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17 candidates vie for 5 board seats

Voting continues until June 30; winners take office Sept. 6, 2003

Seventeen candidates are running for five open seats on the State Bar Board of Governors, the biggest field in years. And it is a field that is both different and alike: Six are government lawyers, three of the four District 5 candidates already have served on the board, one candidate is a former judge and one is 93 years old. For the first time in years, not a single woman is running for the board.

This year also marks the first time the powerful Breakfast Club of Los Angeles did not handpick and endorse a candidate before the field was announced. Instead, the club, which was founded to place qualified lawyers on the bar board, held a forum for all declared candidates before deciding to endorse former Los Angeles County Bar Association President Sheldon Sloan.

The endorsement led to the withdrawal of Marguerite Downing, the sole woman candidate, who threw her support to Sloan. Seven attorneys are running for the open Los Angeles seat.

Raymond G. Aragon, the single candidate from District 9, was deemed elected because he had no opposition.

The issues this time around are both old and new. An ongoing dislike of continuing education programs was voiced by some candidates, while others returned to the oft-heard complaints about high dues and keeping the bar out of politics.

About half the candidates addressed the skyrocketing cost of professional liability insurance and suggested the bar use its collective buying power to negotiate discounts or lower rates for members. Many candidates expressed a desire for more services for bar members, including insurance benefits, low-cost MCLE and better use of the web site for such tools as online dues payment and MCLE compliance.

How many lawyers care enough about these issues to cast a ballot remains to be seen. The number of voters in bar elections has declined steadily in recent years, from a high of 30 percent in 1997, when 14 candidates ran, to 16.7 percent last year, when there were 15 candidates.

The fewest number of candidates ran in 1999, when only seven people sought a board seat and 19 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot. The lowest percentage voting was 7 percent in 1998, the year after former Gov. Pete Wilson vetoed the bar's dues bill.

The following are short profiles of the 17 candidates. Full campaign statements can be found at the bar's web site,

Ballots must be returned by June 30.


Richard L. Crabtree

As Chico attorney Richard L. Crabtree talks to lawyers in the far reaches of northern California, he finds they most often complain about money - in particular, the cost of their dues and their malpractice insurance. If elected, he would like the State Bar to provide more affordable malpractice insurance to its members, using the power of its numbers to negotiate lower premiums.

He also would like to see more accessible MCLE courses for attorneys in his district, who have a tougher time finding course offerings than urban lawyers.

A former member of the Envi-ronmental Law Section's executive committee, Crabtree, 43, says he's been involved with the bar for the last 10 years. In particular, he said, "I'd like to bring some representation to attorneys practicing in rural and northern California."

A lawyer for almost 13 years, Crabtree is a partner in a small firm where he specializes in environmental, public entity and employment law. He is endorsed by the current District 1 representative, Bob Persons.

Clark E. Gehlbach

Placer County Deputy District Attorney Clark E. Gehlbach believes the bar should focus on its core responsibilities as a way to use its funds more efficiently and reduce dues that "are way too high."

And since the largest percentage of dues money pays for the discipline system, Gehlbach thinks a hard look at the system is warranted. The disciplinary process seems time-consuming and focused on misconduct such as mishandling client trust accounts, he said. Instead, more attention should be paid to actions involving moral turpitude because they undermine the public's confidence in attorneys.

"If we do a good job of policing our own, it will improve our stature and restore the confidence of the public," he said.

Gehlbach, 36, has not been active in the State Bar, but is a member of his local district attorneys association. He carries a caseload of 300-400 matters in a practice geared toward recovery courts.


Tahir J. Naim

In his second run for a board seat, Tahir J. Naim says three issues remain of concern: the unauthorized practice of law, multidisciplinary practice and multijurisdictional practice. This year, however, he adds that the bar should be more responsive to its members and should use the power of its numbers to negotiate a wealth of benefits, including such things as health insurance.

"We're a very attractive group in terms of income, Naim said, "and we should be able to negotiate with professional liability providers as well as MCLE providers."

A sole practitioner in Sunnyvale, Naim, 41, says he would communicate with attorneys in his district by e-mail in an effort to both solicit their opinions and keep them informed.

As a two-term president of the South Asian Bar Association of Northern California and executive director of its foundation, Naim says he has gained the skills and qualifications which will serve him well on the bar board.

