Letters to the Editor


Hold Wilson accountable

I will pay my dues at the same rate as last year.

I find the bar’s apparent surprise at the governor’s decision to disrupt the operations of the bar somewhat ironic. What was the bar paying for when it employed a lobbyist at the princely sum of $900,000 for two years?

I would hope he might have informed you of the aggressive and self-serving policies that have characterized this governor since 1991. His veto of the dues bill is another in a list of petulant, self-aggrandizing actions that have politicized the state government and now threaten to destabilize another public institution.

Bar President Marc Adelman indicates he will “seek consensus” or in other words bargain with the governor.

What is the bar willing to give up for a dues bill? The freedom to take positions on legislative matters or perhaps the freedom to sue the governor’s powerful industrial supporters for certain torts? This governor bargains hard and will seek a steep price.

I would suggest that the bar make the honorable response that is appropriate to any effort to gain wrongful advantage.

We should hold the governor publicly accountable for his actions and hang tough until the politics change.

The bar can live on a limited budget as public employees unions are being forced to do. I and my office colleagues pay voluntary union dues and now we can add voluntary bar dues to the list.

In return, members of the bar can work hard in an organized fashion to replace this administration and its supporters with public citizens of both parties in 1998.

The beauty of democracy is that we can correct our mistakes every four years.

Harold M. Thomas

Payors, publish your names

I propose that all firms that voluntarily pay the $381 difference between the mandatory $77 fee and the outrageous asking price of $458 come forward and publish their names in a convenient booklet form. That way, attorneys seeking new employment opportunities can target their job search efforts to enterprises that not only have serious money to burn, but also have political connections/aspirations to die for.

How about it, fellas?

Sherri Lynette Woods
Los Angeles

— The complete list as of Dec. 17 is on page 20. —

Opposition to the veto

I am offended that Gov. Wilson has tried to coerce his view of what the bar should be by forcing financial hardship on the State Bar. We were required to have a referendum on the issue of mandatory v. voluntary state bar, and we voted for a mandatory bar.

Seems to me the governor does not approve of the democratic process and feels he can impose by fiat that which was not successful by political action.

I have been an attorney for almost 20 years and have one question for the governor — just who does he think he is to dictate the rules to us?

We are doing a great job of policing our own, and the fee arbitration process is very effective and consumer-oriented.

We have no reason to change what we are doing and I fully support putting another dues bill before the legislation, which I would be happy to support by testimony.

Freda D. Pechner
Garden Valley

— The writer paid $762 in voluntary dues for 1998 and 1999. —


Gratitude for the governor

To Gov. Wilson: My sincere compliments to you on your veto of the bar bill.

The California State Bar has run amuck and is no longer in touch with the rank and file membership.

It wastes a lot of money on political issues and lobbying, not to mention salaries, expense accounts and perks.

The State Bar should be divided — one part mandatory under the California Supreme Court for membership, discipline, and standards for admission and education, and the other part voluntary for all other matters.

Ah, but that would divest a lot of big shots of power — so what?

I don’t want to be required to elect a “delegate” who will purportedly vote for me on issues that affect the practice of law. I want to vote on all issues. I don’t need a delegate.

Please keep up the good work and look out after us little guys.

Robert N. Cleaves
Los Angeles

Social advocacy = $77

My $77 dues check is on its way. Declining to send the $458 is my way of voting against the bar’s “progressive” social advocacy. Last year I voted in favor of the mandatory bar. However, were the plebiscite to be held again, I would have to vote against the mandatory bar in light of the bar’s persistent and unwise social advocacy.

Dennis Pearce Kelly

Genuine nonsense caused the bar’s woes

An involuntary financial duty to support political positions, whatever they may be, is not an obligation carried by the privilege of practicing law.

The bar’s disregard of this plain common sense rendered Gov. Wilson’s action inevitable and has produced the current difficult situation for all of us.

Surely we who enjoy the benefits of our profession (and not other taxpayers) should be required to support costs of the bar’s essential functions. But successful state bar organizations realize that they are institutions, not trade organizations or political special interest groups.

