Letters to the Editor

Sob sisters should put away their hankies

Kathleen Beitiks' and Nancy McCarthy's tedious, weepy article bewailing the layoffs of State Bar employees reflects perfectly the myopic "inside the beltway" view so frustrating to the real world.

The authors, just as most lawyers, attempt to change the issues when beset with bad facts.

It is true that loyal employees will lose their jobs. But the fault is not with the governor. It is that of the State Bar "leaders" whose arrogance led to the revolt of the masses which led them to the veto.

Wilson didn't veto in a vacuum. It was that arrogance, that blindness to other positions that lead to the changes now underway.

Soldiers die when generals err; when management fails, innocent employees are "downsized." If there are victims, they should look to the former "leadership" as the cause, not Sacramento or those who tried to be heard and were ignored.

Employees of the State Bar, arise. Your former bosses refused to listen to the members. They decided the members were wrong or that their "agenda" was wrong. They ignored them and went their own way. And they also did it on members' money - and therein lies the rub.

James K. Sweeney
Los Angeles

Oh, my achy, breaky heart

Once again your publication devotes almost its entire issue to pleas from various parties interested in saving the bloated mandatory bar association, along with sob stories about poor bar employees who will be laid off as a result of what you call a "crisis."

Three kudos to Gov. Wilson! As a young lawyer in his second year of practice, I wholly support a voluntary bar association. Your June issue is replete with self-serving "save the bar" pleas from persons who have long had direct or indirect financial interest in keeping an expensive, wasteful, unnecessary bar association.

I and other California attorneys say good riddance - we're sick and tired of supporting wasteful programs and a discipline system which gives no more than a slap on the wrist to lawyers who commit multiple ethical or criminal violations. The sooner the layoffs occur, the better.

Christopher Shenfield
New Orleans

Bar leaders should replace tears with good faith

With all respect, the bar's current leadership still doesn't get it.

The bar's leaders (and the Bar Journal as the house organ) trumpet concerns for the bar's regulatory and consumer protection functions, but demonstrate repeatedly to the legislature that they will readily truncate those functions (and even shut them down) rather than terminate the sole source lobbying contract with the bar's lobbyist and continued subsidies to the wholly political agenda of the Conference of Delegates.

If the bar's current leaders were really shedding tears so copiously displayed in the pages of the Bar Journal for the regulatory functions of the bar and for the bar's longtime employees affected by the leadership's attempt at a showdown with the governor, why not simply show good faith for their newfound conversion and voluntarily and immediately abandon lobbying, political posturing and their beloved Conference of Delegates, all of which they now admit most lawyers oppose?

I predict that this supposed "deathbed conversion" of the bar's current leadership will not save the State Bar.

It is too little and too late. The imperious State Bar is dead and our profession - and the people of California - shall be better for it.

Brenton A. Bleier

Legal profession needs a healthy discipline system

I read letters to the Bar Journal stating that loss of the bar's disciplinary system is nothing to worry about. One writer says marketplace factors will weed out unethical lawyers.

It is difficult for me to believe that any lawyer who appears in court with any frequency could honestly harbor such a foolish idea.

I served as a judge of the municipal and superior courts for 20 years. I sit occasionally now on assignment in various courts. Recently, I had a lawyer tell me in chambers at a pretrial conference that he was experiencing serious symptoms of mental illness and he didn't know if he should continue to represent his client.

I have seen perjury by lawyers in pleading and billing practices that astound me. I have watched in amazement as lawyers who have no competence in an area of practice flounder because of their inability.

Many of the people we serve in the legal system are uneducated and mystified by the legal process. Some sophisticated lawyers seem to be able to go on taking advantage of these people over and over again.

When I see egregious behavior, I call the State Bar. The result has almost always been an effective investigation and appropriate action.

No responsible profession with pride in the service it provides can justify doing something less.

Roderic Duncan

Aim for a short, painful restructure of the bar

Robert Fellmuth's sensible and workable solution in the June issue is the best suggestion yet to resolve the State Bar debacle. A diverse Board of Governors appointed by the Supreme Court, the governor, Assembly speaker and Senate rules committee is a reasonable way to structure a bar regulatory agency. A voluntary bar association for other activities is a good idea.

Professor Fellmuth has a unique perspective because of his many years studying state regulatory agencies and teaching law students about them. His ideas are objective and non-partisan.

It's clear the State Bar is going to change and people are going to lose their jobs. The process can be long and painful, or short and painful. Opting for the latter would be the wisest course.

Cheryl A. Geyerman
San Diego

Bar reform is long overdue

I read with great interest the article by Robert C. Fellmuth (June) regarding "lessons of the dues debacle." He expressed thoughts that I have had for many years - only more articulately.

The bar has abused its power to collect and use mandatory dues payments and the time has come for a major change. Mandatory membership in an organization that sets standards for practice, sets rules for professional conduct and disciplines violators is needed; but all other functions should be shifted to a voluntary bar association. AB1669 is not the answer; major reform is past due.

The bar should heed Gov. Wilson's wake-up call.

Robert K. Rogers Jr.

Better to let others discipline attorneys

I fail to understand how State Bar President Marc Adelman can conclude having the bar discipline attorneys supports the principle of separation of powers. Self-regulation is exactly the opposite: a cozy system where members of a club look out for their own. Much better to follow the admirable principles Adelman cites and let the state police attorneys.

Robert Neer
Hong Kong

Rosy future for employees

I feel downright terrible about all the employees of your do-nothing institution losing their jobs. After being discriminated against by these people for the past 25 years, I feel I should help them out. Hutch's Car Wash in Hayward and the Foster's Freeze in San Leandro have immediate job opportunities for qualified individuals.

