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Boarding from the 'C' zone

By James Herman
President, State Bar of California

James E. Herman 2002-03 President State Bar of California

Boarding from the "C" Zone on Southwest Airlines usually leaves little choice but the middle seat between two strangers of threatening proportions and territorial stares. My luck held, though, when Gillian Small, president of the California Association of Black Lawyers, waved me to an open seat on the Oakland to San Diego nonstop. Both of us, it turned out, were headed to the California Minority Attorneys Conference sponsored by the State Bar's Ethnic Minority Relations Committee.

It has been a good year for diversity. As Gillian pointed out to me, when the United States Military Academy, key Fortune 500 Companies and the United States Supreme Court all recognize the importance of diversity in a single year, it is a good year indeed.

An affable, granite block of a man, Godfrey Dillard, CMAC panelist and lawyer for the intervening African American students in Grutter v. Bollinger, the Michigan law school admissions case, was not shy about proclaiming Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's majority opinion in Grutter "an absolute 100 percent win" for diversity."

Although Professor Roy Brooks of the host University of San Diego School of Law labeled the decision "the logical outcome," Dillard pointed out the interveners started without any of the broad support enjoyed in the end. "Grutter holds race may be a factor in school admissions — that is the issue we raised and that is the issue the court decided," Dillard added. "This was not a slam dunk," he said, "and we built our support out in the mainstream over six long years."  

Dillard and Brooks, along with Andrea Guerrero, immigration lawyer and author of  "Silence at Boalt Hall: The Dismantling of Affirmative Action," served as panelists at the opening CMAC plenary discussion, "Color Balance: Achieving Diversity in the Legal Profession."

The City of San Diego provided the great weather free of charge, but EMRC co-chairs Robert Brown, president of the University of West Los Angeles, and Karriann Farrell Hinds were grinning ear to ear over the success of the first CMAC since the bar dues veto. "An opportunity for California's minority lawyers to network and hone skills is critical to increasing diversity and eliminating bias within the profession," according to Brown, who could not help but compliment his co-chair and committee as well as State Bar staffers for their good work on the conference.

During the CMAC question-and-answer period, the familiar voice of Ruthe Ashley, president of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, amicus brief contributor in Grutter, pointed out the case specifically excluded members of the Asian Pacific community as not being "affected minorities."

Ashley, former nurse, founder of the first Asian American woman-owned law firm in the state and current director of outreach at McGeorge School of Law, and I have been crossing each other's tracks throughout California. I ran into her the weekend after CMAC at the Taiwan American Bar Association's installation of incoming President John Chiang, where she was honored for all her good work as a fierce and eloquent advocate for the Asian Pacific community.

One of my pleasures this year has been attendance at specialty bars throughout the state, including the many Asian Pacific bars in Los Angeles. The TABA event was special because of the honors extended to many who contributed to the demise of the Trevor Law Group, the lawyers who misused Business & Professions Code 17200 to extort money from small businesses in Southern California. The Chinese-owned restaurant community was particularly hard hit.

Assemblywoman Judy Chu, whose constituents were targeted, was one of the first, along with Assemblyman Lou Correa, to bring Trevor to the attention of the State Bar. Both outgoing TABA President Rose Tsai and Frank Chen represented many restaurant owners pro bono. As Frank informed me, "The cases were too small to take money from these business owners, many of whom could not even speak English." Rose was everywhere this year, attending Trevor press conferences and our State Bar Antitrust and Unfair Competition seminars on §17200, as well as many community and bar events involving the Trevor Law Group.

However, I was most grateful for TABA's recognition of the work of our State Bar chief trial counsel Mike Nisperos, deputy trial counsel Jayne Kim and Kimberly Anderson and investigator John Noonan. Mike, a Marine Corps Vietnam combat vet, Boalt Hall graduate, former Alameda County deputy D.A., former Air Force JAG officer, former INS trial counsel and former director of the Oakland Mayor's Office of Drugs and Crime, led the successful efforts to put the Trevor Law Group and its lawyers out of business. Kim and Anderson, lead counsel on the case and lead investigator Noonan oversaw this largest case ever filed by the State Bar with more than 500 witnesses and more than 18 shelf feet of complaint exhibits.

The joint effort of community leaders, the State Bar, lawyers contributing pro bono services and bar leaders mobilizing the bar to protect largely minority business owners from a predatory law firm is a credit to all who were involved.

I often have said the State Bar of California is the state's best-kept consumer protection secret. Thanks to the work of Mike and his office, some lawyers who brought real shame to the profession are gone. As is almost always the case, when a bad lawyer makes the headlines, it takes a good lawyer to put him away. The State Bar of California is now widely recognized for its efforts on behalf of the public and the profession.

Both the CMAC and the anti-Trevor Law Group effort prove our lawyer members are working to make sure there is no "C" Zone for the people of California. We have window seats for everyone.

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