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A report on accountability

By John Van de Kamp
President, State Bar of California

Former attorney general John K. Van de Kamp was sworn in as the 80th president of the State Bar
John Van de Kamp 2004-05 President

I learned long ago that speechmaking should be more than a test of oratorical skill. Speeches should have a purpose. With respect to my acceptance speech in Monterey, I’ll be referring to it regularly through the year as a measuring stick to see if we’re on track, something I did periodically in my other stints in public life.

So after all of a month, here’s some accountability.

DISCIPLINE “Fine tuning is in order.”  Chief Trial Counsel Mike Nisperos has set out to develop a better measurement system for the bar’s discipline operation. He has abandoned the triage system that emphasized the most serious cases at the expense of less important matters, and is organizing an effort to not only give priority to the big cases but give some attention to violations that deserve a lesser sanction.

SUPPORT FOR THE COURTS This won’t become an issue until we know what the Administrative Office of the Courts is requesting of the governor and the legislature and their reaction to it. To Do’s: Follow the process closely.

LEGISLATION Sen. Joe Dunn, D-Garden Grove, will chair the Senate Judiciary Committee next year. To be determined: the chair of the Assembly Judiciary Committee. State Bar Executive Director Judy Johnson and I will visit attorney members of the legislature next month with our longtime Sacramento liaison Larry Doyle and our new man in the capitol, Anthony Williams. Anthony at one time represented the Administrative Office of the Courts in Sacramento, and most recently was Sen. John Burton’s right-hand man. To Do: Lay the groundwork for an amicable and appropriate relationship with legislators.

THE GOVERNOR’S OFFICE A good working relationship with the governor’s office is desirable. The JNE Commission has been a flashpoint in that relationship in the past. I visited with the commission at its recent meeting in Lake Tahoe and reminded members (perhaps unnecessarily) of their duty to be fair, objective, impartial and non-partisan and to maintain confidentiality. The commission is reeling from the volume of candidates sent by the governor’s office but is working to smooth the flow. Judicial Appointment Secretary John Davies will meet with JNE this month. The goal: To give the governor the best advice possible about judicial candidates.

ACCESS TO JUSTICE Additional government support for legal aid programs is a priority. At the federal level, the Bush Administration held the line on funding, but the specter of a more conservative Congress brings back the potential for threats of cuts posed in the mid-’90s. California’s budget situation, expected to be just as bleak in 2005 as it was in 2004, does not offer much hope. Individual lawyer support for legal aid programs and expanded pro bono activities by California’s attorneys will be needed to fill the gap.

DIVERSITY One of the heartening responses I’ve received is from lawyers who have listened to my plea to go to high schools and colleges to talk about the profession, and in particular to make it more attractive to young African-Americans and Hispanics. Tevia Barnes, the Bar Association of San Francisco and the Charles Houston Bar Association have developed programs and templates that we’ll try to share with local bar associations around the state.

In a reunion visit to my alma mater, Stanford Law School, I was encouraged to find a proliferation of minority student bar organizations, a far cry from the lilywhite days of the ’50s. New Dean Larry Kramer reports 35 percent of his law school population are minority students. Overall, however, California is still short on African-American and Hispanic students and attorneys.

MEMBER BENEFITS Efforts continue to establish a bar member call center in early 2005. Plans were to be presented to the board of governors at its meeting this month. Efforts also continue to expand and improve the insurance programs the bar offers. More about both efforts by the end of the year.

INCREASING AWARENESS OF WHAT LAWYERS DO (AND SHOULDN’T DO) As to the former, our radio spots were delivered to 700 radio stations in late October answering some common questions relating to seniors and minors and pushing our two excellent Bar Foundation-supported publications, Kids & The Law and Seniors & The Law.

On the what not to do subject, ex-president Jim Herman and I addressed a Mealey’s Conference dissecting 17200 issues on the ethical problems generated by The Trevor Law Group. Their case had it all — unconscionable fees, dishonesty, coercion, misuse of the Doe statute, client trust fund invasion, unlawful practice of law by one of the respondents and aiding and abetting UPL by their law clerks. The case, which resulted in the resignation of the three respondents, is a reminder of how practitioners can bring shame to our profession.

It was a busy month. It included a trip to New York for a RAND Advisory Committee, a visit with the LAP Pilot Program Intervention Advisory Committee, judging moot court at USC, a Bar Foundation planning meeting, a Volunteers in Parole event in the San Fernando Valley, visits to the Unity Bar reception in San Francisco and the South Asian Bar event in Los Angeles and the hugely successful BASF dinner in San Francisco.

Last and not least — a memorial service for Bob Raven at Morrison and Foerster’s LA office. A great lawyer, a former bar president, but better yet, a lifelong friend of the underdog.

People ask whether I’m enjoying the presidency. You bet I am. I’ll enjoy it even more if at the end of my year there’s some measurable progress.

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