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14 vie for five seats on bar board

Fourteen candidates, including big firm lawyers, solo practitioners, government attorneys and a legal aid lawyer, are running for five open seats on the State Bar Board of Governors. Ballots were mailed to eligible voters last month and must be returned by June 30.

Issues ranging from bar dues to access to justice to what role the bar should play in the average lawyer’s life are under discussion. Some candidates stress lengthy bar involvement; one says he’s running on the basis of experience and will not conduct a campaign. Two candidates are making their third runs for the 23-member board.

Seven candidates also are seeking seats on the 17-member board of the California Young Lawyers Association, where five seats are open. CYLA represents lawyers who have been in practice one to five years or who are age 36 or younger.

The CYLA candidates are:

  • District 4 — Suvashis Bhattacharya and Eric Lifschitz, both of San Francisco;
  • District 6 — Brook J. Carroll of Oxnard, Rachael Cianfrani of Riverside and Joel Villasenor of Westlake Village; and
  • District 7 — Katherine A. Hren of Universal City and Sean Paisan of Los Angeles.

Hren and Paisan are deemed elected because there are two open seats in Los Angeles. No candidate filed for election to the District 8 seat.

Candidate statements are posted on the bar’s Web site.

The following profiles of Board of Governors candidates are excerpted from statements they provided. More extensive biographical information, as well as full statements, can be found at > About the Bar > Board of Governors > Election 2005.



JENNIFER A. DePALMA, San Francisco

DePalma, 31, said she will draw upon her experiences as an attorney at a leading global law firm (Shearman and Sterling), her pro bono immigration work, her clerkship on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit and various government positions, as well as her education at Princeton University and the University of Chicago Law School, to serve members of the State Bar.

“I pledge to vote against any proposed increase in dues. I will work to reform the CLE program and to provide free opportunities to earn CLE credits through the State Bar. I will advocate for incentives for members to provide pro bono services. The State Bar can help its members find the time and resources to volunteer our unique skills to the community.”

DePalma said the bar is a valuable resource for attorneys and is in a unique position to provide educational opportunities and incentives for volunteerism to the legal community of California.


JAMES N. PENROD, San Francisco

A partner with Morgan Lewis & Bockius in San Francisco, Penrod, 63, is running on the basis of his background and experience and will not conduct a campaign.

He has tried numerous and diverse cases in state and federal courts in California and other states; was named California Lawyer of the Year 2004 in litigation; has been listed in Best Lawyers in America in three categories; and has lectured and taught — including for the bar’s continuing education programs — on issues of litigation and trial in the United States.

Penrod earned his undergraduate degree at the U.S. Naval Academy and received his J.D. from George Washington University Law School.


BARRY K. TAGAWA, San Francisco

Tagawa, 46, a solo practitioner, has practiced general civil litigation for more than 20 years. His practice has included large, complex cases, including several class action lawsuits, in the areas of bankruptcy, business torts, construction defects, personal injury, products liability, real estate, securities litigation and construction defect insurance coverage.

“In the Bay Area, we have world-class intellect, creativity, diversity, spirit, appreciation of nature, hard work and industry. Yet throughout our state, our entire system of justice is being challenged. It is being tugged in so many directions that it seems to be barely working, let alone working effectively. We need an advocate for the mission of the State Bar.”

Tagawa earned his undergraduate degree from the University of California at Los Angeles and his law degree from Georgetown University Law Center.




Ramirez, 56, is coordinator of a self-help legal access center for the Ventura Superior Court in Oxnard. A graduate of Loyola Law School, her entire career has been as a legal aid attorney for the poor in Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.

“Have you noticed the call to action on your bar card? ‘Preserve and improve our justice system in order to assure a free and just society under law.’ I have worked my entire career towards this goal . . .

“I understand the heavy demands placed on lawyers today. I also understand that people must have access to justice if we are to keep our democracy healthy, our courts independent and we attorneys zealous advocates for our clients.”



Soccio, 57, is chief deputy district attorney in Riverside County. He received the National District Attorney Association’s “Home-Run Hitter” award in 2003 for outstanding prosecutorial work.

He received his undergraduate degree from the University of California at Riverside, a master’s in public administration from the University of Southern California and his law degree from Western State University College of Law in Fullerton. He practiced civil law for four years.