A mandatory bar is properly limited to oversight, regulation and promotion of excellence in the legal profession.

On the other hand, an organization which avails the luxury of taking on extraneous activities while overpaying executives and ignoring its own members fits the classic diagnosis for bloatedness. The proven cure is downsizing and restructuring, and that time has arrived for the California State Bar.

Without genuine nonsense, this unfortunate situation could not have happened. More of us both inside and outside the State Bar need to remember that setting personal agendas above common sense simply because for the moment one can get away with it, is to trade short term satisfaction for the inevitable consequences of folly.

Philip T. James
Bristow, Va.

Reality check for $77

It's a common complaint among solo practitioners that “the State Bar doesn’t do things for you, it does things to you.”

This means that most solos have no meaningful participation with the bar other than being on the receiving end of a disciplinary action.

Yet my experience has been that the bar is not even performing its disciplinary functions adequately.

For example, an honest trust account error caused by a client’s bounced check occasioned months of wrangling with bar flunkies.

Conversely, I reported an obvious case of trust fund defalcation by another attorney and to date the bar has taken virtually no action.

The California bar and its bureaucracy are long overdue for a reality check. A check for $77 sounds real enough.

John R. Kahn
San Jose


Who pays?

Do State Bar officers, directors, employees, etc., have to pay dues? Specifically, as president, is Mr. Adelman required to pay dues or does the bar grant him a waiver?

Duncan Palmatier
Los Angeles

— All lawyer members of the bar board of governors, including the president, pay their own dues. The bar pays the dues of its attorney employees, but has asked them to pay their voluntary dues for 1998. —

Modest earner will pay only $77 in dues

This member of the bar will not pay a penny beyond the mandatory $77 in dues.

I am an attorney working for the U.S. Department of Justice, earning a modest salary. As such, the almost $500 you charge, which of course the government does not pay, is outrageous.

There is an additional reason for my anger with the bar. Several years ago, I contacted bar offices and requested that I be permitted to go inactive given that I am a member in good standing of two other bars, Maryland and District of Columbia. (In fact, the only reason I had taken the California bar was that I had practiced briefly with a firm in San Francisco.)

As a federal attorney, no matter where I practice in the United States, the only requirement with regard to bar membership is that I be an active member in good standing of any bar. The California bar told me that since I was working in California, I was considered to be practicing law in the state.

Following this rationale, I would have to be a member of the various other state bar of states in which I am currently involved in litigation, such as Oregon and Washington and, in the recent past, Texas and Michigan.

Further, you must be aware that there are federal attorneys in this state who are not members of the California bar and are not required to be so under federal law.

How do you explain that? Why am I treated differently than those attorneys?

Maria A. Iizuka


Let disciplined attorneys pay the lion’s share

I was wondering if anyone has ever thought about restructuring the payment process for the discipline costs incurred by the State Bar. Currently, the non-disciplined attorneys (presumably the majority) pay for the costs through 85 percent of their bar dues. Why not impose the costs on the minority of attorneys that are being disciplined by the system?

This system would be considerably more fair to the majority and might have the additional benefit of deterring unlawful or unethical behavior. Other professions, such as professional engineers, have such a system. Perhaps this is something the State Bar should consider to relieve its funding woes.

Melissa Thorme


Governor’s pen did what the plebiscite vote didn’t

I am tired of hearing people cite the recent plebiscite as evidence that most bar members want to keep the bar generally as it is.

Surely I was not the only one troubled by the way the ballot was worded. In my view, its all-or-nothing approach only served to justify sweeping many of the separate issues facing the bar under the rug, which I suspect was the intent.

I would love the opportunity to vote on whether MCLE should be mandatory, whether members should finance political lobbying efforts, and whether various existing projects under the bar's assorted budgetary programs should continue.

As to the bar’s need for its big budget, the supporting argument that most of its money goes to discipline seems weak. I seriously wonder if the money is well-spent.

