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Arizona lawyer who wants to vote in State Bar elections takes his case to the Supreme Court

An Arizona lawyer who also is a member of the California bar and wants to vote in its board of governors elections is trying to take his case to the state's highest court. Scottsdale attorney Louis J. Hoffman argues in a petition for review filed with the Supreme Court Dec. 31 that the statutes and rules that define who can vote in bar elections are unconstitutional because they violate his free speech and equal protection rights.

The issues, he says, "involve the disenfranchisement and disqualification of approximately 10,000 California attorneys" who cannot vote or run for office in the State Bar because they do not maintain their principal law offices in California.

Hoffman is represented by Boalt Hall professor Stephen R. Barnett, who has lost the case in federal court and in both superior and appellate courts in California. Barnett has sued or threatened to sue the bar several times in the last few years.

Hoffman argues that the State Bar rules in question have created two classes of lawyer: one having "full rights of participation in the self-governance of their profession" and the other deprived of rights to vote or hold office "in the body that makes and enforces the rules that govern them and their practice."

Despite the court of appeal finding that the bar is an administrative adjunct of the Supreme Court, Hoffman argues that it is a governmental agency and as such, is subject to the fundamental right to vote that is protected by the California Constitution's equal protection clause.

The State Bar disagrees. There is no reason for the high court to hear Hoffman's appeal, the bar says in answer to the petition, pointing out that the trial and appellate courts rejected those arguments "based on long-settled equal protection principles and relying on clear, unambiguous and uncontroversial authority."

As it has throughout the litigation, the bar noted that the rule Hoffman claims is unconstitutional has stood for 70 years without challenge. His argument that the California Constitution gives him the "unprecedented 'right to vote' not in one but in two different states' bar elections" is without merit, the bar responded.

The bar also says that Hoffman's issue is political rather than constitutional and that he is in the wrong forum.

The Supreme Court is expected to decide within 60 days whether to hear Hoffman's appeal.

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