“The State Bar needs full representation from all practitioners in the field of law. It is important that all attorneys, both in private and public practice, have a voice that reflects our shared interests in protecting society and supporting our profession. Being a lawyer is one of the most noble professions on earth. It is up to us to make sure that we use the strength of our positions to not only better ourselves, but more importantly, to better society. I will work toward that end.”

DISTRICT 7, Office 1


ADAM C. ABRAHMS, Los Angeles

Abrahms, 30, graduated from California Lutheran University and Georgetown University Law Center. “The State Bar represents every attorney and should strive to ensure it does so equitably, efficiently and with honor. Our standards for admission and continued membership are high and should remain so as we are entrusted with important responsibilities. In representing each of us, the bar must look towards the betterment of the profession by focusing on services and policies which advance each of us and the law, not chosen special interests.

“The State Bar also serves as the representative of our profession to the public. If the profession is to garner the respect it deserves, the bar must adhere to ethical standards and ensure those who harm the public good are dealt with appropriately. The bar must also be a valuable resource to ensure attorneys have the MCLE initiatives, pro bono programs and industry assistance incentives needed to be true ambassadors of the profession.

“Every California attorney pays significant fees to be a member of the bar. It is imperative these fees are used in a judicious manner — and costs kept to an absolute minimum. If elected, I will carefully scrutinize the expenditures of the State Bar, ensure that funds are always used in the most fiscally prudent manner, and do everything in my power to prevent fee increases.”



Feldman, 73, who has run for the board of governors twice previously, defends lawyers before the bar and testifies as an expert witness. He spent a quarter of a century as a judge pro tem and longer as an attorney-client dispute arbitrator.

A graduate of California State University at Los Angeles and the University of Southern California Law School, he has written on lawyer’s duties and responsibilities, is certified in legal and medical malpractice, and says no current board member or candidate has experience in accounting or in the intricate bar disciplinary system.

“By the time they begin to understand it, it’s time for them to leave. Soon the board will decide which rules need changing. That’s a job for experts in the field. I’m not an amateur, I am an expert. My professional comments on rules have been before our Supreme Court.

“Working with the rules on a daily basis, I approach the job with a running start. It really helps to know the players. I’ve known the supervising judge for 35 years and the new chief, office of trial counsel, about 15. Knowing who and knowing how to get the job done requires a lifelong career in professional responsibility such as mine.”


HOLLY J. FUJIE, Los Angeles

Fujie, 49, is a litigation shareholder of Buchalter, Nemer, Fields & Younger with a long resume of community activities that includes service on the boards of Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles (WLALA) and Bet Tzedek, where she chaired last year’s symposium on Jewish and American law.

A graduate of Boalt Hall, Fujie says she has had exposure to many varied aspects of the practice of law and has been exposed to the political arena through work on the Judicial Advisory Committees for the Central District of California under Presidents Clinton and Bush. “I would encourage the fiscal responsibility of the State Bar and maintaining a good working relationship with the legislature. If elected, I will work towards making the State Bar aware of and responsive to the issues that are important to the lawyers of Los Angeles County.”

Fujie also said she wants to address the concerns of the diverse types of lawyers in Los Angeles and would reinstate the practice of regular meetings and communications between the District 7 board of governors members and the bars in the county.


MARTY O’TOOLE, Los Angeles

A graduate of Catholic University Law School, D.C., O’Toole, 43, worked on Capitol Hill and was admitted in California in 1991.

He said as its first priority, the bar’s disciplinary system must address attorney conduct that “touches and concerns” the practice of law. “Presently,” he said, “the State Bar expends valuable resources busying itself with private matters of bar members — duplicating the efforts of other disciplinary forums — while leaving largely unaddressed, absent sanctions from a court, misconduct of attorneys while acting as attorneys. This, I believe, is inverted.

 “One doesn’t hear jokes about attorneys’ private lives, but you sure do hear about the dishonest few who taint our imperfect but noble profession. We can mop up this dark corner of our profession, given the right priorities.”

O’Toole also said he wants to insure that State Bar funds are spent efficiently.

