California Bar Journal
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Way too little, way too late
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The governor's veto would not have shut down an independent State Bar, as put forth on this page last month by James E. Towery. The bar was shut down precisely because it is dependent on Sacramento politicians. It is not independent.

Former bar president Towery does not explain - as he never did when he was hustling in 1996 for defeat of the plebiscite - what is independent about the State Bar. The bar did not lose its lawyer support because of apathy, as Towery writes. It lost lawyer support because of betrayal, although the State Bar apologists still don't get it.

For years, the State Bar attempted to portray itself as a professional association. It never was. It was, and is, a regulatory agency. It never lost its lawyer constituency because it never had one.

The charade started to unravel when the 1985 dues bill was blocked. First, the board's overreaction notified politicians who had never cared what lawyers assessed themselves that the dues bill could be a vehicle for the exercise of political control over lawyers.

Second, the bar activists' response to the

board's appeal for the voluntary payment of dues by paying more sooner than what had been paid when dues were mandatory confirmed that bar activists would bail the bar out in a crunch.

Third, the Supreme Court's denial of the State Bar's petition gave a clear signal that the Supreme Court could not be called on to save the bar.

Peter AppletonGiven its increased political danger and lack of Supreme Court support, the board should have been extremely solicitous of its supporters, the bar activists; the board should have realized that because most lawyers have always been apathetic toward the State Bar, bar activist support was what held the State Bar together.

But the board made a major mistake. It took the bar activists for granted. Because board members assumed that they would have bar activist support no matter what they did, in the face of political pressure following the Keller v. State Bar decision, the board came close to destroying the Conference of Delegates by imposing draconian limits on its purview. Insultingly, the board made it clear that it did not trust the conference leadership.

Is it any wonder that enough bar activists have now grown tired of being treated like dirt by the board? Is it any wonder that the board's call for the voluntary payment of dues went unanswered (only 23 percent responded) this time? It shouldn't be.

Towery's statement that the State Bar has lost its special relationship with the California Supreme Court is puzzling. What special relationship?

One of the things we advocated during the plebiscite campaign was to have oversight of the State Bar transferred from the legislature to the Supreme Court. Towery and other bar leaders opposed that. They wanted to keep the State Bar just the way it was. They got what they wanted.

When, after Keller, the board demonstrated open hostility to the conference, I proposed that a toxic study be conducted of the air and water at the State Bar's San Francisco headquarters to determine why board members had lost their memories and forgot who we were.

Although some of them may remember us now, as Towery writes, it may be too late.

Peter Appleton of Appleton, Pasternak & Pasternak of Los Angeles was a leader of the bar opposition in the 1996 plebiscite.