Bottom line: There is a strong perception that the bar overspends, whether from expenditures on unnecessary programs or simple inefficiency.

Gov. Wilson did what the plebiscite apparently failed to do: get the bar leaders’ serious attention. Whatever the outcome of the budget negotiations, it says something that so drastic a measure as the governor’s was required to move the bar leadership to do things it should have done on its own long ago.

Todd M. Moreno
San Francisco

Insurance woes hit older solos

I have been a member of the State Bar since 1961. Through the years, I have considered my membership worthwhile if only because of the bar’s medical insurance program. Now the bar has managed to destroy that. In doing so, the bar has taken a slap at its older members, particularly sole practitioners.

I am almost 61 years old. I have a 16-year-old daughter who is diabetic. Because of the bar’s consideration only for the young and healthy, I will either have no insurance for her or I will be relegated to the state of California’s major risk program, which is risky itself. I have no idea yet if I will qualify for a normal program.

In view of the above, I will not be sending any voluntary dues. I never thought I would agree with Pete Wilson on anything, and I do not agree with him politically even on the bar, but I hope the bar fails to get a bill through his office. I need that money to pay for medical bills.

Perhaps the great minds of the bar who let this happen without regard for its members can come up with something for those of lesser economic status whom it has relegated to the scrap heap. I won’t be holding my breath.

Eleanor M. Kraf
Palo Alto

— The bar’s insurance committee is seeking coverage alternatives to lower the insurance premiums of 2,200 mostly sole practitioners. See story on page 4. —


Public protection a misnomer

Eighty-five percent of the dues for “public protection programs?” How much, or little, for “protection from the public programs?”

Peter Rugh


Shabby treatment of sole practitioners

The State Bar has no accountability to its members. I am an owner of a small law firm. My experience is very similar to that of my colleagues. It has been our experience that the bar treats us the same way an IRS auditor treats a taxpayer who is unable to fight back.

I was recently investigated by the bar for failure to inform my client’s ex-husband that my client had filed a bankruptcy. The judgment required her to inform him. He filed a complaint with the bar. The investigator concurred with his opinion that if I, in fact, had known about the bankruptcy and failed to notify either him or his attorney, it was a basis for disciplinary action. The investigator informed me that any such failure would constitute misconduct involving moral turpitude.

While this example may appear ludicrous, I am informed by other attorneys it is not uncommon.

I encourage Gov. Wilson to not back down on his decision to require the bar to make much-needed changes. The bar should limit itself to issues of admissions, a responsible system of investigation and discipline, and provide educational standards. Mandatory bar fees should reflect only the cost of accomplishing those goals.

Susan D. Porter

Ben Franklin was right

You’ve been had by an insider! In the issue of the California Bar Journal questioning the existence of the unified bar, on page 9, “Quotable” says: "If you will not hear reason, she will surely rap your knuckles" Benjamin Franklin.

James Bonn
Boulder, Colo.


Pompous sycophants are bar’s only beneficiaries

I commend Stephen R. Barnett (December Bar Journal) for his article. The board of governors should read it and the letters following. Yes, the State Bar has become an expanded bureaucracy with all the attendant vices, so as to give validity to the legion of lawyer jokes.

The bar needs individual responsibility of its members and a return to courtesy, collegiality, dignity and concern for clients, to return the profession to the respect it once enjoyed. Only those who benefit in some way from the present bureaucratic system and the business of law support the ridiculous proposed volunteerism re: “dues as alms,” required to protect the pompous sycophants who benefit from the State Bar as it now exists.

My compliments to your editors for presenting both sides of the issue.

Jerry S. Berk (retired)
Los Angeles


Ventura coastline, make way for the bar

The bar should find a building in a city or area that is not one of the most expensive in the U.S. to work and live. Thank God that you didn't look into downtown Tokyo ($10K a square foot) for office space. How about Sacramento, Eureka, El Centro, El Cajon, Ventura, Riverside or Solvang and so on.

