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Back to his humble fishing village

By James Herman
President, State Bar of California

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

HAMLET: Why may not that be the skull of a lawyer? Where be his quiddets now, his quillets, his cases, his tenures, and his tricks?

Where, indeed? Last summer, 1983 State Bar President Dale Hanst, burly in his golf shirt and sporting the summer sunburn of the lawyer-turned-Oregon-fisherman, reflected over lunch on the State Bar of California. A retired partner on my firm’s letterhead, Dale’s term was pre-Keller, pre-discipline system overhaul and pre-dues veto.

But by halfway through a Wally’s salad at Santa Barbara’s Café Buenos Aires, I knew he could gavel up a State Bar meeting without missing a beat. Our goals, after all, remain the same: member service and public protection. Shy about giving specific tips, Dale did tell me this year would both pass in a heartbeat and be the experience of a lifetime.

I have you, our members, to thank for the latter. This for me was a year of pride. At the Annual Meeting, I boasted with vainglory every lawyer in the state would be proud to be a member of the State Bar of California by the end of the bar year. “To preserve and improve our justice system in order to assure a free and just society under law” is carried on our bar cards for the first time this year to remind our 192,253-member family of our common mission. But like the mad scientist infected by his own potion, I’m the one who has ended up with a big dose of pride.

I did not make it to all 58 California counties this year, but I did visit about 30, including almost every county from Imperial and San Diego on the Mexican/Arizona border up through California’s Beltline, from Marin across through Yuba City, Sacramento, Calavaras, Placerville and Tahoe.

Plus the wine country, the Inland Empire, the Central Valley, Orange, Los Angeles and San Francisco counties. And my own south and central coast. I would still visit Del Norte if there were time. I visited metro bars, smaller local bars, young lawyers and specialty bars in all parts of the state.

I dropped in on courts as small as the two-judge Calavaras County courthouse and as big as the 500-judge Los Angeles court, on state Courts of Appeal, on federal District Courts and the California Supreme Court. Working with Chief Justice Ronald George, Administrative Director Bill Vickrey and Chief Deputy Director Ron Overholt on court funding has been a highlight of this year.

I hit law libraries, law schools, rotary clubs, chambers of commerce, high school law campers and AARP seniors. I also enjoyed walking up to lawyers in courthouses and making unannounced visits to local law offices and legal services offices, just to ask the lawyers how they were doing.

Everywhere I went I met lawyers and judges. And I rediscovered what a wonderful profession we really have. Hospitable to a fault, generous to the profession and the community, committed to serving clients, we really are a wonderful bunch. Pressed by the economy, plagued by criticisms of the profession, challenged by diminishing judicial resources, we are working harder and aging as a profession.

Through it all, we still maintain an affection if not love for what we do. To steal a line from the Al Pacino character in “The Devil’s Advocate,” “the license to practice law is the greatest backstage pass in history.” If it’s important, a lawyer is there. If a lawyer does bad, it’s usually a good lawyer who brings the bad lawyer to justice.

I also must thank the board of governors and our terrific State Bar staff led by Executive Director Judy Johnson. The presidents with whom I served, Andy Guilford, Palmer Madden and Karen Nobumoto, are the shoulders on which I stood. I regret every lawyer in California cannot have the experience of serving on this board. We all bring different perspectives and opinions, but each of us, including our appointed public members, is dedicated to a better bar.

Our vice presidents, Tony Capozzi, Judy Copeland, Carl Lindstrom, Bob Persons and Nancy Hoffmeier Zamora, and our senior public member, Janet Green, have worked especially hard this year.

Court funding, the Trevor Law Group (Chief Trial Counsel Mike Nisperos’ office did a great job), the Lawyers Assistance Program, the Sections Task Force, the State Bar Web site, a balanced budget, the revival of the Bar Leaders Conference and the Minority Attorneys Conference, an enhanced relationship with the ABA, non-dues revenues, Seniors and the Law and the ongoing work of our committees, commissions and task forces have kept us busy.

I also have to thank my partners (who often wonder why lightning has struck our firm twice), our local bench and bar (especially opposing counsel who have been patient with continuances), the Santa Barbara County Bar Association and Santa Barbara Women Lawyers and, finally, Judge Denise deBellefeuille, whom I’ll take on a trip abroad when this is all over. But don’t tell her. It’s a surprise.

Whither hence? The State Bar will continue to face funding issues for itself and the courts as well as the challenges of access to justice and diversity within the profession.

Fortunately, my successor is more than up to the task. With a heart of gold, an eye for politics and a golf swing like a weed whacker, Tony Capozzi is the perfect choice for leadership of the State Bar of California. As chair of Planning, Program Development and Budget, he balanced the budget for next year and carried our planning cycle.

He has a vision for the future and, as a solo practitioner from Fresno, shares with me an affinity for the rank-and-file member. He knows of the power of our membership representing one out of every five lawyers in the United States.

As for me? Old State Bar presidents never die, they just rotate to other committees. I am pleased with my appointment to the Commission on Access to Justice because I believe opening the courthouse door to the 72 percent of our low- and middle-income Californians who are unable to afford legal services is one of our profession’s greatest challenges.

Otherwise, I’m back to my humble fishing village on the south coast, working on my quiddets and quillets.

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