald B. Brown

Unamused by editorial comments in veto message

I have read the governor’s message in the November 1997 Bar Journal and would only comment that he was, in my opinion, correct in doing what he did, inasmuch as your newspaper demonstrated its inherent bias by refusing to print the governor’s message without inserting your own remarks in and among the message itself.

It is apparent to me, based upon what I have seen, that it is high time for the bar to be completely reorganized.

Michael L. Michel
Newport Beach

* Blame the editor, not the bar, for correcting inaccuracies in every story or column.

Dues should not be used for political stands

Cheers for Gov. Wilson hitting you guys over the head with a hammer! It’s time someone did so.

It is most elementary for a lawyer to avoid conflicts or even the appearance of conflict.

Abortion, gender preference, etc., are areas a mandatory bar can and should stay out of. Hiding behind a pittance bar dues allowance under the Keller case, while paying the expenses of meetings, hall rentals, board travel expenses, etc., under the umbrella of carrying on other bar activities fools no one.

The State Bar has no business allowing itself to become a vehicle for some members to push a political agenda.

Where is your backbone? Can’t you say no to those persons and tell them to use a voluntary and not a mandatory bar to promote their views?

Of course, it is much cheaper for them to use someone else’s money.

Vernon L. Snow
Provo, Utah

Collect more funds from disciplined attorneys

I was surprised to see that the 1998 State Bar budget revenue pie chart (December issue) does not reflect any fines, penalties or similar costs as a significant source of funds for the disciplinary system.

If my understanding of the budget summary is correct, it would seem that the bar should consider following the lead of other governmental agencies, including our courts, and begin imposing fines, penalties or other costs on those who are found to be in violation of bar disciplinary rules.

Why shouldn’t attorneys who violate disciplinary rules be required to pay all or a portion of the State Bar’s costs incurred?

Why shouldn’t these costs be passed on to all of those who are found to be in violation of the disciplinary rules, or at least on those who will be permitted to maintain their license or return to practicing after a suspension?

Such an approach would help the bar recover at least a portion of the costs of maintaining the disciplinary system and help reduce the amounts paid by active members.

Marcus Shore
Huntington Beach

As Rome goes, so goes the State Bar

While Rome burns, Nero fiddles.

The January edition of the “Official Publication of the State Bar of California” and the house public relations organ pretty much says it all by its two main headlines: (1) “Future of the State Bar back where it started in 1927” — trumpeting those law firms, non-profit and government agencies and bar groups who were either pledging to pay full bar dues or supporting payment of full bar dues, and (2) the ominous approach of the Jan. 31 deadline for the MCLE program, that at this point in time has been held illegal, but attorneys are “being asked to submit a compliance card.”

Apparently the State Bar does not get it.

Read the lead article in which Gov. Wilson calls the bar “bloated, arrogant, oblivious and unresponsive.” I believe the governor pretty well said it all.

While in the past the bar has likewise put a spin on the publicity about how attorneys overwhelmingly are in favor of the present unified State Bar, since not everyone voted, nor was obligated to, it is hard to gauge the true sense of the membership.

It will be abundantly clear if members truly support the bar when they must pay either the $77 (which I will pay) or the $458, which will be a vote for the present bar.

After this vote is in, the State Bar should know where it really stands.

Ira M. Friedman
Beverly Hills

Bar favors members of large, wealthy firms

As long as the State Bar has only the will, resources and competency to prosecute small firms and sole practitioners who have neither the time or money to defend themselves in disciplinary proceedings, there will be no respect or voluntary dues payments from this quite large and underrepresented segment of the membership.

Does the bar keep statistics on what percentage of its disciplined members belong to large, wealthy firms? If so, dare it show said statistics to its remaining members?

I think not, but whether or not this information is forthcoming, I had better begin preparing for the MCLE/trust account audit that I’m sure this letter will initiate.

Steven D. Vien
San Pedro

Bar dues a serious barrier to small law practice

I, for one, find the governor’s criticism well taken.

As a small practitioner, I find the bar fees, combined with local associations and other fees I must pay to remain competitive, a serious barrier to my practice.

I question how, given the well-known concept of economy of scale, the state with the most lawyers has higher rather than lower fees.

But what is most disturbing to me is how can, as one recent survey showed, 20 percent of this state’s lawyers consider our fees to not be too high? What do they see that I don’t?

Where are their letters defending the bar’s current fee structure?

Donald S. Roberts

If you play hardball, watch your noggin

The old saying, “Live by the sword, die by the sword,” applies in politics as well as war. If the bar is going to play in the arena of hardball politics, e.g., push to pass or defeat specific legislation, it should expect to suffer the resulting consequences. It avoided those consequences for a number of years. This time it is different.

Gov. Wilson is defending an important principle. Citizens should not be compelled to financially support political positions with which they disagree. The bar has been doing exactly that by taking legally mandated dues and pushing a left wing political agenda.

All those whining about the governor’s veto should pause to consider how enthusiastic they would be about a politically active bar if the issues it pushed were favored by conservatives.

