[Marc Adelman]  Marc Adelman 

Avoiding a bigger problem ahead

by Marc Adelman
President, State Bar of California

A few weeks ago I was struck by a certain irony as we celebrated Law Week in California. At a time when we salute the value of the rule of the law in our country, we are witnessing the possibility of dismantling the structure of the legal profession in our state -- based on the political mood of the day.

The independence of the profession and the premise of separation of powers are threatened.

Separation of powers of government is fundamental to the very existence of constitutional government in the United States. The division of governmental powers into executive, legislative and judicial branches represents probably the most important principles of government, with the system of checks and balances.

I feel strongly that the lawyers of California should continue to have the privilege of self-governance -- politics should play no role in justice.

When we examine the issues that have faced us in the past months and compare them to the issues that confronted previous generations of our profession -- the Depression, World War II, the civil rights movement -- we should be thankful that none of the freedoms Thomas Jefferson presented to the Continental Congress are being threatened.

Today, the State Bar's very existence is being threatened by a standoff in the legislature -- the effects of which can impact every member of our profession and every member of the public.

The governor's veto of our annual fee bill has resulted in a shortage of funds and the people of our state can no longer turn to the State Bar for help.

Now they must call their district attorneys, city attorneys, consumer protection offices and even the courts -- none of which is set up to absorb the enormous workload of the bar.

Without a fee bill, the bar will run out of money by next month. No longer will the discipline arm of the State Bar be able to investigate, prosecute or handle incidents of attorney misconduct such as:

To permit this is unacceptable.

I can tell you from the dozens of trips that I have made to Sacramento this year, we have done everything humanly possible to address the governor's veto message.

I clearly acknowledge that the State Bar had -- and has -- room for improvement and room for more efficiencies.

After at least 100 meetings with bar leaders, legislators, representatives of the governor and attorneys throughout the state, I feel I have a pretty good pulse on the prevailing sentiment.

This past month alone, I have spoken at the dedication of a law library, at a law school graduation, during a Law Day luncheon, at a bench/bar dinner, before the California PTA and to three bar associations.

Most members want lower dues, restrictions on lobbying activities and a show of fiscal responsibility by the bar.

In addition, they do not want the bar to take positions on political issues and they do not want to be required to pay for the Conference of Delegates.

Members have also expressed support for legal service and pro bono programs, but they do not want to pay for the administration of practice sections unless they choose to join.

They want an integrated bar with the ability to elect their own leaders.

And -- attorneys want our State Bar to be more responsive to its members.

Assemblyman Robert Hertzberg's bill addresses each of these issues, and we need the support of California's attorneys to avoid what will certainly be a much larger problem later.