California Bar Journal
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Casualties - still - of the Wilson veto
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President, State Bar of California
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Ray MarshallNearly two years ago, Gov. Pete Wilson vetoed the State Bar's fee bill, and many of us feared that California's model attorney discipline system would be the primary casualty of the political war the governor had declared. The governor's veto left the bar without the means to fulfill both statutory obligations and non-statutory responsibilities to the public.

Due to action by the state Supreme Court late last year, however, the bar has been able to fund a portion of our discipline apparatus. The attorney discipline system is slowly coming back to life, with our attorney complaint and ethics hotlines now reinstated and operating on a limited basis.

It now appears that the primary casualties of Gov. Wilson's veto are the State Bar programs that provide services to both our members and the public. I am most distressed that the State Bar has missed opportunities during the past year to be a presence on vital issues such as teen violence (in the wake of the Colorado high school shootings), and hate crimes (in the wake of several arson fires at Sacramento area synagogues). In addition, the bar is unable to respond to President Clinton's recent "call-to-action" for lawyers and bar associations across the country to renew their commitment to racial and ethnic justice.

For years, State Bar programs and services pertinent to these issues were valuable resources for both the public and California attorneys. Since Gov. Wilson's veto, these programs and services have been dormant. On a daily basis, our staff members must turn down requests for valuable support, information or services to members that we provided in the past.

Some of the less publicized victims of the 1997 veto are:

Consumer brochures - Pamphlets on a variety of subjects such as divorce, buying or renting a home, wills, debts and small claims courts historically have been available to members of the public and were available in languages such as Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean. In addition, many attorneys availed themselves of the opportunity to provide their clients with these brochures, which explain the legal system in simple English and describe what clients legitimately can expect from their legal representative.

"Kids and the Law" booklets - The State Bar produced a booklet for parents, teachers and students with a summary of laws related to children in areas such as smoking, drinking, driving and graffiti. Thousands of teachers in schools throughout the state ordered copies of the booklet to use as a guide for discussions about the law with their students. We have been unable to update and reprint this booklet due to the 1997 veto.

Law Works - The State Bar sponsored activities designed to introduce youngsters to the legal system, bringing local attorneys into the schools to work with teachers in urban and rural communities. After developing their own law-related projects, students throughout the state met in Sacramento to display their work to legislators.

Disaster response teams - In the event of federally declared disasters such as major fires, floods or earthquakes, State Bar staff helped organize attorney volunteers to assist disaster victims.

Membership records - We have discontinued our telephone assistance to attorneys and members of the public inquiring about the status of an attorney. Inquiries are now directed to our web site (, which may prove inconvenient for some and inaccessible for many. Membership records are kept current on our web site, but the majority of other State Bar information available has remained stagnant due to our reduction in funds.

Fee Arbitration - Following bar layoffs last year, arbitration cases were abated and we were unable to respond to new requests for arbitration. Also, we were unable to enforce arbitration awards. We are slowly resurrecting the program; however, a backlog of cases and staff cutbacks have impeded our work.

Hate crimes assistance - The bar's former office of legal services provided assistance to victims of hate crimes by providing training for volunteer attorneys who aided victims of such crimes. The bar was unable to continue this program.

Educational programs on diversity - The bar's former office of bar relations helped organize a town hall meeting on race last year, which was to have been the first of several such programs designed to address issues of diversity and race within the legal profession. As a result of the veto, planning for follow-up programs was suspended.

These are just some of the valuable programs that have fallen by the wayside since the 1997 veto. Two of these programs, the "Kids and the Law" booklet and the Hate Crimes Project, won awards from the American Bar Association just before we were forced to discontinue them.

I ask that you remember this list of casualties the next time someone questions whether we lost anything truly valuable to the profession or the public when the State Bar funding was denied, and I also ask that you support the board of governors' efforts to restore as many of our member and public service programs as possible when funding is renewed.