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Three vie for State Bar presidency

The State Bar will have its third woman president next year after three female third-year members of the board of governors last month announced they will seek the presidency of the 216,000-member organization. Vice presidents Holly Fujie of Los Angeles, Danni Murphy of Santa Ana and Carmen Ramirez of Ventura are vying to succeed current president Jeff Bleich. The board will make its choice in July.

Two other vice presidents, John McNicholas of Los Angeles and James Penrod of San Francisco, are not running.

Only two other women have been elected bar president — Margaret Morrow (1993), now a federal judge in Los Angeles, and Karen Nobumoto (2001), a Los Angeles deputy district attorney. More than a dozen women have run unsuccessful campaigns since 1989.

While there is no overarching issue in this year’s election, all three candidates addressed the bar’s financial problems and its efforts to increase access to justice as important issues.

Holly Fujie

And Fujie, who chairs the board’s discipline committee, also said she would like to take “a good strong look” at the discipline system to make sure it is operating as efficiently as possible. “I think they’re doing a great job,” she said, “but it’s something that’s a great concern to the average member of the bar because it’s such a large amount of the budget and people perceive that it’s directed toward such a small percentage of lawyers.”

A shareholder with Buchalter Nemer, where she focuses on general business litigation, Fujie, 52, said she also would like to tap into existing mentoring programs, making sure the resources of senior lawyers are made available to young attorneys. And she wants to find a way of making professional liability insurance both affordable and available to the state’s lawyers, an issue that was raised in the lengthy debate over a proposed malpractice disclosure rule.

As for a projected bar deficit next year, Fujie acknowledged that a dues increase is possible.

Murphy said the level of dues is an important issue but declined to make a prediction, instead recommending that the bar focus on finding outside sources of revenue. “We are working hard on our member benefit services, trying to generate income from that direction,” she said. “We all know a deficit seems to be coming.”

Danni Murphy

Murphy, 60, is an assistant public defender and supervisor of two Orange County branch offices in Laguna Niguel and Newport Beach. The board’s planning committee, which she chairs, is working on starting next year’s budget process as well as continuing the long-range planning that has been a bar focus for several years. “We need to start looking 10 years ahead,” she said, with a particular emphasis on technology and the bar’s relationship with the legislature.

In general, however, Murphy is optimistic about the bar, which she describes as “continually getting better and better and stronger and stronger. The bar is better than it’s ever been, more vibrant and has better relationships with the legislature and the public.”

Ramirez, a longtime legal aid lawyer, said the bar has to figure out how to stretch its shrinking dollars and the board must be good stewards of members’ dues. Noting that the bulk of the dues support the discipline system, Ramirez said the bar should do what it can to help lawyers avoid the system. She echoed Fujie’s interest in mentoring as well as providing access to ethical rules, better networking opportunities and helping lawyers’ “professional development” with a particular focus on solo and small firm practitioners.

Carmen Ramirez

Ramirez, 59, said she opposes tightening the bar’s budget so severely that services to members would be restricted.

Ramirez is the community planning director for CAUSE, a Ventura advocacy agency that works on economic and environmental justice, such as cleaning up a toxic Super- fund site and engaging in advocacy for better public transportation.

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