Demetrius D. Shelton

Oakland deputy city attorney Demetrius D. Shelton is making a second run for the District 3 seat, emphasizing a resume filled with memberships in numerous organizations which he says have given him "numerous skills and talents to utilize in advancing the agenda of the State Bar and District 3."

Shelton, 37, is committed to keeping member costs down, whether dues or other costs associated with the practice of law, negotiating better insurance benefits, online MCLE, access to legal services and promoting diversity. "If dues at the present level are needed to provide all those services members need, that's great," Shelton said. "But we should always be mindful of trying to keep costs down."

Shelton said he will be responsive to District 3 constituents, is committed to keeping them informed and wants to capitalize on young members' energy. His extensive ties with bar associations and legal organizations provide a solid base of support, he said, as well as established networking and outreach capabilities.

Shelton, an attorney in Oakland's economic development agency's code enforcement division, is endorsed by the Alameda and Contra Costa County bar associations.

Richard A. Tamor

Oakland attorney Richard A. Tamor has served as a government lawyer, and was an associate at a midsize law firm, a partner in a small firm and a sole practitioner, a background he says provides him with insight into a variety of issues and problems. And as a leader in local minority bar associations, most notably the Fili-pino Bar Associ-ation of Northern California, he has valuable experience in community outreach.

"I can bring the things I did for local bars to the State Bar," Tamor said.

If elected, he wants to expand the number and quality of bar programs, particularly MCLE, insurance and programs to enhance lawyers' practices, and to better publicize those programs. "There's nothing really proactive about getting the members to know about them," he said. "The bar should say, 'This is all the stuff we have for you.'"

Tamor, 34, who practices with his wife, handling general civil litigation and complex criminal defense work, also wants to make the bar more inclusive, increase cooperation with local and specialty bars, enhance internet use, look at the dues level, improve the impact of lawyers and do a better job of educating the public about lawyers. And, he adds, "never forget that I serve the members."


John R. Brownlee

If the lion's share of bar dues supports the discipline system, it makes sense to have a prosecutor on the board of governors helping to determine if that money is well-spent, says John R. Brownlee. The Kern County deputy district attorney believes public lawyers are underrepresented on the board, and he would like to join the only prosecutor member to remedy that situation.

"A prosecutor's voice should be heard in an organization that oversees the only fully professional lawyer discipline system in the United States," Brownlee said.

"Furthermore, the resources spent in the area of attorney discipline must be allocated practically to those areas and individuals who require the greatest need."

Brownlee said he also would scrutinize the level of dues to assure they are wisely proportioned.

Although he has not been active in the State Bar, Brownlee said its issues "look like something I could sink my teeth into and get involved in."

Brownlee, 40, handles homicide and sex crimes.

Leonard C. Herr, Jr.

Civil litigator Leonard C. Herr Jr. spent a year on the board of governors in the early 1980s, representing the California Young Lawyers Association. Despite the passage of two decades, he said, many issues remain the same, such as the State Bar serving as target for "people who have an axe to grind."

Herr said the bar should focus on core activities, such as administering the bar exam, disciplining lawyers, protecting the public from the unauthorized practice of law and evaluating judicial candidates.

"I think we should do as much as we can with ever-shrinking revenue," he said. "I don't think dues should go up, but I'm not in a position to say they should go down." However, he added, the bar needs someone with experience and creativity to "take bar dues and do as much with them as we can."

Herr, who has a long resume of bar activities, favors using the bar's web site to enhance communication with members as well as reach out to consumers, and would like to see online elections, dues payment and MCLE compliance.
He is a partner with Dooley & Herr in Visalia.

Paul S. Hokokian

Much of Paul S. Hokokian's three-year term on the board of governors in the late 1990s was consumed with how to handle former Gov. Pete Wilson's veto of the bar's dues bill and the ensuing financial crisis. Now, he would like to serve three fully productive years as a bar governor, a position he would use to remind the bar it must focus only on its core functions: admission, regulation and discipline of attorneys.

"We need to stay out of anything that's partisan and should avoid even the appearance of it," he says. He supported the bar's separation from the Conference of Delegates and wants the bar to remain vigilant to assure they remain separate.

The former Fresno County Bar Association president opposes any dues increase, wants to maintain the discipline system in its current form, and would like to see the bar offer free or low-cost preventive law seminars and continuing legal education. "The State Bar needs to give some value to our members rather than just a plastic card," he says.

A former deputy district attorney, Hokokian changed jobs in October and is now a staff attorney with the Fresno County Department of Child Support Services.