The obvious solution is for the bar to stay out of politics, except as to issues directly and narrowly applicable to the practice of law. Those who want to push broader political issues can spend their own money to join a voluntary bar or political party.

James R. Edwards
San Diego

Bar dues should be based on a sliding scale

When my 6-year-old was born, I cut back my law practice to part time, which essentially decreased my net earnings by 80 percent after factoring in child care and related costs.

My bar dues were not cut back.

Basically it did not pay to work, but the managed care crisis did its number on my Ph.D. psychologist husband’s job. Since I did not want to return to a full-time job, we cut back like you wouldn’t believe.

I still wanted to take the occasional sympathetic piece of litigation or write the lawyer letter for someone who could not afford to pay. I also needed a license in case I got a part-time assignment here or there. Therefore, I couldn’t let my bar license go inactive.

What ever happened to the issue of scaled fees? Why do I have to pay dues equivalent to 10 percent or more of my gross income from law when my colleagues out there pay a minute fraction of their income in dues?

If the dues go to pay for services associated with the practice of law, don’t their active practices (theoretically) consume those services at a far greater rate than mine? How much should a license to ”practice law” once in awhile cost?

Karen Sklar
Los Angeles

Practicing law has seen better days in California

My gripes with the State Bar are twofold: the MCLE program and attorney discipline, or lack thereof, as summarized monthly in the Bar Journal.

I vividly remember sitting (I should have slept) through many sessions where an employee of the MCLE provider introduced the program, turned on the video and disappeared. He or she later returned to turn off the video.

Those sessions with a live panel I found to be uninteresting and a waste of time and money. According to some of your ads, attorneys can pay from $119 – $379 for no live seminars and no tests and their compliance is solved.

Anyone interested in lobbying for the abolishment of MCLE can call me at 606/233-3444 or fax at 606/233-2036.

In addition, through the years I have read the discipline pages of the Bar Journal and often wondered who we were protecting. The clients? Don’t you believe it. I now know it is attorneys.

Years ago it was fun to practice law in southern California (I was admitted in 1941 and retired in 1993 to join my family in the horse business), but not anymore.

John Alan Weyl
Lexington, Ky.

Wilson commended for veto of fee bill

To Gov. Wilson: A “mandatory” state bar is a self-aggrandizement, perpetuating monolithic bureaucracy, which tends to memorialize its leaders.

The bar’s $458 annual fee is exorbitant. Their building funds and administrative hierarchy are wasteful. Their stands on legislation would appear to be representative of the entire bar membership, but are not.

A voluntary bar, as exists in most states (for example, New York) should be sufficient. A bar hierarchy becomes, as you have stated, “bloated, arrogant, oblivious and unresponsive.”

Members should not be coerced to pay for programs they neither need nor agree with.

Thank you for your forthright, constructive stand.

Philip D. Brent

Public protection vital, but at what cost?

Who can argue with our bar spending our money (70 percent) to protect the public against us? Certainly not me, but what about the amounts?

On “discipline,” our bar spends about $41 million a year (December Bar Journal). There are 124,000 practicing attorneys. That works out at $330 per attorney.

As a comparison, the funding for all state courts amounts to about $571 million. For a population of 30 million, that is $17 per person.

There is quite a difference between $330 and $17. That is probably why Judge Alarcon called our State Bar system “gold-plated.”

At $41 million, it might seem an understatement to call the system “expensive.”

Let’s see if the public is satisfied.

The hot line receives 140,000 calls a year. These calls result in 13,000 investigations which result in 520 disciplinary proceedings, i.e., one in 11 calls results in an investigation and one in 25 investigations results in a disciplinary proceeding against an attorney.

I doubt that the public is satisfied; 269 calls result in one proceeding and our bar cannot award damages. On the other hand, I wouldn’t want our trusty leaders to claim that they could discipline even more of us if they had more of our money to do it with.

According to our malpractice insurers, about 4,960 malpractice claims are paid annually.

Comparing 520 State Bar discipline dispositions with 4,960 malpractice payouts, one could conclude that the public is nine-and-one-half times more likely to get satisfaction from the private sector than from our State Bar, and in the private sector their satisfaction is measured in dollars.

Charles B. Parselle
Los Angeles

State Bar is bureaucratic, elitist and money-hungry

I have been a member of the State Bar since 1961 and a sole practitioner since 1968.

My impression of the State Bar is that it acts in any way it can to raise as much money as it can for itself, while promoting the interests of the elitist segment of its membership.

Its MCLE program, declared unconstitutional but still being enforced, is a public relations farce, the principal result of which is the transfer of millions of dollars from practicing lawyers to the hordes of CLE providers, including the State Bar, which have come out of the woodwork.

And, of course, that money has to come ultimately from our clients. Its disciplinary program is a bloated bureaucracy encrusted with hypertechnical rules and regulations, unable to take rational and prompt action.

The most common stated ground for disbarment is failure to comply with one of its rules. Compare it with the simple and uncomplicated disciplinary program of the Washington, D.C., bar, where I was a member for 35 years at a level of dues approximately one-fifth of the California bar dues.

Henry M. Bissell
Los Angeles

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 clabber@ix.netcom.com.