California Bar Journal
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Fee bill moves back to Sacramento, carried by Schiff and Hertzberg
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proactive. I'm really open to any potential reforms."

Schiff introduced a spot bill (SB 144) last month in the Senate, and Robert Hertzberg, the Sherman Oaks Democrat who sponsored last year's measure, will carry it in the Assembly. "Bob had a real commitment to this issue and wanted to see it through," said Hertzberg spokesman Paul Hefner.

Robert M. HertzbergState Bar President Raymond C. Marshall described the 38-year-old Schiff, a former federal prosecutor who chairs the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, as friendly to the bar and a well-respected lawmaker "who can make a good faith effort to get bipartisan support."

Executive Director Steven A. Nissen, a former Schiff constituent in southern California, praised the senator as a "quick study, extraordinarily fair-minded and deeply dedicated to the integrity of the legal profession."

Steven A. NissenSchiff said he took on the task of shepherding the bar's fate through the legislature primarily because of concerns about public protection. "I strongly believe it's an important thing for the public to have an organization out there screening, investigating and prosecuting bad lawyers. That's its most important function," he said.

"I thought it was quite tragic that the legislature stalemated with the governor and consumers were left in the lurch."

Schiff and Hertzberg are meeting with bar supporters and critics and other legislators before deciding what the bill will contain. Both said some of the issues that resulted in logjams last year, such as the makeup of the board of governors, IOLTA and the Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation, will move to the back burner.

Instead, they will focus on lobbying activities, dues, how mandatory fees are used, and efficiency.

Adam B. SchiffThey declined to be specific, but Schiff suggested the possibility of relating dues to a member's ability to pay, as well as making changes in the minimum continuing legal education (MCLE) program, which has been a target of complaints almost since it began.

Schiff and Marshall agreed that the bar must set priorities, decide what functions it needs to perform, and determine the amount of funding needed. Nissen already has submitted to the board of governors a restructuring plan to help ensure that dues will be below $400 annually.

"I think there has to be more clarity in terms of the functions of the bar and a greater level of confidence that dues are being spent on appropriate functions and for their intended purposes," Schiff said. "Those are worthwhile objectives."

Schiff said he does not currently plan to introduce the bill as an urgency measure; attempts last year to win urgency legislation, which takes effect immediately but requires a two-thirds vote, failed.

He will not try to mollify the critics who want the bar eliminated, he said, although he will try to win bipartisan support for his measure. "Very frankly, I'm not willing to sacrifice the consumer protection functions of the bar and the democratic features of the bar merely to make the legislation urgency," Schiff said.

Strategic move

The fee bill originates in the Senate rather than the Assembly this year as a strategic move, because the bar's most vocal opponents - Tim Leslie, Ray Haynes and Bill Morrow - are located there. Schiff said he will search for common ground with the three in an effort to close the substantial gap between the two sides.

Although he believes the environment will be less hostile than last year, "I don't think it's going to be easy by any means."

Indeed, Leslie aide Barbara McPherson, conceding that bar backers likely will win at least majority legislation this year, said reformers continue to seek substantial changes. She declined to be specific about what a Republican bill might contain, but suggested "a good starting guess is where we left off last year."

Business as usual is not acceptable, McPherson said, and although there is always room for negotiation, "our position is pretty much going to stay the same."