Richard Cragin
San Leandro

Bar employees should work pro bono

The headline in the May issue of the Bar Journal, "Bar begins to cut services; layoff notices handed to 500 employees" was compelling. But none of the articles in that issue answered the question that is foremost on my mind.

Will the State Bar employees continue to work at their jobs without pay? It is a fair question, after all. This is the organization that constantly urges its members, the attorneys of California, to provide legal services for free.

Now the bar's employees have an opportunity to show their dedication to their cause. Let's see them lead by example by providing pro bono service to their employer in its time of need.

Dave Alden
Palo Alto

State Bar's problem is that it doesn't listen

Whatever gave the administrators, who are squandering our annual fees, the idea that we want to read [in the June issue of the California Bar Journal] about the employment problems of the administrative staff?

Why would active attorneys be interested in color pictures of murderers on the front page of our trade journal? We're interested in our own employment and workplace related problems, and if we want color pictures of convicted felons we can watch television or purchase newspapers.

Perhaps if the bar would show just a little interest in providing its 160,903 members with products that would serve its constituents such as sources of inexpensive legal research, competitively priced group medical insurance or reasonably priced practice manuals, you would gain more support.

A service organization cannot afford to forget who and what it is serving if it wants the support necessary to remain viable. The current degree of support for the State Bar speaks loudly as to its members' opinions of the bar's value to the legal profession. If 23 percent of the members paid more than the required $77 annual fee, then 77 percent did not. Perhaps the administration should start listening.

Gary A. Cohen
Walnut Creek

In the same boat with Leonardo DiCaprio

Reading the June issue was a strange experience. On the one hand, I couldn't help but sympathize and empathize with the State Bar employees who will probably be losing their jobs soon. The State Bar employees that I've spoken to over the years have all been professional, knowledgeable, courteous and helpful.

On the other hand, after reading the president's message, I was reminded very vividly why the State Bar is in its current predicament.

The message exhorts us to get behind the bar's leadership because the proverbial ship is about to sink. However, some of us passengers on this organizational Titanic have been waiting to hear meaningful reassurances that, if we help to salvage the vessel in its time of need, things will be different in the future.

Those of us who were previously classified as the equivalent of "steerage" passengers by the bar's leadership have asked for a voice.

Instead of a life preserver, the president's message seems to throw us promises of a return to the same old, leaky defective vehicle.

Betty A. Rome
Los Angeles

It's a jungle out there

In reference to the June article "Amendment would reduce dues to $358": I have occasionally been cheerily labeled, by one or another client, as "computationally challenged." That notwithstanding, I do not think I am alone in finding difficulty in squaring the statement "the lion's share of the [State] bar budget" is "consume[d]" by the bar's "discipline operation" with the further recitation, a scant four paragraphs later that $27 of this year's basic dues of $77 went to the discipline budget.

Is something around one-third "the lion's share?" Some undernourished lion. Some out-of-control bar system.

F. Conger Fawcett
Corte Madera

  • Ordinarily, 75-80 percent of the bar's budget goes toward discipline. Under statute, $27 is all that can be allocated for discipline out of the $77 collected this year. That is why the discipline system is being dismantled.

  • We're fond friends - not fonts of fungible funding

    The stubbornness of the bar in the face of the funding crisis is infuriating. Every month in the Bar Journal I read the barrage of editorials predicting the end of the world if the bar is forced to live within a reasonable budget and then I read the slew of anti-bar mail.

    This monthly dialectic speaks volumes. The pity is the rulers of the bar cannot hear the answers.

    By a significant margin, California lawyers pay the highest dues in the nation. The solution to the present difficulty is utterly simple: reduce dues.

    I pay $300 every two years to practice in New York; for California, which we would not hope to be as efficient as New York, $200 a year ought to suffice.

    That's right, underbid Gov. Wilson! You'll feel great! And, California's lawyers will love you!

    Set that as the goal, then fire the bloated lobbyist, sell the building, pare yourselves down, stop whining, cease with the self-serving articles in the Bar Journal - for that matter, cease the Journal - live within your means and try a little harder to regard us, the members, as fond friends rather than fonts of fungible funding.

    Duncan Palmatier
    Los Angeles

    Who's responsible for lawyers, anyway?

    In an abstract way I care about people losing their jobs. But in the case of the State Bar, it seems that I am being asked to care a great deal, to take a personal interest and to make a voluntary donation of dues in excess of the dues I am required to pay to maintain my license, to enable 500 of 720 State Bar employees to keep their jobs.

    Why is this my responsibility?

    I have practiced law as a licensed attorney in the state of California since 1987. My only contact with the State Bar has been my receipt of an annual dues bill and a continuing education bill, which I have paid.

    I don't think it requires 720 employees to send me an annual bill. My only obligation to the "People of California" is to become and remain an ethical and skilled practitioner of law. Policing the profession is not my responsibility. Punishing bad lawyers is not my responsibility. Maintaining a toll-free consumer complaint hotline is not my responsibility.

    Or is it?

    Kevin K. Forrester

    Let the numbers speak for themselves

    Interesting for the numbers-oriented among us: roughly 77 percent of people paid the minimum $77 bar dues.

    When one considers how many of the two-ninths who paid more than $77 were members of large firms (who paid for the entire firm's dues), one realizes that bar members have had quite enough of the State Bar.

    The percentage of attorneys who shelled out more than $77 while paying for themselves was likely well under 10 percent.

    The State Bar was corrupt, unresponsive to and unrepresentative of too many members, and only when it has been backed into a corner do we hear a feeble "sorry." Too late. Let it waste away.

    David F. Hubbard
    Santa Barbara

    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: California Bar Journal