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Minding the store, or not

Your May issue reports on page 3 that an employee of the State Bar has embezzled more than $675,000 over the past eight years. Who is watching the store? On page 8, the state bar president rambles on about “mentoring.” No mention of the loss. Page 9 has a meaningless article about judge selection — which is still pathetic and as political as ever. No mention of the loss.

Who is running the State Bar administratively and for what purpose?

Ronald L. Hartman
Thousand Oaks

Police the staff

May I humbly suggest that the bar spend half as much time and effort policing its own staff (“Ex-bar employee embezzles $675,000”) as it does gleefully policing its members.

I know — how about another committee? “Catch Our Own Crooks First” Committee?

I personally hope ex-staffer Sharon Pearl had fun, and am happy to pay my share of her fun money with next year’s dues increase, which is sure to follow.

Donald B. Brown
Torrance

Hold someone accountable

In the period during which our State Bar revenues were diverted, we’ve had seven to 10 presidents and many governors of the State Bar. Apparently none of them conceived that it was part of their duty to concern themselves with safeguarding our bar’s funds. Did presidents think that their duties were confined to monthly columns? Did governors think their duties did not include governance? Is this failure of duty to go without consequence?

When funds in lawyers’ trust accounts are embezzled, or even not correctly accounted for, the lawyers are held personally liable. Let those who failed in their duty to protect our State Bar’s funds contribute to making the bar whole. Failing that, the discipline system should treat our great ones the same way it treats the rank and file in cases of breach of duty in trust accounting.

Leric Goodman
Tarzana

Either funny or pathetic

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry reading about the bar’s failure to detect a clumsy and transparent embezzlement scheme that went on for eight years. Here are a couple of ideas that do not appear to have been considered for the geniuses over at the bar office: First, I have to assume that the bar’s financial statements are audited. This kind of fraud seems to me to be the sort of obvious discrepancy that an audit would uncover. Perhaps there is liability here.

Second, banks are absolutely liable when a check is paid on a forged endorsement, absent some negligence or other contributing circumstance on the part of the account holder. The payee name (“PLOT— State Bar of California”) should have raised a red flag at the bank that cleared the checks, it appears to me from the Journal description. Perhaps there is also liability here. If any claim is made and brought to trial, however, I can only imagine the amusement of a jury at seeing a bunch of lawyers so easily bamboozled.

At least this sorry story answers a question that has occurred to many bar members, “What is that large State Bar staff we pay for doing?” The answer is, “Not minding the store.”

Robert L. Dunn
Corte Madera

How to erase red ink

Re: Your several articles about the bar’s financial situation. I have a simple solution with just a few steps.

  1. Outsource most of the employees’ duties to India.
  2. For those employees who must remain in California, reduce their salaries and benefits to the free market rate — the compensation they would command for similar work in private industry.
  3. Move the bar’s headquarters to a low-rent part of California. There are countless communities, such as Furnace Creek, Lodi, Mojave, Taft and Salton City, that would welcome the economic stimulus. The bar could still maintain small satellite offices, in Los Angeles, San Francisco and perhaps Sacramento and San Diego, for its members’ convenience, for matters that actually require a member’s visit.

These simple steps would dramatically reduce the bar’s bloated budget. Step number 2 would also set a shining example for California state, county and local governments.

David L. Amkraut
Los Angeles

Necessity of teaching skills

Ms. Fujie’s opinion piece on mentoring (May) is timely and important. I respectfully submit, however, that in focusing on organization-based programs, she has neglected two areas in which the most fundamental and earliest mentoring should take place: in-house and on the front lines. For those fortunate enough to clerk for a lawyer (solo, firm or agency) while in law school, this is the first opportunity to be mentored, as well as being utilized as a “profit center.”

This opportunity continues for those fortunate enough to become employed by firms or governmental agencies — there is a built-in incentive to shape the minds of such young attorneys. For those who strike out on their own, by choice or necessity, there is the opportunity to be mentored by others in the profession who find themselves across the table from them.

We all need to remember that to advance the practice as a “noble profession,” the concept of “winning at all costs” has no place. Winning does not have to come at the expense of failing to enhance the skills of those less experienced. I learned some of my best skills at the feet of opponents who took the time to help me understand the mistakes I was making and how I could avoid them in the future. In my view, that is an obligation all experienced lawyers should embrace.