James C. Sherwood

Just two years ago, James C. Sherwood sat on the board of governors, representing California's young lawyers. Just as he became familiar with the State Bar's operations, his one-year term ended.

He'd now like to utilize his experience, as well as his involvement with other bar entities, to communicate better with bar members, provide better services and urge his colleagues to give back to their communities.

"As far as services are concerned," he said, "a lot more can be done. And a lot that is being done, attorneys don't know about." Sher-wood, 37, favors improved insurance benefits through the bar, particularly professional liability insurance, enhanced use of the web site for both improved communication between the bar and its members and for tools such as online dues payment, and changes in the MCLE program.

Courses should be more relevant to the practice of law than they currently are and they should be more readily available to lawyers who do not work in large cities, he said.

A longtime volunteer, Sherwood also is a fan of attorneys giving back to their communities.

Sherwood is vice president and legal counsel for Bee Sweet Citrus in Fowler, and of counsel to his former firm, Dowling, Aaron & Keeler.


Scott W. Davenport

Los Angeles appellate attorney Scott W. Davenport would like to see a more "streamlined" State Bar concentrate on admissions and discipline, not on "divisive political or societal issues."

He also would like to see the bar "held to a higher standard of fiscal accountability." And he wants to take another look at the MCLE system. One alternative, he suggests, might be an incentive system in which attorneys could have their malpractice premiums reduced if they participate.

"I'm not happy with the way the system is set up right now," he says.

Davenport, 38, recently chaired the Appellate Law Advisory Commis-sion, where he helped draft two appellate specialization exams. With his term ending, he set his sights on a bar board seat as another pro bono public service position.

A bar-certified specialist in both appellate and criminal law, Davenport has a broad range of experience, in-cluding nine years as a deputy attorney general and a private defense lawyer. Currently, he works for Manning & Marder, a 100-lawyer civil litigation firm in Los Angeles.

Phillip Feldman

Sole practitioner Phillip Feldman believes that California's attorney discipline system is well-organized, well-managed and under control - and that its staff should be left alone to do their jobs.

That should free up the State Bar's board of governors to turn its attention elsewhere. "Now we have to concentrate on the business of law," he says.

Feldman, 71, would like to see the bar "market the fact that we lawyers help people solve problems." He also would like the bar to take a close look at issues like the "over-dependence on rainmakers," multijurisdictional practice and the absence of firm loyalty.

"It's time for a dynamic look at the economics of law practice in California," he says.

Feldman has represented attorneys from most fields in disciplinary matters and understands, he says, "the critical business, economic and professional issues of 2003." He has also worked as a plaintiff and defense trial and transactional lawyer. He has been a senior partner in five law firms and served as a judge pro tem for more than 25 years and an attorney/client dispute arbitrator for even longer.

Curtis L. Harrington, Jr.

Long Beach sole practitioner Curtis L. Harrington Jr. believes the State Bar should only be doing what the majority of California attorneys agree it should be doing -and should do what it does efficiently.

In addition, he says, the bulk of any surplus from the State Bar's annual dues collection should be returned to attorneys. And he wants the bar to steer clear of political activism.

"Our state bar can be an efficient tool to help its members with common issues in everyone's everyday practice," he says, "and I will work toward this goal."

Harrington, 45, who specializes in intellectual property and taxation law, has served on the bar's Taxation Section executive committee and the Long Beach Bar Association's governing board. He also is a member of the patent bar.

He holds masters degrees in electrical engineering, chemical engineering, business administration and taxation law. In Long Beach, he has worked with the Superior Court Settlement Program, the Unlawful Detainer Settlement Program, the Attorney/Client Fee Arbitration Committee and as a municipal court judge pro tem.

Joseph Lewis

A State Bar member for seven decades, Joseph Lewis clearly is the candidate with the oldest bar card. He points out that he has more experience - as an attorney, legal advisor and arbitrator - than any other candidate as well.

Lewis, 93, wants to use that experience to focus more attorney effort and attention on the plight of impoverished Californians who cannot afford to pay lawyer fees. "I think lawyers should be encouraged to help people in extreme poverty," he says.

In addition, he wants to expand the bar's program for retired attorney volunteers and law school internship programs involving attorneys and firms as mentors. He wants to see more attorneys involved in mediation, arbitration and settlement conferences to reduce court caseloads. And he wants to provide the public with a "positive, professional image" of California's legal profession.