Any of those cities would cut down your overhead costs by 50 percent, thereby cutting our yearly dues in half. But oh, no, the mighty bar couldn’t possibly stoop so low as to locate anywhere but San Francisco, where the costs of living and working are outrageous. The bar should charter a bus and take a road trip and look into some of the most wonderful locations found anywhere in the world to relocate.

Have you seen the Ventura coastline lately? Buildings and land are relatively cheap, and it’s absolutely beautiful out that way. Any number of lawyers would love to work for the bar in that area and the cost of living would be much lower for all of us.

Robert F. Becker
Cathedral City


Lawyer wants justification for client security fund

The mandatory State Bar billing of $77 puts the spotlight on the $40 surcharge for the client security fund.

Unfortunately, the justification for this charge sent with the 1998 dues bill is misleading. Business & Professions Code §6140.55 allows the State Bar to impose a charge for this fund “not to exceed $40” for the fund and the costs of its administration. The $40 cost is not “legislatively set.”

This fund nets about $5 million. The State Bar makes no disclosure or justification for this much money at this time. Lawyers who have tried to jump the hurdles to tap the fund for their clients’ losses usually come up empty. On the other hand, the fund appears to be overstaffed, compared to funds in other major states. Finally, as a fund, investment gains should be credited to reductions in the §6140.55 annual membership surcharge, and not lost to administrative frills or diverted to general State Bar operations.

It is time that full disclosure be made about the financial realities of the client security fund! President Adelman can prove his commitment to State Bar accountability by insisting that full disclosure be made and that the client security fund’s statutory taxing authority not be further abused!

Jerome Garchik
San Francisco


New attorney likes the bar

During my first year of practice as an attorney, I have received many concrete benefits from the State Bar. Therefore, I have chosen to voluntarily pay my 1998 bar dues.

As a new attorney, I received a major discount on the cost of attending the annual meeting. At this meeting, I had a chance to meet attorneys from around the state and to attend several excellent continuing education courses. The knowledge I gained was invaluable. Those in the CYLA were especially helpful.

As a new attorney, I received free membership in the bar’s taxation section. I attended the section meeting in November and again, the knowledge I gained was invaluable.

I appreciate the bar’s assistance to me as a new attorney.

Cherie S. Lewis
Los Angeles


Gift of public funds improper, not allowed

The state constitution (Article XVI, §6) has long prohibited spending public money for no consideration. That is a “gift of public funds.”

So, where does the city of Sacramento get off in “voluntarily” paying money to the State Bar that it does not owe? Where does the State Bar get off encouraging and participating in that practice?

Douglas Buchanan


Take CLE classes and enjoy them

I am amused by the letters bemoaning mandatory continuing legal education. From what I read in my favorite section of the Bar Journal, the discipline section, mandatory CLE, administered meaningfully, is necessary to enhance the reputation of the bar and reduce the incidence of discipline.

CLE programs provide practitioners greater confidence that they are keeping up on developments in their fields of interest. They help us do a better, more efficient job for our clients. Funny thing, at a time when many of us are unfulfilled in the practice of law, CLE programs can be intellectual getaways reminiscent of law school.

I encourage all members of the California bar to accept mandatory CLE in the spirit of dedication to better serving the public and thus the interests of our profession.

Robert A. Garcin
Loveland, Colo.


Lower the billing requirements for lawyers

It is encouraging that the State Bar appears to be aggressively pursuing cases of overbilling by attorneys (September issue). But in order for the widespread problem of overbilling to be dealt with successfully, some firms should relax the billing requirements they place on their attorneys.

Large law firms often judge their attorneys almost exclusively on the amount of hours billed to clients and commonly expect their young associates to bill at least 2,000 hours per year. Experienced law firm bill auditors say that to meet such a requirement legitimately, a lawyer must work virtually without a break for six or seven days a week.

Lowering the present billing requirement would not only alleviate the problem of overbilling, give attorneys more of a social life and lessen the mental and physical pressures they are subjected to, but would also allow them time to devote to pro bono and other social service work. Society often needs their talents in those areas more than anywhere else.

Joseph C. Sommer
Columbus, Ohio

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.