Bruce E. Sulzner
San Diego

In defense of bar dues

Fredrica Greene asserts (May) that she gets nothing from her State Bar dues and thinks it is outrageous to pay for disciplining other attorneys. While not a particularly popular position, I would argue that State Bar dues are not excessive. No, I am not with a public agency or big firm that pays my dues. I am a partner in a small firm. Let’s get real, the $410 annual dues equals about $34 per month. Now, how does that $34 per month benefit me?

First, as a professional, my dues contribute to a system to help keep our consumers safe. I have no problem with that.

Second, my dues help with the public image of attorneys and contributes to ethical guidelines, subject matter information and MCLE programs.

I believe $34 is a fair payment for these services. This is not to say that members should stop reviewing the budget and keeping the bar’s feet to the fire, but I think all these lawyers complaining about the amount of fees is, well, embarrassing.

Judy Copeland
San Diego

• Judy Copeland is a former member of the State Bar Board of Governors.

Why Apologize?

I was struck by the front page article (April) in which the State Bar felt it necessary to apologize for not intentionally breaching its contract with the Manchester Grand Hyatt.

Legal organizations and attorneys demonstrate a degree of disrespect for the constitution when they seek to influence others to boycott an individual’s business simply because that person exercised his constitutional rights to free speech. To advocate further that the State Bar, charged with maintaining appropriate ethical standards, purposefully breach a contract demonstrates an even deeper disrespect for the law. Does our obligation to show respect for the constitution and the law become less important where social issues are involved? I would suggest the opposite is true.

While I congratulate the State Bar for not succumbing to pressure, it is not clear that the result would have been the same had there not been a substantial financial penalty. As individuals, we should show respect for the voices and opinions of all, even (or especially) those we disagree with. As attorneys, our oath requires more.

Rather than apologize, I would have expected the bar to provide a stern reminder that it is our duty as attorneys to show respect (at least in our public activities) for the constitutional rights of all as well as show appropriate respect for the law by not advocating that the State Bar intentionally breach a contract in the name of one side’s idea of political correctness. While it is not wrong for attorneys to have feelings or opinions on social issues, I submit that it is wrong, as attorneys, to publicly advocate actions that are both contrary to the law and intended to punish third persons for exercising their fundamental rights under the very constitution that we are ethically bound to uphold.

Michael D. Miscoe
Central City, Penn.

Waste of time

The bar wasted two meetings on deciding whether to punish a private citizen for his support of a ballot measure by boycotting his company’s hotel. What a stupid idea.

When will the bar board members leave their personal biases out of the bar’s legitimate business?

The board should have been ordering an audit of our funds instead. I heard an employee took $675,000 of our money.

Tend to business, not politics.

Betty A. Gilbert
Oroville

Embarrassed to be a lawyer

Kudos for not canceling the State Bar’s contract and kudos to Bonnie Dumanis for her personal protest; but who’s kidding who, will the State Bar make future reservations with anyone who gave money to Prop 8? I gave money to Prop 8; will I be disbarred soon? (FYI, my mom is gay, I love her dearly and she is married, so you can’t call me a “homophobe.”) Can I call for a boycott of the Hilton San Diego Bayfront because I don’t want any money going to Paris Hilton?

This is yet another reason why I’m embarrassed to have “Esq.” after my name and why I will always use my military title. This thought-policing is really scary. And Californians Against Hate leading the boycott? I’m trying to think of examples where a country in the past branded its citizens. Hmmm, let’s think. How ’bout Nazi Germany?

Also, is it appropriate to have a picture of a Boy Scout on the opposite page? They don’t allow homosexual scouts, ya know. And, how many trees did you murder to make your decision? What about your carbon footprints?

Eric Pihl
Lieutenant Commander, US Navy

Bowing and scraping

I’ve never heard an argument for abiding by a contract take quite such an apologetic tone before. The sin of the owner of Manchester Grand Hyatt was supporting a California proposition?

Really? Anyone not raised under Stalin took this “protest” against participating in the political process seriously? Perhaps instead the high and mighty should attend the event and tar and feather anyone not advocating the “correct” political views. Remind me again who is intolerant?

Emily Chase-Smith
Prague, Czech Republic

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