DISTRICT 7, Office 2



A deputy attorney general, 34-year-old Kim said the primary responsibility of the State Bar should be to its attorneys and less fortunate members of the public. Kim said she believes burdens are placed on attorneys that hinder rather than promote the efficient practice of law and she would try to eliminate requirements that needlessly rob lawyers of their time and resources.

“My goal is to make life a bit easier for practicing attorneys and to make the practice of law more enjoyable,” she said.

She also supports the bar’s role in increasing access to justice for the underprivileged and will work to make the courts more accessible by reaching out to those without access and equipping them with the knowledge and tools to better navigate the justice system.

“Lastly,” she said, “I will labor to ensure greater financial responsibility and prevent increases to the annual bar dues. I am a candidate who sincerely has our members’ best interests at heart.”



Born and raised in Los Angeles, McNicholas has been in private practice since 1963 and is a partner in McNicholas & McNicholas.

Describing himself as a consensus-builder, he said the bar must find new ways to deliver legal services to the under-represented, to lower income groups and to newcomers, and should continue its efforts to economize and streamline operations in order to keep bar dues down.

“Our public image is in shambles — or worse,” he added. Public confidence in our profession can be restored if we strengthen the outreach from the bar to its members and from the membership to the public we serve.”

McNicholas, 68, said the tremendous diversity of District 7 is a source of strength for the 40,000-50,000 lawyers in Los Angeles that “allows us to draw from a broad base of each others’ experience. I promise to ensure these voices are heard.”

McNicholas has served on the LACBA Judicial Elections Evaluation Committee (2004-present); the JNE Commission (1999-2002); American Board of Trial Advocates (president, Los Angeles chapter, 1995); American College of Trial Lawyers; and as lawyer representative, Ninth Circuit Judicial Conference (1989-1992).



JOHN L. DODD, Tustin

An Orange County native, Dodd has practiced in the county for almost 20 years. He is a certified specialist in appellate law, heads his own four-attorney firm and would bring to the board the perspective of attorneys who practice solo or in small firms.

Dodd, 46, served on the State Bar’s appellate courts committee before being appointed to a three-year term on the JNE commission. He currently chairs the Committee of Bar Examiners.

“I am familiar with the policies and procedures for legal education, admissions and both the selection and workings of the judiciary,” Dodd said. “These last eight years make me uniquely qualified to serve on the board. Often BOG members may not have extensive experience with the workings of the committees they appoint and what bar staff actually does, leading to misunderstandings which can hamper the function of the bar, a problem I will work to solve.”

Dodd also served as president of the Orange County Barristers for seven years, including a year as president, and has been a director of the Orange County Bar Association, where he currently sits on the investment policy committee.


RICHARD W. MILLAR JR., Newport Beach

This is the third run for Millar, 66, a 1966 graduate of University of San Francisco School of Law and a partner in Millar, Hodges & Bemis.

Millar was president of the Orange County Bar Association in 2002 and held office in OCBA during prior years. He also chaired its judiciary committee and business litigation section, and served on numerous committees, including bench and bar, law office management, purview and multidisciplinary task force.

Millar has been a member of the American Bar Association since 1967 and a member of its House of Delegates since 1990.

He has written “Millar’s JurisDiction” in the Orange County Lawyer Magazine since 2003; is a member of the Western State University School of Law; an arbitrator and judge pro tem for the Orange County Superior Court; and a participant in the Orange County Bar Association College of Trial Advocacy and lecturer in various continuing education programs.



Supervisor and “head of court” of the public defender’s South Justice Center branch office, Murphy, 57, is a former president of the Orange County Bar Association. She said the bar must become more relevant to the 21st century “as we review the way we regulate attorneys. The best way to predict the future is to invent the future by looking at the structure of how we practice law.”

Murphy said many California lawyers only know what the bar does “to” them, not “for” them, and differ in their opinions of whether the bar’s involvement is too little or too much.

Murphy said she wants to preserve the independence of the bar, improve its efficiency, look for ways to reduce dues and work with the judiciary to improve the practice for all attorneys.

A longtime leader in the legal community, Murphy chaired many OCBA committees, served on boards of the legal charities and says she will work to enhance the reputation of the O.C. legal community both locally and at the State Bar level.

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