During his career, Lewis has practiced in many legal areas, particularly in the administration of estates and real estate law. He was a volunteer arbitrator on the National Panel of the American Arbitration Associa-tion for some 25 years and ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the State Bar's board more than 30 years ago.

A sole practitioner, Lewis tutors law students, volunteers legal services to the disabled and financially strapped, assists other attorneys and writes books.

James A. Otto

Sole practitioner James A. Otto gives the State Bar high marks for assisting California attorneys who have drug, alcohol and discipline problems.

But to the vast majority of members, he says, the bar offers very few services. "I would like to increase those services," he said. "I think the State Bar does not really reach out to the majority of its members."

Otto, 48, would like to see, for example, streamlined MCLE requirements and a mentoring program in which young attorneys could call more experienced lawyers and get answers to their questions. A new attorney can wind up handling a million-dollar account or a probate action without any experience. "That's why some attorneys get in over their heads," he said.

Technology, too, plays a key role in Otto's vision. He suggests adding more online services: discounted MCLE courses, online statutory forms, bulletin boards with notices of statute changes and proposals, and a free job search service. "If we can use technology to help the small practitioner as well as the big firm, and if it's free to the membership or relatively inexpensive, then let's do it," he said.

A sole practitioner, Otto specializes in employment civil rights discrimination.

Sheldon H. Sloan

Government relations attorney Sheldon H. Sloan is running for a seat on the State Bar board because he wants to help improve the image and lot of California lawyers.

"I really believe in the bar and I believe that the bar is for lawyers," he says. "It ought to be there to improve the image and welfare of lawyers in California."

In recent years, Sloan, 67, has been disturbed by what he sees as a dearth of board candidates from Los Angeles who have extensive backgrounds and experience. A good candidate should, for example, have a lot of experience dealing with bureaucratic problems and with the legislature, he says. "I understand how things work in the legislature," he said. "I deal with them all the time. I think I can be helpful."

Sloan has served on the Judicial Council, the Los Angeles County Bar Foundation and was Los Angeles County Bar Association president 1996-97. In the 1970s, he was appointed to a Los Angeles municipal court judgeship only to resign little more than three years later to resume the practice of law.

Sloan has specialized in litigation and transactional matters involving real estate, land use, construction and business law. He is the government affairs counsel for Lewis, Brisbois, Bisgaard & Smith.

Los Angeles prosecutor Frank M. Tavelman sees himself as an "outsider" who would, if elected, be responsive to the State Bar's diverse attorney members, not "political insiders."

As a public-sector attorney, Tavel-man also views himself as part of an "underrepresented class." After fellow prosecutor and former bar president Karen Nobumoto "paved the way" for public-sector attorneys to participate in the State Bar, he says, he decided to seek a seat for himself.

But Tavelman, 36, is quick to point out that his legal experience is not limited to the public sector. Prior to joining the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office, he spent seven years as in-house counsel for an international mutual fund company.

As a board member, he would work to focus the bar on the "common goals" of attorneys: maintaining high ethical standards, imposing fair and timely discipline, and assisting lawyers with ethical issues. He wants to make sure the bar does not go beyond its primary mission. "Focusing on the essential functions at half the cost should be the goal," he says. "No state bar requires a budget of nearly $100 million."

Tavelman, who prosecutes cases in his office's career criminal unit, also is senior vice president of the Los Angeles Association of Deputy District Attorneys.


Raymond G. Aragon

Public defender Raymond G. Aragon, deemed elected because is running unopposed, sees serving on the bar board as a "logical extension" of his past public service efforts.

A senior trial attorney, Aragon, 50, has worked 14 years in San Diego's Department of the Public Defender. Prior to that, as a legal services attorney, he spent seven years helping senior citizens resolve their civil legal problems.

His local bar activities include various leadership roles for the San Diego County Bar Association and its foundation, the San Diego La Raza Lawyers Association and Consumer Attorneys of San Diego.

Aragon would like to "follow the examples of his predecessors" in ensuring strong representation for his region, particularly because it is somewhat removed from California's population centers. "We want to make sure that we are included in the mix," he said.

With the State Bar now in "an era of limited resources," Aragon wants to see the bar use every opportunity - with the help of advanced technology - to increase its efficiency and continue providing services to attorneys. One example, he said, would be to increase the bar's online services.

In addition, Aragon says he will seek to enhance the bar's financial accountability.

  • These profiles were compiled by staff writers Kristina Horton Flaherty and Nancy McCarthy. The candidates' complete campaign statements can be found at
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