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The joys of private citizenship

By Anthony P. Capozzi
President, State Bar of California

Anthony Capozzi

“The most important political office is that of the private citizen”

This month my term as president of the State Bar of California will come to an end. I assumed the office with the same enthusiasm, reverence and sense of responsibility as many of my predecessors and have the same heartfelt reflections of emotion upon leaving. Although the office of president is not supposed to be political, I found that politics entered into many of the decisions made. 

One of my themes was to point out the difference between the perception and image of lawyers, versus the reality of lawyers. There is a need to defend and improve the public image of our profession. I wanted not only the public but our own members to be as proud of the profession as I am. We belong to a noble profession that has the power to heal the wounds of injustice and protect those in our society who most need our help when they are most vulnerable or troubled.

We heal in many ways and many lawyers do it every day. We help people who call or visit our office every day without noting that we have performed pro bono services. Lawyers give voice to those who are young, old, poor or too sick to defend themselves. We represent families, businesses and corporations in their legal entanglements.

We at the State Bar recognize that poor and middle-income people cannot afford an attorney. The State Bar has been in the forefront in promoting limited scope representation and support for self-represented litigants that is designed to make the system function more effectively and to ensure accessibility to all, regardless of income.  

Our profession is an honorable profession that acts as the guardians of the law with a duty to improve the justice system and assure a free and just society under the law. My predecessor, Jim Herman, had our bar cards and stationary imprinted with our mission, “To improve the justice system and assure a free and just society under the law,” to remind our membership and the public of our calling. To that end, the clarion call should be that every lawyer give their time and expertise to the profession by serving on a committee of the local, state, federal or American bar. 

Being involved in the profession is the key to insuring that our system of justice is efficient, effective, and economical to all. Giving to the profession by every lawyer is the only assurance of improvement of the system and input from every corner, from the solo practitioner to the medium-size office, as well as the lawyers in the large multi-national offices to help improve our system of justice. 

Our nation was founded on the rule of law and committed to its free and democratic principles and processes that require a citizenry that understands our laws and justice system. This free society rests upon, and is intended to nurture, a solid foundation of competent, self-governing citizens fully capable of, and personally responsible for, making the major political, economic and moral decisions that shape their own lives and those of their children.

Justice Brandeis was right on point in his statement that “the most important political office is that of a private citizen.” However, it is important that the private citizen he applauded be willing to be of service to the community and profession, for the failure of the community or profession is the result of non-participation by its members, whether by not voting or not offering to serve.

I was fortunate to be able to serve the State Bar of California for four years and have seen many changes that have made the bar more relevant to the practicing attorney. The members of the board of governors I have served with, although we may have disagreed on certain issues, have always fought for what we believed in and what was best for the lawyers of California.

The staff of the bar is the best that anyone could have and has, at all times, the best interest of our membership at heart.

The State Bar will be in excellent hands under the leadership of former Attorney General John K. Van de Kamp, who will serve as our 80th president. 

I have been rewarded many times over in my profession, simply by being able to help other people and to serve my profession in any way possible. 

Having served as the 79th president of the State Bar of California, I can say without any reservation, I love being a lawyer and am honored to have served as your president. I now look forward to serving in the most important political office as private citizen and doing whatever I am able to do to serve our noble profession.

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